|Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C||March 13, 2016||The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C||Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8, Psalm 126|
|Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C||March 6, 2016||Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C||Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Psalm 32|
|Third Sunday in Lent, Year C||February 28, 2016||Third Sunday in Lent, Year C||Luke 13:1-9|
|Second Sunday in Lent, Year C||February 21, 2016||The Second Sunday in Lent, Year C||Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1|
|Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||February 7, 2016||Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||Luke 9:28-43a|
|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||January 31, 2016||Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||I Corinthians 13, Luke 4:21-30|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||January 17, 2016||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||John 2:1-11, I Corinthians 12:1-11, Psalm 36:5-10|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||January 10, 2016||First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||Luke 3:15-17, 21-22|
|The Epiphany, 2016||January 6, 2016||The Epiphany||Isaiah 60:1-6|
|Second Sunday after Christmas, Year C||January 3, 2016||The Second Sunday after Christmas, Year C||Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 84, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23|
|Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2015||December 24, 2015||Christmas Eve||Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-20|
|Advent 3, Year C||December 13, 2015||Third Sunday of Advent, Year C||Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18|
|Advent 2, Year C||December 6, 2015||Second Sunday of Advent, Year C||Malachi 3:1-4|
|Advent 1, Year C||November 29, 2015||First Sunday of Advent||Luke 21:25-36, I Thessalonians 3:9-13|
|Christ the King, Year B||November 22, 2015||Christ the King Sunday, Year B||Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37|
Lent 4, Year B
Sermon Date:March 11, 2018
Scripture: John 3:16
Liturgy Calendar: The Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B
“If you are on a plane, and the plane goes down and disintegrates into flames, if you handwrite a note and eat it, the human stomach has enough liquids to keep the note from burning.”
On 9-11, the victims of the Pentagon attack were brought to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the mortuary for the government’s most top-secret and high- profile cases.
And when an autopsy was performed on one of the people who had been on Flight 77, the mortician found the note that the passenger had written and swallowed.
In the interest of that person’s privacy, the mortician could not reveal its contents to Brad Meltzer, the writer of a recent thriller in which one of the characters writes a note and eats it as a plane falls from the sky, and the note is then found by a Dover mortician.
When I read the article in The Washington Post by Brad Meltzer about his visit to Dover Air Force Base, and his conversation with the mortician who had found this letter, I was mesmerized by his account.
A person has the presence of mind to write a note and quickly swallow it before the plane crashes into the side of the Pentagon and bursts into flames and everyone dies.
The note that the person scribbled and wrote as the plane was going down preserved an incredible last message for the person or people who finally received those words.
Jesus spent his entire life writing God’s love letter to all of us—and even death on a cross could not obliterate the words of that letter.
Fortunately, these words were never secret.
And after Jesus’ resurrection, Christians have made sure that these words would be emblazoned across the heavens, proclaimed around the world, passed like treasure from generation to generation, and permanently engraved on the hearts and lived out in the lives of those who hear and who believe.
Engraved on our hearts and lived out by us in this world.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
God has written the world a love letter!
And that love letter is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
We enter eternal life the minute we claim these words for our own and start living them out in the unique ways that God has prepared for each one of us.
And when we live out God’s love letter to us, the world will change, for the better, even if we can’t see into the future and know the results of the love we’ve released into the world.
Here’s an example of how love changes things from an article that Alex Long sent me this week, again from The Washington Post.
The headline reads, “I would have been a school shooter if I could have gotten a gun,” by Aaron Stark.
I won’t go into all the details in this sermon, but the bottom line is that by the 11th grade, this young man had grown up in a violent abusive household and had basically become homeless.
In his words, here’s how he felt. Having been turned away by a mental health clinic where he’d gone to talk about his feelings of anger, he snapped.
“I tried to get a gun; I wanted to take out as many people as possible, people who had tortured me, or ignored me, and then kill myself…I wanted to be heard. The abuse I’d suffered had closed me off and I wanted to feel an emotion other than pain. I wanted to feel, for once, like I was in control, even if that meant spreading destruction and death.”
So he went to a gang that had sold drugs to his step-father and they told him they’d help him get a gun. The negotiations went on for three days, and then Aaron says that something stopped him from trying to get the gun.
And that thing that happened was love.
Love altered the course of his life. “I was shown love and kindness at a time when I felt that there was no love left in the world for me.”
A boy named Mike lived nearby. He showed Aaron love and compassion. Against his parents’ wishes, he took Aaron in that night that Aaron had snapped. He brought Aaron dinner that he managed to sneak into his room. He helped him get a shower and to wash his clothes. Aaron says, “Mike knew how bad my life was. He did not know what I had planned, but he knew I needed help desperately. He gave it to me. And that made a lifetime of difference.” Later, Aaron was planning to kill himself, but Amber, one of Mike’s friends, threw Aaron a birthday party, and again, life won out.
Here’s the last part of the article—it’s worth our time to hear.
“My recovery took a decade. Therapy helped, as I faced what had happened to me. All the abuse, every bit of the hurt I had been subjected to was laid bare. The more you know about something, the less it can scare you, so I learned as much as I could about myself. It was an arduous road.
I do not say any of this to get attention. I’m not trying to advance a partisan anti-gun message, and I’m not trying to say that mental health is the only issue. But if I’d possessed a rifle, I would have been a killer. If I’d known love, I never would have wanted a rifle.
All of this was 25 years ago. I grew up, married, and became a proud father. I’ m happy with who I am, and what I’ve overcome, and while I occasionally battle depression, I have a much better support system now. My life is no longer in danger—and neither is anybody else’s. But I am not the only person to suffer through these issues. So instead of seeing the outcast kid as a loser or a threat, regard him as a possible friend… when a troubled teen says something strange, ask him to lunch. Give love to the ones you’d be most uncomfortable loving, because they need it the most.”
This article is part of Aaron’s love letter to the world—a witness to us that actions we take because of love can make a difference.
When we live out the loving and compassionate life of Jesus in this world, we have read God’s love letter to us and taken it to heart, and we can be sure that what we do as a result of God’s love to us will matter tremendously to the one who receives our love.
We are all, every day, writing our own love letters to the world. These letters can’t be burned, or destroyed. They serve as our unique witness down through the ages. We are all writing, and I could spend days talking about what I’ve already read that each one of you here at St Peter’s are in the process of writing, and the love letter that we are writing together.
In fact, I love to spread the word about the loving words that we are writing down as our congregational witness. When people call to ask for help and thank me when I can help them with an electric bill, or other bills, I always say, “It’s thanks to the generosity of the people at St Peter’s”….because I may be the one who gives out the money, but it’s you all that make that particular loving witness to the community possible. And people appreciate that more deeply than we will ever know.
(Commercial break—today is the day that the loose offering goes to the discretionary fund, so that we can continue that loving witness of helping those who need it most, so I hope you’ll be generous)
Since today is the day that we are honoring Cookie for being named the Distinguished Woman for the Diocese of Virginia, an honor that only comes around every three years, I want to talk briefly about Cookie’s love letter to the world.
Cookie’s letter to the world is one of hospitality and welcome. Her generosity with her money and her time is legendary. She knows how to put out the welcome mat!
Cookie, and also Johnny, do so much here at church. We would probably never know it all, but even if I list all I know about, we’d be here all afternoon. So I won’t list everything, but I do want to say thank you for the beautiful visual witness of our church—that is due in part to Cookie’s gardening and the yard work that she and Johnny do on a regular and ongoing basis—and others do this too. It’s a team effort! But since today is Cookie’s day, I want to thank her in particular. And of course Cookie does our flowers most Sundays, with the help of others as well, but today, I’d like to say thank you to Cookie for this gift of beauty that we all enjoy each Sunday.
Cookie’s witness extends far beyond St Peter’s. And here’s how small acts can have a lasting impact for good in the world.
Years ago, Cookie went to the Dominican Republic on a diocesan mission trip, and she was gardening at the orphanage when she met a small boy who attached himself to her, and called her his abuela, his grandmother. And Cookie loved him and “adopted” him, and today, thanks to her help, and the help of St Peter’s, because all of us have supported Cookie with our financial gifts as she and Johnny have loved and supported this little boy, Luis Garcia, Luis has grown up and is now a priest in the Dominican Republic, still very much supported by Cookie and Johnny.
For God so loved the world…
So may we also love this life, and this world that God has given us.
God has written us a love letter and engraved it on our hearts.
We carry it in our very beings.
So be intentional about the love letter you are writing.
Write the love letter that God and your Christian brothers and sisters will help you to write, a love letter that cannot be destroyed even by death–A love letter that will change the world. Amen.