Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sermon Offered at Episcopal School of Ministry, January 23, 2010

Psalm 33, Ephesians 3:14-21, Matthew 24:24-27

Awesome Fullness

When I first read the scriptures for today, the first thing that came into my mind was the verse, “When I fall on my knees, with my face to the rising sun, oh Lord have mercy on me.”

It’s the way I felt when standing on Presque Isle, watching the sun set across Lake Erie, I was overcome by the sight and fell to my knees in the sand with the words coming from my mouth – “and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” It’s that same feeling that I feel when I fully realize that God LOVES me…that Christ dwells in me… that in faith, I am rooted deeply in that love. It makes me want to share that love, knowing that I am included in that vast unending love of God.

Funny how that always comes as a comfortable shock…if it is possible to be comforted by a shock.

In a time of such conflict and doubt these are assurances that we need…these little verses, these pieces of songs and prose that remind us of our AWE.

I can only guess that Phillip Brooks must have felt that too. January 23 is the day that we commemorate him. He is known as the author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” but he is also known as one of the greatest American preachers of the 19th century. Ordained an Episcopal deacon in 1859, he later became rector of Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia and later still rector of Trinity Church in Boston. It was a time of civil discord, a country at war, President Lincoln assassinated. There was definitely conflict and doubt with many false prophets abounding.

Brooks was also an “overseer and preacher” at Harvard University, but he turned down an offer to be the “sole preacher and teacher of Christian ethics” there. He once wrote that his only ambition was to “be a parish priest and, though not much of one, would as a college president be still less". In 1891 he was elected as the sixth bishop of Massachusetts. He died 15 months later on January 23.

Unrest and uncertainty assault us every day. In our economy, our church, our jobs, our personal lives. That is the reality of life, historically and presently and will be in the future. Today parts of our world are shaking and rumbling all around us, literally cracking and heaving and hundreds of thousands of people have died and even more injured and made homeless…almost country-less.

Then…then we have the audacity of the Pat Robertsons of the world making hate-filled and irrational statements that these catastrophes are the result of pacts with the devil and that these have been brought on by God’s wrath over certain sin. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that a thing as big as the earthquake in Haiti could be attributed to a pact with the devil? Wow, we could fix that easily, couldn’t we? Make a few sacrifices, maybe even an evangelist or two; promise a few virgins…surely that would fix it.

Talk about a False prophet…

The gospel of Matthew tells us…Do Not believe it. The devil is not the one being pointed at; rather, it may be the one who is pointing. I think that Robertson and others may have forgotten about the idea that Jesus came to set us free from such things.

We know that the one pointing is a False Prophet because the psalmist tells us … and we know it to be true…

the word of the Lord is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes – these all can be the effect of a rapidly changing global warming pattern…and these may even be attributed to our selfish drive to get as much as we can as fast as we can…but these things are not happening because God is punishing a group of people who may (or may not have) made a pact with the devil or because a place caters to a gay crowd or because a city is known for a bit of ribald revelry. These things happen because … well, because creation keeps on happening…and so does death and destruction. It is just a dynamic part of living.

We are not measured by the bad things like natural disasters that happen to us or around us. We are measured by what we do, how we act, how we reach out to those who are dramatically affected by these things; by life its ownself, whether that be an earthquake or losing a loved one or becoming homeless…what we do for others is how we are measured.

Just like the author of Ephesians, I pray that we all may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

And as we are filled with this AWE-some fullness, we are filled with the righteous knowledge that overcomes all false prophets and false messiahs. In that fullness, that rootedness, the richness that belongs to God will be ours to share, in love and awe-filled wonder.

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