Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on May 12, 2024

Posted by on Sun, May 12, 2024 in Easter, Sermons

The Seventh Sunday of Easter:
The Sunday after Ascension Day

May 12, 2024

Over coffee with a colleague we talked about our personal places or moments of bliss, where no matter what else is afoot in our lives or our call or the world, there is inherent in that moment or place a complete surrender to God and letting go of all the rest. Hers is time with her horse, leaning into him, feeling the warmth of his great strong body under her hands. We each have those places or moments which feel an escape from all the rest. When the pressure builds, the tasks pile up, the bills mount, and the world’s news keeps being—well, bad, or we see people acting without conscience, we need that bliss of respite. Even when we love our families and friends, our work, home life, our churches, sometimes it all feels too too much and we need a moment to check out. How many ‘vacation escapes’ do we see advertised? The car ads projecting the bliss of being alone in your new car driving along perfectly smooth empty roads on rolling hills—you too can feel this good, buy, and own this. People have sought such relief since biblical times and surely before that. Our experiences of faith, especially within a church community, quietly show us what we most deeply long for. We are given a vision of the kingdom of God, of living a holy and loving life, and we long for that to fill our world—for people to look through the fray of the world’s calamities and conflicts to a greater hope. Monasteries have long been appealing with good reason, retreats and pilgrimages; all to help us enter into the peace of God and we pray more people find that longing. How can we be unencumbered by what we read every morning in the news or the desperation facing us on the streets? Couldn’t we live apart in this sublime community of Christ and simply enjoy its riches? Couldn’t we just wait it out until after the trial and after the election before returning to the world? 

No, though such longing is good. It helps us envision and hope. Still, we live in the real world, even while we experience both God’s presence and life’s pain and frustrations and fears. Jesus says we are in the world, not of the world. Which means we make a choice of which we belong to. Cultural pressures and false promises do not have to shape our identity, values, or faith. Jesus prays God to protect us from the evil one, to sanctify us in God’s truth, and prays we know his joy as complete. We are people of faith and this is the world to which Jesus came and now sends us, so others may see what he has given us. And we do it amidst all of the wreckage and violence and falsities that otherwise impede God’s grace.

Jesus re-words and repeats his message several times here, and one has to wonder if he’s afraid the disciples don’t ‘get it’, or if he’s hurting and worried knowing he is leaving them. Both perhaps. So he offers them a way forward even without him by their side, a way to live in this world without falling into its lesser values or its push towards self-obsession. 

Our desire is to rest in God, to feel the holy bliss of something greater. Our moments of respite, like this morning, renew our spirits and let us draw a metaphorical deep breath to begin again, and though we might consider them an ‘escape’, they are part of a greater whole of our lives. The true freedom is being immersed in God’s word and in living as the Body of Christ. As Jesus prayed, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

Thomas Troeger (theologian, hymn writer, and bridge-builder between the worlds of preaching and church music) wrote that “Christ recognizes their desire to be holy, but reorients the direction of their yearning, turning them to the truth of God’s word that is revealed in the here and now of the world.” Hear it applied to us; Christ recognizes our desire to be holy, but reorients the direction of our yearning, turning us to the truth of God’s word that is revealed in the here and now of the world around us. This is how Jesus’ life and ministry was, and what he taught them and now us. Yes, at times going away to a deserted place to pray, and then returning to fully engage in what he was sent to do – here and now with all of the world’s “distorted powers and pressures.”

Return now to my friend and her treasured solitary horse time; she rides so joyfully, and loves the feeling of the unconditionally loving animal moving with her. Then she told me of her last ride. Up ahead of her she heard children crying and parents arguing (in a language not her own). They were lost, three children were tired and upset, worried faces all around, so she slid down and helped them pet her horse, and gave the exhausted parents directions as well as pantomiming reassurance, (they weren’t too far off course). She went on her way, never missing those moments interrupting her solitude. Instead she reveled in stopping, meeting, and helping them, and sharing ‘the communion’ of a bottle of water.

John is writing encouragement for a community also exhausted by world pressures, and some quite ready to go away and be done with it. Jesus’ disciples worried as he prepared them for his death, and they feared it would all get worse as opposition was mounting. So he prays and prepares them, knowing their world-weariness and fears will only be transformed by a life integrating their deep faith and being in this world. Not by being manipulated or shaped by it, but by acting in it to heal and share from what he gave them; truth and belovedness, of which we are also heirs. 

Jesus hopes to have gathered them and us into an indelible faith, one that trusts God is present and and with us through him. Even when life deals unexpected blows, frustrations, terrible days, or the raw pain of loss, God’s love cannot be used up or destroyed —or escaped from. We cannot stop God from loving us, and often we don’t see it until long afterwards.

In 1841 Robert Browning wrote a poem/drama called Pippa Passes, telling of a young silk-winder who sings as she walks through town on her one day off for the year. She imagines herself as living in each of the four happiest homes in town, unaware that people in each one are at a terrible crisis point in life. She sings as she walks, and her song is quietly transformative for them. She returns home at day’s end oblivious that her song brought about a radical saving grace of God’s presence in each.

The final lines of Pippa’s early morning song are famous on their own now, yet all the better knowing this context. She sings, 

The year ’s at the spring
And day ’s at the morn;
Morning ’s at seven;
The hill-side ’s dew-pearled;

The lark ’s on the wing;
The snail ’s on the thorn:
God ’s in his heaven— and
All’s right with the world!

© 2024 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

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