Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sermon for Year A Easter 5


We had been away from church for a long time.
We loved God but church…hmmm…

But then our daughter, in middle school at the time,
began to say, “I would really like to go to church.”
“You won’t like it,” said my husband.
“God is good but church is boring.”
“I would really like to go to church,”
our daughter would repeat.

But we continued to sleep in on Sunday mornings
and assumed, as parents often do,
that our daughter would just forget about it over time.

And then it looked like we were going to be leaving Charlottesville,
where we had lived for 15 years,
and moving to Memphis.
Our children were not thrilled with the idea of leaving their friends
and the place they had lived all their lives.

Our daughter knew that she was in a ideal position to negotiate.
“When we move to Memphis,
can we go to church?” she asked.
My husband, wanting to make her feel happy about the move, replied,
“Yes, we can go to church.”

“Do you promise?”
“Yes. I promise.”

He thought she would forget about it.
We both thought she would not remember this conversation months later
or she would change her mind
when we said “Yes” instead of “No.”

We moved in to our house on Central Avenue in Memphis on a Friday.
Saturday evening as we sat down to supper,
our daughter said,
“I am so excited that we are going to church tomorrow.”

My husband and I looked at one another.
Then Tom began to go into a little parental speech
about how we had just moved
and all the things that are wrong with church…
And our daughter stopped him cold.
“Dad! You promised.
And you ALWAYS keep your promises.”

So we went to church.

Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Memphis.
My husband is a cradle Episcopalian.
Let’s just say once he left the cradle and went off to college,
he forgot who had rocked him those early years!
But once we were going to go to church
he could not imagine going to any church
other than an Episcopal church.

I was fine with that.
I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church
and, as an adult, I knew it was not home for me.

I remember so clearly that first Sunday of coming back to church.
I remembering weeping during the service.
Afterwards I said, “I do not remember church ever being like this.”
My daughter exclaimed, “I love church!”
Our son didn’t say much of anything,
probably thinking we had all lost our minds.
You know the end of the story,
because here I stand today.

One kept promise
turned our lives upside down
and is still doing that with our faith journeys today.


That is what we hear from Jesus in our gospel today.

I go to prepare a place for you.
I will come again and take you to myself.
I will do whatever you ask in my name.
I am the way, and the truth and the life.

When Thomas and Philip question Jesus,
the real question beneath their questions is this:
Do you really mean what you are saying?
Do you promise?
Will you keep your promises, Jesus?

Our work as the people of God,
our ministry as the church,
is to keep those promises alive and kept,
to point the way for all who walk in the doors
towards God’s always-kept promises.

I am not a believer in prosperity gospel.
I do not believe that my faith, or your faith, however strong,
will make us rich or keep us from ever getting sick
or protect us or those we love from disappointment or heartache.

I am not a believer in prosperity gospel
because Jesus never promises that.

Jesus says,
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God, believe also in me.
If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The closer I come to God,
the deeper I go in my relationship with God—and with people--
the more I know I cannot ask for some things
in the name of Jesus, in the name of God.
I just cannot do it.

Remember who Jesus is.
He was born into the world not as king
or as mighty warrior.
He was born into a family of rather meager means.
He was born to a mother whom the community shunned.
He had to work for a living.
Achievement and success was not at the center of his life.
God was the center of his life.
God was his Alpha and the Omega—
the beginning and the end.

Jesus never aspired to power or wealth—or even physical safety.
Jesus had one directive for us:
Love God. Love one another.

Jesus had one promise, repeated in a thousand different ways,
God loves YOU.
I love YOU.
Now YOU go and do likewise. Love one another.

We have so many complaints about our lives,
about lacking this or lacking that,
about wanting this or wanting that,
about how someone else always gets their way,
gets the best of everything while we are left out.

We spend so much time trying to rewrite our lives
that we lose sight of all we have been given.
We lose sight of the promises God is keeping for us.

There is a program in the schools in Toronto
called Roots of Empathy.
I read about it this week in Trinity News,
the magazine published by Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church.

A woman named Mary Gordon started this program in 1996.
She brings babies—yes, real live babies-- into Toronto classrooms
to help students learn social and emotional literacy
to promote empathy,
to promote caring for someone other than yourself,
especially for the someones who are weaker and more vulnerable.

Research is showing that the program reduces aggression,
especially bullying, in the schools.

Mary Gordon tells this story:

Darren was the oldest child I ever saw in a “Roots of Empathy” class.
He was in Grade 8 and had been held back twice.
He was two years older than everyone else
and already starting to grow a beard.
His mother had been murdered in front of his eyes
when he was four years old,
and he had lived in a succession of foster homes ever since.

Darren looked menacing
because he wanted us to know he was tough:
His head was shaved except for a ponytail at the top
and he had a tattoo on the back of his head.

The mother who had brought her baby Evan into the classroom that day
talked to the class about how her baby liked to face outward
in his Snugli, a type of baby carrier,
and that Evan wasn’t really a cuddly sort of baby.
When the mother asked if anyone would like to try on the Snugli,
which was green and trimmed with pink brocade,
everyone was stunned when Darren said he would.

Just then the class ended and students rushed off to lunch,
but Darren stayed behind.

He strapped on the Snugli
and then asked the mother if he could put Evan in.
The mother was a little nervous but she handed him her baby,
And Darrin put Evan in the Snugli, facing toward his chest.

That wise little baby snuggled right in,
And Darrin took him into a quiet corner and rocked back and forth
with the baby in his arms for several minutes.

Finally, he came back to where the mother and the teacher were waiting
and asked:
“If nobody has ever loved you,
do you think you could still be a good father?”

If nobody has ever loved you,
do you think you could still be a good father.

Now that is a question asked in the name of Jesus.
If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

What will you ask
in the name of love?
What will you give
in the name of love?
What promises will you keep
in the name of love?

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