Sunday, October 9, 2016

Year C Proper 23 2016 "May Grace Precede and Follow"

“May Grace Precede and Follow”
Year C Proper 23, 9 October 2016
St. David’s Episcopal, Aylett, VA

There are certain Sundays when the sermons come easy, and there are certain Sundays when they do not. Sometimes it is because it is a very hard text, like last week. Thank you for staying with me on that one, but this is the opposite.

I was out yesterday with my daughters and driving home I mentioned that I was having problems coming up with what to say, and despite spending a good number of hours like I usually do, I had nothing. They asked me what it was about.

I said that today’s reading was about the 10 lepers in Luke, and only one came back to say thank you and praise God. They both immediately said, that saying thank you is good. And my older one said, “Talk about that a-word that means you are thankful for what you’ve got.”

“Appreciative,” I said, “you think I should say to be appreciative.” She said, “Yeah.”

We should be appreciative, and say ‘Thank you!’ That pretty much could sum up what they thought I should talk about, and I told them most of you are not children, but if most of you were I would go on for a while about that. But you are not children. If you do not say please and thank you yet, nothing I will say will make you change at this point, most likely. If I were to say to you to be appreciative, I would have to be like Forrest Gump and admit,  “That’s all I have to say about that.”

I will say on a receiving side, when someone takes the time to stop and say Thank You, it does make a huge difference. I have been a teacher long enough for students to return as adults, legally and mostly biologically, to take the time to hunt me down and say Thank You. I had one student, who was almost apologetic when he came up to me. “I know you get this all the time, but you made a real difference in my life and who I became. Thank you!” I had to tell him, “No, I do not get that all the time. Thank you for saying it. That means a lot to me.” It meant so much, and all I did was teach classes. I cannot imagine what it meant to Jesus on that day. It is hard to just focus on this, though.

But let’s take a different tact. In our collect for the day, we prayed: “Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us…” Ah, now if we view our texts through that lens, we can go to some pretty interesting areas.

One of my favorite prayers images this, the Breastplate of St. Patrick. It speaks of the Grace of God being before and behind us, and a lot of other places as well…

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;*
I bind unto myself today.

[skipping several stanzas]
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
“Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us…”

What if we really started to see Christ in all of what we encounter? What if we started to see Christ in everyone we meet? And Christ transforming us? And Christ transforming everyone we meet and every encounter that we have?

Christ be with me, within me, behind me, before me, beside me, to win me, to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, above me, in quiet, in danger, in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Another quote today, like Louis Armstrong sang, “What a wonderful world!”

There are two sides of Grace. We receive. We give. It also goes the other way. We give. We receive. When the Samaritan leper came back, he was giving back to Jesus, and giving glory to God. Yes, he received the Grace of Christ, but in his worshiping God at Jesus feet, Jesus received Grace from a Samaritan. This is not a reciprocal relationship. We do not pay Grace back. We cannot if we wanted to. We respond to Grace. How? By giving it to others. (We talked about this last week.)

Luke makes a big deal about the Samaritan coming back and not the others because his kind was not taken off in the Babylonian exile, and the Samaritans stayed and took land they did not own and took wives from foreign lands. They had betrayed those in the nation of Israel, but it was worse. But they were not  just Betrayers, but also Heretics. When they worshiped God, the same God, mind you, they did it on high holy places, altars on hills and mountaintops instead of buying into the Temple complex in Jerusalem. Psalm 121, a song of ascent, that was sung on the way to worship in Jerusalem, talks about disgust over Samaritan practice and praise for the Temple: “I look unto the hills,[these high holy places] from where will my help come, it comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth.” Luke includes this story he is emphasizing that the faithful can come from anywhere, even Samaria. (This is what makes the Good Samaritan such a big deal in that parable.)

But here is this outsider, accepted, appreciated, and acknowledged by Jesus as being righteous. "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." Even one outside can be made whole, like the woman (woman, and an unclean one at that) who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, he said the same thing to her, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” An unclean woman, a leprous Samaritan, no surprise what Luke’s theme is here. All are met with Christ’s Grace. It precedes him, and it follows him. The Samaritan leper came back. He came back and praised God. There was a wake of Grace. Jesus was touched emotionally, but this physically untouchable man. But the Grace rippled to the others there, the disciples, and all the communities they touched. He was able to show an aspect of the true disciple, we live in an appreciative way. We do that by expecting Grace, not to our glory and honor, but God’s. We live, not spoiled, but so that we can have the Grace precede and follow us, just like it did Christ.
I use the phrase “You have been blessed to be a blessing” all the time. The intent and purpose is not for us to have stuff, to be nice, or to do well. The intent and purpose is the Glory of God. You have been blessed to be a blessing. You have so that you can share. You give so that others can have, not so you can get back. In the second line of the Collect for the day, we also prayed, “that we may continually be given to good works…” That is why we live in this bubble of Grace.

Last night I made a pot of chili in the Crockpot for the football game this afternoon. Nice and hearty. Before I went to bed the smell filled the house. We had our windows open because we could, and it has been so nice, good sleeping weather at night. I bet the aroma was in a bubble around our house. People walking down the sidewalk could smell it. People sitting on their porches could smell it. It was all around us. I look forward to eating it today. And even more than the aroma of that chili, Christ’s Grace should be all around us, and in us. People should see it coming when we enter a room, and like a nice perfume, its aroma should linger when we leave.

Saying Thank You. It is more than just being polite. It is showing and saying we acknowledge that we were without, and have received. It is an important skill, and a form of worship. We show the nature of who we are by how we say Thank You.

Like Paul reminded Timothy in today’s reading, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” Live that appreciative and acceptable life, Timothy! And those words apply to us as well.

A spiritual mystic from the Middle Ages, a Dominican friar, who has since been titled Meister Eckhart, Master Eckhart in English, said that we should have an appreciative life, and even if just for a moment, if we opened ourselves to God’s Grace, God would know and be appreciative of us.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough,” said Meister Eckhart. May that be in our minds, and in our hearts. May we live that Thank You. And that will be enough. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock