October 31, 2010
Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
October 31, 2010
The Rev. Bradford A. Rundlett
2nd Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Happy Halloween! Do you like my costume? Pretty real looking isn’t it? You can find just about anything in The Party Store.
I’ve fooled a lot of people over the years, had a few of them thinking I’m actually somewhat holy, at least a notch or two above the notorious sinners.
It’s not true of course. I try; but God knows I’m not the kind of person I should be. If I were honest, if I confessed all the things I’ve done that I ought not to have done, and all the things I’ve left undone that I ought to have done, heaven knows I’d be on my knees a lot longer than the hour or so we’ll be here this morning.
There’s a lot in me that I just don’t want to see.
It’s a whole lot easier – and less painful - to put on a costume, and pretend.
In a manner of speaking every day is Halloween. We dress up; make like we’re somebody we’re not. And to a great extent we’re fairly successful, if not in fooling everyone else, at least in being fools together.
On Sunday mornings we come to this holy place, we kneel and pray; we stand and sing; we make a show of putting something in the basin so the people around us can see how generous and faithful we are, though our offerings are peanuts compared to what we could and should give. We shuffle demurely to the Altar rail, doing our best to appear holy and humble, which even on our best days we miss by a country mile. The great sharp-tongued Prophet Isaiah put us all in our rightful place when he roared the word of God “I am sick to death of this deceitful show of piety! I hate the bowing and pleading for heavenly favor, the cater-walling and cruel judgments behind each other’s back! Get out of my house!”
God’s not fooled. God sees right through our charades and masquerades, and the truth is not pretty.
That really hit home week before last when I was in Haiti. I was reminded, with terrible clarity, that I have far more than I need – of money, food, housing, clothing – just about everything! Which means that other people on this planet have far less than they need.
I could see the implications of this imbalance everywhere in Haiti. But it’s evident too right here in Fairfax County. Every five seconds a child dies from starvation and related problems [malnutrition, protein deficiency, impure water]. While every day, in this country, we throw away tons of food.
I don’t think God’s very happy about that.
In my better moments I know I’m only fooling myself parading around like a model Christian. I say a lot of things on Sunday morning that are forgotten Monday through Saturday. I wear a mask of righteousness . . . and I’m not the only one. We pray for people in this community who struggle to secure the basic necessities; we do a lot to help them get by. We pray for, and try to help, the people of Dungannon in Appalachia, the Pine Ridge Reservation, and Haiti. But we need to do more than just ask God to bless them, throw a little money their way, and send teams to be with them for a week or so once a year.
We need to work for a fair distribution of God’s bounty so everyone has enough to eat, so everyone has a safe and comfortable home, good medical care, and a quality education. We need to eliminate poverty, tyranny, hatred, and war, so every child born in this world can live and grow in peace.
That’s a tall order, no question about it. It’s more than any one of us can do, more than the whole lot of us can do. But we have to try.
If you haven’t volunteered at the shelter, the Closet, or the Jeannie Schmidt free Clinic – you should. If you haven’t been to Dungannon, the Pine Ridge Reservation, or Haiti – or any number of places where you can see how truly blessed you are, and begin to wrestle with the responsibility that goes with such privilege – you should go. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to God. We owe it to the millions of people who are dying because they don’t have any of the things that we take for granted.
We won’t change the world, but the Creator of this world can and will change us.
And God knows we need to be changed. We’ve been horribly selfish with what God’s given us. And people are dying because of it.
“Our sins are scarlet” Isaiah shouted, we are “crimson red!”
But God also told Isaiah to say “The people of God shall be pure and white as lambs wool, as pure and white as snow.” Not by any effort of our own, St. Paul added, but “According to the grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As stewards of God’s providence we have failed, miserably. But the weight of our sin has been lifted! The stain of our selfishness has been removed! We’ve been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Today is a new day! By the grace and mercy of God we are new people! We have been redeemed!
“The Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost” Jesus said, and there’s no denying, that’s you and me. As the Book of Common Prayer puts it [pg. 450] “We have squandered the inheritance of the saints, and wandered far in a land of waste.”
We’ve traded our souls for a bunch of stuff, and we’d be forever lost in our stuff had Christ not come for us as he did for a crooked tax collector, “Come down out of that tree Zacchaeus, because I’m going to your house.”
You really weren’t fooled were you. This white gown isn’t a sign of my holiness; it’s a reminder of God’s love and transforming grace.
The great Prophet Isaiah, the preeminent Apostle Paul, and our Savior Jesus Christ, invite us to take an honest look at ourselves, at our attitudes and assumptions, our choices and lifestyles, how they affect us, and how they hurt our neighbors in this world. We are called to acknowledge our sins, come clean about the fear and greed that have a choke hold on us, and to make amends, to set things right; to strive for justice for every person, to care for the oppressed, to help children and mothers who cannot protect or provide for themselves, “So Christ may be glorified in us, and we in him.”
Jesus said to Zacchaeus “Today salvation has come to this house, for you are a child of Abraham and Sarah.” Likewise Jesus Christ, the Lord of truth and grace, has come to this house – in Word and Sacrament, in Spirit, and the water of Baptism, to wash away our sin and clothe us in righteousness, to restore us as the adopted children of God, to reunite us as sisters and brothers in Christ. We can take off our costumes; give up the charade. We don’t need to pretend any longer. We are no longer shackled to the great weight of failure. The Son of God and Son of Humanity has come to set free to love God with all our hearts and minds; all our souls and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
My redeemed sisters and brothers in Christ, with the transforming mercy, love, and grace of God, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”