Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sermon July 9 (Proper 9)

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up from the shadows for the righteous: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…”

When Christ calls his disciples to embrace the simple faith of little ones, he is not saying that we should be children. Christ is calling us, instead, to embrace a faith that is centered on the simple and profound love, compassion and hope that comes from God. What has been revealed to infants and children is love, which we as adults often forget and kids do not.

What I saw at the French Open this year reminded me of this…

Nicolas Almagro of Spain and Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina were facing off in a second-round match at the tournament in Paris. An hour-and-a-half into their deadlocked match, Almagro slid on the clay and pulled up with an injury to his knee. A recurring knee injury had worsened as the match went on. He dropped his racket in resignation and covered his face with both hands; he fell back on the red clay, his chest heaving as he cried. The match was over - and maybe Almagro's career.

Seeing his opponent in pain, del Potro swung one leg over the net and headed toward Almagro. The two have known each other since they were teenagers competing in the junior ranks. As medical personnel ran onto the court, del Potro crouched beside Almagro to comfort him. He got a bottle of water, opened it for Almagro, and helped him to his feet. Del Potro embraced the disconsolate Almagro; he then helped him over to their chairs, plopped down next to him, tousled his hair as he tried to console him.

Del Potro understood immediately what Almagro was going through: the winner of 2009 U.S. Open has struggled with his own injuries throughout his career, as well. He said he tried to lift Almagro's spirit by mentioning positive things in his life, to put his continued injury frustrations in tennis in perspective. The two players departed the court to a standing ovation.

"I tried to - I don't know - tried to find good words for that moment," Del Potro said after the match. "I told him to try to be calm. And I told him to think about his family, his baby. And sometimes the heart is first than the tennis match or the tennis life." [The New York Times, Associated Press, June 2, 2017.]

The yoke of Christ's love and humility transforms an intense tennis match into a moment of compassion. Jesus calls us to embrace a faith that enables us to see one another with the eyes of God: with love that is not compromised by self-interest and rationalization; with compassion that is not measured but offered totally and unreservedly; with hope that is centered in gratitude for the many ways God's presence is revealed in our midst.

Such faithful love is embraced and practiced with child-like directness and hope. It is what Del Potro gave to Almagro on the court that day.

In the Gospel, Jesus takes this love & invites us to participate in that easy yoke he has, to turn over our burdens and to trust him and take that light burden on. Our challenge is to live out of such love in our lives that the wisdom we have from Jesus is vindicated by the deeds that we do.

One of the masters of Zen Buddhism is a priest named Tetsugen Doko, who was the first to translate the holy books of his faith, the Sutras, into Japanese.

In the 17th Century, the priest sought to print several thousand copies of the books in order to make the texts of his religion available to everyone. He traveled the length and breadth of Japan to raise the money for the printing. Rich and poor alike donated to the project. The priest expressed equal gratitude to each donor, whether their gift amounted to hundreds of pieces of gold or a few pennies.

After ten long years, Tetsugen had enough money for the printing. But just as the making of the holy books was about to begin, the river Uji overflowed its banks, leaving thousands of people without food and shelter. The priest halted the project immediately and used all of the money he worked so hard to raise to help the hungry and homeless.

Then Tetsugen began the work of raising the funds all over again. It took another ten years of travel and begging before he collected the money he needed to publish the holy book. But an epidemic spread across the country. Again the priest gave away all he had collected to care the sick, the suffering and dying.

A third time Tetsugen set out on his travels and, twenty years later, his dream of having the holy books printed in Japanese was finally realized. The printing blocks that produced the first edition are on display at the Obaku Monastery in Kyoto. Many of the Japanese tell their children that Tetsugen actually published three editions of the holy book -- the first two are invisible but far superior to the third.

Wisdom is vindicated by our deeds.

Jesus invites us to embrace the joyful sense of fulfillment that can only be realized by learning from his example of humility and gratitude, to take on his humble, joyful yoke of service to one another as we journey together to the dwelling place of God.

Like Tetsugen, we proclaim the Gospel most effectively and meaningfully not in words but in the deeds of generosity and compassion we extend to others, like Del Potro did on the tennis court.

May our work, the deeds we do for justice, for love, for hope, our dedication to reconciliation & forgiveness, our welcome to all who approach our tables, make the love of God, a living reality in our own time and place for the youngest among us to the oldest. Amen.

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