Sermon notes 23PentC
My friends in Christ, in the Old Testament there are 17 prophets. Joel, the author of our first lesson today, ranks with the minor prophets, of which there are five. The remaining 12 are referred to as major prophets. These two rankings have nothing to do with the “greatness” of their prophesying; in fact all it refers to is the length of the book that the prophet had written! The lesson for us is that if you want to be a major prophet, be long-winded and use too many words when you write. We’d have the major prophet Dickens, the prophet Poe, and the prophet HP Lovecraft, my favorite writer. Our minor prophets would be folks like the prophet Emily Dickinson or the prophet Dr. Suess.
In this short book called Joel there are two discourses. The first, that we heard today, refers to the amazing gifts that come with repentance: God has given the early and abundant rain. God has given threshing floors full of grain and vats overflowing with wine and oil. The people will praise the name of the Lord and God’s people shall never again be put to shame. God says to Joel, “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”
In our epistle today, Timothy writes of God’s faithfulness to him, “…the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this goodness of God — What do we have to do to experience such overwhelming goodness and love? God’s heavenly kingdom — How do we get there?
As it always must, it comes down to the Gospel. The Good News of Christ, who so often speaks of the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is no future place. The kingdom of God is here and now and we can do our part to make God’s kingdom bloom with Christ’s love, by simply following Christ and his teachings.
Two weeks ago we heard about the ten lepers. Nameless, faceless lepers. So many times in the Gospels, a nameless, faceless person enters stage left, has an intimate, life-changing encounter with Christ, and exits stage right, never to be heard from again. In my mind I like to think that such nameless, faceless people represent us and that our actions make, or don’t make, God’s kingdom as a place for all.
Our gospel today is a parable that involves two nameless, faceless people — a pharisee and a tax collector. They’re praying to God, in God’s house. The pharisee is one of those haughty, proud, “It’s all about me, dontchaknow?” people. The pharisee boasts about how he prays, how he gives and lives and how thankful he is that he’s better than all the others. I choose to call that pharisaical chaos.
On the other hand, the tax collector is quiet and respectful in God’s house. He beats his breast in humility, head bowed low. I can feel the peace that he exudes and in my mind I can hear him whispering his prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Christ offers one comment. He mentions the tax collector, saying, “…this man went to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” When this ornery deacon reads those words and thinks about them in my mind and heart, I’m reminded of one of the sayings I’ve learned in AA: “EGO is an acronym for Edging God Out.”
My friends in Christ, today we kick-off our annual stewardship campaign. I’d like to share with you another parable. This parable takes place in the here and now. It’s a parable about the possibilities of the kingdom of God: Two people enter God’s house. They’re both broken, hurting people. One of them sees God’s house as inward, closed…a family that worships together, stays together, sees God’s face only in each other, and holds the purse tight. The other sees God’s house as a place with an open door, a place where all come and all are welcome and accepted as family member. A place with hands and hearts and minds extended to the poor, the lonely, the young. A place that sees God’s face in everyone, even the stranger. A place where they know that their stewardship will be used, not frozen.
Some of you may know that I am not a well man. I have a nasty autoimmune disease that has attacked my lungs and skin and may be elsewhere. I have a dissection in my left carotid artery, my kidneys are ever so slowly failing and I live with chronic pain. In the long run, none of that matters. I have a wife who loves me. There’s an old Yiddish saying that had Dawn in mind: “If your wife laughs at your joke you either have a good wife or a good joke.” I have a son in Minneapolis and a daughter in South Africa who tolerate me. I am a minister of God. Most importantly, that ministry is centered here and from, Trinity. I love each of you as only a deacon can and it is my honor and deepest joy to remind everyone of how much God loves them, and that there is nothing any of us can ever do to make God love us any less. It is my deep prayer that, as we being our 2013 stewardship campaign, each of us not look upon our gifts with contentment and hands that hold our gifts close. I pray that God may open our eyes to the needs and upkeep of God’s house and to the Gospel Imperative that the mission field, the future Trinity, is beyond our doors.
My brothers and sisters, we live in an era that pits us against them, white vs black or red or yellow, Christian vs Muslim, fundamentalist vs critical thinkers, rich vs poor, gay vs straight. Our pharisaical chaos refuse to see what God sees: every single one of us! We all stand before God in God’s house with our prayers and gifts. Our own self-righteousness, especially when coupled with contempt for others, leaves no room for us to give thanks or for God to do God’s work.
With that, aware of that, and emboldened by that, let the church say AMEN!