|Epiphany||January 6, 2017||Epiphany 2017||Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12|
|Christmas Day, Year A||December 25, 2016||Christmas Day, 2016||Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, Psalm 98, John 1:1-14|
|The Eve of the Nativity||December 24, 2016||Christmas Eve||Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2: 1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 11, 2016||Third Sunday of Advent, Year A||Psalm 146:4-9, Matthew 11:2-11|
|Second Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 4, 2016||Second Sunday of Advent, Year A||Matthew 3:1-12|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A||November 27, 2016||First Sunday of Advent, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Christ the King Sunday, Year C||November 20, 2016||Christ the King Sunday, Year C||Jeremiah 23:1-6. Ps 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43|
|Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||November 13, 2016||Proper 28, Year C||Malachi 4:1-2a, Ps 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19|
|Charles Sydnor’s sermon, Nov. 6, 2016, All Saints||November 6, 2016||All Saints, Year C||Luke: 6: 20-31|
|Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 30, 2016||Proper 26, Year C||Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32, Luke 19:1-10|
|Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 23, 2016||Proper 25, Year C||II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14|
|Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 16, 2016||Proper 24, Year C||Luke 18:1-8, Genesis 32: 22-31|
|Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 9, 2016||Proper 23, Year C||2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Luke 17:11-19|
|Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 2, 2016||Proper 22, Year C||II Timothy 1:1-14|
|Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||September 25, 2016||Proper 21, Year C||Luke 16:19-31|
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
Sermon Date:August 21, 2016
Scripture: Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 16, Year C
In his most recent book, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, David Isay, the founder of Storycorps, includes a story by Phil Kerner, a tool and die maker in Erie, Pennsylania. Tool and die makers produce the tools and machine parts used in the manufacturing industry.
Phil’s grandfather had a tool and die making trade in the basement of his home and taught his sons the trade.
Phil’s Uncle Eddie opened the Kerner Tool and Die Company in the late forties or early fifties, and Phil’s father Fritz was the foreman there.
As a young boy, Phil ended up spending a lot of time at the shop with his father and his uncle. He described the shop as the center of his universe. And then Phil’s father, a WWII vet, died at age forty-eight, and Uncle Ed died six months later. Phil was only nine years old. He says his life “just kind of crashed.”
The shop got sold, and then it burned to the ground a few years later. Phil’s mother got remarried, and they moved to the other side of town.
Eventually, Phil went off to college, but he wanted to be working, and so he thought about what he most wanted to do—and that was to be a tool and die maker. So he quit college, and his brother introduced him to someone who had started his own die and too making shop. At nineteen, Phil became an apprentice in the trade.
By the age of thirty-one, he was ready to open his own shop.
Phil describes his hunt for the machinery he needed to open the shop. He really needed a machine called a Deckel, and someone told him that a scrap metal dealer in town had one.
So Phil worked out a deal with the scrap metal guy and brought the machine home.
The first thing he did was to wash the machine down.
And as he was cleaning, he found a giant K on the side of the machine, and then as he cleaned off the rest of the grime and soot, the letters AMC and O became visible—KAMCO, Kerner Accurate Machine Company—a little division of his Uncle Ed’s old shop.
Phil says, “Very few machines made it through the fire that burned down his shop, but that machine did, and after all these years, I got it. That to me was a sign. It felt like it was my uncle Ed saying ‘Here, this was one of mine. Go get ‘em!’ We built a lot of molds with that machine.”
Phil ran his shop until 2002. As the economy changed, the little guys just couldn’t afford to compete.
Phil says that the day he closed his shop was a “crushing day. I did feel like a failure. But probably the worst part of it was standing there alone, with no support network.” Phil felt like a failure, burned up and burned out.
The writer of Hebrews ends his exhortation today with these words.
“Our God is a consuming fire.”
Maybe you have experienced what feels like a consuming fire in your life.
Maybe you have lost a job, or someone you thought you couldn’t live without died, or there’s a divorce that rips apart the fabric of your family, or your body is giving out on you, or someone betrays you.
Or maybe you just feel like a smoldering piece of wood that can’t even catch fire, and that the little fire or energy or life you have inside is slowly being extinguished. You’re just going to end up as a useless piece of old charred wood.
If you’ve experienced any of these things, then these words from Hebrews are for you. And if you haven’t experienced any of these things, something, sooner or later, will burn you up.
So these words are for all of us.
“Indeed, our God is a consuming fire.”
As Thomas Long points out in his commentary on Hebrews,
“God’s fire both refines and devours, purifies and incinerates. God’s word is a two-edged sword, both severing and saving….we are stubble, and these are terrible words.”
Luke Timothy Johnson says “that a relationship with God demands heroic endurance as well as complete and exclusive loyalty.”
When the things that give our lives meaning get burned away, then our faith in Jesus can lift us up out of the ashes—not just lip service to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, but our willingness to be burned up and emptied out, to be transformed, to be consumed in God’s fiery furnace of love and to become obedient only to God.
This sort of transformation is painful. Life as we know it shaken up, burned away, and we have no choice but to let go of everything except one thing—God’s grace.
“Let us hold on to God’s grace,” the writer of Hebrews says.
God’s grace is what the woman in today’s gospel experienced.
For eighteen years, this woman had carried around a spirit that had crippled her, and kept her from standing up straight. Luke simply says that she was bent over.
And Jesus, seeing her, called her over, and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” And when he laid hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.
Nothing she did, or asked, or sought, or worked for freed her from the ailment or the spirit that kept her bent over.
But Jesus freed her when he laid his hands on her and filled her with God’s grace. She didn’t do anything to deserve this grace. She didn’t even seek it out. Jesus just gave it to her, freely.
Jesus wasn’t constrained by all the rules that people had come up with to limit God’s grace. In this particular case, the leader of the synagogue had forgotten that the supreme act of reverence and awe for God is to know that God’s merciful love cannot ever be constrained by time or space or ethnicity or religious affiliation or particular rules and regulations, or by our own desires or wishes.
Because Jesus was holding on to nothing else, his hands were free. He had been consumed in God’s fiery furnace of love and was obedient only to God. And so he could lay his hands on this woman and fill her with God’s healing grace and mercy.
All the woman had to do was to come over to Jesus when he called her. The rest was God’s work, to consume her with the fire of healing love, to burn away all that bent her over, so that she could stand up straight.
And that’s all we have to do—to come to Jesus and to be open to God’s grace.
And when we hold onto God’s grace, ironically, our hands are free then for God to use in passing God’s limitless grace around.
When we left Phil, the tool and die maker, he had closed his business and he felt like a failure.
You may be wondering what happened next.
Phil says that although closing the shop really did hurt, and he misses his shop, and it’s still hard for him to drive by the building, he feels thankful.
Everything that Phil had worked so hard for got burned away.
Phil had nothing left to hold onto, and so his hands were open.
And he decided that he didn’t want anyone to have to go through what he experienced as a small business owner.
So he and his wife started an organization to help small business owners in Erie. Now, thanks to Phil and his wife, about a hundred people, small business owners in Erie, get together every month, referring business to one another, supporting one another, helping one another.
What will ever really make a difference in this world?
God’s consuming fire.
God’s undeserved healing love.
And our empty hands, full of God’s transforming grace.
“Tool and Die Maker Phil Kerner, 49.” Pgs 67-71. In Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, by Dave Isay, with Maya Millett. New York: Penguin Press, 2016.
Long, Thomas G. Hebrews: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville, KY. Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.