Let us pray: Almighty God, may your Word speak to us, your promises reassure us, and your Spirit work some miracle in us that we might accomplish your purposes in and through our lives. Grant that we may understand that you are always sufficient to meet our needs, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
One of my favorite all time movies is “Simon Birch” which came out in 1998 and takes place in 1964, in a small town in New Hampshire that could have had Grandma Moses as its city planner. From the day he was born Simon Birch was different. He was no bigger than a baby bird, and the doctors predicted he’d never last the week. But he did. Weeks turned into months and months into years, until Simon grew into a boy. Simon at the age of 12, is so small that he still plays the Baby Jesus in the church Christmas pageant. His friend Joe has a small sidecar on the side of his bicycle that carries Simon around on their adventures, because his legs are too short to ride a bike. Now, it’s apparent that Simon is the smartest boy in Sunday School and possibly the smartest person in town. He’s very short and very cute, and very wise and accepting of the fact of his dwarfism. When his friend Joe tells him a girl finds him cute, he sniffs, “She means cute like a baby turtle is cute. Girls don’t kiss baby turtles.” “How do you know,” asks Joe. “I just know. If you were me, you’d know too.”
Simon uses his size as a license to say exactly what he thinks on all occasions, loudly and clearly, as when Fr. Russell is asking God’s help for a fund-raiser, and Simon jumps up on his pew to announce, “I doubt if God is interested in our church activities. If God has made the bake sale a priority, we’re all in a lot of trouble.” At that point I found myself wanting to cheer, “YESSSS!”
The most amazing faith and love is demonstrated by Simon Birch in a belief that God has a special mission for him. Simon has an unwavering belief that God had a special plan for him—that he had made him small for a reason. One day he approaches his priest on this very question, “Do you believe God has a plan for our lives?” Simon asks. Unfortunately, the priest responds with an ambiguous “I don’t really know.” It is not the answer Simon hoped for. But even in the face of the older man’s doubt, you could see the gleam of faith in Simon’s eyes. For HE believed, and that is what mattered. He believed that even though he was small and insignificant in the eyes of those around him, that God had a special plan and a purpose for his life.
In our Gospel the disciples interrupted Jesus, as they often did. Jesus was teaching and they came to him and said something like this, “It’s growing late. Look at how many people are here. There’s no food. We need to send them off to the villages to buy food. If we don’t send them quickly, it will be to dark. In your wonderful teaching way, you’re obviously not paying attention to what’s going on.” Sometimes, I think many of us pray with the same sort of outlook. Sometimes we pray with the assumption that Jesus doesn’t know what’s going on.
To their surprise Jesus turned their concern back to them. “You give them something to eat.” Now, they probably had mixed motives for bringing this problem to Jesus. On the one hand they may have been genuinely concerned for the people. The people were hungry. It was late in the day. That was a genuine problem. But I think they were motivated as well by the desire to get their retreat back on course. Something like: “We’ve spent a whole day being compassionate to these people. Let’s be done with them and go back to our time of fellowship and be gathered together in intimacy with you, Lord. Let’s get back to what you promised us in the beginning. Let’s just do our own thing and forget about all of these people.” Did you ever feel that way?
Jesus taught them and us two lessons by calling on them to feed the people. The first is this: Jesus says, “You feed them,” to people like us as well. Our tendency is to look at only what is humanly possible: the money, the conditions, whether we have the right computers, the right building. Whether we’re set up to do it, whether we can really make it happen, and so on—and we conclude that it’s impossible. We just don’t have what it requires. How easy it is to say, “Send them away, Lord.”
The tendency further, is to leave people to their own devices. After all, it was they who had chosen to stay there late, listening to Jesus’ teaching, so now they needed to go solve their own problems. They were going to get hungry, so they needed to go do something about it.
The second lesson here is that Jesus didn’t do the miracle without their cooperation. He could have. Previously, he had done miracles without their assistance. He had cast out demons, healed the sick, given a lame man strength to walk, brought back a little child from the dead. But now he was training those who would serve him, and he called on them to offer what they had. And what little they had became that which he used to bless the crowd, and as we can learn from him, he can use what we have to bless the world. Now, that sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it? That we can bless all the world?
Five thousand people probably looked overwhelming to the disciples too, don’t you think? “Go and make disciples of all the world” sounds impossible. But instead of seeing that as the assignment, maybe we can see “Share Christ with the folks in front of you” as an assignment that possible. It’s still risky and difficult. It still requires the power of God, but it’s not impossible.
How many loaves do you have to offer? What do you have to offer? What house do you live in? What bank account do you own? What place do you work? What friendships do you have? What has God given you that he can multiply or expand in his service? What loaves do you have that he could turn around and use, through you, to bless and challenge and change and give life where there is no life? When we become his representative in the world, he intends to use us just as we are. There’s no difficulty in qualifying for this responsibility. You don’t need a degree. You don’t need the approval of some organization. You don’t need a title. You don’t need to be tall, or short, or thin and beautiful or even clever. To become a disciple is to become willing to offer him what you have for him to use in His plan.
Just as small Simon Birch found out and realized God’s plan for his life (I’ll not give away the end if you haven’t seen it) God will take the small loaves we have and make more of it.
There is a wonderful joy in Christian service to others. Being a disciple is the most wonderful thing in the world. Our God has, in a peculiar way, limited himself to using people like us. We are the Body of Christ, God’s incarnation, now. He needs our willingness to offer the loaves we have. He needs us to take up the gifts we’ve been given, offer them in the realization that no matter how small or insignificant we may think our loaves are, they will be used mightily.
A story is told about Mother Theresa who, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, was questioned by a puzzled young reporter. He said to her, “You only reach such a few people here and there. Don’t you feel badly about the fact that there are so many who you cannot help?” She looked up at him with a smile on her craggy face that is recognized around the world and said, “I do what I can, where I am, with what I have.”
“I do what I can, where I am, with what I have.” Members of this small part of Christ’s Body, what do we have? Go and see….Hmmm…Five loaves and a couple of measly fish.
“I do what I can, where I am, with what I have.” Members of this small part of Christ’s Body, where are you? ---In the midst of a lot of needy people, sheep without a shepherd.
“I do what I can…” Members of this small part of Christ’s Body, what can we do? They brought the five loaves and two fish to Jesus. “Taking them, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; And ALL ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.”
“I do what I can, where I am, with what I have.” ~What we can do—comes from God. ~Where we are—comes from God. ~What we have—comes from God. And it is enough.
Let us pray: Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we pray that your truth might guide us in our every action and thought. Let us be vigilant to the daily appearances of your miraculous touch. Help us to understand that only you can multiply the small loaves that we bring. As people seeking to grow in faith, we offer this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pentecost 8 1 Kings 3:5-12 Romans 8:26-39 Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Let us pray: Lord, give us a vision of your kingdom and show us the part you would have us play in bringing it closer. When we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” teach us to mean it so we may bring your kingdom closer here on earth. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives his followers and us a series of short parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. Each could be the subject of a sermon however they all have a very similar theme.
Many of the parables that Jesus tells begin, "the kingdom of Heaven is like…" So the question we might ask is “What is the kingdom?” Is it something you’ve wondered about? It is one of the deep questions about existence. We look around us at the world and see hunger and poverty. We see disease, violence and hatred. We wonder if God is in control, if God cares at all about creation. We may even question the existence of God. We all ask those burning questions about what lies beyond this life.
"The kingdom of heaven is like ..." With these words Jesus offers a variety of images. The kingdom of heaven is like a small mustard seed that becomes a very large shrub where birds come and find a home.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that spreads through and through until it involves all the flour in a process of chemical reaction making the bread rise.
The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure within the ground making that parcel of land valuable enough that one would sell all their possessions to buy the field.
The kingdom of heaven is like a perfect pearl whose value entices someone to sell all to acquire it.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net tossed into the depths to bring forth a great catch, the net filled with fish both edible and others not worth the time of scaling and filleting. The good are gathered; the others are tossed away with the garbage. And, in such a kingdom a time will be when the angels of God will in a like way separate the evil and the righteous. The evil will be thrown into a hot, burning furnace of weeping and pain so great that teeth will gnash, one against the other.
Then, without further figure of speech, Jesus asks "Do you understand these teachings?" And, they answered "Yes!"
All of us here today are most likely familiar with a variety of stories regarding people who are granted three wishes by a genie whom they have let out of a bottle — or by a leprechaun they have either caught or rescued in the woods and have discovered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. These stories are not only familiar to us from legends and fairy tales from our childhood. Adults sometimes play a form of three wishes when they purchase lottery tickets.
Have you noticed how, as the size of a lottery jackpot grows, the number of tickets sold jumps higher and higher? When the prize becomes large, more and more people feel the tug. They want that money. But the fact is still this: only a fool would spend more than a few dollars on this. The people who use their entire paycheck - money that should go for food and rent - almost always find their life in shambles. Why? Because the lottery makes no promise. No guarantee. At best, it's probably entertainment.
But, if you want the genuine excitement of putting your life on the line, only with Jesus Christ is it worth the cost. You give your life over to him; he returns it to you new and fresh. Not bankrupt. Not with a rotten taste in your mouth and a hollow feeling in your heart. He returns your life to you with a center, purpose, and joy.
Finding buried treasure is a dream that many have had. There is a series on TV about Oak Island in Nova Scotia. It is thought to be the site of a great treasure. No one knows exactly who buried treasure there. Over the years it has been conjectured that it must be the hiding place of some famous pirate like Captain Kidd. Now the most plausible explanation seems to be that, centuries ago, the Knights Templar used it as a storage place. There is even the thought that the Holy Grail may be hidden there. At any rate, millions of dollars have been spent fruitlessly trying to find the treasure that everyone is certain is there. All efforts have met with failure, but it doesn't stop one from feeling a great excitement and anticipation that perhaps this time the treasure will be found – that the great puzzle of how to get at a treasure so carefully and deviously hidden will suddenly be clear.
In the end ... Well, the surprise of today's Gospel is that we really don't know what will be "in the end" except the end will be in God's hands. This will be true, as Jesus said, "at the end of the age" in the final judgment. Yet, there is another ending at stake here which is no less in the hands of God. It is "our end" in the sense of what we shall become – or more accurately, what God is making of us.
I have read of people who keep trying to win millions of dollars in contests, drawings, and lotteries. I have read also how they say, "If I win, I'm not going to change a bit." Who are they kidding!? If they don't want their lives to be different, why are they entering in the first place? I suppose they really mean that they will continue to be the "same wonderful, lovable human being" that they are right now.
Something in us is not so content and God knows it. We feel the treasure's tug and we know it holds out the promise of more, or better, or different. This is what we need to look forward to as we sense the drawing power of the love of Christ and we can anticipate coming away changed if we allow ourselves to be touched. There are no lottery tickets to this future, but something far more certain. It's called "faith." It's that "letting go and letting God" when we are touched by "the impulse of his love." It's a pearl that will cost us, but it's worth it.
If you have learned to ride a bicycle, you had to face that moment when the person holding you up let go. The moment. Maybe you crashed and had to begin again and again. Eventually, however, there came the time when you could shout, "Hey, Mom, look here!" and you zoomed around the block with the breeze in your face. In that moment, a joy filled you so full that your heart pounded and you were truly alive. The cost was worth it. The Christian discovers such moments are little parables for the way God upholds us and gives us an amazing and exhilarating joy when we assume the costs and travel by faith.
Most of us would like our faith to make a difference – but not too much. We may have had a wonderful mountain top experience in our lives, a retreat, a Cursillo weekend or a moment in our lives when everything came together for us. We perceived God in a different light. But over time the experience fades. We think about it once in a while. But there are problems in our lives. We have to earn a living and raise our family. There are the stresses and conflicts of life to deal with. We may go to church on Sunday. But to make a commitment to the faith, to work at it, to read our Bibles, to pray – those things we put aside. We want to be committed Christians, but on our own terms.
What is it that you desire the most? What do you want? What do you wish for?
There is treasure buried in the fields all around us. There is a pearl of great value to be had. Just as there is mustard seed to be planted so that it might grow and spread everywhere.
Just as there is yeast to be worked into the dough of our lives – so that we and those near to us may be leavened with righteousness and joy and be raised to a glorious and eternal destiny.
It is here for the seeking – and for the receiving for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
What is the treasure – what is the pearl? It is nothing less than our awareness of the presence of God. I say our awareness – because God is always present – just as that treasure is in the field waiting to be found – just as that pearl is on the market – waiting for us to give ourselves for it.
In reality that is the gospel in the parables we’ve heard today.
That God is here – waiting for us to give up lesser things so that we can embrace him. That God is here – casting his net to catch us – to have us come into his kingdom – his presence.God is here – looking to sow his seed and work his leaven into our lives.
Today, may we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the treasure God has prepared for us: the treasure of God's love and care – his forgiveness and mercy – his power and his wonder, the treasure that wells up to eternal life and eternal joy. And may we be resolved to live by him and in him and through him until the completeness of the Kingdom of God arrives.
Let us pray: Lord, we give you thanks for the word that you hide like a treasure in our heart, for the leaven which is able to penetrate to every area of our life – for the seed that is able to grow into a mighty plant... Help us, we pray, to value all you have given us – to make following Christ the most important thing in our daily lives – to concentrate above all upon doing your will and sharing your love and the good news you have proclaimed through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Isaiah 44:6-8 Romans 8:12-25 Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, guide us by Your Spirit to understand what you are saying to each one of us today. Grant us humility to change our ways and faith to trust you, we pray in Jesus name. Amen.
Today we have another parable from Jesus about farming – but it’s not really about agriculture. Last week we heard about the parable of the Sower - the same sower, the same good seed, the same potential for a harvest. Jesus was emphasizing that each person – however unlikely – is given a chance to respond to the Word of God. The Word of God has the same potential within each of us to enable us to grow and mature and to be vital Christians in this world. It is only in our response to the Word that we are compared with the pathway, the rocky ground, the thorny patch, the good soil. Today’ parable is the Weeds and the Wheat. I don't know about you, but of all the parables Jesus tells, this one about the weeds growing among the wheat seems to irritate me the most. In many situations, I want to have happen what the farm hands in this story are ready to do: pull up the weeds, throw the bums out, see the world free from the latest set of scumbags, and do all this immediately. But that is not how the story goes. The landowner won't allow such direct action. In the face of this, maybe we need to look at the story more carefully. Two topics deserve more explanation than this parable itself is able to give them. The first is the weeds. The second is the landowner's words. Let's look at the weeds first. The gardeners among us may raise a suspicious eyebrow at not pulling out the weeds until harvest time. Certainly this is no way to run a farm. One of my memories of growing up on the farm at a young age is having to walk through the grain and corn fields, pulling out wild mustard and cocklebur plants before they went to seed and multiplied profusely the following seasons. No good farmer wanted to look at a sea of yellow among his young oat field. I wish I had been more familiar with Matthew 13 then. I could have told my dad, "Dad, remember what the scripture says: Don't pull those weeds, for in gathering the weeds we might uproot the plants along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest." Of course, that would be very bad farming. The good thing was that I would get a penny a plant for every one of these weeds that I pulled. Today, farmers have selective herbicides to make the destruction of weeds easier and more certain. I’m glad I’m not a kid on a farm today. I wouldn’t be able to make a cent. But in any event weeds are the enemy! So Jesus was saying something truly startling: "Don't pick the weeds!" Once again, Jesus uses a parable to instruct us in some important truths about the Kingdom of God. He deliberately chooses a metaphor which everyone understands, weeds, and turns it on its head in order to make a point. No doubt people listening to Jesus tell this parable went away grumbling about how dumb it was to let the weeds grow – but they remembered the parable long enough to tell it to others and eventually to write it down in at least one of the gospels. The lessons we learn the best always come with some irritation, some contradiction, some irony, some surprise. This is what makes parables powerful and easy to remember. Jesus advised not to be overly hasty in pulling out the weeds because, as he notes, it's not always easy to tell which are the weeds and which are the good plants. You would think that we Christians would have learned this lesson by now. But our history in this regard is a sorry one. It has been very hard for the Church to wait for God's harvest. Over the centuries since Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the Church has often focused more on weeding than planting or tending the garden. If we look at the past two thousand years, we can see that the most tragic areas in the Church's life have been caused by this passion for weeding. Crusades were organized to drive infidels from Jerusalem. Inquisitions rooted out heretics. Women accused of being witches were thrown into the fire like weeds to be burned. Those who were deemed bad seed were excommunicated and cast out of the Church into utter darkness. Organizations had to be set up to decide who the weeds were. The weeds were always people, and sometimes they were called weeds simply because they were different from the groups in power. These human weeds had to be rooted out to protect the harvest. What had happened to Jesus' parable? Hadn't anybody heard what He said about letting the weeds grow up alongside the good seed? It was just too hard. There was the very real fear that the weeds would overwhelm the good plants altogether. In every generation something always had to be done to clean up the field. From our own perspective, who are the weeds growing like crazy in the wheat field of the world? These are the plants we want to yank out by the roots. -- These are the people we want to lock up and then throw away the key. -- These are the people we want to strap in the electric chair. -- These are the people we want to bomb into oblivion. There are times when many of us, at least momentarily, see this as the obvious solution. We want the wheat field of the world to flourish with wheat, and not to be damaged by weeds. Or we may direct our rage, our helplessness, our despair into a question about God. Why doesn't God do something about those people (whoever they are)? Where is God when they commit their horrible crimes? The parable does not deny that there are weeds in the wheat. It does not suggest for a moment that the world is free from evil. Instead, the weeds are all too visible. The landowner knows what's happened -- "An enemy has done this!" Yes, the world is a terribly broken place. What is meant to be a wheat field is holding countless weeds. Jesus told this parable because he knew that we have an irresistible tendency to want to pull weeds. We have a tendency to want to clean up the church, to get rid of the sinners, to get rid of the rotten apples. But Jesus warns us to be careful. We need to realize that if we removed every person who ever sinned, no one would be left. And you and I -- sometimes we are wheat and sometimes we are weeds. St. Augustine, in commenting on this parable, makes the same point when he says: "There is this difference between people and real grain and real weeds, for what was grain in the field is grain and what were weeds are weeds. But in the Lord's field, which is the church, at times what was grain turns into weeds and at times what were weeds turn into grain; and no one knows what they will be tomorrow." God is not an all-seeing farm manager driving by to see how many weeds have grown up. God may be far more concerned about the weeds we pull up than the weeds we pass by. For the weeds are always people; people who are pointed at, chastised, condemned, cast out. Jesus didn't understand how bad it could get in the earthly field. Jesus had never met the people we've seen. Aren't Christians called to condemn evil? Surely God doesn't want us to let anything go. Can't God see that too many weeds could indeed choke the harvest? Jesus is also telling us that there is a final harvest and a judgment day held at the end of the age and the harvest workers will be the angels; Then the weeds will be separated from the wheat and burned in the fire. "Then God's people will shine like the sun in their Father's Kingdom" – the church at last made perfect. We need not rush around trying to do God's job. We only are called to be patient, secure, and confident that God is right and will win in the end. We also should trust that God is at work in the world and in our hearts – where there are also many weeds. In the ultimate moment God will bring forth a great harvest according to God's own plan and with a bounty just as great even if we don't pull out the weeds. Just let them both grow. Who knows what will turn out to be wheat after all? There is great wisdom in the serenity prayer, which reads; "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." Perhaps it has its roots in the parable of the weeds. God wants us to live alongside the "weeds" of life. To be consumed by them could be hazardous to our health and well-being. They are a reality and the parable makes it clear that it is God’s job to destroy the weeds, not ours. For ultimately it is the good seeds that will prevail. When we are focused on the weeds of life we are in danger of living in isolation. We attempt to live as if they do not exist and in the process we withdraw from the world. That causes us to be alienated from people who may have great potential. We may even reach a state of paranoia, living in fear, instead of living in peace. It is easy to make judgments about people who are different from us. It is sometimes easier to live in our own little worlds, avoiding the "weeds" of life. Our mission is not to be "weed choppers" but persons who are tolerant, people who build bridges of acceptance and unity. And God wants us to be people who are patient, tending to our lives through continuous nurture, growing, learning and keeping an open mind. The way to make sure we are part of God’s harvest is not to remove the weeds from life, but to ensure we are growing. As we learned last week through the parable of the sower, we are to be listening. And now through the parable of the weeds we learn to be tolerant of people who are different and cope with the things in life that we cannot change.
Let us pray: Gracious God, we thank you for your love, a love so great that you have mercy towards all people and give them the time they need to come to you and to open their hearts to the good seed you want to plant in them. Help us to be focused on the good things that you do rather than the bad things the evil one does. Help us to be those who plant rather than pluck up what has been planted. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Isaiah 55:10-13 Romans 8:1-11 Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, guide us by Your Spirit to understand what you are saying to us today. Grant us humility to change our ways and the faith to trust you, we pray in Jesus name. Amen.
During Pentecost Season 2020, the Revised Common Lectionary offers two “tracks” of readings from the Old Testament. The second track of readings which we are using perfectly pairs with the reading from the Old Testament with the Gospel reading. In our first reading from Isaiah we hear: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Then in our Gospel from Matthew we have the well-known parable of the sower. Both readings are about God’s word, and both use agricultural imagery, including the language of “sower” and “seed.” Both readings agree that God’s word works in subtle, unobservable ways, and ultimately produces unimaginable abundance. Those who are familiar with agriculture know that a good famer never wastes anything, especially any of their seed, since that is their means of living. Our Gospel today tells us a strange and vivid story, but when we look a little bit deeper, it might not be so strange after all. Think about it – when we witness the birth of a child, accomplish a hard-earned goal, our favorite team wins, or we receive a birthday present that we are overjoyed about, aren’t we so happy that we are about to burst? We’re just bubbling over and feel we have to share our good news with others. We don’t care what kind of day they have been having or if they know us or if they even care; we just have to share our joy. We’re throwing it everywhere with abandon—we’ve got plenty! Isn’t that what the sower in our parable is doing? The seed is so abundant; the sower doesn’t care where it goes. What that sower trusts is that God will provide the response in the hearts of the people where the Word is being sowed. God’s generous abundance keeps overflowing in us so that we are compelled to share it with others. And, what about the others? Jesus further elaborates on his own parable by describing each of the different soils where the seeds land. This is about the cycle of sowing and reaping; telling and hearing; sharing and responding. Now, we all know people from each of these soil “types” and most of us shift between one soil and another - sometimes on the same day or even within an hour. We’d like to believe that we are the good soil, but if we are honest, we probably aren’t – at least not all the time. As human beings, we are complex creations of thoughts, feelings, and the ability to act on them. When we experience discomfort, we want it to go away and may act impulsively in order to find comfort or release from pain and anxiety. We all have experienced this—whether shopping, gambling, food, sex, our tempers, drinking, lying—you name it. Sometimes it isn’t a big deal, but sometimes the little things add up to extremely damaging consequences, both for ourselves and those close to us. Right now, in the news and on social media, we are seeing deaths from COVID-19, deaths from angry violence, relationship struggles, job loss, bankruptcies, and despair from anxiety, causing people to behave reactively with dire consequences. These things take root from a seed misleadingly small—the desire to be our own God – a desire to have what we want, when we want it, regardless of the costs or who else may be affected. St. Augustine astutely reminds us that no one should “say that he [or she] is more worthy of life than others,” and if we are to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves,” then this is the standard toward which we must grow. The Bible is full of people putting themselves before God and their neighbors. When we are focused on our own desires, our envy, our fits of rage, our discord, our hatred—the good soil of our hearts turns into a wasteland. Those impulses can get us into loads of trouble; when we give in without tempering them with our call from God, we end up with no depth of spirit, choked with the thorns of the world. We yield nothing, and our actions break the cycle of abundance. Others do not experience the love of God through us and we have lost the chance to share the abundance we received. Have you ever met someone that you immediately feel is a holy person? There is something about the way they move and live and have their being that speaks to you on a soul level. We might say they are living in the Spirit and, oh, how we long for what they have! But we have those qualities as well. They are the seeds that were first planted in us when we heard the Word of God from a sower, nurtured in us by baptism, and enriched by coming together in community for strength and renewal. Seeds sown in the good soil of our hearts blossom into the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If the seeds of God’s love flower into these fruits, then what do those new seeds look like? There is pollination, cross-pollination, and new growth all over the place! The cycle of sowing begins again. God’s abundant love sees to that. We go about our daily business, living in faithfulness in God’s abundance and being sowers among those we encounter. We don’t often get to see where the seeds fall, but the point is that we continue to sow. The Church’s mission and our mission is to spread the Good News to every end of the Earth. Archbishop William Temple said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” This still holds true for us today. There are infinite ways for us to be the Church he describes: by giving a smile to someone who is feeling lonely, watching the kids so a couple can have some time to themselves, donating money to an organization that helps those who are marginalized, speaking up when you witness an injustice occurring, praying for those you dislike – the list can go on and on. As Isaiah said: ”So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” We are both the sowers and the soil. Without the one, the other would not make sense. When we go forth today, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, may we sow abundantly, and may the seed that is sown in us bear the plentiful fruit of God’s love. Amen.
Zechariah 9:9-12 Romans 7:15-25a Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we come before you, asking for understanding. We want to see ourselves as you see us: the empty and barren places, the halfhearted struggles, the faint stirrings of new life. Do not let us be blind to your presence. Shine upon us, O God, and make our paths clear, for we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Come to me, take my yoke, learn from me; I am gentle, humble in heart; you will find rest for your souls.
Hearing these readings on a day when many are still engaged in celebrating American Independence Day certainly brings to mind the symbolic freedoms associated with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Along with these celebrations there is a time for rest. It is a long weekend for many; three days of rest rather than the usual two-day weekend. This weekend brings to mind picnics, fireworks, and parades with patriotic overtones. Even though our country is made up of a diverse mix of people, nations, cultures, and languages, these readings, and this holiday challenge us to engage in a full understanding of power and a complete surrender to God. They challenge us to question where our loyalties lie, but more importantly, we are challenged to understand that sin sometimes comes from inaction as surely as it comes from action. On this day we might even say that we are being challenged to free ourselves from the sinfulness of the world and to declare our lives in dependence to our God.
How often have we felt like Paul did in his letter to the Romans? No matter how hard we try to live according to the great commandments, to love God and love our neighbor, it doesn’t always turn out that way.
This is not because we are horrid, retched creatures, but because there is sin in the world. And sin is powerful. It is so powerful that sometimes we just withdraw from action and words, and we allow whatever is happening to happen. Our inaction becomes the sin, especially when we know that an injustice is causing suffering and causing separation between people and God.
Paul sounds like he is exhausted and in his desperation is unable to do any more to free himself from sin. His words suggest that maybe sin is lurking like a monster under the bed, just waiting to take us over.
Even in the gospel reading, Jesus reminds the crowd that some thought John was possessed with a demon, yet he lived a life of denial and simplicity. Jesus lived overturning injustices and unveiling the many ways that society’s attitudes and laws actually reflected sinfulness rather than loving God and loving neighbors. He pointed out that sin could come from twisting the law to cause loss of humanity and life. Paul’s cry of desperation is quickly calmed with his own acknowledgement that sin is defeated by God through our life in and with Jesus as our companion.
Jesus does not tell us that it is an easy task to be free of sin and follow him. In fact, there is a cost. The cost may even come from the place we have trusted and have pledged our loyalty. That is why it is so hard to understand what sin is, and often just as hard to know what love is as well.
So, even when our motives are on target, sin seems strong enough to destroy. And yet, sin cannot exist when we abide in Christ and Christ in us. When we transfer our loyalty from the material powers of the world to the infinite love of God we find ourselves experiencing the passionate expressions of love that we read about in today’s Old Testament reading and psalm. We are filled with a sense of blessing and abundance.
The answers to everything are found in the unexpected, and with that come both peace and joy. Paul’s cry of desperation is quickly calmed with his acknowledgement that sin is defeated by God through our life in and with Jesus as our companion. And no words, no matter how profound, can really describe love so that we or another can understand. These readings both challenge and assure us. They hint at the profound simplicity of a life in Christ, and they serve as a mirror for us to examine our understanding of who we are along with how we are living. Our desire is to love God and to love our neighbor. When we do not love God and our neighbor, we are in sin.
Jesus gave us these most reassuring words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Come to me, take my yoke, learn from me; I am gentle, humble in heart; you will find rest for your souls.
Let us come to God through Jesus. Let us take on the yoke of discipleship. Let us learn from Jesus. Be gentle, humble in heart and you will be at peace with all that God made.
Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, only in freedom can we direct ourselves toward your goodness. Our ancestors made much of this freedom and pursued it eagerly. Help us we pray, to remember that your Son is yoked to us and gives us His freedom, so that in obedience to your will we may find our perfect freedom. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus Christ, nourish us through your word, nurture us through your grace, feed us through your Spirit, and fill us with your love for your name’s sake. Amen. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcome me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” We have a short Gospel lesson today. What is this Gospel about? Is it about the disciples, the twelve? Yes, of course, it is about them; these are Jesus' final words of instruction to them and astonishing words they are! "Whoever welcomes you guys welcomes me," Jesus says, "and whoever welcomes me welcomes the Father who sent me." Their mission was God's mission; their words were God's words; the people whom they met encountered God through them and their teachings. These are strong words, but we know these disciples turned the whole world upside down with their proclamation. Whoever welcomed them did indeed welcome Christ and the one who sent him. But what is it about for us today? These disciples are long gone. Do the words still apply? How do we welcome them and in so doing welcome Christ and the Father? One way is by receiving their witness, by joyfully believing the New Testament scriptures. When we receive the message they wrote down for us, we receive Christ. It's the old, old story, as a hymn says, but it's new in every generation and those who want to hear it most are those who already know it best. Faith comes by hearing, as the apostle Paul wrote, hearing the word of Christ as it was spoken and written by the disciples and by others who were converted by their words. Just so we get this straight: whoever welcomes you welcomes Jesus, and whoever welcomes your friend or neighbor or family member, or work colleague, or elected official, or mother-in-law, or next door neighbor, or chatty seat companion on an airplane, or grocery checker, or barber, or the UPS driver, or the kid who hit your new car with a baseball…and so on and so forth…welcomes God? We could have fun with this! But would there ever be an end to such a list of those who are welcome? Is there a line for you where the list ends of who is welcome? What does this mean? Whoever welcomes you welcomes me. And whoever welcomes any one of us welcomes Jesus, welcomes God. The message we hear in this morning’s gospel reading from Matthew was important enough to Jesus and to the early church that some variation on this theme shows up in each gospel, and often more than once. Also in Matthew’s gospel from chapter 18 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…” and from chapter 25 “The king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these …you did it to me.’” Mark includes similar verses. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus declares that “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” The Jesus in John’s gospel, declares in chapter 13 “Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” The church is not a club of like-minded individuals; it is not a voluntary organization gathered to do good or meet needs (important as these things may be); it is not a powerful institution whose product is religion. The church is a body of believers who welcome the apostles' teaching -- who trust it and live it and continue the work of mission. It seems, there was a farmer who was putting up a fence with another young farmer, to help a neighboring farmer. The first farmer suddenly dropped a heavy fence post right in the middle of a mud puddle. Both men were splashed with mud. Later, an eyewitness asked the first farmer, "Jim, did you drop that post in the puddle on purpose?" The farmer nodded his head, saying, "Yes, I sure did." Puzzled, the man asked him why he would do a thing like that. The farmer grinned and said, "Why, Willy, the boy I was working with had on a new pair of overalls. And we weren’t getting any work done because he was so worried about getting dirty. So I dropped the post in the mud hole and got him dirty. Did you notice how much faster the work went after the baptism?" It seems that generally the stance of the world we live in is quite contrary to this – we are encouraged to keep ourselves safe, to establish our boundaries, to take care of number one – to not get our overalls dirty. And yet the Gospel and the words of the scriptures are radically different. Pause for a moment and think about what we’ve been hearing through all this election drama, protests, and anger, fear mongering which is all about division, exclusion, keeping people separated, and kicking people out. There may be legitimate and compelling reasons to consider the economic impact or national security issues in such things, but if an inhospitable, exclusive attitude goes along with these ideas, then they are hostile to the teachings of Jesus who talked so very much about welcome, inclusion, hospitality. “Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’” This is an invitation of comfort and welcome reminiscent of the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty written by the poet Emma Lazarus. “Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Is this what we hear? Or do we hear, instead, words of separation, words of breaking relationship, words of opposition and rejection? So many of the ugly attitudes playing out on the national and world stage we see on the evening news have spilled over into our popular culture, showing up in the increase in violence and hatred flowing out into our cities and neighborhoods, among other things. This Sunday precedes two other occasions marked on the Church calendar: The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on Monday, and our celebration of American Independence on the Fourth of July on Saturday. A “Peanuts” comic strip shows Linus talking to Lucy: He is saying: “Charlie Brown says that brothers and sisters can learn to get along…He says they can get along the same way mature adults get along…and he says that adults can get along the same way that nations get along… ” and at that point with a frown on his face he says “at this point the analogy breaks down.” As we celebrate this Fourth of July, and as we sing God Bless America, and as we roast hot dogs and hamburgers and marvel at fireworks and the good ol’ red, white and blue, let us also ask ourselves what Jesus meant in telling us over and over again, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” We may believe differently about the details of our faith, as Peter and Paul certainly did and as Christians are prone to do. We may understand civic responsibility differently; Americans have always held a variety of opinions on things. But for us as Christian Americans or American Christians, the question of the day growing out of this gospel asks: What does it mean to welcome, and how do we do that? What does it look like in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our national policies, in our very attitudes? For we are Christians first, as citizens of God’s kingdom, living that faith in an American framework of privilege and challenge. Jesus didn’t say that we have to agree on everything, but he pretty clearly told us to be welcoming. Like Peter and Paul, we won’t all agree on everything. And as Americans, we will stand proudly to celebrate on the Fourth. When we put all that together, one possible outcome is that we may have to agree to disagree on some aspects of American policy as we live our Christian faith in daily practice. Christian people are called to be welcoming, for in welcoming others we welcome God. we should at least be able to agree on that. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, when we welcome strangers, we may be entertaining angels unaware. Let us pray: Heavenly Father, grant that not only our words but everything we are and do may be offered to you as a living prayer, in the name of Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, in ignorance we come, to receive light. In weakness we come, to receive strength. In confusion we come, to discover our true worth. May we ever seek you, and in you, may our hearts be ever joyful. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever felt that having a relationship with God should make your life easier? With God on your side, you’ll slide through life with no problems, right? The readings this morning should shatter that notion.
In our Old Testament lesson, we hear from the prophet Jeremiah. Today he’s known as the “Weeping Prophet.” Today we hear more than weeping from him. He’s complaining against God, using words on the edge of blasphemy. Jeremiah has been out doing what God asked him to do, and it hasn’t gone as well as the prophet had hoped. Jeremiah says, “I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.” He goes on to complain, “All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.”
The psalm offered no comfort either, lamenting: Save me, O God, For the waters have risen up to my neck. I am sinking in deep mire, And there is no firm ground for my feet. I have come to deep waters, And the torrent washes over me. I have grown weary with my crying; My throat is inflamed; My eyes have failed from looking for my God.
Then in our gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” Jesus is himself the master of the house and we are the members of his household, so if Jesus was called Beelzebul, a name for Satan, then how can we who follow him expect to be treated?
This is the Good News? So much for getting comfort from scripture for the week ahead.
Yet, for those who would follow Jesus, perhaps the question is not, “Why do things go wrong for those of us with a relationship with God?” The questions may well be, “Why are things going so well?” “Why aren’t we having more problems?” or for any follower of Jesus, “Why am I not being persecuted?”
Jeremiah did what God asked of him, and he was laughed at. The psalmist tried to follow God’s will and grew weary with crying for justice. Jesus was put to death, and after his resurrection, Jesus’ disciples went on to preach, teach and the disciples were killed for their faith in Jesus, with the exception of John, So where did we go wrong? Why don’t people laugh at us more? Make fun of us more? Why are our lives going so well?
Certainly, we are fortunate to live in a time and place when those who proclaim faith in Jesus Christ may do so without risking their lives. Baptism into the church no longer puts a death sentence on you as has been true in some times and places.
But we still can’t expect that following Jesus will lead to a life of no problems. Your relationship with God will not remove all the obstacles from your path. You aren’t guaranteed a perfect marriage, perfect kids, a perfect job or a perfect boss. Faith is not the path to a life of no worries. Jesus promised the victory, but he never taught of a life with no battles.
So what, then, is the point? Why believe?
Well, for one, believe because the gospel is true. There is a God who loves us and wants a relationship with us. That God is best known to us through the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. As God made man, Jesus not only showed us how we should live, but his death and resurrection reconciled us to God. Knowing the truth of Christianity is at the core of our faith. One believes, not because this is the easy path to a good life, but because the faith we profess is true. The Bible warns that problems can and will follow.
In fact, the 16th-century spiritual writer and mystic Teresa of Avilla wrote to God, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” Often a problem is that the faith we were given in Sunday school of “Jesus Loves Me This I Know,” while true, may not be realistic or even strong enough to handle a cancer diagnosis, the decline of a parent, the death of a friend or the end of a marriage.
But when we read further in our texts for this week, we find a confidence in God’s presence and mercy.
Jeremiah says confidently, “My persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail.” So convinced is the prophet that a few verses later, while people are still laughing at him, Jeremiah can proclaim, “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.”
Likewise, in Psalm 69, the poet first felt that he was sinking in deep mire with no firm ground for his feet. Then he grabbed hold of the conviction that God is the firm ground on which he stands. For the psalmist never loses the conviction that God’s love and compassion will get the last word. The psalmist refers to God’s unfailing help, God’s kind love and God’s great compassion. Finally, Jesus tells his followers, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Not only does he not promise smooth sailing, Jesus warns that storms will besiege the faithful. But in the tempests of life, we are not to be fearful. The question is not “Why are things going wrong?” Maybe we should ask, “Why is no one bothering me?” Perhaps your faith has not so changed your life that anyone else can notice.
For as Verna Dozier, an Episcopalian and great champion of the ministry of all baptized persons, once wrote, “Don’t tell me what you believe. Tell me what difference it makes that you believe.”
When your faith leads you to make public stands that are not popular, opposition will come. Problems will arise. This is to be expected. But we also know that we do not face these problems alone.
The anchor has long been a symbol in Christian art for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Though storms may come, we have a sure and certain hope that gives us purchase on the rock. Hold fast to the faith that is in you, knowing that Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are counted. Do not be afraid.” Jesus did not promise you a life of no battles, but he did promise the victory.
Let us pray: Gracious God, day after day, year after year, you are there to hold on to us in all the changes and chances of life. Help us to put our hand in yours, know that you are there, sharing our concerns and seeing us safely through, through the grace of Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, in ignorance we come, to receive light. In weakness we come, to receive strength. In confusion we come, to discover our true worth. May we ever seek you, and in you, may our hearts be ever joyful. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have so many ways of learning about God. We learn from Holy Scripture, of course. We learn from our worship, from the seasons of the year and the glories of nature, from one another, in our prayers. There is also a way of watching movies that can open our minds and hearts to God in ways more powerful than we might imagine. When we see a movie strictly for entertainment, we've received our money's worth, but when we watch the screen through the eyes of faith, God can touch us in ways that are worth much more, ways that are surprising, even transcendent. So, Ordinary, commercial films may become "Jesus movies."
In this time of social distancing Nancy and I have re-watched a number of old movies. Recently we watched the movie The Green Mile, for instance. The Jesus figure in The Green Mile is obvious. John Coffey, an enormous black man in the South, has been accused of murdering two small girls, and upon his arrest he is delivered to "the Green Mile," death row in a southern prison. It becomes apparent fairly early in the film that John is innocent; he is sweet and what we used to call "simple-minded;" despite his huge size, he weeps quietly at times and is afraid of the dark. He shows tenderness to all but the truly evil fellow inmates and guards he encounters on the Green Mile, and after a couple of miraculous healings,(including the wardens wife) there's no doubt in our eyes just who John Coffey represents. He's our Jesus figure in this movie.
Jesus showed us the nature of the Divine as he walked this earth among us. So what can John Coffey show us about the nature of God if we view him through the lens of Christ, praying that the Holy Spirit guide us to any truth?
In Matthew's Gospel today, we learn that "Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness." Matthew continues: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Compassion. "Com-passion." "Feeling with." Feeling another's pain, another's suffering.
In The Green Mile, one of the several climactic scenes shows us a gruesome execution, one in which a sadistic rookie guard deliberately omits a step in the electrocution process, essentially cooking a Cajun inmate named Edouard Delacroix, a man for whom John Coffey -- and the movie's viewers -- have developed a fondness. In one of the most graphic death scenes in cinematic history, as Del screams and jolts and jerks and smokes, John Coffey, in his own death row cell, experiences exactly the same torture. He jerks and grimaces as though he were sitting in "Old Sparky" himself. The lights on the Green Mile dim, then burst, as he lives through Del's electrocution from afar.
After the body has finally died and has been removed for burial, the officer in charge of the Green Mile, Paul Edgecomb, returns to his block and walks to John's cell. Sweat pours from John's body; he is still trembling. He says to Edgecomb through clenched jaws, "Boss, Del, he the lucky one. He out of it now."
"Do you mean you heard that all the way down here, John?" asks Edgecomb. "No, Boss. I felt it," replies John. John Coffey, our Jesus character, actually felt the pain of his friend. He experienced his torture, as though he had somehow been in the body of Edouard Delacroix.
Com-passion. Feeling with. In this time of turmoil, it seems many are lacking in this com-passion which is so needed in our society.
"Freely you have received, freely give," Jesus tells the twelve as he sends them out to preach and heal those for whom Jesus has such great compassion. We might overhear him saying something like, "Heal every disease and sickness. Cast out evil spirits. Take the message of the Kingdom to those who live on death row every day of their lives. Help me care for them. Have "com-passion" on them. Feel with them. I can't do it all by myself. The task is too great to be done alone, even by me. And it's not God's purpose that it all be done by me. You're in this, too. We can't do it without you. You're going to be my Body on earth soon, so you'd better get out there and start learning what that means before I leave you."
So the followers of Jesus, his disciples, the ones who had left fishing nets and families to follow and learn from this magnetic young man who spoke so winningly of his heavenly Father, these twelve meagerly prepared ones were now to take their first steps as apostles -- those who are sent out to do for the hurting of the world that which Jesus himself wishes done.
As we step into their shoes today, let's listen to this story carefully, because it is our story, too. We are his disciples today and more -- we are his Body. Christ, the compassionate one, is the Head of the Body. Information Central. Where the commands to the Body come from. Unless our own head tells our index finger and thumb to move closer together, we can't do so much as pick up a pencil. We need, as Christ's Body, to listen more carefully to Christ, our Head.
What is Christ telling us? To go out and be do-gooders in the name of the church? No! Some folks see this passage as a mandate for evangelism, and that can look scary, even impossible, especially for Episcopalians. During the Decade of Evangelism, the 90's, someone was heard to say that an Episcopal plan for evangelism was to build a really attractive aquarium next to the ocean and then wait for the fish to jump in. That's not what Jesus is calling us to here.
Jesus is sending us out to do the work that springs from a heart filled with compassion, with empathy, with doing our best to experience another's pain. We can never reach this ideal, of course; each person's pain is unique. But the heart of the compassionate Christ, which is and must be our own corporate heart, has no place for criticism, for judgment, even for merit. We help those who need help, not those we deem worthy of our help. It is not our own help we offer, of course; we are merely the vehicles for Christ's healing touch, his saving grace, his Word of hope and compassion. As we move more deeply into our identity as Christ's Body, as 21st century apostles, in this work of embodying Jesus today, church growth is a side effect of Christ's impact on those we encounter. Evangelism happens because the "evangel" is Good News indeed! And as we do the will of the one who sends us out, our own lives become daily more filled with the love and grace of our Savior. Freely we have been given, not deserving. Freely and with compassion we are called to give. The harvest is plentiful, and we are the laborers today in a field filled with weeds and hungry for the harvest.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, grant us courage to live sacrificial lives, dedicated to unlimited and unending service, even as Christ came to serve and not be served. Grant us boldness to answer your call to discipleship and compassion so your work may be done, and your kingdom come through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Genesis 1:1-2:4a 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 Matthew 28:16-20
Let us pray: Almighty God, open our eyes anew to your greatness and remind us again that your ways are not our ways or your thoughts our thoughts. May we glimpse once more your glory, and, though we do not always understand, may we walk in faith, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A story is told of an elderly Jewish man crossing the street in front of a Roman Catholic Church who was knocked down by a hit-and-run driver. Half-conscious and lying in the street, a priest ran out of the church to administer last rites. 'Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?' the priest asked. The old man cried, 'I'm dying, and this guy is asking me riddles!'” On this Trinity Sunday the church celebrates the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We recognize God as power (the Father, the Creator of all things), God as person (the Son), and God as presence (the Holy Spirit). Paul’s final benediction to the Corinthians switches this order a bit to better express each person’s unique experience of the divine. For Paul, Jesus Christ comes first, for it is through the grace of his life, death and resurrection that humans may be reconciled to God. Only grace enables us to experience “the love of God.” As we stand renewed and redeemed before this loving God, yet another gift is made available, “the communion of the Holy Spirit.” The person, the power, and the presence of God come to us in a threefold design-package. The church year began last Advent with the world God the Father created, yearning for light and peace and joy. Then came the birth of God the Son, followed by his ministry, his passion and death, his resurrection and ascension. Finally came the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Today the church puts it all together in its affirmation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as One God, after all. The celebration of the Holy Trinity summarizes our encounter with God and positions us for witness and service in all the world. The Sunday after Pentecost each year is designated in the church calendar as Trinity Sunday. It is a Sunday that strikes fear into the hearts of many preachers because there is a sort of an assumption that they are supposed to preach a sermon that is both inspirational and explains the doctrine of the trinity, and as anyone who has ever tried it knows, it is not possible to adequately explain the doctrine of the trinity, let alone make the explanation inspirational. You might as well ask someone to explain the evolution of barbed wire and make it sexy. It is not that the Trinity is not inspirational. It’s attempts to explain the Trinity that almost inevitably fall well short of being inspirational. Not only do they fall well short of being inspirational, they usually fall well short of succeeding as explanations as well. I’ll give you a tip. When the church has traditionally described something as a mystery, don’t expend too much energy trying to exhaustively explain it. They probably called it a mystery because nobody else had ever managed to explain it completely either. The good news is that this doesn’t matter. Christian faith is not about explanations, it is about experience. It is about a relationship with the living God. Have you ever attempted to come up with an exhaustive explanation of the experience of falling in love? You can’t do it, can you? You can say things about it that are true, but you can never explain it in such a way that a person who hadn’t experienced it would understand what you were talking about. In the end it is still a mystery. In fact, to push that analogy a bit further, imagine trying to write down a set of instructions for falling in love. An explanation for someone who didn’t previously know the experience, so that if they followed your description they would actually fall in love. Could you do it??? It’s a ridiculous idea isn’t it? And yet the fact that you can’t explain the experience or write a manual for it doesn’t stop you from falling in love. The experience comes whether you can comprehend it or not. Now exactly the same is true of the Trinity. You see before there was ever a doctrine of the Trinity, there was an experience of the Trinity. The early church experienced God in certain ways, and as they attempted to describe their experience the idea of the Trinity emerged. They began with their experience of the living God. The theology came second. I hope the same is still true, although I fear that sometimes we attempt to create experience on the basis of our theology and it never works. A pastor once asked a skeptic: "Do you mean to say that you don’t believe the Trinity as revealed in the Bible?" The skeptic answered: "I don’t know about that, but I know that I can’t get it into my head. And therefore I don’t believe it." "What size hat do you wear?" asked the pastor. "Six and seven-eighths," the skeptic said. "Why do you ask?" "Oh, I was just wondering," replied the pastor, "how you expect to get the full understanding of the Almighty into six and seven-eighths." This reply may seem simple, but it states our intellectual dilemma with the Trinity quite simply and honestly. Although the smallest minnow doesn’t understand the vastness of the oceans or the chemical composition of the water, he is at home in the water. A single sparrow has little comprehension of space and aerodynamics but is at home in the air. Our minds, too, simply cannot fathom the magnitude of God although we keep trying, unsuccessfully. Imagine this scene with me: Jesus said to His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” And his disciples answered and said, “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elijah, or another of the old prophets.” And Jesus answered and said, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and inter-penetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple." And Jesus answering, said, "Huh?" I can’t help but wonder if that’s Jesus’ response when we try and explain in grand theological terms all aspects of our faith. “Huh?” So many times we try and explain our faith in theological terms and all we do is get our feet tangled up in our underwear and fall flat on our...faith. Much of our Christian belief is not a theological question, but a question of faith. Jesus said it and I believe it! Jesus said, “I and the Father are One.” That’s two-thirds of the equation. On Pentecost Jesus breathed on his disciples and promised them His Holy Spirit. That’s the other third of the equation. Jesus said it and I believe it! One of the great errors that people make in Christianity is to say, “If I can’t understand it, it obviously doesn’t make any sense.” God is not like anything we can explain. We will never understand God. God is far beyond our understanding – far greater than our peewee brains. We live by faith. Not knowledge. God does not expect us to understand everything. But God will show us everything that is necessary. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Amen.
Let us pray: Gracious and Loving God, quicken our hearts again, that we may receive Your Word afresh and anew. May your Spirit's voice be heard, and in hearing may we respond in service and in witness to Your Name through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Easter Season officially ends today, Pentecost Sunday----a day when the Christian Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit into our midst.
In the Christian Church calendar, there are three days that are usually considered to be the most important. They are, quite obviously, Christmas, Easter, and this day, Pentecost. We recount today the coming of the Holy Spirit which, in many ways, marks the birthday of the Church. Today we hear the reading from Acts of the Apostles recounting Luke’s rendition of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the early church. And then in John’s Gospel where Jesus breathes upon the disciples telling them to “receive the Holy Spirit,” and giving them and the church, the charge over forgiveness of sins. As a child, I was often bullied by my grade school classmates, so one of my favorite comic strips was Popeye the Sailorman. Popeye was regularly bullied by Brutus. Brutus would often seek to cause mayhem in the life of Popeye in all kinds of ways. He would try to steal Olive Oil. I never quite understood why, but that was part of his program. He was always beating up Popeye until Popeye just couldn't take it anymore. And after he had taken all he could stand he would reach for that can of spinach. After he had done everything he could to get that can of spinach and swallow it, things changed. Brutus was now the victim and no longer the victor. Brutus was now subject to this new infusion of power that Popeye possessed, and for a while at least Popeye was on top. But you could bank on this one thing: by the time that comic strip ended, and another Popeye strip came, he was losing again. So, he needed another can of spinach. I was always wondering if there was something besides spinach I could eat that would give me the strength of Popeye. I am here to declare that we serve a risen Christ that has given us peace and a power by breathing on his disciples that is not subject to how much spinach we consume, but is a power that can transform our trials into triumphs. In reflecting on this day, and the readings, there are several things to say about the importance and power of this day. One quality of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is disruptive. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are fruits and gifts that bring us together; but the Holy Spirit is, by the nature and grace of the Holy Spirit, quite disruptive. In John’s Gospel, in a conversation with Nicodemus Jesus said: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit lives and moves among us, but often moves in directions we don’t always like or appreciate. A lot of people of have faith believe that God calms things down, that God makes everything go according to plan. It’s usually not the case. We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as a “Comforter,” “Advocate” or “Counselor” and nice soothing things but in our first reading from Acts we heard of the disruptive power of the Holy Spirit. Violent wind, tongues of fire, speaking in other languages. The neighbors claiming they were drunk. So the Holy Spirit, like Jesus, tends to be disruptive, especially about such issues like faith and religion. Little things. And we who live and breathe in organized religion should take note of this. Jesus was known, on occasion, to be disruptive in his interaction with the religious community. In Matthew, Mark, and John’s Gospel Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem in great triumph, goes to the Temple, and overturns the tables of the money changers and, generally makes a scene. He was totally disruptive. And that’s what the Holy Spirit is all about. Being disruptive—moving us out of our comfort zones. The Holy Spirit comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. This day, Pentecost, is a day when we are challenged to be moved from that which is comfortable. To be around God, to be open to the Holy Spirit, is not necessarily to just be comfortable. Secondly, John teaches us that Jesus taught the apostles they had the power to forgive sins or bind people to those sins. In the Gospel of Matthew, in Peter’s declaration of faith, Jesus gives to Peter, and the Church, the power to “bind and loose.” Over the centuries the Christian Church, and Christians have been good with the “binding” part and have struggled with the loosing part. We’ve been, historically; better, at rendering judgment on people than we have at forgiving them. In the Middle Ages the Bible was reprinted, by hand, in monasteries spread out over Europe. There was a debate amongst some of the monasteries about the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman--the story that culminates with the line, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Some of the monks struggled with this story. Some felt it seemed to be condoning the sin of the woman, condoning adultery. But the bigger problem was that Jesus forgave the woman, in the minds of the monks, way too easily. The issue, of course, was resolved because the story was in the Bible and the monks believed that they had no right changing the story--or Jesus’ intention. But it’s actually a story that does impact us. The cry for salvation is not a simple problem with a simple solution; it is a deep, cry for deliverance. It is a cry that the quick and easy formula of: “Say these six words and the rest of your life will turn out OK” can’t fix. It is a cry that a date on a calendar or a memorial of what happened a long time ago can’t soothe. No, this cry can only be answered with a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit – a Pentecost right here in our midst! But that’s impossible, right? Rushing winds and howling storms and spontaneously learning to speak different languages – the whole bit – that just doesn’t happen anymore, right? Well perhaps it doesn’t happen anymore in a dramatic and spectacular way such as 2000 years ago. But that’s not the question Pentecost dares to ask. Do you believe in the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life bringing you comfort and peace when you invite and ask? I don’t use wooden pencils very much anymore, but I remember, when I was in school growing up, using pencils and wearing out the erasers. I made a lot of mistakes and I used my eraser a lot. Pencils had different kinds of erasers. Some of the erasers were really soft, and pink, and they worked great. But some of the pencils had erasers that dried out and lost their softness and were really, really hard. Whenever I’d try to erase with them, they’d smudge the lead on the paper and, all too often, tore the paper. I sometimes wrestle with being either type of eraser. When I am kind, loving, and forgiving, I tend to do good things and I interact with my family, with friends, and with everyone a lot better. But when I’m like that hard eraser, angry, mean-spirited, and unforgiving, I just make a mess and tear into people and things. It’s pretty ugly, actually. In this time of health and social and faith challenge, we need the reassurance of God’s healing grace. We need the memory of Pentecost to inspire confidence in God’s welcome for all people. We need an enlarged understanding of the Body of Christ. We need to believe that God is good enough, big enough, generous enough, to make a place for each and every person in the Kingdom of God. Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and you will renew the face of the earth. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.