Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sermon: August 31

What is our true religion? Some think its baseball, others wealth or a life of ease...

In our collect this morning, we prayed that God would increase in us true religion. What is this true religion we are praying for?

I think I caught glimpses this week of that true religion…

I listened to NPR the other day and heard about a shrimp boat captain who stayed aboard his vessel as Hurricane Katrina hit 3 years ago. I can only imagine his fear being walloped by that wind and rain and waves. In the aftermath of that terrible storm, he used his vessel to help many of the stranded victims in St. Bernard’s parish as the flood waters rose. "He poured coffee, heated up biscuits and gumbo for the survivors. He had the kids climb down below for safety into the hold where he stores shrimp. 30/40 people slept on his boat that first night." (source)

Sounds like he was being a good neighbor…

This week, I read to Jared & Aidan, my two oldest, a story from the Magic Tree House series of books where they were introduced to the Civil War and to the heroic sacrifice of a woman named Clara Barton. Clara Barton who founded the American Red Cross in 1881, was an angel of the battlefield who often used her own money to help care for wounded soldiers in the Civil War, putting herself in danger as she brought the wounded off the battlefield. After the war she set up an agency to help find out what happened to soldiers and to relay that information to their families.

Sounds like she was being a good neighbor…

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

These words from St. Paul to the Christians in Rome, set out his understanding of our faith. It is based on love, lives in service, rejoices in hope, is patient in suffering, perseveres in prayer, helps others out…that is our true religion.

That shrimp boat captain and Clara Barton let their love be genuine for those in need who were right before them, loving their neighbors as themselves.

But it is not what our world sees as truth, for truth in our world is connected with power, prestige, status and wealth. It is the logic of this fallen world where we can see fingerprints of the adversary, of death, violence, hate, division; Satan wants others to suffer and wants us to focus on ourselves alone, our needs, our wants, to forgot about the neighbor nearby or far away.

But our faith calls us to follow Christ, to be transformed, not to let ourselves go down the easy path that Satan has before us, a path that does not bring us closer together but divides us one against another. Seeing a neighbor in need and having a boat to bring them to safety, or feeling that we must help out even as war wages, is I believe true religion, to follow Jesus wherever he calls us to go.

Of course, even those closest to Jesus didn’t always get it right… Jesus tells the disciples of the suffering and death that will happen, but Peter does not want to hear it… In both a prayerful and rebuking tone, Peter tells Jesus “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” Peter who was praised last week, you are the rock upon which the Church will be built becomes the stumbling rock this week… Get behind me Satan.

The adversary who tempted Jesus at the beginning still exists, this time its in Peter’s rebuke of Jesus. Jesus command is for Peter to get behind him and follow him, not the other way around. Suffering and death are part and parcel of what is to come and they cannot take the easy way out of it. True religion, hopes in the midst of suffering and does not run away from it…to put our mind on heavenly/divine things…

The good easy life is what Jesus warns them and us against… “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” True religion is a theology with the cross smack dab in the middle…

And integral to our true religion is the two sacramental acts that will happen today: baptism & Eucharist.

Today, Alexandra Fortier Rowe will be baptized and enter into the household of God. As we celebrate her baptism and remember our own, the words of the baptismal rite remind us what our faith is about: We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. In Baptism we are named before God and the congregation, we are baptized with water, sealed by the Holy Spirit with the chrism, and in it we are marked as Christ’s own forever.

And what baptism begins in us, is fed and nourished by our participation in the sacrament called Eucharist. Eucharist means thanksgiving, and each week we give thanks to God for our lives and for the gift of Jesus Christ. For we are nourished by the body & blood of Christ and we go out into the world to proclaim God’s love to the world and continue in the risen life of Christ.

True religion then is begun in baptism, nourished in the Eucharist and lived out in the world by the love we share with our neighbors. All of which we do in Jesus name.

May we in our lives, remember our baptism, partake of the Eucharist and reach out our hands in love to those around us.

Let us pray together the collect of the day found on the first page of your bulletin:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

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