Monday, October 4, 2010

Relational Disasters

Sermon for 10.03.10
Lamentations 1.1-6; Psalm 137; 2 Timothy 1.1-14; Luke 17.5-10

Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each of our hearts be acceptable to you, dear Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

From today’s Epistle: “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”

Years ago, when we were living close to the UN, Karl and I would often walk our dog quite late. On one bitter winter night, I noticed a nice lined glove lying on the pavement. About a block later, stretched out on a bench, we saw one of the homeless deep in sleep, covered with sacks and old clothes. My bright idea was to run back and get the glove for the woman. Then an odd thing happened. Although she was sound asleep and I had a man and a large dog with me, I was hesitant to go up to her. Possibly because her total isolation and misery made her seem so alien and that possibility frightened me. Taking Karl’s hand, I laid the glove next to her and we returned to our home, but the memory has remained.

Our Scriptural readings this morning talk about isolation and misery. Lamentations describes a people that have gone into exile, groaning, grieving, powerless. Our psalm describes people so full of despair that they’ve given up playing their musical instruments. Whenever I hear that line, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” I think of those times when I, or people I know, have felt so cut off from joy and even from God’s mercy, that it’s hard to find a hymn to sing or a prayer for comfort. We feel alien, wrapped in a cold and dangerous misery that sets us apart. Even the New Testament letter to Timothy, speaks of Timothy’s tears, the tears of a faithful Christian who has become discouraged by what is happening to his church and who seems to be having doubts about his faith.

I’m grateful for such passages because we have felt heartbreak too in this church, certainly tears and fears. These passages remind me that we are not the only ones. All through history, the faithful have had moments of isolation and despair. But Scripture gives help in tough times too. Even when our faith is being tested, it is possible to pour out our distress, to call out to God. In fact, it is essential. The psalmist realizes that at the moment of greatest fear and pain, we can and must remember blessings: “Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set [the temple of] Jerusalem above my highest joy!” And the Letter to Timothy outlines a way of living through tears: Even when there is disaster, there is still relationship.

There is relationship with God, who continues to call us into a life that is holy and blessed; who saves us, not because of our own actions—or lack of them—but because of an all-embracing love and grace; who is a continuing presence in our lives. The wonderful thing about a deepening relationship with God is that it leads to a full range of relationships with others and with all of God’s creation.

There is relationship with the faithful and not only the holy memories of Scripture. Timothy is reminded of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. They were good Jewish housewives, witnesses to faith in God’s power whom Timothy can look back to. We are witnesses, reminders to one another of the spirit of God. We can nurture ourselves and one another in goodness, in hope, and in Christian joy.

Moreover, Timothy is told to rekindle the gift of God. Think about rekindling a fire: You have to rearrange the little pieces of wood, add larger ones, stir around in the ashes, blow gently. Life requires similar discipline. The work of rekindling is sometimes tricky and sometimes hard. Sometimes we have to start over again. But there is that gift of God living within us, that divine spark that through God’s grace and the Holy Spirit glows and burns.

And we have the saving help of Christ. Today we will be given the great gift of that help through the sacrament of Communion, through the living presence poured out among us that “makes us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”

These things—the good news of Christ, the mercy and peace of God, the power of the sacraments, and the faithful nurture of one another—are the treasure with which we have been entrusted, regardless of our present circumstances. I think of this treasure horizontally, stretching across the world, touching those people and places we may never know. I also think of it vertically, extending from the past into the future. We can’t know how fully it will extend in either direction. We certainly can’t yet know what it can be. But just as we know that we will not receive God’s treasure all at once, so we know that God’s power, working in us, will do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. This is our certain hope and therefore our faith.

Let us pray: O Lord God, you call us, your servants, to ventures of which we cannot see the ending and through dangers unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us. Amen.

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