Sunday, August 23, 2015

13 Pentecost

August 26, 2012

Ephesians 43.15-22; John 6.56-69

+ This is a very fortunate time to be at St. Stephen’s. For the first time in our almost sixty year history, we have a great thing happening at this moment No, I’m not talking about our memorial garden being installed this coming week. At this moment, we have three people—three!—who are heeding and discerning the call to ordained ministry.

Of course, William Weightman is well into his seminary education and will soon be taking chaplains’ training.  William, as we know, is seeking ordination as a priest and will, hopefully—and God willing—be ordained and serve a congregation.

And of course, John Anderson and Jessica Zdenek are beginning the very early process of those tentative early steps toward—God willing—ordination as deacons to serve St. Stephen’s.  Of course, for John, who was ordained in the United Methodist Church, this isn’t all that strange of a calling, though it is different.

Such discernment is never easy and we need to remember to keep all three of these brave people in our prayers.  As an ordained minister myself, I commend them and, at times, I pity them. Ordained ministry is NOT easy. It is not for the light-hearted.

I can’t help but use the analogy of these beginning steps toward ordained ministry of newly hatched turtles. You know those turtles whose mothers bury the eggs in the sand. The babies hatch and then make a mad dash for the sea. But to get from where they hatched to the water, they have to overcome exhaustion and seagulls swooping down on them and all kinds of other sorts of difficulties. Not all of those baby turtles make it to the water. And those that do, still have another set of issues in the water—sharks and whatever else is waiting for them there.

Sorry for William, John and Jessica for being a bit dark about this. But as one of those baby turtles who also made a mad dash for the sea, I speak with some experience.

Now, should these three people make it to ordained ministry, on that wonderful day when they are ordained, they will be making some promises. On that day, they will kneel before a bishop in a church, and will say before God, the Bishop and the Church, this promise:

“…I solemnly declare that I do believe the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation…”

That vow is good for all of us who are ministers, not just ordained ministers. And, if you really listen, it’s a statement packed with meaning.

I believe the scriptures to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation.

All of it? you may wonder. However they—and each of you—may interpret that statement, what we are really professing here is that through the scriptures God does speak to us. God’s very Word comes to us through these scriptures. Which makes these scriptures incredibly powerful.

We get an echo of this importance of the Word of God in our Gospel reading for today. In it, we find Simon Peter answering that question of Jesus, “Do you wish to go away?” with strangely poetic and vibrant words.

Peter asks, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

For all of us as followers of Jesus, the Word (which we find contained in scripture) is essential.  And powerful.  It not only directs our lives, it sustains us, and feeds us and keeps us buoyant in the floods and tempests that rage about us.  The Word is the place to which we go when we need direction, when we need comfort, when we need hope as followers of Jesus.  The Word is essential to us because, through it, God speaks to us.  The Word is essential to us because it is there that we hear God’s Spirit directing us and leading us forward.

The irony for me, however, is most poignant when I listen to those detractors who use the Word in cutting ways.  We of course hear them all the time.  People who use scripture to support their homophobia or their political beliefs or their condemnation of others. Because scripture is so powerful, people who do so are playing with fire. Or maybe dynamite might be the better image.

I have always warned parishioners and students to be careful of using Scripture as a sword, because, I say: remember.  It is a two-edged sword.  If you use the Word to cut others, trust me: it will come back and it cut you as well.  It is just that powerful. And frightening.  It can destroy, not just those the one who wields it wants to destroy, but it can also destroy the one who wields it.

However—and this is a big however—if we use the Word to affirm, to build up the Kingdom of God, if we allow the Word to be, in our lives, the voice of Christ, then we in turn are affirmed. As Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that we heard this morning: “take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

That sword of the Spirit is an amazing weapon.  That sword of the Spirit is essential for all of us who are ministers.  It is a powerful device that carries more strength and influence than any of us probably fully realize.  And because it is so powerful, we need to use very, very carefully. It like handling a loaded, sensitive machine gun.

We need to use it not in anger, not in hatred, not in oppression, but in love.  When we wield this sword of the Spirit in love, we find love being sown.  When we wield this sword in compassion, we spread compassion.  When we wield this sword to shatter injustice and oppression, we find justice and freedom.  When we wield this sword as a way to clear the way for the Kingdom of God, we find that we too become a part of that building up of the Kingdom.

We too are able to clearly hear Jesus’ voice in our lives.  Those words of eternal life that Jesus speaks to us again and again in scripture truly do break down barriers, build up those marginalized and shunned and, in doing so, we find the Kingdom of God in our midst.

When a Benedictine monk or nun makes a profession of vows they pray a wonderful prayer.  Their prayer is:

“Accept me, Lord, according to your word, and I shall live. Do not disappoint me in my expectation.”

I love that.

“Do not disappoint me in my expectation.”

This is our prayer as well as followers of Jesus. This is the prayer of all of who are called to be ministers—whether as lay people or as clergy.

“Accept me, Lord, according to your word, and I shall live. Do not disappoint me in my expectation.” 

We too have prayed to be accepted according to God’s Word.  The sword of the Spirit has swiped the veil of separation from us and has made us one.  And none of us, in this oneness, in this kingdom of God in our midst, is disappointed in our expectation.

When all are seen as one, when all are accepted, then our expectation will be fulfilled.  But we need to keep listening, to keep straining our ears for Jesus’ words to us.  We need to keep listening so God can speak to us—so the Word can speak to us and through us.  When God speaks to us, we respond.  When the Word comes to us, we then need to engage it.  This is what prayer is—holy conversation. And as the Word is spoken to us, as we hear it and feel it, our response is the same as those who heard the Word spoken to them by Jesus.

“Yes, Lord, you have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

So let us hear those words of eternal life.  Let us embody that Word in our lives.  Let us share that Word through the good we do in this world. And when we do, people will know.  People will know who we follow.  People will know that the Word we embody in our very lives is the Word of that Holy One of God.

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