Friday, May 15, 2015

Year B Easter 7 2015 "For Real Now"

Easter 7 2015
St. Thomas’ Richmond May 17, 2015
“For Real Now”

On Monday, I saw pictures of Deacon Mary Beth Emerson’s backpack taken at Dulles International Airport outside of DC.  Along with the picture it said this: “For real now.  Camino bound.”  Mary Beth is a dear friend who serves at St. Thomas’ Arlington, and I knew her from Shrine Mont where I directed her son Chris at Explorers’ Camp (where Darren happens to be going this summer), and I had the good fortune to serve with her at Family Camp where she was one of the Chaplains the last two years.  As she heads out on this famous pilgrimage, I will be praying for her.  And her words are the words of a pilgrim.  “For real now.”  Our faith is never real until we turn it outward.

The Camino, the long pilgrimage from the French Pyrenees to to Santiago de Compostela follows an ancient Roman trade route to the Cathedral of St. James.  The Way of St. James is on my bucket list.  It is something to which I aspire.  It is something of which I dream.  I am joyous for Mary Beth, and bit jealous, too.  Being a pilgrim is an intentional act of living out our faith.  Being in new surroundings with new people, it is easy to pick up the new habits of faith.  So often, however, it is much more difficult to live the life of faith in the same old surroundings and friends.  Being able to respond with a different voice and different choices can be a challenge to the systems of which we are a part.  I pray for Mary Beth as she goes down the Way of St. James that she will be drawn closer to Christ and her fellow pilgrims.  More importantly, I pray that she will be able to bring the lessons she learns back into the systems in her life and be able to maintain the changes. Our faith is never real until we turn it outward.

Faith turned inward is a belief, or maybe a wish or hope.  Faith turned outward is an action, and eventually a practice.  This practice is step after step, whether on a road, or a metaphor of our Christian walk.

There was a gathering of preachers who asked an famous author and organizational consultant to come and speak to them. It was to be a short address then mostly Q & A. The consultant was already uncomfortable because he was not a believer or practitioner of any religion, and was a bit nervous about standing in a room of professional Christians. To get inspiration for his address on the way to the airport he went to the very limited Religion section at the airport bookstore. That is where he found what he would discuss with the pastors. The next day he stood up, discussed his discomfort and then went on to talk about the difference in the books on Buddhism at the airport and the books on Christianity. The books on Buddhism he noted were all about how to do Buddhism. The books on Christianity were all about belief. "Somewhere along the way," he said, "you let someone change the conversation about how to do Christianity to what to think about Christianity." And he is right. Our faith is never real until we turn it outward.

The spiritual life has often been expressed with the metaphor of journey.  This is an ancient idea.  When the story is recited of Father Abraham it maintains this idea.  He was called a “wandering Aramean.”  

As the faithful brought their first fruits from their harvest into the Hebrew Temple, they were instructed to recite this holy history:

Deuteronomy 26: 4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, 7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’

Aren’t you glad you do not have to recite a paragraph when you drop your offering into the plate?  But this constant reminder, the gifts of today are part of the history of journeying with God.  That act of faith back then of Abraham and Sarah is part of my act of faith today.  I am still following God: from my farm, in my business, in my family.  We journey with God still.  

And remember, our faith is never real until we turn it outward.  We give our first fruits because we trust the God who enabled us to have our First Fruits to be with us through to the last fruits.  “God who began a good work in you, is faithful to complete it,” Paul in Philippians reminds us. This trust is a part of the journey with God.

Whether Jules in Pulp Fiction or so many other accounts, our culture is steeped with examples of this metaphor.  Even our “churchy language” is dripping with it: our spiritual walk, those who have backslidden, and yes, even pilgrims speak to this spiritual metaphor of being on journey with God.

The Psalms use it, too.  In the Psalm for the day, Psalm 1, two paths are compared.  The path of sinners (a.k.a. the Way of the Wicked) as opposed to the Way of the Righteous.

Psalm 1:6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Jesus uses this idea as well.  The last two weeks, this week, and next at Pentecost we have our readings from Jesus last talk the night before he was crucified recorded in John.  It is a last chance for clarification, for instruction, for pep talk and encouragement.

His journey here is done.  Near the end of today’s readings he compares his journey with the ones the disciples are about to take.  Jesus is talking with God here, giving thanks for those he has been given.

17:18 Jesus prayed: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

We are sent out into places that are not our own, to be agents of Grace and Love.  It may make no sense to many we encounter, but God will open doors for us.  

We are sent out in faith so that we can live out our faith, and our faith is never real until we turn it outward.  

One of the often repeated stories from missionaries who have gone around the world is that they often thought they were taking God to new places, but what they found was that God was already at work in great and wonderful ways before they arrived.  People were sometimes even expecting them, and they had felt the nudge and prompting of the Holy Spirit like Cornelius from Acts in Susan’s sermon last week.  God prepared and laid the groundwork long before Peter’s vision.

Stepping out in faith is never easy.  Often we are stepping out not knowing where, or even if, our foot will fall.  Like Indiana Jones teetering over the supposedly cliff in The Last Crusade.  A story is told during the terrible days of the Blitz, a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard was a shell hole. Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow. Terrified, yet hearing his father's voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, "I can't see you!"
The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, "But I can see you. Jump!" The boy jumped, because he trusted his father. The Christian faith enables us to face life or meet death, not because we can see, but with the certainty that we are seen; not that we know all the answers, but that we are known.

Our faith is never real until we turn it outward.  The boy believed not in where he would land, but in the one who called for him to jump.

Will we take the leap of faith when we are called to step out into the unknown?  I trust I will.  Pray for me as I pray for you.  As I shared on the bulletin cover, one of my favorite saints is St. Brendan the Navigator.  He is the patron saint of boatmen, mariners, travelers, elderly adventurers, and whales, and also of portaging canoes.  Despite his advanced years, he felt the call of God, and stepped out into the unknown.  Who knows, he may have even discovered America.

A prayer attributed to Brendan speaks to all our journeys today.  It is on your bulletin if you would like to pray it with me.

Prayer of St. Brendan

“Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.

Give me the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with You.

Christ of the mysteries, I trust You to be stronger than each storm within me.

I will trust in the darkness and know that my times, even now, are in Your hand.

Tune my spirit to the music of heaven and somehow, make my obedience count for You.”  AMEN

On our paths, like my friend Mary Beth, may we say: “For Real Now.”  Amen.

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Blessings, Rock