Sermons

August 14, 2022

Proper 15c[RCL]: The Rev. Frank F. Wilson

Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2;8-18; Heb 11:29-12:2; Luke12:49-56

Wind and Rain and Fire May Not Always Be The Enemy We Think

Teresa of Avila was a 16th century nun, mystic, and social activist. It seems that while on a mission of mercy, the good nun came to a stream that had to be forged were she to make her destination. To wit, she sternly encouraged her reluctant donkey to enter the stream so as to cross it. About halfway across, the donkey either rebelled or was startled but for whatever reason bucked the good Sister Teresa right off its back headlong into the cold, running water. Breathless, and shivering, and flailing about as she was trying to right herself in the cold, running, waist deep water, sister Teresa looked up to heaven and yelled, “Do you ALWAYS treat your friends like this?!

Getting no answer from God, she made her way to the muddy bank, and as she was struggling to drag herself out of the stream and up the bank, she was overheard to mumble, “Well, no wonder you have so few of them.”

I confess to sometimes feeling something like that as I imagine you probably do as well.

Well, today we encounter texts that reveal a God, and reveal a Jesus, who is not always the God of peace; the God of comfort. Not always the God of ever present mercy. Today’s text reminds us that sometimes we feel like we serve a God who is fully capable of giving us a good dunking.

This morning, by way of our readings, we encounter a prophet – Isaiah; an anonymous poet and early Christian apologist. And we find Jesus himself, reminding that life — even the life of a Christian — is not life devoid of difficulty and struggle.

It’s as if we are being reminded that into every life a little rain must fall. But also, and at the same time, being reminded that the rain is not necessarily to be seen as a negative thing, for all living things need rain in order to gain strength, grow and to survive.

TV weather people amuse me. If they are predicting rain, they lament that, “Rain is coming. Get out the umbrellas.  Cancel your weekend plans. Not a good time to go to the beach. Might as well stay home,” they say.

On the other hand, if they are forecasting sunshine they tend to lament that it’s going to be unbearably hot, and woe to us for we surely need some rain.

TV meteorologist, it seems to me, regardless of their forecast, always seem to be in a state of some despair and urgency.

But the fact remains that into each life a little rain must fall. And the early Christian theologian who gave us the Book of Hebrews would seem intent on reminding that while keeping the faith can lead to pleasing and successful outcomes, it can also sometimes lead to less satisfying outcomes – outcomes that can lead to some stress, discomfort, or even conflict. His admonition is to keep the faith anyway.

Jesus uses the imagery of fire as a metaphor for an instrument of transformation and positive change: “I came to bring fire to the earth,” he says, “and how I wish it were already kindled.” 

This is an impatient Jesus that we encounter this morning: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized,” he says. “What stress I am under until it is completed!”

And then Jesus paints a very disturbing picture of what being his disciple can mean. It can even result, he says, in families who are not at peace with each other. Families divided. Parents against children and children against parents.

We live in a country which I’m pretty sure coined the phrase, “family values.”  The commitment to family is deeply important to us and a family that is cohesive and unified is much desired.  I imagine that this was at least, if not more, true for the people of ancient times as it is our own.

So, one might ask: Is Jesus promoting family strife? Of course this is not the intent of his words. But Jesus is saying that to follow him is to experience a kind of new growth. To follow him is to experience some growing pains. To follow him may lead to a place where one finds oneself in conflict with family, friends, and the world around them. To live like Jesus, to love like Jesus, to talk like Jesus can seem to be, and in fact can be, deemed counter-cultural and/or counter-intuitive. 

            One of the great fathers of the church was Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius was a bishop in the early church who lived near the end of the first century and he is, in fact, a Christian martyr having died a cruel death in the Roman spectacle that was the lions den. And we are fortunate to know something of his life and it is a very fortunate thing that some of his writings survived him. Ignatius wrote the following. In fact, I have these words in a frame right over my desk so that I cannot but help occasionally glancing up at them as I write and prepare my sermons for any given Sunday. Ignatius wrote the following: (He said) the greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the world, not in its being convincing to it. The good bishop knew that Christ and the religion he spawned challenged the status quo and challenges the common world view so much so that those who embrace the teachings of Jesus may very well find themselves in conflict with those in power and authority; or with friends; or as we heard from him this morning – even members of one’s own family. In this matter, life is no different today than it was two thousand years ago.

In this very same Gospel we find Jesus saying that “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”[1]  And Jesus is saying in our Gospel this morning that one cannot serve God and simultaneously behave as if you do not know God. One cannot serve God and, at the same time, deal in the currency of the God-less.

Coming to Christ, cultivating a relationship and devotion with Christ involves change. One cannot develop, cannot attend to one’s own spiritual, moral, and ethical growth and not be open to change. 

As I wrote these words I was reminded of a time when I happened to have been on the faculty of Kennesaw College during a time of great change.  During a time of something like exponential growth. When I first joined the faculty there, it was so small and out of the way, you could hardly find the place. I was also there when we moved from being a Junior College to be being a four-year institution.  And I was there when we went from college to university status. During these periods of great transition, you could almost see the camps forming. There were those who embraced change and those who hated to see it coming – so much so that they insisted that nothing need to change. They would say that the college could just continue doing what it had always done, only do it, well…bigger.

And in such an environment it seemed that if one voiced an opinion that could be construed as supporting tradition, they were in danger of being labeled ‘non-progressive.’ On the other hand, if one seemed too eager for change, they might be labeled “reckless.” And so there was a kind of tension in the family.

But whether we speak of institutions or of individual souls, change is inevitable and not necessarily a bad thing This parish has and will continue to change over time and hopefully it will become the spiritual home to even more saints, but in doing so it will inevitably look and feel a little different over time. And as it grows the parish will, of necessity, change the way it does some things. But like the consequences of the refiners fire, we probably do good to embrace it rather than resist it because surely change that improves, and which produces more positive outcomes is a good thing and in terms of church life, is probably pleasing to God.  But change is never easy. We have to look no further than the current Lambeth Conference to see that maxim at play. If you have been paying attention you know that there was great tension at this most recent Lambeth Conference – mostly having to do with issues surrounding human sexuality. It was, and is, in large measure a theological debate between the church in the northern hemisphere vs. the church in the southern hemisphere. There was such disagreement; such tension, that a lot of the time and energy of the conference wound up being centered around how to remain civil with one another; how to stay in dialogue. How to just continue to get along with one another.

As I say this, I find myself recalling not too long ago that the Department of the Interior or whatever department it is that has jurisdiction over national forests – had quite a debate over whether or not every forest fire should be extinguished. There was one camp which said that the only good fire is an extinguished fire. But there was another camp which said, “No, let ’em burn. Forest fires are simply God’s way of rejuvenating the forest.” 

Well, not being terribly knowledgeable about such things, I’m comfortable leaving that debate with the policy makers, ecologist, foresters and the like.

But I do know that sometimes after the storm — sometimes after the painful experience, it is possible to look back and realize, especially it seems over time, that the effects of the storm were not necessarily all bad. In fact, as we look back we can often see new growth.  And whether it be a real forest or a metaphor for what was – very soon the new forest begins to emerge where the old forest was, but even more luscious than before.

I’m pretty sure that that’s pretty much all Jesus is trying to say to us this morning. You can’t be the new person in Christ without doing away with some of the old, decaying stuff. And as painful as it might be at the time to let go of some of the old stuff — whether it be a bad habit, a repetitive sin that keeps us off balance, a possession that blocks our view of the new thing God is calling us to, or maybe letting go of an old theology to make room for the new — as painful as it may be at the time, letting go of some of the old stuff is necessary if new growth is to be realized.

Where and when that is the case, it might be best to not lament the refining fire, but rather embrace it. And thank God for it.

***

And now I could very well put a period or an ‘Amen’ here thus concluding this sermon. But before I retire this sermon I want to very briefly re-visit Sister Teresa whom you may recall was just now making her way to high ground following her unexpected swim. And who, when we last heard from her, was grumbling at God. 

Now I don’t know if God gave her that dunking in that creek or not. If so, I have to believe that God had good reason and that there was some learning that the good sister was to gain from the experience. Your guess is as good as mine.

But it also occurs to me that there may be another explanation. Maybe God did not have a darn thing to do with that donkey tossing her into that cold stream. Maybe the good sister blames God unjustly for her misfortune. Maybe that donkey just picked that moment to send a message to Sister Teresa. And, if so, I might imagine God having a good laugh. And maybe there are by-standers on the bank who themselves are unable to completely stifle their chuckles at the site of a nun, clothed in veil and habit, soaking wet, climbing up a muddy bank all the while fussing at God. If that be the case, I do hope that she too might see the humor in her situation and find the freedom to join in the laughter for with God not only are all things possible, but all things fall within the wonderful divine drama we call life.

Amen.

[1] Luke 16:13

August 7, 2022

Proper 14, Year “C”: The Rev. Frank F. Wilson

Isaiah 11, 10-20; Psalm 50: 30:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40

Believing in Advance What Only Makes Sense in Reverse

I open this morning with a little lesson in African wildlife. In particular, I speak of the African impala. It is a type of antelope, and it is an amazing animal. An African impala can jump as high as ten feet and can leap forward as far as 30 feet or more.

Continue reading August 7, 2022

July 31, 2022

8th Sunday After Pentecost – Ted Hackett

This morning I am going to do what I have done a couple of times before this year….

     I am not going to preach directly from today’s readings…

     but instead on a topic….

          But it is an urgent topic.

To get into it….we have to do a bit of history.

Continue reading July 31, 2022

July 24, 2022

Proper 12C – George Yandell

The people Jesus brought into his fellowship were young – some were likely teenagers. If you do a search on life expectancy in the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day it will tell you most people did not live much past the age of 25. John Dominic Crossan cites estimates that in Jesus’ day and place the life expectancy for most was very short. “Probably a third of live births were dead before they reached the age of six.

Continue reading July 24, 2022