Sunday, June 17, 2018

Year B Proper 6 2018 God Finds A Way

Year B Proper 6, 17 June 2018 (Father’s Day)
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“God Finds A Way”

Collect: Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Mark 4:26-34
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

The Gospel this morning is about faith. Scattering what little we have in hopes that God will bless it and make it grow. Anytime we take a risk it is an act of faith. And I trust that any risks I take this morning will spring up in you. It is an act of faith.

We have two images of the Kingdom of God. A farmer taking the precious resource of seed, and casting it out and trusting in the Almighty to keep on doing what only God can do: take our gift and help it grow. We do not know how. We do not have the details, or did not when the Gospels were written; it just worked.

The other image given is the mustard seed. Something so small. Jesus using first century hyperbole calls it the smallest of seeds, yet in God’s way of doing things, it expands, grows, and gives food and branches for nests, a home from something so small.

Faith is a funny thing. So easy for some. So hard for others. We drive down the interstate going at breakneck speeds, literally breakneck speeds, and we trust that the cars and trucks will stay in their lane, and drive in a way that will keep us all safe. And then with people we know, may have known for years, at times we do not extend the same benefit of the doubt.

The prophet Samuel was asked to have faith. Despite his warnings we spoke on last week, Saul was made king. But Saul was so despicable, the Spirit of the Lord left him and Samuel was tasked with reaching out to Jesse and getting one of his sons to be secretly anointed as the successor and heir to Saul.

Son after son came before the prophet, until there were no sons left. So small of stature, a dreamer and poet by nature, David was not considered worthy of mention by his own father much less being brought before Samuel as a possible king.

We were told already, though: “...The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

And David appears.  “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”

Something so small, so slight, a boy among men was given to the Lord, and the Lord took the meager gift, this mustard seed of a boy and raised him up to be the mightiest king in the history of Israel, the one of whom our Savior is said, “of the house and lineage of David.” Something so small, becomes the cornerstone of a whole new world.

God finds a way when we see none. When we have hard years, and have little hope, we take what hope we have and give it up to the Lord. We scatter our seed, and trust that the Lord will make it bountiful. For the Kingdom of God is like that.

The Kingdom of God. What is it like in the Kingdom of God? What should it be like? Have you ever thought about that? Every time I say the Lord’s Prayer, I trip up on the “on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s not. And we have so far to go before it ever will be.

Weeks like this one, when I watch the news, I pray that prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, and he taught us to say these words. “On earth, as it is in heaven.”

“On earth, as it is in heaven.” Last week I spoke of dangerous prayers. This one is dangerous to the status quo. If we pray that and we mean it we cannot let things continue the way they are. We must, as our Collect led us to pray today, “proclaim [God’s] truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.”

Always the English teacher I need to clarify a point for you. In our culture we too often confuse two words. The first word is political. It comes from the Greek word “polis” meaning city. We still use it in Metropolis and Annapolis. So when we say something is political it speaks to how we come together when we are living together in community, and how we need to act and think and govern while we live together.

Jesus was political. He spoke often about how we have to live together.
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • “Love your enemy.”
  • “Do good to your enemies.”
  • “Bless those who curse you.”
Jesus set a pretty high political standard, asking those who follow him and live in his name to do things that are VERY HARD and NIGH IMPOSSIBLE it seems in the mean world we are living in today.

Political: from living in the city, how we live together, how we think and act and govern. Now the word Political has come to mean the second word, even in the dictionary if you look it up when you get home, but that was not the origin.

The second word, the one we should use instead of Political and we confuse that with is Partisan. Pertaining to a party or ideology. And this is what always should be avoided from the pulpit and our church discourse. Think about it, partisan’s root is from “part,” to divide or separate. Partisan things INTEND TO DIVIDE and SEPARATE.

Political: how we are going to act and live and govern together.
Partisan: how we engage our division’s agenda.

Jesus said to consider “the Least of These.” It was his injunction and mandate. Prophets throughout Scripture call us to consider the “widow and orphan and stranger in your midst.” We are called to remember them and care for them as one of our own, for that is what God would have us do and demands it of us.

We do it with our clinic in the basement. Thanks be to God. We do it with our feeding program. Thanks be to God. I think we need to scatter those same seeds of faith in all we say and do.

This week in particular I looked on in horror as children were stripped from their parents, and it goes on. They did this on my border. They did this on your border. They did this in our name. The United Nations Human Rights Commission have condemned the use of this policy. Now we can disagree on our immigration policy, but the deliberate removal of children from their parents is unspeakable and inhumane. “Consider the least of these,” and a two year old with arms outstretched or a nursing child on a lap, it is hard to get more “least of these” than that.
When the Attorney General of our country, a confessed Christian, quotes St. Paul to justify these actions which so blatantly go against the letter and spirit of our Scriptures, something is terribly wrong. And I do not know a way out of it.

Most every major denomination in our country has condemned these actions, including our own. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said, and I quote:
For those of us who follow Jesus, his teachings are the final authority and Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39) that “those who welcome the stranger have welcomed the Lord himself and are therefore blessed,” (Matthew 25:35) and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). And that’s just in Matthew’s gospel!

For those of us who are American, the words emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty define who we are — “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” That’s America. A shining city on a hill.

It is not the Christian way and it is not the American way to separate children from their parents at the borders of this country.
(Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry Facebook Page, 15 June 2018, 6:16 p.m.)

The Southern Baptists and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, who are not liberal in any way, condemn this policy. I do not see a way out of it. And I do not know what I can do. But I do know that we look at the outward, and God looks at our heart. Just like with David. And God still can find a way.

God can find a way out of this partisan quagmire we find ourselves in. God can find a way to safety and security for those fleeing to our nation for the hope we have promised for so long, especially to “the least of these.”

I have to trust that the ways of the Kingdom of God have not changed. I will scatter my seed of faith today by naming the wrong to be just that. You may call someone who has influence or sway. You may treat a stranger with love and care, just like you are doing it to and for Christ. And all these seeds, as we scatter them and entrust them to God I believe will come to fruition.

When I see the overwhelming nature of the world we are living in I feel so small and powerless. But the same St. Paul that the Attorney General quoted out of context said this (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) as well:
...God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

And in that same faith, weak as I am but leaning on Christ’s Grace-upon-Grace (John 1:16), Christ’s grace is sufficient for me, and it is for you. And like the Mustard Seed, or the boy with the loaves and fishes, if we give all we have to God, that will be enough. We have everything we need already, we just may not see it or comprehend it. When Israel needed a new king, God had already raised up his David. We already have everything we need. It is especially true when days are dark and hard, as it is in our country right now, and in our parish when we have tragedies like the ones this week.

I have faith that this can and will change. Some days that faith is as small as a mustard seed, but it is there. And in faith I toss it out, for the Kingdom of God is like this… Amen.

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Blessings, Rock