Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sermon for Year A Easter 7

Sermon for Year A Easter 7
June 5, 2011
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asheville, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan

It’s in the bag!

When I was in seminary—back when I knew everything—
I said to myself,
I will NEVER start a sermon by telling a joke.
But then you get out of seminary
and discover yourself doing A LOT of things
you said you would never do.

So here’s my joke.

There was a young lion in the jungle
who thought a lot of himself and his power.
One day he was out walking and he saw a hyena so he leaped over a bush
and landed right in front of the hyena and roared and said:
“I’m KING of the jungle. WHO are you?”
The hyena was terrified and ran away as fast as he could.

The young lion continued strutting
through the forest and he sees a zebra.
He leaps from behind a tree and lands right in front of the zebra.
“I’m KING of the jungle. WHO are you?”
The zebra is off and running as fast as she can run.

On through the jungle continues the young lion.
He sees a little monkey, sitting alone on the jungle floor.
He leaps toward the monkey and roars and says,
“I’m KING of the jungle. WHO are you?”

The little monkey just looks up at the lion and says,
“I’ve been sick.”

Sometimes we have to be reminded
that we are NOT the king of the jungle!!

Do not think that I missed the irony
of coming back sick after attending the CREDO conference—
a conference that focuses on wellness—
spiritual, physical, emotional, vocational
and financial wellness.
The conference was a stunning experience;
Being sick?
Not so stunning!

When I left the doctor’s office last week
I had so many medications and instruction sheets
they had to give me a little brown paper sack
to carry them in.

I momentarily flashed back to being a child
and visiting my grandparents in Wendell, NC.
My grandfather would give me a nickel
and I would run down the block to a little corner store—
Mr. Joseph’s—
and I could fill a little paper sack with penny candy for that nickel.

You know my heart still says I am still a little kid,
so excited to have that little sack of candy—
But sometimes my body says,
Oh honey! You ain’t no little kid any more.
Just look inside that bag!

But thanks be to God for the time and place we live
when we are blessed to have wise doctors
and caring, intelligent nurses
and medicines that can heal us and help us.
I pray and hope this kind of medical care will one day be available
to everyone in this country and around the world.

I am very, very mindful
that even in sickness, I am blessed.

And what a blessing it is
to be back home at St. John’s with all of you!
Thank you for all you did in my absence.
You ARE the church, remember?
And thank you for all you do in my presence as well--
Keep up the good work!

Indeed, I am back—
and Jesus has left.

That’s right—didn’t you hear that in the reading from Acts?
He was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.
The Ascension.
We officially celebrated the Ascension this past Thursday
But our lectionary tells us about it once again on this Sunday—
Just in case we hadn’t noticed that Jesus is gone.

Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.
You can’t come again unless you have left.
Jesus is really gone.

And yet—it is not the gone part—
not the Jesus is up there in the clouds part—
upon which we are called to dwell.

Right after Jesus is taken out of their sight,
the disciples receive this message,
“Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

Do you sometimes find yourselves doing that?
Praying and looking UP?

But the message for us is don’t look up. Look around.

The disciples are told they will no longer see
the physical body they know as Jesus
but they are not left alone,
they are not left without comfort.

I am no longer in the world, says Jesus,
But YOU are in the world.
So love one another.
Protect one another. Help one another.

Orphans and widows—I leave in your capable care, says Jesus.
Those wandering in the wilderness—
I trust that together you will find your way.

There’s not one word from Jesus
That tells us that we are embarking on an easy journey.

In fact if we listen to first Peter, we hear:
Keep alert. Discipline yourselves.
Like a roaring lion, your adversary the devil prowls around,
Looking for someone to devour.
(see I told you my joke was tied to scripture!)

This is not an easy journey
But it is a journey filled with hope.

That is so how I felt at the CREDO conference I attended.
39 priests and deacons from the Episcopal Church --
from all over the country.

Parish priests and hospital chaplains.
Small churches, huge churches.
Clergy working with the privileged and affluent
and clergy working on Indian reservations and in the inner city.

I met two women who were among the first women ordained
in the Episcopal Church.
You must have a paying job before you can be ordained to the priesthood.
One of these women had to go to Canada to get her first job.
The other was only ordained because her home parish
Hired her as an associate for $ 5 per hour for 10 hours a week.
That was all they could afford.
But it was enough to get her ordained.
That was 31 years ago.
She is still doing ministry—still focusing on the hopeful promises—
in a church that should be ashamed for the way it treated her.

Yet I am convinced that the church is a place of hope
Not because of the clergy—
because we clergy tend to be more of the “looking up” people—
but filled with hopeful promises
because of people like you--the laity—
You are the looking around people--
you really are the hands and the feet of the church.

We all need to be people who take the WORD of God
and transform it into the WORK of God in our own lives
and in our communities.
Don’t look up—look around.

Jesus tells us that the journey will be filled with challenges
but that God will be with us and give us the strength we need.
God will provide the paper bag that will help us hold it all together.

Inside the paper bag
we hold joy and sorrow, good times and miserable times,
sweet candy and bitter medicine.
Sometimes this mixed bag just seems too heavy to carry.

But if we open our eyes we will see time and time again,
God shows up to help.

If we spend all our time looking up,
we might miss the help that is sent to us.
But if we look around,
we will see the many, many faces that God wears in our world.

Look around and give thanks for those who walk beside us
when the times are tough,
Look around and feast your eyes
on those brothers and sisters who are with us in our suffering
as well as our celebrations.
Look around and pay attention where God is calling you to reach out.

Take a careful look inside the little paper sack
that God has placed in our care—

Hope is so sweet.
Hope may be just the medicine we need in times like these.
Look around.

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