June 17, 2012
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 17, 2012
The Rev. Bradford Ayers Rundlett
1st Samuel 15:34-16:13
2nd Corinthians 5:6-12, 14-17
(Espanol) Feliz dia del Padres!
(Haitian Creole) Jou kontan Papa a!
Happy father’s day!
Samuel couldn’t believe what God was directing him to do; “Lord, you want me to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new king of Israel, while Saul – who’s as paranoid as a pit viper - is still the king? When he hears what I’ve done he’ll kill me! That’s your plan?”
Samuel saw no sense in this . . . and no way out.
The risk was huge! And God seemed completely unconcerned for Samuel’s welfare. In fact, God was known to order people to do things that no one in their right mind would ever consider doing. Moses, Jonah, Hannah, Esther, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Deborah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Anna, Peter, Paul, Lydia; all the saints and martyrs – every one of them knew the likely outcome – that’s how you get your name on the Church calendar.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews said it best, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And every servant, prophet, priest, handmaid, and messenger would agree “that’s an understatement.”
The price for serving god is usually high.
What kind of God commands human beings to put our lives on the line anyway?
I’ve noticed a few things about The Holy One, Creator of the universe, Sovereign of heaven and earth:
God makes the rules and God can break the rules. If God wants something, it will be when and how the Magnificent One decrees. God has the first and last word. If your name is at the top of God’s “to do” list, good luck.
- The Most Wise Omnipotent One doesn’t take “No” for an answer, nor is God overly concerned with our temporal comfort. People who serve God don’t generally talk a lot about the places they go, the people they meet, or the things they do – it’s not a welcome topic at social gatherings, and few people understand why anyone would make such sacrifices.
- Being a “fool for Christ” (as Paul put it) might involve some special exemptions, but these are usually delivered post mortem.
- The Divine One does command the angels to watch over us, but I’ve never known one to break rank and rush to our defense. There’s no promise of protection for draftees.
- And more often than not, the faithful servants of The Holy, Undeniable God don’t often get to see the goodness and grace that eventually unfolds, in part by their obedience and earnest efforts. God gets the glory; the most we can hope for is a seat at the heavenly banquet (that’s going to be one crowded table), and a comfortable room in Paradise (and that’s going to be one very full house!).
All in all, on this side of the Pearly Gates, there are better jobs.
Even so, notice in his second letter to the faithful in Corinth, how Paul extols the merits of fidelity to God’s word and will, in this life – no matter the cost – and the rewards that await us in heaven. We live, Paul declares, to serve and please Christ. That’s what being a Christian is all about!
On that score Paul spoke from experience. He persecuted Christians; he arrested, jailed, tortured Christians, and ordered executions. But God had other plans for this over-zealous Pharisee, and no amount of resistance on Paul’s part was going to make any difference at all. Paul met the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, and immediately became a Christian himself; an apostle for Christ. From then on he suffered beatings, he was thrown in prison, and he was executed. But before he died, in his second letter to Timothy, his successor, Paul wrote [4:6-8] “The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me.”
And he gave this charge to Timothy [4:2-5] “Proclaim the [Good News]; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; [teach], and encourage, with utmost patience . . . [be of good character always], endure suffering, [share the love of God in Jesus Christ with everyone you meet], carry out your ministry fully.”
And there was no watering down or misunderstanding what Paul meant by “carry out your ministry fully.” For Christians there’s no holding back or going halfway. It’s all out . . . all the way to the end . . . for the glory of God.
Mark would agree with Paul because, as he conveyed in his Gospel, nothing in this life compares to the Kingdom. It is so wonderfully greater than anything we can imagine that Jesus could only talk about it in parables. Add up all the best things in life, multiply all of it a thousand, million, billion times, and we’re still not close to knowing what God has in store for us. Which is why Matthew said “Strive first for the kingdom of God” [6:33], and let God take care of everything else.
We are called – everyone of us - to “Love God with all our being, and our neighbors as ourselves;” to “Forgive everyone who hurts us even seventy times seven times;” to “Do good to our enemies;” to “Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for people who cannot care for themselves, comfort the sick, visit prisoners;” to “Be servants to all people;” “Lose our lives if we want to save our lives;” “Take up our cross and follow Jesus.”
Does any of this sound like a wise course, a prescription for success, the recipe for a long and happy life; what you want for yourself, your children, and grandchildren?
Not if we’re betting everything on one go round in life.
But there is more in this infinite, expanding universe; there really is life after death; there’s mercy and grace, love and joy unbounded. So, being faithful in whatever God asks of us, following Jesus Christ even to the cross, building the Kingdom right here right now, is the only thing that makes sense; it’s the only way to go.
So, what does God want us to do?
That’s the question isn’t it.
God, I think, is clear, but we generally don’t want to hear unless the message is “You just won the lottery” and “What else can I do for you today?” Our expectations get in the way of our hearing, and few of us develop our spiritual senses as we should. But God is persistent, blowing about like the wind, rustling the leaves on the trees to get our attention, putting ideas in our heads, inspirations like songs we’ve heard and can’t get out of our heads.
The song, the inspiration that I can’t get out of my head is, wouldn’t it be great if we could pay off St. Timothy’s mortgage, buy a new organ, enjoy real inspirational music, and devote all of our resources to the services, programs, and ministries God has given us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could provide regular services and pastoral support for our Latin-American neighbors. Imagine supporting all the children in Chapoteau and Jeanette Haiti.
If we get honest about how wealthy we are, start investing in people instead of wasting money on things, realize we really are stewards and it all belongs to God, we can do so much more for the marginal and homeless in this community, the people of Dungannon in Appalachia, our Lakota neighbors on the Pine Ridge Reservation - and other good things that haven’t even dawned on us!
We’ve got the resources; the sky’s the limit!
I believe God is calling us to get serious about our stewardship of God’s wealth, and start telling other people about the gracious things that are happening here in St. Timothy’s.
That’s the vision that’s stuck my head, that’s been playing like a broken record for longer than I’d like to admit. And I suspect it’s going to keep playing until we get serious about the resources we have and a world that needs our help, and all of God’s people rejoice at the overflowing grace and goodness.