Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Sep. 12, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Sep 12, 2021 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 16th Sunday after Pentecost

Sep. 12, 2021

This is ‘A prayer to be used on observances of the anniversary of September 11, 2001’

Let us pray.

God the compassionate one, whose loving care extends to all the world, we remember this day your children of many nations and many faiths whose lives were cut short by the fierce flames of anger and hatred. Console those who continue to suffer and grieve, and give them comfort and hope as they look to the future. Out of what we have endured, give us the grace to examine our relationships with those who perceive us as the enemy, and show our leaders the way to use our power to serve the good of all for the healing of the nations. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord who, in reconciling love, was lifted up from the earth that he might draw all things to himself. Amen.

written by the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold in 2001 Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church 1998-2006

To begin today, I have a few questions I adapted from a Lutheran colleague (David Lose). Mull these over a moment, and we’ll come back to them.

  • What is your most superlative joy?
  • What creates the deepest sense of purpose for you?
  • When you do you feel most fully and truly yourself, alive, as God created and blessed you to be?

Very little in our faith journey is a smooth trajectory in ramping up. We likely have mountains and valleys, long desert periods when we feel forgotten by God, followed by that feeling that everything we do and learn and see converges into beautiful sacred sense with blinding brilliance. Even the unexpected things fit in teaching us Jesus’ Way and who we are. Peter is right there today—after all this time he gets it; Jesus is the Messiah! From that mountain the next valley is really more of a cliff-drop. He misunderstands Jesus’ predictions, gets soundly rebuked even, and later will hit bottom realizing he’s denied and deserted Jesus when he deeded him most. Our faith lives can rise and fall, surge greatly and other times doubt and stall.

So, here’s Jesus coming along with us and needling us to answer the same question he asked the others that day; Who do you say that I am? The answer must be lived instead of packaged up for us. We will find it in his teaching, his life and ministry, and yes, his death—and resurrection. If someone as close as Peter won’t understand this, no wonder Jesus admonishes them not to tell! Do we do any better? It’s so easy to project one’s own spin on his identity, our wants and needs, onto the Messiah. Expectations like this can make us miss the reality of where we’ve already known him, where he is working in our lives right now. Looking for that Messiah-esque king we want to ride in and fix the mess we and this world are in is like Peter’s ideal of a Messiah, and an attractive one at that. But to do so means looking more to ourselves than God.

Maybe that’s why we’re sometimes so surprised when we actually do recognize Christ’s hand at work where we least expected; in our own pain, suffering, vulnerability, and doubt. In the desperate times of frustration, when efforts to win the prize, have the best ideas, succeed at things, when our hopes flag and the hostilities flare — in families and between nations — when we think we’re falling apart and decide we just can’t seem to fix it, we need God and God meets us there. He’s on a cross instead of a throne. He rises from the grave for us, and though we like Peter don’t get the Messiah we’d wanted, we get the Christ we most need.

I circle through all this reading because cross-bearing and denial, losing life and saving it, sounds pretty off-putting as an outreach slogan. The phrase we translate as “an adulterous and sinful generation” misses the mark. Context determines whether the word means a woman having relations outside of marriage (adulterous) or it refers to those lacking in whole faith, who worship idols or false gods, so faithless or idolatrous. The opposite of a whole faith, a life of love and service. That isn’t available by bargaining with the gods or buying it online or stepping on people to reach for it or win it. Like Jesus was trying to tell Peter; mine is a life and love can’t be earned, only given. Only in doing that ourselves do we understand and receive it ourselves. In Jesus’ words, “those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” What does it profit anyone to work to buy, order, earn, store up; gain “the whole world and forfeit their souls?”

If the only love we can really hold is what we give away, we are following Christ’s way of love, we are giving away his tender mercy, his healing and care, his compassion being with us in the ashes instead of telling us to ‘buck up’ when the cross looms large. Let’s return to the three questions we began with.

  • What is your most superlative joy?
  • What creates the deepest sense of purpose for you?
  • When you do you feel most fully and truly yourself, alive, as God created and blessed you to be?

Recall your answers from a few minutes ago… Didn’t each one of those mean you risked something of yourself, some real vulnerability, and cross-bearing along the way? We don’t find our answers to these from what we’ve saved up or bought or earned. Those answers spring from relationships of love, giving and sacrificing something of our own life for someone else’s life. Such giving doesn’t deplete us, it multiplies, it reveals more of us, and more of Christ to the world around us. What of those three answers you so treasure, do you hope for someone in need whom you might befriend of welcome?

In the letter of James he speaks of teachers being held to a higher standard than others, so most people aren’t called to such powerful work with delicate and far-reaching affects. Blessing backpacks today is a visible reminder of what they carry with them. One teacher with many students shares wisdom widely—and any errors too— hence James’ admonition. He compares the effect of the small bit controlling the large horse, a great ship powered by wind and sail, but guided by a small rudder underneath, and finally a single tiny flame can set a great forest ablaze, as we all know too well. James warns that be it for building up or destruction, these seemingly small tools or singular people have an exponential effect. By this generosity stretches and multiplies, and by this oppression, war and violence continue spreading their tendrils. James offers several metaphors that he might reach the hearts and minds of many. Teacher is my favorite though, because from the beginning, the elders taught the children, generation after generation, eventually handing teachings down to a carpenter and a woman, once a temple weaver, who loved and taught their son, who loved and taught the twelve and more. The Son loved so much that he gave his life as he gave his love, unreservedly.

May we find ourselves able to do likewise.

Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.