Sep. 3, 2017 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Sep 3, 2017 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17A)

September 3, 2017

It is so good to be back, even with this Gospel reading! I always ask myself, ‘What do I know of God from this gospel?’ Right off it sounds like bad news and angry words, but don’t miss the bit Peter seems to ignore; Jesus tells them he’s to “go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” It’s as if Peter either doesn’t hear it or disregards it in light of his hopes for a victorious outcome being shot down. Peter’s rebuke and Jesus’ reply right away signal that this new information he tells them provokes a visceral and impassioned response, perhaps even anger. This is that all-or-nothing demand on them. We too are reminded that God makes a claim on us, and demands the fullness of ourselves, that we be all-in for the grace moments and the devastating ones. Jesus knows he and they will pay a high cost, and he calls for it anyway—This is not the god of ‘make-me-happy’ but God of call-and-equip-me-to-be-strong-and-faithful.

Much as I might think Peter’s response is obviously inadequate, I realized I was doing the same thing as I eschewed this reading for my first week back. I’m not so different from Peter as I want people to feel good this morning, be happy together, have a sense of joy and love, and feel the grace of God with us in community. Yet it’s folly to think these things are up to me—my job this morning is to proclaim the gospel and help us to find it in our lives, here and out there. Our collect this morning asked such beautiful things; “Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness…” And yet ends not with “God-please-make-us-happy” but rather, “bring forth in us good works.” YES! Bring forth in us good works. Even when the road to get there is through Jerusalem, through much pain and suffering, including the cross—Jesus doesn’t stop with the cost; he includes also the promise that on the third day he will be raised. He says, “those who lose their life for my sake will find it” and so we are with him in that resurrection. We grieve the loss of beloved friends, of Don and Bruce, and in that grief we know that they are raised with him. Here’s one other thing I get from this Gospel that gives me hope; Even great disciples like Peter can get it wrong sometimes.

Why do we as a community need to hear this gospel today? Well, last week I was delighted to return to St. Michael’s after my vacation, and looked forward to my day doing what we do here and simply diving into some good work. Right after I arrived I began hearing horrendous and intrusive noise coming from very nearby. I waited for it to pass, it didn’t, just changed to other equally loud and disturbing sounds. I walked out behind the property to Evans and was greeted by nine different construction vehicles. I was stunned at how quickly work on the school property behind us has progressed. Then I noticed that the Tiger Mountain High School parking lot is no longer there! I soon found emails about removing our sign for overflow parking which points people over there. We’ve been asking the choir and vestry to park there when able for the larger services, and we no longer have the resource as a luxury. Now we are truly limited—and yet that doesn’t seem to be what God is calling us to; to limit the size of our community or to stop opening up inroads for new disciples. In fact, clearly quite the opposite. While my colleagues talked about summer attendance tanking in some churches, I heard from Mother Ann that two of the last four Sundays found people sitting up in the choir here at St. Michael’s!

I asked why we as a community needed to hear this gospel today? Jesus is calling us to set our minds on divine things, not the human wants. To remove stumbling blocks from our path so that we can continue to preach the gospel with our lives, and to share it with others, to be alive and filled with the Spirit of God in this place so that, as our collect says, God can “bring forth the fruit of good works.” Our small unfinished parking lot is a stumbling block for those who seek God through these doors. Yes, the cost is high, but only in human terms. In divine terms—we can only imagine. We glimpse God’s vision for St. Michael’s through the signs around us; the joyful spirit, the warmth of welcoming all, the people who come and find a faith home here, the depth of compassion and shared support, the full parking lot and often full pews, —and all that I know you do as disciples when you go out into the world, and plenty I don’t know too. These signs don’t say ‘no room at the inn’ — they say that we are God’s arms, open wide! Expanding and paving out parking lot might not be glamorous and at first it might look to be part of the “human things,” yet when we ask ourselves ‘why?’ and ‘to what end?’ then we know it as part of those “things divine” whose cost we undertake.

A good many of you who have donated to relief efforts in the wake of hurricane Harvey, through the link we sent out in our email, or perhaps you registered to be available to go and help. Many of us are relieved to hear from our Texas friends and relatives that they are safe, or perhaps still waiting to hear, and we pray for the victims and aid workers throughout the region. Even so there’s the gnawing thought that we wish we could do more. What I know is this; while our donations matter right now, two other things are even more powerful. First, your prayers matter! Pray often for them, perhaps pause to pray every time you hear another news report. Secondly, your donations will help too. Secondly, building up the Body of Christ, raising up strong and faithful disciples as this community does, is how we are equipped to do more. Disciples are people of compassion who faith put into action daily, as well as when disaster strikes, even when it means taking up one’s cross, as Jesus says. This is where we foster all of that, grow it, share it, teach it, and pass it on to the next generations.

We’ll close our service today with a blessing praying “the respite of this worship repair your weariness and renew your hearts, that zeal for the adventure and work of tomorrow is inspired by faith and shared with abandon” —and that’s it in a nutshell. Zeal for the adventure and work; even in the face of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, because that’s what he calls us to. Today we are nourished by God’s grace, we breathe deeply in the Spirit, we are made strong by being part of the Body of Christ. By this, our efforts to put things divine before human indulgences and distractions, are “inspired by faith and shared with abandon.” Amen.

© 2017 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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