A New Place

 A Sermon for the 6th Sunday in Easter: Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 5:1-9

Preface, this is my last Sunday as a retired supply priest for St. Stephen’s.

Well, today is an interesting day. I could preach about Acts, and how Lydia is not only a leader in the early Christian Church, she is also a wealthy independent woman who is a leader in her community (Acts 16:9-15). And there is plenty of thoughts here when under the guise of standing for a fetus’ right to life, several states, under the leadership of mostly older white men, have passed draconian laws that seek to deny women their biblical place as their equals and images of God. I could preach about Revelation and the New Jerusalem, which is already here, that has no Temple, because the Temple, which is the reminder of God, is no longer needed because God is here all the time (Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5). Or I could preach on John 5 and people ignoring the cripple, by the pool of Bethzatha, for 13,870 days (John 5:1-9). We tend to focus on the miraculous healing when Jesus tells him to get up and walk, and he does. We don’t talk about the man’s total lack of appreciation; he just walks away. We also ignore how many excuses people made, and make, excuses to walk on by those in need. This story is an example when righteousness, which this man has little of, has nothing to do with healing and salvation (Pankey). However, the divine muse kept pushing me elsewhere.

Today you and I are in a new place. For the first time in 25 years, I no longer have a pulpit. I know I am still a priest I know I am called. To exactly what? I am not sure; I have some ideas, even some thoughts, some hopes, but nothing definite.

For the first time St. Stephen’s no longer has an idea of your priestly leadership. You have been through several transitions of Rectors and Vicars. You have even been through the mission-parish-back to mission status more than once. You know you are a Faith Community, a faithful community. You know you are called to be a welcoming, caring home for anyone seeking a place to nurture their relationship with God. What that is going to look like, and how it is going to be, is a work in process. Your vestry and Bishop Benfield and Cannon Alexander will lead this discernment.

You and I are separately in the same place, a new place, an unknown place. To be honest it is a little scary ~ because it is unknown. Friday, I read the Noon Day Prayer Office in which Psalm 121 is one of the appointed options.

It may be familiar:

 1 I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?

2 My help comes from the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot be moved *
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

4 Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;

5 The Lord himself watches over you; *
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,

6 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe.

8 The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore (BCP 779).

In ancient days gods lived on the hilltops. The psalmist implies there is no help to be found there. Why? Because his help comes from God, who created the heavens and the earth, and who watches over him and you always. God is the psalmist’s help. God is my help. God is your help. God is eternally reliable help, wherever you, ~ we, maybe, whatever we may be up to. Psalm 121 is one of my favorites, it hangs on my study wall, or it will again when I am settled in my new study.

Psalm 131 is another favorite, adopted by my informal study group in seminary:

1 O Lord, I am not proud; *
I have no haughty looks.

2 I do not occupy myself with great matters, *
or with things that are too hard for me.

3 But I still my soul and make it quiet,
like a child upon its mother’s breast; *
my soul is quieted within me.

4 O Israel, wait upon the Lord, *
from this time forth for evermore (BCP 785).

We laughed about great matters or things that were too hard, and there were plenty. We took comfort in stilling our souls in stopping and waiting for the Lord.

While I am on favorite Bible verses, here is one from the creation story

So, God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

This is the foundation of our relationship with God. All of us, every human being who ever was, who is, and who will be is created, ~ made ~ in God’s image and therefore made to be in relationship with God. From the second creation story

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help-mate.” (Genesis 2:18).

This is the foundation of our relationship with each other. We are made to be in relationships, we are created to be help-mates to each other, specifically, male-female, and by extension, everyone is created to be everyone else’s helper -mate (Young Gen. 2:18). How these come together is seen in John 9. There the disciples ask Jesus

Who sinned the man or his parents that he was born blind?

And yes, according to Jewish theology, there was apparently a way a fetus can sin. That now aside, we can focus on Jesus’s answer.

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me (John 9:3-4).

Or

No one sinned. Life happens. This man was born blind. Now is the time to work the works God has given us to work (Trotter).

Which brings us to where we are.

For the first time in a quarter century, I do not have a pulpit. For the first time in memory St. Stephen’s does not know the nature of your future. No one sinned, no one did anything wrong, life just happens. God has given us work to do, even if it is yet somewhat undefined, so you are not alone, you have helpmates, you are made to be with God, so you can still your souls and not worry about the little stuff, or the big stuff either, because, God is eternally and reliably here to help, wherever you, wherever we, maybe, and whatever we may be up to.

We can be at peace.
We need not fear the changes of life,
but can look to them, with full hope as they arise
God, whose very own we are,
will deliver us from them.
God has kept us so far,
and will lead us safely through all things; …
We need not be afraid
of what may happen tomorrow;
the same eternal Father
who cares for us today, will take care of us every day.
Let us put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations
and in peace, work the works God has given us to work
(adapted, St. Francis DeSalles).


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 26 5 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Helmer, Ben E. “Such Good Things, Easter 6.” 26 5 2019. Sermons that Work.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on John 5:1-9. 26 5 2019.

Pankey, Steve. Pick up your excuses. 26 5 2019. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1312346053>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

Trotter, John Scott. “Healthy Access.” A Proposal for Doctor of Ministry Memphis Theological Seminary. April 2016. TS.

Young, Robert. Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. 1892: Public Domain, n.d.

 

Wrong way to the right way

The other day I was traveling to a usual and customary out of town location for a regularly scheduled meeting.  For an unknown reason I got off an exit earlier than normal, shortly made a left hand turn resulting in a one block trip on a one way street in the wrong direction; other than my embarrassment, no harm done. However, when I got to the street I was headed to I saw a gentleman in a wheel chair obviously struggling. I rolled down the window to inquire, and it turns out his wheel-chair seat had broken. I was able to give him a short ride to his destination, for which is he was thankful. Extra bonus, I was not late for the scheduled meeting.

I am not one to believe the God micro manages human events; in general  I am a believer in the perversities’ of numbers; in short, life happens. I believe it is whether we choose to allow life’s events to define us or if we turn to the presence of God to determine how we respond to life’s events that makes the difference in our lives. Drawing from John 9, I believe life happens, let the works, the glory, the presence of God be made known.

Did God cause me to exit one stop early? Did God cause me to make a wrong turn? Was all that simply serendipity? Who knows? What I do know is that as a result of all that, I was blessed to give assistance to a person in need. My day was blessed from very early on.

 

Life Happens

Yesterday, a Colleague blogged about a second long reading from John; and a second temptation for preachers to ramble all over the place in an attempt to catch the myriad themes inherent in the story.  He is choosing to limit himself to a single unifying theme, and I am also drawn to a single, though different, unifying theme.

For those who have heard me over the years you will not be surprised to know I am drawn to Jesus reply to the disciples’ question: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answers: Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  I recall someone re-translating the sentence. No one. He was born blind. Let the works, (deed, doing, labor) of God be revealed. The point is to remove the question of causality and understand the man’s blindness as an incident of life by which, or though which the work of God may be revealed.

Jesus uses the encounter to reveal God’s work by restoring his sight. I don’t know about you, but that is a bit beyond my ability, so what am I, what are we to do when we encounter one of life’s tragedy’s be it blindness, or a mudslide, or a plane crash, or a bad medical report? Jesus’s answer is to let the work of God be revealed. And we can do that by how we interact with the individuals, families, and/ or communities involved; which may be assuring presence, as others attend to available technical approaches.

I’ve shorted it all to: Life happens, let God’s work (actually I use glory more often than not) be shown. in an attempt to formulate a guide for responding to all of life’s happenings: good, bad or indifferent. In many respects revealing the glory, the works of God is what the Gospel story is all about. As I think about it, it’s really what this long story is all about.