|First Sunday in Advent, Year B||December 3, 2017||First Sunday of Advent, Year B||Mark 13:24-37|
|Christ the King, Year A||November 26, 2017||Christ the King Year A||Matthew 25:31-46|
|Thanksgiving, Year A||November 22, 2017||Thanksgiving, Year A||Psalm 65|
|Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||November 19, 2017||Proper 24, Year A||Matthew 25:36-37|
|Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||November 12, 2017||Proper 27, Year A||Matthew 25:1-13|
|All Saints, Year A||November 5, 2017||All Saints’ Day, Year A||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 29, 2017||Proper 25, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Matthew 22:34-46|
|Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 22, 2017||Proper 24, Year A||Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96, I Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22|
|Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 15, 2017||Proper 23, Year A||Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14|
|Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||October 8, 2017||Proper 22, Year A||Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 21:33-46|
|The Season of Creation, Week 5, Year A||October 1, 2017||The Season of Creation, Week 5, Year A||Matthew 6:25-33|
|The Season of Creation, Week 4, Year A||September 24, 2017||The Season of Creation, Week 4, Year A||Leviticus 25:1-7, Hebrews 4:1-11, John 6:1-15|
|The Season of Creation, Week 3, Year A||September 17, 2017||The Season of Creation, Year A, Week 3||Deuteronomy 28:1-14, Psalm 65, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Matthew 6:19-24|
|The Season of Creation, Week 2, Year A||September 10, 2017||The Season of Creation, Year A, Week 2||Job 38:1-18, Psalm 139, Romans 1:18-25, Matthew 5:13-16|
|The Season of Creation, Week 1, Year A||September 3, 2017||Season of Creation 1, Year A||Job 37:14-24,Psalm 130,Revelation 4,Matthew 8:23-27|
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
Sermon Date:August 13, 2017
Scripture: I Kings 19:9-18, Psalm 85:8-13, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 14, Year A, 2017
Regardless of how you feel about the removal of Confederate statues, the use of the Confederate flag, or the Black Lives Matter movement, regardless of how you feel about the alt-right, or white nationalism, or politically correct liberals, no matter whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, whether you despise our president or love him, no one here today would approve of the open displays of hatred and simmering violence which erupted and led to one person’s death on a street in Charlottesville yesterday, along with the death of two officers patrolling the area when their helicopter crashed.
And I doubt that anyone here today is happy about the current state of affairs in our nation, or the scary rhetoric that is opening ever wider rifts between the nations of this world.
How are we Christians to respond to the divisions and the dismay and the outright fears that threaten to consume us every waking moment of our lives?
Please listen to the first part of today’s psalm.
“I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts toward him. Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.”
In these two verses, we Christians get our job descriptions for all time, but in particular for these very days in our nation.
The first thing on the job description is this–I will listen to what the Lord God is saying.
We are to take the time to listen in prayer, in addition to asking for things. Prayer is not an either/or proposition. Prayer is a both/and discipline. God wants to hear our prayers, but God also wants us to take the time to listen to what God is saying to us.
This psalmist is right on target about what he or she hears as she listens to what the Lord God is saying.
God is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts toward him.
Is what you hear when you listen to God a message of that fullness of peace that passes all understanding, a message from God that brings you peace, even when you’re surrounded by or a witness to chaos? Not peace at any price, because we all know that isn’t true peace but rather a simmering volcano that’s bound to erupt.
God’s peace is the peace of shalom, a full, generous, complete peace, a peace in which you want to dwell, a peace that you want to share. This is the kind of peace that God whispers into your heart when you take the time to listen.
So the first thing we Christians need to do when the going gets tough is to stop talking and talking and talking. The first thing we need to do is to listen to what our Lord God is trying to tell us, in spite of the racket in our minds and the noise in the world around us.
The second thing is turn our hearts to God. You can’t turn two ways at once. So we followers of God have one direction in which to turn, and that is to turn toward God, just as people here in the United States who wanted to escape slavery kept their eyes on the North Star. If they followed that star, they’d stay headed in the right direction. If we keep turning toward God, and turning back to God when we’ve messed up and gotten all turned around, we will stay on the right path, which is the path of peace, and that pathway will bring us to God.
So we are to listen to God, turn our hearts toward God, and here’s the third thing—we are to fear God.
This does not mean that we are to cower in craven fear of punishment before a God of wrath. To fear God is to stand before God in awe at God’s steadfast love for the faithful who follow God, and God alone.
The fourth requirement in our job description is that we are to be people of faith, who put their trust only in God.
Throughout history, faithful people have gotten led astray by putting their faith in ideologies rather than in God. This false placement of allegiance can happen to any of us. Ideologies are subtle manipulators. Ideologies can masquerade as God.
If the ideology that captivates you does not have space within its framework for loving God and for loving your neighbor as yourself, then beware! If your ideology lacks shalom, beware.
Remember that God is not a static belief system. God is living and breathing steadfast love, mercy and compassion.
God is no ideology. God is love.
Our God is a God of salvation. When we followers listen, turn our hearts to God, fear God, and have faith in God, then we have the thing to offer the world that is in critically short supply, and that thing is the saving grace of God’s love.
You’ve probably heard this question or been asked this question,
“Are you saved?”
If you read those billboards along the interstate, you get the idea that salvation is all about what happens after we die. Are you going to heaven, or to hell?
But today’s lectionary passages point to a much, much richer understanding of salvation than the bleak either/or of that end of life judgement and consignment to some eternal fate of either bliss or unending horror that those billboards suggest.
And this rich salvation that we Christians give thanks for is the gift that God has already given us, is giving us, and will continue to give us throughout eternity. This salvation is made possible for us in the obedient life of Jesus, of his death and of his resurrection and how we respond to Jesus.
Paul tells the Romans that if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
And part of the gift of the saving grace of Jesus that we Christians receive when we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead is to then have our hearts and minds opened to the fact that God’s salvation is all about life! God is saving us so that we can have abundant life, here and now!
God’s salvation is all about resurrection!
God’s salvation, in all its richness and fullness, has been available from the beginning of time and stretches out into the timelessness of eternity—and it’s for anyone who turns his or her heart to God. Ultimately, God’s salvation is for all of creation.
Remember that line from the psalm about salvation?
“Truly, God’s salvation is very near to those who fear God, that God’s glory may dwell in our land.”
And then the psalmist goes on to describe what that salvation looks like in the here and now, the salvation that we want and need for the abundant salvation—this resurrection life– that God wants us to have.
When we are living by claiming the fact that we truly are saved and are constantly in the process of being saved, then we know that God is present with us.
God’s own attributes become realities in our lives. “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
And heaven and earth meet as truth springs up from the earth and righteousness looks down from heaven. God is not only light years away, a transcendent unknowable unfathomable God, but God is present with us right now, just as the life-giving forces of nature work, season after season, to bring new life out of death. “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart,” Paul says.
God’s desire is that we will have abundant life—“The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, and our land shall yield its increase. Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.”
God’s salvation is ours right now, God’s free gift to us of the peace that passes understanding, even when peace seems to be lacking around us.
So when God’s steadfast love and faithfulness meet in us, and we travel through this life in a right relationship with God, then we can walk on this earth, sowing the peace of God that makes a pathway for God’s visible presence on this earth. We become those who bring the good news of God’s mercy and steadfast love to the world.
Faith, one of the requirements in our Christian job description, is necessary to claim the salvation that is already ours. And faith is especially important when fear gets the best of us, and we find ourselves running away and hiding, as Elijah did, or sinking down into the rough sea, as Peter did.
What I like about these two giants of scripture is that they are so imperfect! I’m encouraged by their foolishness and their failures.
Elijah is so full of fear that he has run away from Queen Jezebel, who has threatened to kill him. Now he’s holed up in a cave high up on Mt Sanai, interestingly the same mountain which Moses ascended to receive the Ten Commandments, a place in which God has revealed God’s self, but Elijah doesn’t seem to be looking for a revelation because he’s in hiding and praying a self-righteous woe is me prayer.
“God, where are you? Look at all I’ve done for you! And no one has listened to me, and I’m all alone and they’re going to kill me!”
Now where is the faith in that prayer? It’s hard to find on the surface, but faith is present, even in Elijah’s pitiful prayer.
The fact that Elijah is praying at all in his state of fear is an act of faith.
God answers by asking Elijah to come out of the cave.
And so Elijah comes out of the cave, another act of faith. But now, he’s nearly blown away by a great wind, and the earth under his feet rocks and shakes in a great earthquake, and then the heat of a great fire scorches his skin, and then there’s sheer silence.
Elijah is a slow learner. When he hears this sheer silence, he doesn’t listen to it. Instead, he just goes back to the cave, and prays the exact same woe as me prayer that he prayed earlier.
Where is the faith in that?
At least Elijah doesn’t give up—even though he prays the same pathetic prayer.
And God must shake God’s head over this slow learner—so now God spells out what Elijah is to do next, which boils down to leaving the mountain and facing his fears head on.
And Elijah does as God has said, a complete act of faith. Because I am willing to bet that Elijah was still scared to death. But he trusted what God said and went, still dragging the remnants of his fear along with him.
This passage about Elijah reminds us that fear, even irrational fear, is a total reality, and that calling out to God in the face of fear is an act of faith.
Going out and facing fear even when we can’t see how things will turn out, still feeling fear, and yet trusting that God will be with us, is an act of faith.
And this passage is also a reminder to us about God’s ongoing mercy and steadfast love for us. God heard Elijah’s prayer of desperation, God responded by putting on a very dramatic show with the natural elements at his command—wind, earthquake and fire– all of which went right past Elijah, and still God did not give up.
Elijah did not even listen to God in the sheer silence.
But despite these shortcomings on Elijah’s part, God still promised to be with Elijah and to make things right, and so Elijah got a grip and went.
God is always true to God’s self—God is full of steadfast love for us, and God has faith in us, even when we have been faithless to God over and over and have no faith in ourselves.
Then there’s good old Peter. He is also full of fear, not because of the struggle the disciples are having in the boat, trying to make progress against the strong wind blowing against them, but because he sees a vision walking toward the disciples on the water. All of the disciples are terrified by this vision. Jesus speaks to them, and tells them not to be afraid. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
So Peter puts Jesus to the test. He prays a nervy prayer.
“Prove it then, Jesus. If it’s really you, command me to come to you on the water.”
So Jesus indulges Peter and invites him out onto the water.
Peter’s act of faith is to respond by stepping out onto the water. And as long as he keeps his eyes on Jesus, he is able to walk on the water.
But soon a new fear overtakes him. The strong wind threatens to blow him down and make him sink, and his fear does him in. His greatest fears are realized when he starts to sink. And so he cries out to Jesus, “Lord, save me.” Now this prayer is one of total desperation.
Jesus, full of steadfast love and mercy and faith in the faithless Peter, reaches out his hand and catches Peter. Jesus pulls Peter to him and embraces him, even though he is soaking wet. As Jesus holds him close, he asks, “Peter, you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Because Peter had doubted Jesus on several levels—one, even after Jesus had identified himself, Peter still doubted and wanted proof. Even after Jesus had offered proof and Peter had acted on the dare, Peter got distracted and his fear of nothing but the wind made him doubt all over again. And yet, in the face of these doubts, Jesus was faithful to Peter. Jesus saved Peter and the two of them got in the boat with the other disciples, and the wind ceased.
Only at this point can the disciples see the truth and claim it—Jesus really is the Son of God, their Lord and Savior, although they will continue to doubt and to act in faithless ways over and over as his followers.
So God, who has already saved us, is always in the process of saving us, especially when we find ourselves deep in fear, doubting God’s steadfast love.
God is always in the process of saving us, even when we head back to our caves, or when we begin to sink in doubt because we get distracted by something like the wind and look away from God.
God is always at work, in life and in death.
So take heart, do not be afraid. Live into that Christian job description and share this good news with others, hoping that they too will join in with us–to stand in awe of God, to be faithful to God, to listen to God, and to turn our hearts to God.
May we be witnesses to the world of God’s love, by turning our hearts to God in every moment of our lives, even when doubts and fears threaten to paralyze us—because, remember, God is speaking peace to us, and God’s salvation is very near to us, a saving, life-giving embrace that will never let us go.