Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pentecost 12-C, 2013: Because we believe

Lectionary:Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

As people of God there is one thing of which we can be certain: we can trust in the promises of God. And God has promised to redeem the whole world and all people.

In the story from the book of Genesis, Abraham, chosen by God to be a father in the faith, has no heir. In his time, an heir was extremely important. A
man’s legacy, the value of the footprint of his life, was in his heir. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were in their 80’s and still had no son, no heir. Yet, God had promised Abram descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. And Abraham believed.

Even when God does deliver on the promise to him, Abraham was given only one son with Sarah. How could he have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky when he was given only one son? Still, Abraham believed.

From where we stand today, we can see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. The descendants of Abraham continue to grow as Christians, Jews, and Muslims (all the children of Abraham) now number about 3.5 billion in the world. (Source:

That’s a lot of stars in the sky.

And Abraham’s faith is a perfect example of what the author of the letter to the Hebrews is talking about when he describes faith as: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

God always keeps God’s promises.

When we look at the arc of the big picture of the story of God’s relationship to us, a perspective we have this many years into the narrative, we can see that. God promised the people of Israel a Redeemer. Many of them didn’t live to see the coming of Jesus, the Christ. As the author of Hebrews says, they “died in faith without having received the promises” but they believed, and God delivered. And in the truth of life eternal, all who died with faith in the promise were able to see and welcome it.

The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who knew the stories of the faith of their ancestors. They could see the arc of the big picture, the connection of themselves, as people of the resurrection, to the promises in the stories of their forebears in the faith.

On the other hand, the Gospel of Luke was written about 60-70 years after the resurrection to a group of mostly Gentile Christians who were new to these stories and promises. This group of converts to the faith was being persecuted and the second coming that was promised seemed not to be coming at all.

Fear and doubt were creeping in and without a strong historical tether to the stories of the faith, the people were becoming frightened. We can imagine then, how very comforting Jesus’ words were: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

As modern day listeners, this is a good place for us to pause and consider what this says. The word “kingdom’ is one of those ‘religion words’ that we hear so often, but we rarely stop to consider exactly what it means.

The Greek word is, βασιλεία, and it translates as God’s dominion, sovereignty, and control. βασιλεία also means the time when God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven. So Jesus is saying, ‘Do not be afraid beloved disciples, for it is God’s pleasure to deliver to you the promised reality of God’s sovereign control, the time when God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.’

As we look around at our world today we see rampant war, hunger, poverty, violence, oppression. It doesn’t look much like God’s βασιλεία yet. But we can remember, that neither did Abraham’s one son look like descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky – yet. It is in the arc of the big picture revealed to us over time, that the fulfillment of this promise will evident.

You’ve heard me mention before that we live in a time of what’s called the “already, but not yet.” Jesus has already redeemed all creation, but until the second coming, the process of redemption will not be complete. It has already happened, but is not yet complete.

Until it is completed in the second coming of the Christ, we are partners with God in this process and we have work to do. Each of us has been created by God and gifted for our part in that work – in that purpose. In order to fulfill our purpose, we must be perfected, that is, we must open our eyes to see our gifts, then nurture and develop them so that God can use them to bring about βασιλεία.

And Jesus offers us four (4) bits of advice on how we should go about doing that…

1. Sell what you own. Jesus advises us to be unattached to anything that gives us security or identity on the earth. Instead, be rich in God as we heard last week.

2. Give to the poor. Money = power. Jesus calls us to give up our power, just as he gave up his own power and chose to live among us on earth, so that all may become one in him; so that no one is over anyone else, so that no one is better than anyone else. Be forewarned, though, taking Jesus’ advice won’t win you any friends because the world doesn’t respect those who give up power. It panders to those who accumulate it.

3. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This, Jesus tells us, is the test. It’s how we will know where we really are in our relationship with God, other, and self. What kind of wealth do we spend our time, attention, and gifts storing up? Again, storing up heavenly wealth won’t win us any respect from the world, because the world values material wealth and those who have lots of it.

4. Jesus’ last bit of advice is a familiar Biblical theme: Be awake. Be ready. God is coming to you and it won’t be anything like you’re thinking it will. To illustrate the point, Jesus tells the story of the master and the slaves, turning everyone’s expectations upside-down. It isn’t the servant in this story who serves the master. It is the master who serves the slave! Be ready, Jesus says, because God will come to you, sit you down to eat, and serve you.

I can’t think of a better description of our Holy Communion. Can you?

God chooses each one of us and calls us into community where God sets the table and serves us holy food – God’s own self – to nourish us, strengthen us, and embolden us to be co-builders of the βασιλεία of God.

It’s a beautiful and comforting thing to know that Almighty God serves us so that we can serve God by serving God’s people. It’s like breathing. We breathe God into ourselves, then breathe God out into the world.

It’s a dangerous and costly business, though, being church in this way. Breathing the transforming love of God into the world means going where it isn’t. It means going where the vulnerable need protecting, where the oppressed need liberating, and where the poor need justice. It means calling down the powerful from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.

As Deitrich Bonhoeffer says, “Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies… So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work.” (~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community)
The church must be real, visible, and engaged in the world. As theologians Kelly and Burton said, commenting on Bonhoeffer’s spirituality, “…the church is not called to be a safe haven from worldly turmoil. [Rather,] like Jesus himself, it has to be a visible presence in the midst of the world… even though this way of understanding its mission could propel the church into controversial areas of conflict with government.” (G. Kelly, F. Burton, The Cost of Moral Leadership, The Spirituality of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2003, 147).

That’s why we go to rallies like Moral Monday. Because we believe.

It’s why we stand with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers as they seek equality in church and under the law. Because we believe.

It’s why we willingly sacrifice our own comfort and reputation to offer food and friendship to our Shepherd’s Table guests each week. Because we believe.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to deliver to you the βασιλεία of God.


For your love for us, compassionate and patient,
which has carried us through our pain,
wept beside us in our sin,
and waited with us in our confusion.
We give you thanks.

For your love for us, strong and challenging,
which has called us to risk for you,
asked for the best in us,
and shown us how to serve.
We give you thanks.

O God we come to celebrate
that your Holy Spirit is present deep within us,
and at the heart of all life.
Forgive us when we forget your gift of love
made known to us in our brother, Jesus,
and draw us into your presence.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pentecost 11C, 2013: The only thing worth having

Lectionary: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-11; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

There are two kinds of people in the world: salt-eaters and sweet-eaters. I’m a sweet-eater. As a sweet-eater, I have found that when I crave something sweet, if I don’t eat it, I will eat, and eat, and eat all kinds of other things seeking satisfaction which will elude me until I eat that sweet treat. As C.S. Lewis once said: “What does not satisfy when we find it was not the thing we were desiring.”
Those who know me well know that I eat a piece of dark chocolate and a cookie every day. Just one. Everyday.

I credit my Poppa, who came here from Ireland, for this practice in my life. My Poppa lived most of his 99 ½ years in amazingly good health. He wasn’t overweight, smoked a pipe and a cigar (infrequently, but regularly), and took a daily walk – with his Shillelagh stick in hand, of course.

I often heard people ask Poppa what he thought was the secret to his long life and good health. I don’t remember his exact words, but I remember understing his answer to be: balance. It was an answer that always made sense to me.

As I have grown in age and spiritual maturity, I have come to appreciate how truly important balance is. But to achieve balance in our lives, we have to know our true selves, and without judging ourselves, establish disciplines that help us keep balance.

For example, I’m a sweet-eater, and an introvert, and a bookworm. Part of me thinks I could be happy eating Deacon Pam’s dark chocolate fudge, alone, with a good book – till I die. Another part of me knows I can’t. That’s why, in order to live and to fulfill God’s purpose for me on this earth, I have to have disciplines that keep me looking to God instead of at my own desires.

In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” because as baptized believers, we have new life in Jesus Christ. Our purpose on this earth is to continually reveal Christ to the world so that all can be reconciled to God in Christ. The behaviors we display (those ones that Paul listed)as we live our lives point to our faithfulness to that purpose. Are we being faithful?

When we lose sight of what God desires for us, and for the world through us, it’s because we have looked away (our behaviors will show us that). Something has diverted our attention and become the object of our desire; and we are devoting our time, energy, and gifts to that instead of to God. That thing that has diverted our attention is an idol.

We have many idols – and they can be tricky. We may not recognize that something has become an idol for us until someone else points it out to us, or until we realize things have gotten out of control – out of balance. Addictions to food, substances, or gambling come to mind.

Idols can be our emotions. Rightly sinned against or hurt, we feel that we are right to attend to this anger or pain, above and before all else.

We can also make idols of ideals and apply those ideals to people. The ideal is our own creation and our devotion to that ideal instead of to the person disrupts our relationship with that person. In fact, it makes relationship with that person impossible.

The same can be said of religion. Yes, Virginia, even religion can be an idol. If we create an ideal about God and focus on that, then what we have is a relationship with our ideal, not with God.

In her book Amazing Grace, A Vocabulary of Faith, author and theologian, Kathleen Norris, says: “Idolatry makes love impossible.” (88) That’s because we can’t love an idol – it isn’t real.

We create these ideals, these idols because, as Norris says, it’s “…safer to love an idol rather than a real person [or God] who is capable of surprising you, loving you and demanding love in return…” (89-90)

We can also make an idol of the very gifts God has given us. That’s what the reading from Ecclesiastes illustrates.

The author, who is in search of wisdom, looks at everything done by anyone “under the sun” (that is, on the earth) and finds it all to be nothing but “vanity.” Such pride in our accomplishments is worthless, he says, as worthless and futile as is his own search for wisdom.

Why? Because it leads us to a dead end. We are misled into believing that we deserve the gifts we have. We are misled into believing that we can put our trust in ourselves, our hard work, or our things, rather than in God. And that is just what the rich man in Jesus’ parable has done.

The Parable of the rich man describes a landowner who has many possessions and is being given even more – a windfall crop. In the theology of that time, such a gift would be seen as a coming from God, a blessing for the man’s righteousness. But Jesus shows the fallacy of that idea revealing it to be nothing more than vanity.

In the parable, Jesus shows that the rich man first sinned when he asked himself, ‘What should I do?’ You’ll notice that the first part of the parable is a soliloquy, not a conversation. The man wasn’t asking God, “What should I do?” he was asking himself. In fact, the number of times the rich man considers anyone besides himself in this parable is: none, naught, nada.

Jesus started the parable with a warning that reflected what the author of Ecclesiates was saying: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

The end of the parable illustrates the vanity: “But God said to him, ‘You fool!’” After all the time and work you devoted to securing your future (and only your future), you have none, for tonight you die.

The rich man had devoted his time, energy, and attention to himself and he never fulfilled his purpose. His riches were nothing more than vanity. He was truly poor in the only thing worth having – a relationship with God.

In his book, God Hunger, John Kirvan reminds us that being made in the image of God means that it isn’t just God who is mystery. Kirvan says, “We, too, have at the heart of our beings a core of reality that will forever escape definition or confinement… Our spiritual quest is an exploration of our likeness to God – a case of mystery courting mystery. We are in search of the only reality worthy of our efforts, the only truth large enough to satisfy our deepest needs.” (129)

Let us pray.

“It is because
you have made me, Lord,
in your image and likeness
that my soul seeks you
and will not rest until it rests in you.
Even as you are not
the sum of your words and images
neither am I.
Help me, Lord, not to settle
for anything less
than the divine mystery
you have made of me. (Kirvan, 129)