Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sermon: "To Delight in each Other" (July 27)

This sermon was given at a joint worship service with Monroe Congregational Church.

“Wee must entertaine each other in brotherly affection. Wee must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other's necessities. Wee must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekeness, gentlenes, patience and liberality. Wee must delight in eache other; make other's conditions our oune; rejoice together, mourne together, labour and suffer together, allwayes haueving before our eyes our commission and community in the worke, as members of the same body.” ("A Modell of Christian Charity," by John Winthrop (1630) - written on board the Arbella, on the Atlantic ocean.)

We must delight in each other, so says John Winthrop, from his famous sermon on board the ship Arbella as it traveled from Great Britain to New England in 1630, of which you got a short taste of his sermon this morning. He was speaking to his fellow puritans on board that ship as they fled the evils of the tyrannical Church of England. And here we are almost 400 years later, the religious descendents from those puritans aboard that ship and the Church of England gathered here with our two churches from two denominations. I don’t think John Winthrop or anyone from that age could have guessed that we could worship together. And here we are the great, great, great, great, great children of our ancestors doing just that!

I believe his words spoken long ago, are for all of us today, gathered as Christ’s body, to delight in each other, make other's conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together. It is a wonderful way for us to consider how we live out Christian charity toward one another, do we delight in each other? In our churches? Amongst each other?

We are diverse. We come from many places, many cultures. Some of you grew up here in New England, even in Monroe. Others have come in from other places, like the Midwest, (yeah!), some grew up as Congregationalists or Episcopalians, others from other faith journeys, other denominations. Today, we even have two candidates for President, Barak Obama who is a member of the UCC, and John McCain who was raised an Episcopalian.

And here we are on this fine Sunday morning, to worship together, offer prayers, to delight in God and each other and to hear the words of scripture.

Jesus put before the crowds another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like…

is like a mustard seed
is like yeast in the flour
is like treasure hidden in a field
is like a pearl of great value
is like a fish net

It is as if to answer the question, What is the Kingdom of heaven like? Jesus didn’t want to settle for one parable, so he gave us a few short little parables, each giving us a glimpse into what the kingdom of heaven is like. Each is a very hopeful message with images drawn from the daily life of people that Jesus encountered. It seems that Jesus did not want to just give us one image, but like holding a prism up to the light, he helped us catch different glimpses of what the kingdom is like. A diversity of images to help us all catch and delight in what the kingdom of God is like.

It reminds me of a poem by the welsh priest and poet, R. S. Thomas (The Bright Field):

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it.

Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

For me, Thomas captures what Jesus was saying to his disciples long ago. To understand the kingdom of God, is not to look to the past nor the future, but to the present now, where we are and to be aware of things around us. And it is then we notice the pearl of great price, the field with the treasure. It is as if Jesus says, the Kingdom of God is right here, waiting to be discovered, it may be hidden, it may be the leaven in the lump, but it is there. Do you see?

As Lane Denson III, put it, “Parables are not to be explained, they are to be understood, and like most of the important things in life, they are understood only by our opening ourselves to them and listening with wonder and imagination, participating in them in a way.”

And when we do open ourselves to the parables that Jesus gives us, they we can be open to discover the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst and in our lives.

Many years ago, a young Maori girl in New Zealand was captivated by the teaching and good works of missionaries who came to her village. She became a fixture at prayer with the fledgling community. One Sunday, as she was leaving the small church, the girl was struck by a potato thrown by a man who resented the presence of the missionaries in his village and those who embraced this strange new religion.

The girl retrieved the potato and brought it home, She cut up the potato, planted it and harvested it. She then sought out the man who had thrown the potato at her and presented him with the bushel basket of new potatoes she had harvested. [from Connections, July 2005]

That young girl understood the parables that Jesus has given us, she found that pearl of great price in a potato thrown, and she made sure to share the abundance with him after the harvest as she had experienced with God’s love.

The kingdom of heaven is like so many things, do we have faith enough to see? To plant? to go looking for it? Faith enough to share it with one another?

As we celebrate together today, and continue on our way, we are called to go forth in faith together. As God has delighted in us, so we delight in one another, upholding one another and go searching for the kingdom of God together. It is on this journey together that we will find the kingdom that God has placed in our very midst.

Let me end with some more words from John Winthrop:

"Wee must delight in eache other... Soe shall wee keepe the unitie of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as his oune people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our wayes. Soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome, power, goodness and truthe, than formerly wee haue been acquainted with. "

May his words be true for us today. Amen.

No comments: