Sunday, May 28, 2017

When You Stare a Giant in the Eye: a sermon Year A Easter 7 2017

Year A Easter 7, 28 May 2017
St. Paul’s Episcopal, Richmond
“When You Stare A Giant In The Eye”

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
One of the great lines from one of my favorite movies, The Usual Suspects, invites us to see things differently. “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” Going along that same train of thought, “The greatest lie the Devil ever convinced Christ’s Church of is that we do not matter.”

Think about it. We see the numbers declining, and the budgets shrinking. We see things scaling back, and we are fearful. After the tragedies in Manchester this week, I remind you what you have heard again and again, when we live in fear, the terrorists win. If that is true for Western Society, is the Church any different? When we live in fear, the Devil wins. When we see through the eyes of scarcity, how can we bring glory to God?

The Hebrews right on the brink of the Promised Land heard two words, one promising a land flowing with milk and honey, and another word, a fearful word, that there are Giants in the land. They listened to the voice shaking with fear about Giants.

Numbers 14
9 Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” 10 But the whole congregation threatened to stone them.
Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?

On this Seventh Sunday of Easter, just four days after we remembered Christ’s Ascension, to what voices will we listen? Ones declaring Milk and Honey, or ones fearful of Giants?

Jesus, when he was at the table with his disciples, what did he see? Did he see a group of 12 rejects who no one would bring together to plan a birthday party? Or did he see a righteous and committed few who were going to set out and change the world preaching a Gospel of Love against the Power of the Roman Empire? Think on that.

From our Gospel today, we clearly hear that Christ believed in his little band:
Jesus said: “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

We are in the world, and we are here so that Christ may be glorified in us and through us. Jesus is glorified in us. But if we are shrinking daisies, what are we proclaiming to the world? Are we Christ’s Body in the World, or something else entirely?

I brought my youngest daughter with me to the showing of Traces of the Trade which was shown here a few weeks ago. Driving home from church, my daughter asked an amazingly cognizant question. "Why is St. Paul's where it is?"

In Traces of the Trade, a great documentary on the Slave Trade, she got to thinking. It tells the story from the perspective of a family who owned slave ships, plantations in Cuba, and were ignorant that the family's wealth was so intricately woven with the trade. They were from the North, it was not their sin, or so they thought. My 10-year-old girl sat in silence, soaking it all in, both the movie and the Q&A with the director. I was duly impressed. This was going through her head when she asked about our church and its central location, "Why is St. Paul's where it is?"

Having been a teacher, I knew better than to answer, and told her to answer her own question. She said it was pretty lucky to be where it is, next to the state Capitol building downtown, with the State Supreme Court behind our church, and City Hall a block away. I asked, "What kind of people would start a church 170 years ago in the middle of the city near so many important things?"

She responded, "Important people. And rich. They would have to be rich."

A part of me was beaming with pride, and part of my heart was breaking that this was a conversation we were having to have. "And where would people have gotten their money in Richmond 170 years ago, enough for them to build so beautiful a building in so important a spot?"

"People who got rich from slavery?" She asked it as a question, but she already knew the answer.
I had to say, "Yeah. Either directly or indirectly. Yeah. We have to admit that, and that conversation is one of the reasons we showed that movie tonight."

She nodded, thinking about it some more in silence. After a little while I asked her about how all this made her feel. "Like the adults at the movie, I feel confused." I let her know that that is okay.

That may have been why St. Paul’s was here then. But why is St. Paul’s here now? So many other churches moved away from downtown. So many other people followed the population west. But St. Paul's did not. So that begs the question...

Why is St. Paul's here, today? How might we help make Christ at this place and  at this time known and relevant? How are we to fulfill the call of God for now, proclaiming the Gospel in the heart of our beloved RVA? "For such a time as this," says the Holy Book in Esther. May we live into the call of our time, and grow into the opportunity. How can Christ be glorified in our actions today? How can people see what we do and say to themselves, “They really believe in a Christ sitting at the right hand of God the Father.”?

Here are just some beginning thoughts:
When we stay in the hard conversations so all can be heard and all can be reconciled, Christ is glorified.
When we repent of our sins and the sins that birthed us, Christ is glorified.
When we take up for the least of these, Christ is glorified.
When we forgive instead of responding tit-for-tat, Christ is glorified.
When we get hit and still turn the other cheek, Christ is glorified.
When we build bridges instead of walls, Christ is glorified.
When we give a cup of cold water or a warm meal to one in need, Christ is glorified.
When we gather and live out Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one,” Christ is glorified.
When we choose love over hate, Christ is glorified.
When we stare Giants in the eye and still believe in the one whose name we claim, Christ is glorified.

Never forget the math of faith: Us + God is greater than anything we face. (Us +God > Anything) When we recite the Nicene Creed in a few moments, ponder when you say of Jesus, that “he is seated at the right hand of God the Father.” For if he is, we have already won. We are just mopping up the remnants of God’s enemies. On this Memorial Day weekend it is hard for me not to remember the ultimate price paid by so many for my freedoms. But think about it, when D-Day happened, the Nazis were doomed, but we still had months of battles left, hard battles that would take many lives, but the outcome was predominantly decided. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension declares to us, and hopefully through us and our acts of faith, that when we look with the eyes of faith we can see that the end is in sight.

When I was in Seminary, I remember hearing the story of the English founder of the modern missionary movement. His words have always stuck with me. William Carey: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” In all our choices, in all our decisions we have to make as a church, I would ask us to consider two questions: “Why does God have us here now?” & “Is Christ being glorified in this?” And if we do so I think we remember that God plus us is bigger than any perceived or imaginary Giants in the Land. When you stare a Giant in the eye, remember God has your back.

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I want to close today with the words of  Teresa of Avila (1515–1582). Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.  Amen.

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Blessings, Rock