Sunday, November 6, 2016

Year C Proper 27 2016 "Are You With Me?" St. Gabriel’s, Liverpool, England

“Are You With Me?”
Year C Proper 27, 6 Nov 2016
St. Gabriel’s Church of England, Huyton Quarry, Liverpool, England

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I bring greetings from the Diocese of Virginia, Bishops Shannon Johnston and Bishop Suffragan Susan Goff. Thank you for your gracious welcome, and I apologize for being a distraction this week to our mutual friend Reverend Mal.

Speaking of distractions, our texts are exactly that, examples of distractions from what should have the majority of our focus and attention. I come from a distracted nation. For the last several months we have been focused and fixated on what should be minor attractions instead of the center stage of our lives. It has divided our communities, our churches, and our families. It is admittedly with some relief that this week we will see an end to the distractions, and by the time we wake on Wednesday, the headache, I mean, the election of the United States president will be over. Thanks be to God. It has been more than enough.

When we major in the minors, when we let our focus be on the things that do not matter in long run, and probably should not matter at all, we get away from the lives God would have us live. So many things can derail us spiritually. Our health. Our economic situation. Our politics. Bad clergy-people. An American teacher and preacher put it this way, “If you pray a minute, people pray with you. If you pray five, people pray for you. If you pray longer than that, they pray against you.” So this morning I will keep it short and hopefully not be a spiritual hindrance to myself or any of you.

In Haggai, the prophet declares that God wants them to “Take courage.” Fear can be a huge distraction. In fact, I think one of the major ills in my nation since the 9/11 attacks is that we have become a fearful nation. We have learned and had reinforced to not trust our neighbor, and to trust the stranger in our midst even less. One of our great presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, when the country was still reeling from the Great Depression, these famous words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Haggai says to his people the same thing. Do not be distracted by your fear! Or from the Scripture: “I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear!”
There have been times in my life when I have been afraid. Terrified in fact. And I think of the times when I chose to cower and give into my fear. Those are the times when I remember being most defeated. This situation did not def
eat me, but my choosing to cower was a defeat of who God made me to be. There were other times when I was afraid and I stood up, and took a stand. Sometimes I triumphed, and sometimes I failed. But when I took courage and made a stand, I may have failed, but I was not a failure. I could say I had done my best, with what I had, and I did not hang my head. Fear is an enemy of who God is calling us to be. “Fear not!” says the Lord.

But Paul in Second Thessalonians looks at another distraction, deception. One of the problems of religious people in general is that we are believers. Believing in God is good, but believing anyone who comes along is not. Some of us err on the skeptical side of belief, and some of us err on the side of TB, and we have a raging case of True Believer-ism. But both of the extremes still fall on the side of the believing, and that can set us up for being tricked, conned, cajoled, and hoodwinked. We tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, and that is a hindrance of who God would have us be as well. It is, I believe, the shadow side of belief.

And here we are, almost 2,000 years later, still awaiting Christ’s return. Paul had to quell the excitement of this anticipation in the early days of the Church.
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way...
Tricksters are out there. Jesus commanded us to be “as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:3 It is an issue which we have been warned that we will have to deal with. Even in this election, that I apologize I keep coming back to, BOTH SIDES have Christians claiming that God is for their candidate and only their side is righteous. Tricksters and charlatans. Still with us, and, sadly, I think they always will be. We need to not be distracted by those that would derail our walk with Christ, and in Christ, and for Christ.

But fear and deception are not our only distraction, we also have the hurdle of nit-pickiness to overcome. Yes, nit-pickiness. Is that a phrase here? Sometimes we zoom in on such small things that make no sense when we see things from the outside. The Sadducees were attempting to play Gotcha! with Jesus. Could they catch him being, in their minds, stupid? They are seeing if this young Rabbi is worth his reputation. They are playing theoretical theology. “What if…?” But Jesus calls them on it, he reproaches them for their hypocrisy and their distracting him. Others there wanted to learn and grow in their faith, and the Sadducees are playing games. The problem with their question is on whether the legalism on this side of heaven continues on into the next. They even could have been mocking Jesus, in that he, like the Pharisees believed in an afterlife. The Sadducees did not believe in anything coming after this life. With their ridiculous question, they are making fun of this belief and those who hold it. But even there, Jesus does not reject them, but raises the level of conversation, showing their foundational denial of the afterlife is a problem. Jesus goes back to Moses, who speaks of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Living, not of the dead. We might phrase in the New Testament language of the God who was and is and is to come, or Jesus being the same yesterday, today and forever.  This distraction of diverting Jesus from what is most important is something that can happen to us in our spiritual lives, as well.

I could not come to Liverpool and not quote a Beatle, but this one is not a stretch. Sir Paul, in his love song Distractions, from his wonderful Flowers in the Dirt album, questions why he gets sidetracked and drawn away from the one who holds his heart:
Why are there always so many other things to do?
Distractions, like butterflies are buzzing 'round my head,
When I'm alone I think of you
And the life we'd lead if we could only be free
From these distractions.
Is it not the same with God? What draws us away from seeking first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness? I think all of us woul
d have a different answer. I tell my church every year to do an inventory. Look at your calendar and your bank statements. Those will show you what you hold most important. Where is God’s church on your priorities? How about your daily agenda? Do you make space for God? That is often the easiest and first thing to go when we get busy and have our days taken away from us. I have found though, when the day gets at its worst, I need more to pray and listen, and to find God in Scripture. Like all things that are good for us, we mostly know what we should do, but these temptations and distractions that get in our way.

I have been blessed with two wonderful daughters, and my youngest has some special needs. Her name is Sojo, short for Sojourner named for an American hero, Sojourner Truth. A freed slave and early feminist. Our Sojo did not talk for the first few years of her life, and she is exceptionally bright but does not learn the way most schools teach, but she is a sponge for learning and now talks all the time. I am asked about any and everything all the time. And I mean all the time. But sometimes, when I am talking with her, she is somewhere else, in her head pondering the nature of the universe when I am asking her about what she wants for lunch. It is not that she does not try. She is just so curious that she cannot help but follow a mental rabbit if it goes running by her consciousness. So, if I am making her lunch, or whatever it is, my wife and I have found a phrase that draws her back. Instead of correcting her, we simply ask, “Are you with me, Sojo?” In preparing for today, I could see the smile on God’s face and how often he has had to ask of me, “Rock, are you with me?” “Rock, hello Rock, are you with me?” And God asks the same of all of us. In the midst of all the things that distract us, often good, important things, we hear God ask, “Are you with me?” Seek first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness and all these things shall be added unto to you. I believe God means it. If we put God first, everything else will fall into place.

As we continue in our Christian walk, try to let go of whatever is holding you back, whatever is keeping you fully from being here today. Whatever is pulling you from this moment with Christ, can we try to let it go, just for a moment? I think you can, and I think that I can as well.

Lord Jesus,
you were human like us. You felt fear in the Garden. You were deceived by one of your Twelve. You had many trying to distract you from what you came here to do, in so many ways. And yet, you stayed true to the end, fulfilling your purpose and creating in us a space to continue your work in this world. Free us from the distractions that hold us back and the sin that clings so closely, and this day, and every day, draw us closer to you.

God’s blessings be upon St. Gabriel’s and this community now and always. Listen for God’s voice, “Are you with me?” Amen. Thank you!

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Blessings, Rock