Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sermon: March 21 (5th Sunday in Lent)

"Religion is not ours till we live by it, till it is the Religion of our thoughts, words, and actions, till it goes with us into every place, sits uppermost on every occasion, and forms and governs our hopes and fears, our cares and pleasures."
These words from William Law, an Archbishop of Canterbury in the 17th century, reminds us that our religion, our faith, is not ours until we truly own it in our lives and live it in every place we go. And as we live it in our daily lives, and we have new experiences, new epiphanies, our faith will change, or our faith will become fossilized or rigid, where we are unable or unwilling to grow in our faith and thereby get stuck in our ways. God is always at work creating new things and we must be open to the newness that God will bring to our faith and our lives. As our first reading put it,
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
For the people of Israel returning from their exile, God tells them through the prophet Isaiah, that the Lord is making things new (do not remember the former things, the days of old, of slavery) It is a time of hope, a time of fortunes restored, a time of renewal for the people of Israel, “look to this newness” God says.

Looking to this newness & expecting new ways of living in our faith could be the difference between inhabiting a living faith and a faith that is dead.

There once was a devoted priest who wished to have a vision of both heaven and hell, and God gave way to his pleading. The priest found himself before a door which bore no name. He trembled as he saw that it opened into a large room where all was prepared for a feast. There was a table, and at its center, a great dish of steaming food was set. The smell and the aroma tantalized the appetite. Diners sat around the table with great spoons in their hands, yet, to the priest's surprise, they were miserable— gaunt with hunger. They tried desperately to feed themselves, but gave up—cursing God—for the spoons that God had provided were so long that they could not reach their mouths. So these pitiable self-feeders starved while a feast lay before them. The priest had seen enough, so the door to this room closed before his eyes.

Next, the priest found himself standing before another door that appeared the same as the previous one. He began to despair, for he did not want to see that scenario again. Again, the door opened, and it led to a room just like the first. Nothing had changed. There was a table at the center of the room with a dish of steaming, delicious food. Around it were the same people. But there were no cries of anguish, and no one appeared gaunt and starving, even though they, too, had the same elongated spoons. Nothing had changed, yet everything had changed. With the same long spoons these people reached to each other's mouths, and fed one another. And their joy was over flowing.
Are we ready to see what God is doing today that is new? Is our faith open enough? It can be frightening not knowing what is in store, but it is God who invites on this journey, and there will be refreshment:
for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself.
We need to trust that God will lead us where we need to go, for our job is to seek out where God indeed is doing new things & from their we will be fed… Maybe we need some theme music…{cue star trek theme song}

Which means we must boldly go as Christians, to seek out that new life, that new civilization that God wants us to begin here on earth. For us on board the USS St. Peter, it begins as we boldly go with our new mission to reach out in love to children in need in a Russian Orphanage. But this isn’t just about us reaching out to them, but knowing we will also be transformed as we learn about a different culture, as we learn about the faith they inhabit, as we hear their music, taste their food. This is mission is really a two way street, a street that God has us traveling. That our faith will be made new as we reach out our hand in love to others.
“The Church’s mission is response to the living God Who in God’s love creates, reveals, judges, redeems, fulfills. It is God who moves through our history to teach and to save, who calls us to receive His love, to learn, to obey and to follow. Mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky; it is mutual, united obedience to the one God whose mission it is.”
We live out our mission by what we give, what we say, and how we in turn see the new thing God is doing in our lives by God’s mission in this world today. As one person put it,
“Make your life a mission – not an intermission.” (Arnold Glasgow)
It can be scary but it is also enlivening, for the Spirit of God will lead us in fulfilling God’s mission today. So on this day, as we look to see what new things God is calling us into here at St. Peter’s Church and the call for each of us to live out our faith in our daily lives, I invite you into a prayer, a prayer from the Metropolitan Bishop of Moscow in 1876 that speaks to our search for God’s will in our life:
O God, I do not know what to ask of you. You alone know my true needs and love me more than I know how to love. I ask neither for cross nor consolation, but only that I may discern and do your will. Teach me to wait in patience with an open heart, knowing that your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts are not our thoughts. Help me to see where I have erected idols of certitude to defend myself from the demands of your ever unfolding truth: truth you have made known to us in the one who is the truth, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

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