Wednesday, June 28, 2017

June 25 Sermon (Proper 7)

God of grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit you have given us new life in the waters of baptism; strengthen us to live in righteousness and true holiness, that we may grow into the likeness of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

There was a picture on Facebook making the rounds recently, the photo was from Syria, and it showed Muslims in one of the destroyed towns sitting down for an evening meal, breaking their fast for Ramadan. I was struck by their faithfulness in the midst of such death and tragedy, crumbled ruins all around them. [The pic is from the Syrian town of Douma, where hundreds were spotted sitting at a table, sharing a meal. This outdoor feast was organized by Adeleh Foundation, a rebel-affiliated charity group mostly run from Turkey.]

It reminded me of a picture I saw from WW II, of a shell of a church or cathedral destroyed in one of the many bombings, and yet the parishioners were there in the aftermath, continuing to have their worship in that space.

Such is faith in the midst of death & destruction. Our faith as Christians to live lie in the midst of death is proclaimed through our baptism.

As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

In Paul’s letter, he reminds us of the truth of our baptism: we were baptized into his death and his new life. We have made a journey with him, and continue to make it in our lives from his life, into his death and resurrection.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Such union is what we all have with Jesus through baptism, which Rowan Rose will experience this morning in her baptism. It is a baptism of trust, of hope, of intimate connection with our God who loves each of us and has made us in God’s image. For by the grace of God through baptism “we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” In baptism, we are alive in Jesus through which we are also alive to the world & we are called to live without fear.

Jesus said in the Gospel this morning, “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known...Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

God is still loving us & walking with us, the one who created us, even in the worst of our circumstances.

It was just a few weeks after her surgery; the chemotherapy treatments had begun. Every morning, she would comb her hair — and every morning she would pull out anther clump of her beautiful hair from the brush. This side effect was hitting her harder and harder.

One morning, she felt the top of her head and, for the first time, she could count the strands. But she felt strangely at peace. She held each strand — just as God, in his providence, could count them from the moment God breathed his life into her. She became aware of God present in the love of her family and friends who were supporting and suffering with her. She remembers:

“I felt comfort knowing that God knew how many strands were in my brush, on my pillow, in my hat, and in my hand. God had counted them all. With or without my hair, God knew me and what my future held. I was still afraid — of the cancer, of the chemo, the upcoming brain scan, and its results — but I knew that God would be with me through it all.” [Adapted from “I lost my hair but not my faith” by Kathryn Lay, Catholic Digest, May 2008.]

In the Gospels, Jesus reveals a God who loves us and cares for us and every strand of creation from the sparrows that fly to every hair on our heads. Jesus calls us beyond our fears and insecurities; he invites us to embrace a spirit of joy and possibility beyond our comfort zones. 3 times in today’s Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid, that we have nothing to fear in this world, for God has proven his love and acceptance of us unreservedly.

Jesus calls us to embrace his vision of hope that is the opposite of fear — hope that matches our uncertainty of the unknown with the certainty of the love of God; hope that can only be found and embraced once we reach beyond our own fears to confront the fears and heal the hurts of others; hope that the Good Fridays of our lives will be ultimately be transformed by God’s grace into Easter.

"Weeping may endure for a night," says the Psalmist, "but joy comes in the morning."

Sometimes we are called to be the vehicles of God’s love for those desperate to realize that Godly presence in their lives now; sometimes we are the recipients of such blessings of forgiveness and compassion through others. But it is up to us, the baptized, to live into that hope. We deny the truth of Jesus by our silence in the face of injustice, our protecting our own interests at the expense of the common good, our failure to respond to Christ calling us in the cries of the poor & the abused, the sick and the war weary.

May we find peace and reason to hope in the wisdom of God who has “counted . . . all the hairs of your head,” a providence that manifests itself in the love of family, the comfort of friends, the support of church and community. And let us share that peace and hope with our weary world. Amen.

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