Monday, November 12, 2007

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 24 Proper 27


As many of you know, I have just returned
from our annual Diocesan Convention.
St. John’s was well represented this year.
I was there.
Susan Pearce and Michael Pearce served as our delegates.
Roger Watson and Larry Thompson served as alternates.
A beautiful courtesy resolution was read in honor of Jean Weinhauer
Bishop Weinhauer was very lovingly remembered.
All of the vocational deacons in our diocese were asked to stand
The Rev. Morgan Gardner at the podium said,
You are standing here today because of Bishop William G. Weinhauer.
There was only one vocational deacon in the diocese
when Bishop Weinhauer was installed as bishop.
Now…well, there were more than I could even count.

Larry Thompson was elected as one of 4 lay deputies from our diocese
to attend General Convention in 2009.
I was elected as an alternate for the clergy deputation.
That means that Larry is going for certain (God willing)
and I am asked to be prepared to go
should a member of the clergy delegation be unable to attend.

And for the Friday evening Eucharist at Convention
Michael was the crucifer.
Roger was a chalice bearer
Margaret King was an usher.
And word has it that Susan and my husband Tom were seen
doing the old dance “The Locomotion”—
right there in the chapel at Kanuga!

Don’t worry—it was part of the Rev. Claiborne Jones’ sermon--
about our need to move, to loco-mote, to different places
to help us see Jesus more clearly.

The theme of this year’s convention was “Be Doers of the Word.”

Be doers of the Word.

I think that most of us really want to be doers of the Word.
But it is not always easy.
There are many things in this world, this culture that distract us.

During the many, many reports and prayers and reflections and songs
and sermons and social time
during all this,
I kept thinking about our gospel reading this morning.

Jesus is confronted by the Sadducees.
Now the Pharisees and the Sadducees were the primary groups
of the temple authorities.
On most things they agreed—especially their dislike for Jesus—
but the one issue on which they did not agree was resurrection.
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.

I remember that in seminary I remembered this distinctive difference
by thinking they were “sad-you-sees”
because they could not believe in resurrection.
Sadducees also only used the first 5 books of the Bible—the Torah.
Worthy books, indeed.
BUT…those 5 books—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—
were their laws and their lives. No wiggle room.

They confront Jesus with a trick question.
And folks, Jesus is no fool.
He knows it is a trick question.
It probably was not the first trick question that had ever been posed to him.

According to the law in Deuteronomy (25:5-6)
if a woman without a child is left a widow,
it is the duty of her former husband’s brother to marry her.
The purpose of this is primarily for her to a bear a child—
which will be considered the heir of her dead husband.
Now this seems very strange to our 21st century minds.
but bearing sons, heirs, were everything in that time period.

So the Sadducees pose a really ridiculous question to Jesus.

They say so what happens if the woman’s husband dies
and she marries his brother but the brother dies
and she marries the next brother and that brother dies ….
Well, you get the idea. 7 brothers. 7 marriages.
The Sadducees want Jesus to say
who the woman’s husband will be in heaven—
if she was married to all seven brothers here on earth?

Jesus just refuses to be distracted by the question.
He speaks first about the resurrected life.
He doesn’t say heaven is like this or that;
he simply says the resurrected life
will not be a mirror of life here on earth.
The resurrected life is beyond our imaginations.

Then Jesus addresses whether there is resurrection
And he sides with the Pharisees.
He argues from the Torah (Jesus knows his audience) that God is a living God.
The God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob…
In today’s world
we would also let Sarah and Hagar
and Rachel and Rebecca and Leah claim God as well.
God lives on throughout the lives of each generation.
Resurrection does not depend on us or our actions.
It doesn’t even depend on Jesus’ resurrection.
Resurrection is simply part of who God is.

Bishop Taylor shared a wonderful story about Chartres Cathedral
in his Friday morning address at Convention.
Many of you know that Tom and I are leaving tomorrow morning for France.
We have a good friend who is living in Paris and she has invited us to come
And the lure of a free apartment in Paris
And bargain price round trip tickets on US Airways,
cinched the deal.
So we will go to Paris and to Chartres and then to Brittany
where I will do some research
for my postgraduate studies in Celtic Christianity.
So my ears perked up when I heard the Bishop tell this story.

The first church at Chartres was built in the 4th century.
In 858 the Vikings invaded and that church was destroyed.
Late in the 9th century, Charles the Bald gave the people of Chartres
A cloth, a relic, that was said to be the swaddling clothes
That Mary wrapped the newborn baby Jesus in.
The relic so inspired people
That a beautiful new Cathedral was built at Chartres in 1194.
Then there was a terrible fire.
Three priests grabbed the relic and went down, down, down
into the crypt beneath the ground under the Cathedral.
Three days later
the priests emerged with the cloth in tact.
The cathedral had burned to the ground.
The priests were safe.
The relic was safe.

The people celebrated and committed to build a new cathedral—
bigger, taller, more windows, more beautiful.
And it was done.
That cathedral stands today.

The message of this story is that when storms rage on the surface,
when everything in life is burning up,
Go deep.
It is there that you will find God.
This is exactly what Jesus is doing with the Sadducees.

The silly question is the firestorm they are setting to burn Jesus out.
But Jesus holds on to the same truth we hear from Job today:
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh—in my awakening,
I shall see God…

When things are disturbed on the surface,
Go deep.
When life is falling apart,
fall into the arms of God.

This is what Jesus does over and over.
This is the model he gives us for our own lives.
For our life as the church,
For our life as a human beings.

When things are on fire on the surface,
Go deep.

How do we do that?

Bishop Taylor suggests three ways.
First of all, prayer.

We are called to cultivate our connection with Jesus through prayer.
Every Episcopalian needs to own a Book of Common Prayer.
This is not just a book for Sunday services.
Our Prayer Book is a true gift.
Bishop Taylor asked us to use our Prayer Books every day.

This is not an order or an edict,
It is a way of transformation.
And perhaps, through the grace of God,
it is the way to transform the world around us.
Prayer is the widest path to going deeper in our relationship with God.

If you don’t have a Book of Common Prayer,
I can tell you where to buy one.
If you can’t afford a Book of Common Prayer,
speak to me and we will work it out.
(With God and the Rector’s Discretionary Fund all things are possible!)

Secondly, Bishop Taylor said be intentional.
Be intentional
about practicing our faith in our daily life.
We can do this in many ways—
Kindness, hospitality to strangers,
Forgiveness, reconciliation, tithing.
Outreach, mission, listening to each other.
Listening for God in our lives.

We have to set our priorities of what is important to us.
I have a sister who is six years older than I am.
She took piano lessons and was quite good.
I could not wait until I was old enough to take piano lessons.
Finally the year came.
Mrs. Page.
I was so excited. I wanted to be a fantastic pianist.
There was only one part of the equation I had not countered on.
You have to practice.
You have to be intentional about practicing.
I wanted to just sit down on the bench and play magnificently.
Hmmm…it doesn’t happen.
And I can’t play much beyond a first year piece on the piano.
I think I peaked with the tune “Two Frogs”.
I was not intentional about practicing the piano.
It wasn’t a priority for me.
I only wanted it if it could happen like magic.
Few things that are meaningful in our lives are like that.

Just as we have to be intentional about learning a sport
Just as we have to practice to learn to play a musical instrument
or learn a language or master driving a car,
Just as we have to make our marriages and our friendships a priority
if we expect them to deepen and endure,
we need to give that same intentionality to our spiritual lives.

We have to make some choices on what really matters most to us.
And then give our time and energy and passion to those things—
Not all the other things that scream for our attention,
that distract us, that trick us and trap us.

We are called to go deeper in our understanding of our faith
so we know who we are,
so we understand why we are here on this planet.
so that when the fires are raging in our lives or in our church
or in our world,
We can find our the way to the door that opens
to go deeper,
so not to lose our focus on what really matters.

And lastly we need to pray for bigger hearts.
Hearts that will lead us from despair to hope.
Hearts that will guide us from a theology of scarcity
to a theology of abundance.
Hearts that are big enough to include everyone at the table.

Our Old Testament reading is from the book of Job.
You may know that everything horrible happens to Job—
He loses his livelihood, his health, his family, his friends—
But there is one thing he does not lose.
He does not lose his faith.
If I had to give you a simple definition of faith
I would say that faith is believing, really believing,
That God loves you no matter what.

It is as difficult to imagine the immensity of God’s love
for each one of us
as it is to imagine what the resurrected life will be.

Job never loses his belief that God loves him.
He never stops loving God.

It’s not that Job is some superhero of faith.
Job is just a man who already had a relationship with God.
A relationship built over time, through practicing his faith.

Job had spent a lifetime cultivating a deep relationship with God—
long before he “needed” it.

Job understands that when the fires are burning on the surface of his life,
there is a deeper place to go…a place where he will find God.
He doesn’t let all the horrid things happening to him
distract him from what really matters, from the truth that he knows

I know that my redeemer lives, says Job.

God is a God of the livinig says Jesus.

When the fires burn on the surface,
go deep, says Bishop Taylor.

As we heard in the letter to the Thessaonians,
May God direct our hearts to the love of God
and the steadfastness of Christ.

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