Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 14

Resting in the Peace of God

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be

So begins a poem by Wendell Berry.
A poem titled The Peace of Wild Things.

Funny thing is,
when I was trying to remember this poem,
I remembered the title as being
The FEAR of Wild Things—
which probably tells you a lot about how I feel
about wild things.

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid, little flock.
It is a command
but a very, very tender command.

We hear it in our gospel reading today
but we have heard it before and we will hear it again and again and again in scripture.
Do not be afraid.
Fear not.

After the sermon and the Creed and the Prayers of the People
and the Confession and the Absolution,
we come to the time in our worship service
where I come to the center
in front of the altar,
and I say to you,
The peace of the Lord be with you.

And you say back to me,
And also with you.
And then I respond to you, saying,
Let us offer one another a sign of God’s peace.

This is not just a howdy-do and how’s the weather time and greeting.
It’s not a mini-coffee hour social time—
we greet one another in the name of God,
we reach out to one another with the heart of Jesus,
the mind of Christ.

When we greet each other,
with a handshake, with a hug,
with the words, “God’s peace”
or the “The peace of the Lord”
We are reminding one another,
Do not be afraid.

We do not keep God’s peace to ourselves.
We shake hands and hug and give God’s peace to others.
We give away
the peace of the Lord.
That is part of our work as the little flock, as Jesus calls us.

What more precious gift could we offer to one another
in a world that hangs thick
with despair and fear at times.
Do not be afraid.

There is a line from another poem,
one by Robert Frost,
that opens with its title line,
I have been acquainted with the night.

I have been acquainted with the night.
We have all known darkness in our life.
We have all shivered with fear at one time or another.
We have all felt overwhelmed by despair.
For some of us
it feels as if fear and despair and darkness own us.

What Jesus comes to tell us in the gospel reading today
is simply this:
Do not be afraid.
Fear is not God’s dream for us.

God’s dream
is to give us everything.
God’s dream is to give us the whole kit and kaboodle of the kingdom.
Imagine that!

Jesus wants us to be dressed for action,
to be ready to receive what is offered to us.
He tries to tell us
how to make space for the kingdom in our lives,
where to find the oil that will keep our lamps burning bright.

Some of his advice we do not particularly want to hear:
Sell your possessions.
Give alms.
Where your treasure it,
there your heart will be also.

All Jesus is trying to teach us
is how to live
without being overwhelmed by despair and fear.

All Jesus is trying to teach us
is that possessions—
those things, that stuff—
the big stuff
like money, cars, houses, pensions--
can crumble and disappear
before our very eyes.
And the little stuff-
our Smartphones, designer purses, cute shoes,
our grande no fat-no foam latte--
may delight momentarily
but sooner or later wear out and are empty.

God wants us to have the real thing.
(And I’m not talking Coca-Cola!)

Part of our foolishness and our self-deception
is believing that worldly stuff can conquer fear .

Sometimes we even invite and allow thieves
to come live in our house—
these thieves come in many shapes and sizes--
alcohol, food, drugs,
work, shopping, lying, hoarding,violence—
we believe these thieves will protect us, give us peace.
But at best, these thieves numb us to our real feelings.
At worst, they can kill us
And kill the relationships that matter most to us.
These thieves separate us from God and one another.

Jesus could have said,
Don’t be so stupid, little flock.
But instead—and it’s important to remember his gentleness here,
Instead, he said,
Do not be afraid, little flock.

Do not be afraid
to let go of things that do not bring you peace.
Do not be afraid
to travel lightly in this world.
Do not be afraid
to be part of a little flock
that will be there to bleat and baah and make a ruckus
when you wander away
and will leap with joy
when you find your way home again.
Do not be afraid to face your fears.
Do not be afraid
because God is with you.
God loves you.
God dreams for you the everything.

I do not think it is a coincidence
That so many people ask for Psalm 23
be read at their burial service.
I want to close with two versions of the 23rd Psalm.

The first is from the Bay Psalm Book.
This was the first book printed in North America,
printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Psalms in the Bay Psalm book
are metrical translations into English.

The second is a version written by Bobby McFerrin.
Remember Bobby Mc Ferrin—Don’t worry, be happy?

Listen to the two versions of this psalm as you hold in your hearts
the line from today’s gospel:
Do not be afraid little flock.

Psalm 23
(from The Bay Psalm Book)

The Lord to me a shepherd is
want therefore shall not I:
He in the folds of tender grass,
doth cause me down to lie:
To waters calm me gently leads
restore my soul doth he:
He doth in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake lead me.
Yea, though in valley of death’s shade
I walk, none ill I’ll fear:
Because thou art with me, thy rod,
and staff my comfort are.
For me a table thou hast spread,
in presence of my foes:
Thou dost anoint my head with oil,
my cup it overflows.
Goodness and mercy surely shall
all my days follow me:
And in the Lord’s house I shall dwell
so long as days shall be. Amen.

This next version of Psalm 23 is from Bobby McFerrin.
He offers us a feminine image of God.
As you listen, remember Jesus’ words: Do not be afraid, little flock.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need,

She makes me lie down in green meadows,

Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs, 

She leads me in a path of good things,

And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk, through a dark and dreary land,

There is nothing that can shake me,

She has said She won't forsake me,

I'm in her hand.

She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,

She anoints my head with oil, 

And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me,

All the days of my life,

And I will live in her house,

Forever, forever and ever.

Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter,

And to the Holy of Holies,

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,

World, without end.

1 comment:

Chris Elliott said...

Really lovely, helpful too, giving me some thoughts for a baptism sermon - thank you! Rev Chris Elliott UK