Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sermon: January 31

O Almighty God, who pours out on all who desire it the spirit of grace and of supplication: Deliver us, when we draw near to you, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship and serve you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” (Luke)

No, this is not a news item from this parish wanting to throw me off a cliff. It’s hard to believe the hometown crowd was angry enough to throw Jesus off a cliff. But the Gospel of Luke tells us so. They began by loving him – he spoke so well, he was so gracious.

But Jesus wasn’t home to be praised; he came to offer Good News even when the people might not be receptive to it.

Jesus said, “But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

Jesus used these examples of the prophets of Israel ministering to gentiles, a widow in Sidon along the coast and the cleansing of Naaman, Commander of the Syrian army. These stories were not the gracious stories that they expected but challenging stories of God working outside their boundaries. Jesus praised foreigners, for they received God’s prophets. Jesus message was not going to be limited to Israel or to the Jewish people. He challenged the narrative, he challenged their understandings, he challenged them. And they were upset, to say the least.

I think of the story of Chris Borland. Chris Borland was on his way to a dream career in the NFL. With 107 tackles in his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers in 2014, Chris was going to be star in the league. But his first season playing pro football would be his last.

Chris retired at the age of 24. Chris saw how repeated concussions had left thousands of former players racked with debilitating headaches, anger and confusion, and the early onset of dementia. Despite the success of his rookie year, Chris was unwilling to play another season because he was concerned that he would continue risking injury in pursuit of a paycheck. He didn't want to risk not being able to play with his own kids someday.

Chris' decision to walk away from football has won the admiration from some, but he has his critics - especially the NFL. The league points to the new protocols it has put in place for player safety with those who suffer concussions during games. Others deride Chris as "soft" and accuse him of trying to ruin the national game.

Chris willingly returned most of his signing bonus to the 49ers. "That was the biggest surprise for me. People can't get over the money," Chris said. "That's all they think about. But your health is a little more important."

Chris is adamant: the game cannot be made safer as it is now being played and coached and marketed. He's reluctant to even watch the game because he is concerned for his friends and teammates still playing. Chris turned down a role in the new movie Concussion and several endorsement opportunities. "I don't want to monetize head injury in football. I think that attacks your legitimacy." Chris has offered himself as a subject for concussion research.

Because of his courageous decision to walk away from fame and fortune in the NFL, ESPN calls Chris Borland the "most dangerous man in football." [From "Why former 49ers Chris Borland is the most dangerous man in football" by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, ESPN The Magazine, August 31, 2015.]

Chris rejected the narrative that the NFL was espousing. He in his own way was an unexpected "prophet," those who, in their integrity and courage, speak the truths we don't want to hear. And many were upset by it, to say the least. Such "prophecy" demands the courage and conviction to confront who we are, to recognize the gulf that often exists between the values we profess and the values we live.

Throughout the Gospels and Scripture, many who encounter Jesus and the prophets are unable to hear, accept and act on God's call to change the evil systems that dehumanize them and our need for transformation in God. This is what discipleship is all about. It isn’t about accepting a set of ideas or an institution, its about a way of life, one shaped by our walking with Jesus.

In the words of a great lay leader in our church, Verna Dozier: "The call to discipleship [ministry] is the call to be a citizen of the kingdom of God, in a new way, the daring, free, accepting, compassionate way Jesus modeled. It means being bound by no yesterday, fearing no tomorrow, drawing no lines between friend and foe, the acceptable ones and the outcasts. Ministry is the commitment that all of God’s creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment, and God has called us to have a role in its restoration."

The call to discipleship is a call to transformation. I believe we as the members of St. Peter’s Church are being called to such change in our lives. Discipleship means learning to lead the lives we should as God’s people. We grow into this through prayer, worship and acts of service, and when we learn to give of ourselves and our abundance, when we learn & study, when we listen and join together in love. This is the path towards human flourishing, transformation, and care for God’s creation.

“I go to church to be with the people of God, people transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.” ~ Rachel Held Evans

But this journey we are called on will not always be easy; there will be times when we are tested; there may be times when others are upset by such discipleship. Sometimes, those difficulties are our own hearts. Filled with our misperceptions, or own prejudices that blind us to the word of God, to where God may be calling us here and now. Like Jeremiah we don’t think we are worthy. But Jesus comes to break down our hard hearts, to give us a heart of flesh, a heart that loves and feeds on God’s word.

I see the faces of people here who have come faithfully to be in the presence of God in this place, who have found a safe space to worship, to ask questions, to doubt and struggle, to celebrate and to live out our lives in a community of faithful people who are striving to seek understanding and the truth of what God has called us to be.

That is the gift of Anglicanism, of the Episcopal Church. With the Bible in one hand, with the tradition of the Church in the other, and are God given reason in between (that is our head and our heart), we move forward to find God present all around us, to find in the face of each other, our savior Jesus Christ.

I hope this place is your spiritual home, where you not only find sustenance, but also challenge, where you find truth and you’ll find the questions to wrestle with in your life that will lead you home to God.

Today (and everyday), by the grace of God we go into uncharted territory looking to find the divine: in our prayers, in our bible study, at our Apple Festival, at our meals together, in our acts of service & love to Chapel on the Green or Mozambique, on a Sunday morning or whenever the faithful gather together here, God will be in the midst of us. So in all that we say and all that we do, may God bless us in our undertaking.


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