Saturday, May 19, 2012

May 10 Sermon (Easter 6)

“The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles…”
There is an old saying that says “God works in mysterious ways.”

I am not sure why this surprises us so often but it does, that God seems always to be working beyond us, outside the confines of the boxes we keep trying to put God into…

Consider our collect of the day and the words “you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding.” God who created us each in God’s image, has prepared good things for us, but they are beyond our understanding.

There is mystery there and that is where our faith steps in.
When Peter saw that the gentiles also had the Holy Spirit he asked, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
Peter’s faith compelled him to baptize the gentiles, even as he tried to fathom God’s work among them, because that is not who God works with. Other disciples back home, were less then pleased and criticized his work. He ate with the unclean gentiles. Peter returned to Jerusalem to take them through what happened, & explain to them the circumstances. Then they came around and recognized God at work even among the gentiles!

Things happen and looking back we see the hand of God…

William Cowper was an English poet of the 18th Century and probably one of the most popular poets of his time. His work focused on the everyday life of the English and the English countryside. His worked helped change the nature poetry of his day. His faith life found solace in Christianity but his life was filled with doubt and despair.

There is a story told of the unusual circumstances under which William Cowper wrote one of his hymns.
The story goes that Cowper had sunk to the depths of despair. One foggy night he called for a carriage and asked to be taken to the London Bridge on the Thames River. He was so overcome by depression that he intended to commit suicide. But after two hours of driving through the mist, Cowper’s coachman reluctantly confessed that he was lost. Disgusted by the delay, Cowper left the carriage and decided to find the London Bridge on foot. After walking only a short distance, though, he discovered that he was at his own doorstep! The carriage had been going in circles. Immediately he recognized the restraining hand of God in it all.

Even in our blackest moments, God watches over us. Convicted by the Spirit, he realized that the way out of his troubles was to look to God, not to jump into the river. As he cast his burden on the Savior, his heart was comforted. [from various sources]
With gratitude he sat down and penned this hymn:
God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform:
he plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy, and shall break
in blessings on your head.
Although Cowper felt divine providence had guided him away from the brink, he knew he didn’t understand it all for the last verses also tells us that we cannot always know…

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence
he hides a smiling face.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
The challenge for Cowper is the same for us, to trust God for his grace, for God will interpret God’s work and make it plain in God’s time.

In our days, when so much seems in upheaval, we long for certainty, we long for the answers.

And yet, our God waits for us on our journey, waits for us to be open to what may be, when God will make it plain to us.

“With God, one does not just mark time, rather one walks on a path." is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it.

Jesus said, “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

The journey before us is shrouded before our eyes and yet Jesus tells us that our calling is to bear that good fruit, to love one another, to trust in God’s grace for as we walk that journey, we will find God in our midst and as Cowper would understand, blessings will break upon us. Amen.

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