A sermon for Proper 22
Lamentations 1:1-6, Lamentations 3:19- 26 , or Psalm 137, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10
St. Mark’s Jonesboro AR
Good morning, I am Scott Trotter, priest serving St. Stephen’s, Blytheville, and Calvary, Osceola. I’ve meet a few of you at various Diocesan events over the last three years, others during my last foray into Arkansas when I served Holy Cross, West Memphis. It is truly a pleasure and privilege to be with you to hear and reflect on the word of God, and to celebrate God’s presence in the Eucharist. I am honored that Jesse entrusted you into my care this morning. However, I did notice ~ that he did not entrust ~ your pets into my care; oh well.
You may know that St. Stephen’s and Calvary are small congregations. It is a shame average Sunday attendance doesn’t count towards the number of Sundays a preacher preaches. Let’s see, 110 plus 8 o’clock divided by [mumble] I wouldn’t have to preach for another 2 or 3 weeks. Perhaps it’s for the best, I wouldn’t want to forget how.
I know it has been in the mid 80s for the last several days none the less it is October, I know ‘cause all the world is enthralled by stories of strange animals, dogs, eagles, pachyderms, hogs, wolves etc. But I’m remembering another story
It was oh don’t know nearly 30 years ago. We are late to church, actually later than usual. Angie and I race in quickly drop our kids off in the nursery, and as quietly as we could, slide into a back pew. We settle in as the last few notes of the music covering the Gospel’s return finish, and the preacher climbs into the pulpit. It takes less than two sentences to realize this is the obligatory stewardship sermon. I, for one, hang my head, wondering why we rushed to get here this morning. Yes, it is stewardship time, there are signs all around, literally.
Over the last 20 or so years, I’ve come to realize that stewardship is not about time, talent or treasure. What we are really stewards of is Christ’s ministry to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. If we listen to NT Wright, that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now! [i] Time, talent and treasure are simply assets we are to use to share that surprising hopeful news. And yes, I know that that is scary. But scary is nothing new. Just ask Timothy.
Timothy is a new priest in Ephesus. Times are hard, he frequently suffers from illness, he is really reticent, very inexperienced, the cultural context is antagonistic, and …. there are internal obstructionist, who are upset if for no other reason than things are changing, and fast. So, Paul writes him a letter. I’m sure he would have made an Episcopal visit, but he happened to be securely locked in jail. Anyhow, Paul reminds him about his strong faith background grounded in his mother and grandmother. I don’t know where his father and grandfather were, whatever that may mean. Paul writes: that Timothy has a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
Do not be ashamed … of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.
In truth, Paul is also speaking over Timothy’s shoulder, to the church in Ephesus, and … to us … today. They are, we are to take on the work given us trusting in God’s purpose and grace, and there is no greater power.
Even with Paul’s encouragement, it is difficult to grasp how one might take on such an inconceivable task. Actually, Lamentations gives us an insight. And yes, I did actually read this morning’s verses. I do know that they are full of the coming doom, that there is nothing promising in them, at least not on the surface.
One trouble with this morning’s verses is that they suffer from the Genesis problem. I’m not talking about Darwin vs. Creationism, or Darrow vs. Bryan, or Scopes vs. Tennessee’s Butler Act. Both creation stories; chapter 1’s seven day, well six day schedule ending with the creation of aw’dam, humans, people, male and female in God’s image, and chapter 2 vs 4 and on, ending with the whole rib thing, that Adam’s concludes with:
This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.
intertwine two types of writing: mythology, the science of the day and theology, where is God in all this. To avoid the void of evolution vs. creationism, we tickle the out the myth note the relevance science, not easy with competing theories, then weave God back into it all. That is a task for another day, suffice it to say that God is present in the big bang, string, quarks, the strange force, the Higgs Boson, and whatever else there is to come.
It’s a similar task with Lamentations: tickle out the last millennia BCE’s understanding of the actions of God integrate a 21st understanding of the actions of God, and then discern an honest response to the consequences of Zion’s decisions and actions that have them at the edge of disaster. It’s a similar process for us as we discern an honest response to the results of our decisions and actions, that may make the Glory of God known in celebrations, new ministries, or whatever, or may be a repentance, not an “I’m sorry” but a change in direction, not just because of misbehavior but also because things change, think Timothy. With the question of causality out of the way we can get on to the second bit.
Scott Hoezee notes how lament generally emerges from fear or anger. [ii] It is evident in reactions to the Affordable Care Act. Those opposed to the act are angry it is still going into effect, many are afraid, and lament the consequences. Hoezee posits that the biblical source of lament is a heartfelt wish that everyone could see things God’s way and live into God’s shalom. This lament will be different.The same is true of those elated at ACA’s start-up who say See it is working or I told you so! their joy should come from heartfelt belief that everyone, or many, do see things God’s way and are living into God’s shalom. This celebration will be different. In Hoezee’s schema both lament and celebration, will be a proclamation of God, Christ and the Spirit’s active presence in our lives, making a real difference.
So, no matter the context hopeless or hopeful now: is not the time to be timid, not the time to fear insulting another but to seek to inspire another, not the time to shrink back from social back lash, but to stand quietly strong trusting God. It only takes a little faith, perhaps no more than planting a seed, [iii] to change lives, maybe thousands, maybe one, either way we are the stewards we are called to be. Francis would smile.
[i] NT Witght, Surprised by Hope
[ii] Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, Lamentation,
[iii] 1 Corinthians 3:6
Stan Mast, Center for Excellence in Preaching, Lamentation ,2 Timothy 1:1-14