Out of death comes life

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

           Jesus stood on a mountain at the head of the Sea of Galilee and preached a sermon filled with wisdom and filled with love. He reached out to the multitudes who followed him and told them they were blessed. He assured them they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And, having offered words of love to these people – people who lived on the edges of society – he taught them how to live in love.

Follow the commandments that God gave to Moses, he said, but do more than that. Love everyone, enemy as well as friend, stranger as well as neighbor.

And then, Jesus cautioned the people:

To live a life of love, he said, is not to be ostentatious. Living in love, he said, is not about showing off. It’s about being faithful.

When you give alms, he said, when you pray – when you fast – when you do things that all faithful people are called to do – don’t do so in order to draw attention to yourselves. Don’t be ostentatious – don’t flaunt your faith simply in order to be seen by others.

For “your Father in secret who sees in secret” will see all that you do, and he “will reward you.”

Give alms quietly. Pray quietly. Fast quietly. Don’t be a show-off.

Because God knows everything you do.

So the question I have, on this Ash Wednesday in the year of our Lord 2012, is this: Exactly what are we doing here, about to have ashes put on our foreheads, so that we go forth marked for all the world to see our faith?

Isn’t this act we are about to undergo showing off our faith? And didn’t Jesus just tell us not to do that?

No matter how hard you look through the four Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, you will not find one instance in which Jesus commanded his disciples, Put ashes on your foreheads on a certain day. Oh, you can find some references to using ashes for purification rite sin the Book of Numbers and in the Epistle to the Hebrews. But nowhere does Jesus tell his followers, You need to put ashes on your forehead so that everyone will know that you are going through a period of penitence, of praying and fasting, and of alms-giving.

* * *

It wasn’t until about the ninth century – nine hundred years after the death of Jesus – that the Church began using ashes to mark the beginning of Lent. The ashes were – and to this day remain – a symbol of mourning and penitence. The words that are said when the ashes are put on – “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” – remind us that we indeed are created beings who one day will die. We are reminded that we need to repent – to turn back to God – and to seek humility.

Are the ashes necessary? No.

Can we be penitent without them? Of course.

Can we become humble if we aren’t marked? Absolutely.

So I ask again: Exactly what are we doing here today, on this Ash Wednesday, about to have ashes put on our foreheads, so that we can go forth marked for all the world to see our faith?

* * *

In the plains of East Africa live a tribe called the Masai. They are a fierce people, these Masai: fiercely independent, fiercely warrior-like, fiercely nomadic. The Masai are known for these features and for one other thing: They believe that all cows under heaven have been given to them by God. That they are the stewards of all cows under heaven. It doesn’t matter where the cow lives – it could be anywhere. Even here. And it doesn’t matter who owns it – it could be you or me, or a member of one of the Masai’s neighboring tribes in East Africa. In fact, it could anyone. The fact is, in Masai belief, all cows under heaven belong to them. This belief even has been upheld in the courts throughout Kenya – Masai tribal law is more important, most of the time, than Kenyan national law.

Now the Masai – knowing that they have been given a special responsibility by God to care for all these cows – also know that they have to feed them. Which is a difficult thing to do, when you’re a nomadic tribe, wandering the plains of East Africa, competing with wildlife for sparse grass and pastureland.

So every year, in order to make sure they will have enough food for their cows in the coming year, the Masai carefully and intentionally set fire to the plains where their cows graze. Every year, right at the end of the dry season, the plains we know as the Serengeti and the Masai Mara are engulfed in flames.

The land that feeds their cows is covered in ash. Nothing survives there, except maybe some snakes and insects.

And then the Masai sit back and wait.

They wait for the long rains to come – rains that will pound the ash into the earth, that will turn the ash into fertilizer, nourishing the earth, so that the grass again will cover the plains, and their cows again will be able to eat.

It’s a risky thing to do – burning the Serengeti and the Masai Mara. If the rains come, all is well, the cows eat and the Masai are prosperous.

But if the rains don’t come – well, if the rains don’t come, the cows will starve – and so will the Masai.

But the Masai are willing to take that risk.

Because they know – they know – that out of death comes life.

Out of the ashes comes green grass, grass filled with nutrients, grass that will keep their cows alive, and in turn, keep them alive.

Out of death – comes life.

* * *

Today marks the beginning of Lent, the forty days of fasting, prayer and alms-giving; of self-examination and repentance; of reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

And we begin that forty-day period by gathering together as a family of God. By praying. By listening to God’s holy Word. By celebrating the Eucharist.

And by marking our foreheads with ashes.

For us, as for the Masai of East Africa, we know that ashes mean death.

For us, as for the Masai, we know that out of that death comes life.

At the end of our forty days, we will be at death – the death of our Lord Jesus.

Three days later, we will encounter life anew – new life in the form of the risen Christ.

Out of Christ’s death comes our life.

We don’t mark our foreheads with ashes this day to show off in our faith.

We mark our foreheads with ashes because we know – just as the Masai know – that we can’t get to new life – to Easter – unless first we go through death – Good Friday.

We can’t get to resurrection without first stopping at the cross.

We mark our foreheads with ashes this day in order to begin the journey that will get us to that cross – that will get us to the death of our Lord and Savior.

Only then – only by encountering death up close and personally – can we then get to the new life offered us in Christ.

* * *

Go forth into this Lent, marked by the ashes of death.

Not to show off your faith.

But to get to the cross.

So that three days later, we can get beyond that cross.

To life.

Amen.

Sermon preached on Ash Wednesday at Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., 22 February 2012, Year B.


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Brand cialis 5mg online

Matthew 26:14- 27:66

In the past two weeks, I have received news of the deaths of two men who were beloved to me, news that shocked me and caused tears to form immediately in my eyes and in my heart.

One friend was the priest who raised me up to priesthood, who in his sometimes gentle and sometimes gruff ways formed me to be the person and priest I am today. Last Sunday morning, I served at the church where he celebrated for more than two decades, and for the first time I was privileged to sing the Eucharist at the table where he taught me so much. As I sang, I thought of Bob, and I smiled, and later told others, “Now I know why he loved to sing at that table so much – it’s holy.” By the time I finished singing the Eucharist, unbeknownst to me, Bob was in the hospital, having suffered a heart attack.

Three days later, he was dead.

The other man was a friend who had counseled me through some tough times, advised me through some marvelous times, and who could talk baseball with the best of them. Russ had served as the chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia for more than two decades and was beloved by all in that diocese. Whenever we met, he would stop whatever he was doing, turn his full attention to me, bestow that marvelous Southern gentleman smile upon me, and wrap me a hug. He had cataract surgery two Tuesday mornings ago.

At home, resting up afterwards, he suddenly died.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Bob and Russ since they died. I know who they were in my life, but as I grieve their loss, I am left to wonder who I was in their lives.

This, my friends, is an important question for all of us to contemplate, this question of who we are. Who are we in each other’s lives, in God’s life, in Jesus’ life?

It is an especially important question to ask today, on the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, as we move from exultation to devastation, from life to death.

Who are we – who exactly are we – in this Holy Week?

Take a moment and consider:

Who are you in this Holy Week? …

Are you one of the people cheering Jesus on as he rides into Jerusalem, waving palms and throwing your cloak on the ground, pinning all your hopes on this man, proclaiming him the Messiah?

Is that who you are?

Or are you one of those in the crowd five days later, caught up in the bloodlust, screaming in a frenzy, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”?

Who are you in this Holy Week?

Are you Judas, a faithful disciple – and make no mistake, he was faithful. Jesus called him, Judas followed, and Judas was with Jesus for a substantial portion of his ministry. Judas was there for the miracles and the healings, the preaching and teaching, on the road and in the Temple. He was present at the Last Supper.  And then … he betrayed Jesus … because Judas’ vision of the Messiah blinded him to the vision of the Messiah.

Judas wanted a Messiah all right … but Jesus wasn’t the Messiah Judas wanted.

Is that who you are?

Or are you Simon, now called Peter, the Rock, who like Judas followed Jesus when Jesus came calling, who like Judas sat at table with Jesus and broke bread with him, who like Judas was in the synagogues and on the street, who just like Judas failed Jesus at the most critical moment, and who just like Judas betrayed the Lord …?

Is that who you are?

Perhaps you are Caiaphas, the High Priest, threatened by this upstart, ragged, itinerant preacher, worried that if he continues to preach this scandalous gospel of his, your people might die as a result?

Or maybe you are Pontius Pilate, who is already having a hard time controlling these stubborn Jews who refuse to honor Caesar (for God’s sake, couldn’t they just go along to get along?), worried that if you don’t do something with yet another so-called Messiah, if you don’t satisfy this bloodthirsty crowd, you will lose both your job and your head?

Is that who are you in this Holy Week?

Are you Barabbas, the murderous zealot already condemned to death and suddenly set free, asking no questions, but taking your freedom and running for the hills?

Or are you Simon of Cyrene, the man who came to town to sell merchandise for the high holy days and who suddenly is dragged into this drama and forced to help this man you’ve never met, about whom you know nothing?

Perhaps you are one of the disciples, so committed to the Lord that you gave up everything to follow him everywhere – except to the cross?

Or are you one of the women, risking your very life to stand at the foot of the cross, knowing that Roman law said you, too, could be executed for the crime of simply knowing Jesus?

Maybe that’s who you are!

Maybe you’re one of the thieves crucified with Jesus, one on his right and one on his left, mocking him to the end, because in the end, all three of you are going to die anyway, and you might just as well get in your licks while you can, right?

Or are you one of the Roman soldiers who beat, taunted and crucified yet another unruly Palestinian causing trouble, not caring about who this man is because you are just following orders?

Are you possibly one of the people in the crowd – a chief priest or a scribe or an elder – taunting Jesus because he refuses to save himself, even though he saved so many others?

Is that who you are?

Are you the Roman Centurion and his cohort, feeling the earth move and seeing the rocks split and the tombs come open, and in great terror proclaiming at the last, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Or are you Joseph of Arimathea, helping to take down the body of your beloved Jesus, and laying him your own tomb, wracked with grief because all your hopes have come to an end?

Who are you in this Holy Week?

….

On this Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, in this sacred week of our lives, I can tell you who you are. I can tell you who we are.

Each of us, at some point in our lives, is every single one of the players just named in this incredible drama.

At some point in each of our lives, we have rejoiced and shouted the praises of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest! And at some other point, we have rejected God … or wondered where God was … or cursed God … or betrayed God …

At some point in our lives, we’ve all put our families, our wants, our needs, our desires, our dreams ahead of God. We’ve made God wait and we have presumed to tell God that God is wrong …

The good news is, those given moments? They are not God’s final answer to our question.

Because God’s final answer is this:

We are beloved children of God.

We can be faithful stalwarts one moment and falling-down failures the next, but it won’t change the essence of who we are, the core of our being.

We are God’s beloved.

And God loves us so much … so much … that God not only sent his only begotten son to live with us, God sent his only begotten son to die for us. For each of us. For all of us. That’s God’s final answer to our question of who are we in this Holy Week.

My two friends, who died so recently, Bob and Russ?

They taught me a lot of things. They taught me that I wasn’t always perfect, that I didn’t always do just the right thing, that there were days when I fell down and days when my friendship faltered – but because they loved me, they never gave up on me. They never abandoned me.

The same is true with God, and this week, this Holy week, is the week when God teaches us the same thing.

We will not always be perfect – even the disciples weren’t.

We will not always do the right thing – even the disciples didn’t.

We will fall down – like Caiaphas and Pilate.

We will falter in our faith – like Peter and the frenzied crowds.

But God does not give up on us. God does not abandon us just because we have failed in some way, great or small.

As you try to figure out who you are in this holiest and most important week of your life, remember the lesson that my two friends taught me.

Remember that no matter what role you play – that of faithful follower or brave witness or even miserable betrayer –

Remember:

God already knows the answer to our question:

We are God’s beloved.

Amen.

A sermon preached at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Syracuse, N.Y., on the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.

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Provera side effects

Matthew 17:1-9

Icon of the Transfiguration by Andrei Rublev (1405), now located in the Moscow Annunciation Cathedral

When Peter and James and John went up the mountain with Jesus that long-ago-but-memorable day, they literally had no idea what was about to happen.

 

They thought they were going to pray. After all, that’s what Jesus regularly did, and so for them, this was just another day following their teacher and Lord.

But, really: They had no idea what was in store.

Up they go, and boom! Jesus is transfigured right in front of them! His face shines like the sun, his clothes are dazzling white, and right there stand Moses and Elijah, chatting with Jesus!

You know that was a surprise. You know this was not on their agenda for the day. (Take a walk with Jesus? Check. Climb the mountain? Check. See Jesus transfigured? Huh?)

But the surprises didn’t stop there.

Because just as Peter in his great excitement was babbling away – “Lord, this is great! Let me make three little houses for you …” (perhaps to fix Jesus, Moses and Elijah in that moment?), just as he was reacting as only Peter could react, God spoke.

Now remember:

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God speaks to people all the time.

But in the New Testament, in the Gospels, God only speaks a few times (one of them being up on that mountain, when God interrupts Peter to proclaim Jesus as God’s son, the beloved, with whom God is most pleased).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God commands all the time (often on a mountain – remember Moses and the 10 Commandments?)

But in the New Testament, God only commands once.[1]

Only one time – right here, right on the mountaintop – does God issue a commandment:

Akouete![2] Listen to him!

Like the commandments of old, this is not a suggestion. This is not God saying, “Hey, you know, when you’ve got a moment, I’d really like it if you’d pay attention … but only if you want to.”

This is not God throwing a hissy fit like a little kid who’s trying to win an argument on the playground and whining: Listen to me!

This is God in all of God’s glory – remember Jesus’ shining face and dazzling clothes? Remember Moses? Remember Elijah? This is God on high booming out (because you know God wasn’t namby-pamby here):

Akouete! Listen to him!

Not “Listen to me,” but “Listen to him.

If ever you have wondered whether Jesus was the real thing … if ever you wondered – and many have – whether perhaps we got it all wrong, that perhaps Jesus is more of a prophet and less the Son of God … now’s the time to pay attention.

Because right now, in this moment, on this mountaintop, God is making it crystal clear:

This is my son.

He is my beloved.

And you had better for darned tootin’ listen to him!

• • •

For the last eight years, the non-profit organization StoryCorps has been collecting the stories of Americans “of all backgrounds and beliefs.”[3] The stories are great; I listen to them on NPR’s Morning Edition every Friday. But to me, what’s more important than the stories themselves is the idea behind StoryCorps:

Listening, StoryCorps proclaims, is an act of love.

Listening … is … an act … of love.

That’s important for us to remember, because, you see, we are created in love. Remember, we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, but we are not necessary to God, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we cannot possibly be necessary to God. So God must have wanted us. God must have desired us into being. God must have loved us into being. So we were created in love.

And this command, Akouete? Listen to him?

This command is our blueprint for how we are to live in the image of God in which we are created. It is our blueprint for how we are to love.

I have something to tell you ... will you listen?

If we want to be faithful servants of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, if we really want to live our lives as God would have us live them, we … need … to … listen … to … Jesus.

Listening is how we love.

When we listen, we are loving God.

When we listen, we are loving our neighbors as ourselves.

When we listen, we are loving our neighbors as Jesus loves us.

The great 20th-century theologian Paul Tillich once proclaimed that “The first duty of love is to listen.”[4] That duty comes from God’s direct command, not through prophets and apostles, but from God on high to the actual witnesses – Peter and James and John, who heard God speak to them, who heard God say to them, Akouete!

And now, today, on this last Sunday of Epiphany, with Lent beginning in just three days, God is speaking to us.

God is commanding us: Akouete! Listen to him!

And if we are wise, if we are caring, if we are faithful, we will listen.

For when we listen and are wise, we can see what is happening around us, and figure out what God wants us to do about it.

When we listen and are caring, we can build the relationships God is calling us to build, with God’s beloved children.

When we listen and are faithful, then … and only then … can we follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

What it all boils down to is this:

Listening is an act of love … so listen up!

We already know what Jesus wants us to do … because he’s already told us. But sometimes, we need to listen again, because sometimes, once is not enough.

So what is it that Jesus wants us to do?

Feed the hungry. Give water to the thirsty. Make the blind see … the deaf hear … the mute speak … the lame leap for joy.

When we listen to Jesus, what do we hear him saying to us?

Live lives of love.

Live lives of wild … radical … inexplicable  … never-ending … love.

This is our mission in life, my friends. This is why God created us: to go into the world and love … just as God loves us … wildly, radically, inexplicably, eternally.

But … we say … but … this is hard! How are we supposed to love like this? We don’t know what to do? (And yes, all of us say this, all the time … because loving like this really is hard and we really do need a set of directions, we really want to see a blueprint before we begin.)

The good news is, God already has told us what to do and how we are to do it. God has already given us the directions and shown us the blueprint.

Step one: We listen.

As a missionary – I served for five years overseas on your behalf (all Appointed Missionaries represent the entire Episcopal Church, not just our own dioceses, which means that I was your missionary) – I can tell you that listening is key to serving.

Listening is how we learn of other's needs, desires, joys and sorrows.

Wherever I have served, particularly as a missionary – in Kenya, Sudan, Haiti, Honduras, Appalachia or Pine Ridge, in homeless shelters and food pantries, with poor, inner city residents and rich suburbanites – I have learned that when I listen to the people of God, I hear the voice of God. I hear Jesus’ commandment to love.

And this call I hear?

It’s not just mine. It’s a call to all of us – because all of us are God’s missionaries in God’s very good creation.

How many of you are Episcopalians? Did you know that the legal name of our Church is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of The Episcopal Church of the United States of America? That we made that change in 1821? And that we made that change in our name because we determined then that we were going to a Church that went out into the world and preached the Gospel, and if necessary (as St. Francis is reputed to have said) using words? Which means that all of us here are missionaries.

So all of us are sent forth into God’s world, not to speak, not to tell others what to do, not to be so all-fired certain that we are right and everyone else is … well, they’re just delusional!

No!

God tells us: Akouete! Listen to him!

Listen to Jesus as he tells us: Love your enemy. Tend the sick. Visit the prisoners. Bring joy to the sorrowful. Give courage to the fearful.  Feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty and sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and voice to the mute and dancing to the lame!

Jesus has told us … in no uncertain terms … what he wants us to do. Jesus wants us to love!

And the first act, the first duty of love is to listen.

Not just to the people we love, not just to the people we know. No! We need to listen to each and every one of God’s beloved children, because God doesn’t discriminate. In God’s very good creation, there are no us’s and them’s. In God’s very good creation, no one gets voted off the island!

Only when we take the time to listen to God’s beloved children, only then do we hear their joys and sorrows, their dreams and disappointments, and their hopes and their desperate desire to know that they are loved, that they are the beloved.

Make no mistake, my friends:

God is speaking to us. God is on this mountaintop with us, right here, right now, and God is telling us – in every way possible – that our call is to love.

So listen up!

Amen.

A sermon preached on the Last Sunday of Epiphany, 6 March 2010, Year A, at St. Stephen’s, New Hartford, NY, and St. John’s, Whitesboro, NY.



[1] Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at Crossmarks Christian Resources, Matthew 17:1-9, Transfiguration of our Lord, Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A,  http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt17x1.htm.

[2] Ibid.

[4] Paul Tillich, German-born American Protestant theologian (1886-1965), in a story about Tillich, as quoted in O Magazine, February 2004.

 

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Losing our fear

For the last four weeks, the world has been transfixed by the events taking place in North Africa and the Middle East.

After 23 years in Tunisia and 31 years in Egypt, the people rose up and through mostly peaceful but still costly protests overthrew their leaders. In Libya, 42 years of oppression have brought about more protests, ones that have turned brutally violent, in an attempt to overthrow their own leader, Col. Moammar Khadafy.

Protests are also taking place in Bahrain, Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Oman and Jordan. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad is making changes to avoid the same kind of protests. The grandson of the founding king of modern Saudi Arabia, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, acknowledged publicly – in the New York Times no less! – that changes need to happen, that the governing philosophy of same-old, same-old no longer will suffice.[1]

In each country, the people have said that they are tired of their governments ignoring them. They want, the people say, jobs, freedom, opportunities to grow. They want to govern themselves.

But none of these demands are new. The people who are changing the world aren’t suddenly being confronted by a lack of jobs, or freedom, or opportunities. Those issues have been the order of the day for decades.

So what changed?

What happened to make people who for years were oppressed and subdued suddenly rise up and topple governments that were seen as secure?

If you listen to the protesters in each country, they all say the same thing:

“We have lost our fear.”[2]

In country after country, the people were able to rise up against injustice and oppression because, they said, they had lost their fear.

• • •

My friends, for the last five weeks, we have been immersed in Jesus’ magnificent Sermon on the Mount, where he has told the people, in every way possible, that it is time for them to lose their fear.

Nowhere in this sermon does Jesus actually use those words. Nowhere does he proclaim, as angels and prophets before him have proclaimed, “Fear not!”

But a key underlying message to this sermon truly is just that: “Fear not!”

And what is Jesus telling us to not fear?

Love.

Do not be afraid … to love.

To love God and love one another.

Those blessings Jesus laid out at the beginning of this sermon, in the Beatitudes? Those were given to people who were afraid – afraid that they were not loved, and afraid in turn to love.

That saltiness and light that Jesus commended us to be? If that’s not a message of “fear not,” I don’t know what is.

Those legalisms, all those Law-on-steroids[3] that we have heard for the last two weeks, the “you have heard that it was said … but I say to you” directions? That wasn’t Jesus trying to be more Pharisaic than the Pharisees. That was Jesus telling the people: Go beyond the Law … to love!

And now we come to today’s Gospel, the end of our five weeks of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus tells us, “Do not worry” … about what we are to eat or drink or wear … or even about tomorrow, “for today’s trouble is enough for today.”

If we listen to this Gospel on its own, considering not that which preceded it, it would be easy to equate this message with Bobby McFerrin’s. You remember his song, right?

(sung) Don’t worry … be happy.[4]

In every life we have some trouble

When you worry you make it double

Don’t worry … be happy.

It’s a happy-go-lucky song that makes you feel good, right?

Now that I’ve planted those lyrics in your head – Don’t worry … be happy – go back and read the Gospel from Matthew again, and you can see how easy it is to think, “Why, they’re both about the same thing: ‘Don’t worry’!”

But my friends, Jesus is not telling us we should never worry … and that’s a good thing, because if he were telling us that, the truth is, most of us would not listen.

Because we do worry.

We worry about our health … our finances … our families … our friends … the economy … jobs … safety … We worry about the food we eat (“Is this good for me?”), the water we drink (“Is it clean?”), the clothes we wear (“Does this outfit make me look fat?”).

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that on any given day, we probably spend at least a few hours of it worrying.

So when Jesus tells us, “Do not worry …” our first reaction most likely, at least in private, is, “Yeah, right …”

But if we do that, we’re missing the point.

Because he’s not telling us to worry not.

He’s telling us to lose our fear. He’s telling us to be like those protesters in Tunisia and Egypt and Bahrain and Yemen and Libya, where protesting has cost many of them their lives.

Jesus wants us to stop being afraid all the time and to start focusing on the things that really matter.

He’s telling us to “strive first for the kingdom of God and [God’s] righteousness.”

Because when we do that – when God’s justice rolls down like waters and God’s righteousness like an everflowing stream[5] — then indeed, we will not have to worry about what we are to eat or drink or wear (“Does this outfit make me look fat?”).  Because in God’s very just and righteous world, all of us will have enough food to eat, clean water to drink and decent clothes to wear, for then we shall no longer live in a world where scarcity is king. Instead, we will inhabit a creation where God’s abundance reigns.[6]

Listen to how Biblical scholar Eugene Peterson has translated today’s Gospel in The Message:

If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table … or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. … What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. … Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out … Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now.[7]

When we spend all of our time worrying about what we have and don’t have, we are not living a life of God-worship. We’re living a life of fear.

Fear that what we have is not enough.

Fear that someone else might have more than we do, or something better than we do.

Fear that someone else might try to take away what we have.

Jesus wants us to stop being so afraid that we lose sight of what God wants for us. He wants us to set aside our fear and remember God’s promise to us: “Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hand.”[8]

Jesus wants us to love – boldly … passionately … wildly … radically – the way God loves us.

When we worry … when we are afraid … when we spend our days focusing only on ourselves and our belongings, and not on God and God’s other beloved children, and what they need, we cannot love.

It’s OK to worry … we’re human beings, and worry is part of our genetic make-up.

It’s not OK to let those worries consume us, to keep us from seeing God’s abundant love in our lives – and from acting on that love, from living that love.

My friends, we are created by God to love.

We are created … by God … to love.

That’s what Jesus is saying to us: Live in love.

And if we want to live in love, if we want to live as Jesus tells us to live, not worrying but loving, the first step we have to take is become like those protesters all over the Middle East and North Africa, the ones who have inspired us and kept us glued to our TV sets for weeks on end.

First, we must lose our fear.

Thenthen … we can love.

Amen.

————————————————————

A sermon preached on the Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, 27 February 2011, Year A, at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior, Montpelier, Va.

 

[1] Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, chairman of the Kingdom Holding Company and the Alwalaeed bin Talal Foundations, “A Saudi Prince’s Plea for Reform,” The New York Times opinion page, 25 February 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/25/opinion/25alsaud.html?scp=2&sq=alwaleed%20bin%20talal%20bin%20abdul%20aziz%20alsaud&st=cse

[2] Sarah A. Topol, aolnews, “Egyptian protesters vow they will remain: ‘We lost our fear,’” http://www.aolnews.com/2011/02/03/egyptian-protesters-vow-they-will-remain-we-lost-our-fear/ (See also numerous other reports in February from Egypt and Bahrain.)

[3] David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, on http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=452

[4] Bobby McFerrin, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, released September 1988, lyrics from http://www.lyricsondemand.com/onehitwonders/dontworrybehappylyrics.html

[5] Amos 5:24

[6] Paraphrase from Lose, “Picture This,” at WorkingPreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=458.

[7] The Message (MSG), © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson, via http://www.biblegateway.com.

[8] Isaiah 49:15b-16a.

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