Tag Archives: All Saints’ Sunday Sermon

Lost

A Sermon for 3 November 2019 – All Saints Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Luke 19:1-10. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

Have you ever been lost? I don’t mean lost, as in you refuse to stop for directions lost while somewhere in like the middle of the tangle of roads that make up Hillwood and West Meade. But truly lost! So that you start to feel the panic deep down in the pit of your insides.

I remember the time when I was about four years old and my parents and my six-year-old sister and I had stopped at a huge mall in the big city on our way back home to the little village in which we lived. It was around Christmas. My parents were trying to make it a special afternoon for us to be able to see Santa Claus at a store similar to a Macy’s. It was one of those huge department stores in a mall we rarely visited. One minute my six-year-old sister was with us. The next minute, she was gone. My parents might tell you it was only for a little while, but to me it was a torturous lifetime. Long enough for mall security to be involved – which was way longer than I ever had been lost in the little grocery store back home, where I wandered off each week. As soon as mom and dad noticed my sister no longer was at our side, we started looking in the racks around us. This is the sister that always has been a bit of a rule-breaker, so it wasn’t unlike her to step outside the bounds. But to do so in the bustling mall of the big city where we knew nobody was absolutely terrifying! Images of my sister being lost went running through my little mind. With potentially horrible things happening to her. And the prospect that she may never return to us. Fear burned in my soul. At one point my parents left me with a store clerk in order to go find her. At another point they returned to me – without her – still. I remember when at last a man in a uniform, who looked to me to be a giant, came walking towards us – his huge brown hand dwarfing the tiny pale hand of my sister. Even though we weren’t a family that hugged a lot back then, when at last the man returned my sister to us; I threw my arms around her in relief! If you ever have been lost, perhaps you too know how absolutely horrifying it can be!

The InLighten film entitled “Lost and Found,” tells the story of a desperate young woman (https://inlightenstream.com/upcoming-films/#Xbu7XyVOmEc). Her beautiful chocolate face flashes on the screen as she tells that from an early age, she felt like she didn’t quite belong. She had been adopted into a family of other children in which she had the darkest skin. Her new parents did their best to raise her. But one impressionable night at a club, she saw someone pull out over $2,000 worth of cash. In awe she asked the girl where she got that kind of money. The next thing you know, the beautiful young woman turned her first trick. In the film she explains: “After that first man walked out of the room; in my mind, I was worthless. So, I didn’t deserve to have a normal life anymore” (Ibid.). Tearing up the woman says, “I didn’t deserve to have real love. I deserved what I was going to get” (Ibid.). If you ever have been lost like this, you too know just how terrible it feels!

After Hours Ministries is street outreach to women and men involved in prostitution. Associate Director Jen Cecil explains that “when you’ve been commodified, it completely tears down your self-worth. A lot of these women aren’t in it by self-choice,” she says (Ibid.). They do it to survive. They do it to avoid getting hurt by someone who has taken over control of their life. Cecil quotes a heavily debated statistic to claim that the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is between the age of 12 and 14. Other sources claim the age is somewhere between 17 and 19. In 2015, one source records that “trafficking cases had been reported in over 85% of Tennessee counties including many rural areas” (https://www.google.com/amp/s/m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5203042/amp). Cecil reminds: “These are your daughters. These are your sisters. These are your best friends. These are women created in the image of God, who God loves and pursues after” (Ibid.). They are lost. Needing to be found.

In the film, the teary young woman who ended up on that path goes on to tell that the daddy for whom she worked typically wouldn’t let her out of his sight. But one night she asked if she could go outside to smoke a cigarette. He told her to stay close to the door so he could keep an eye on her. The woman explains, suddenly “I saw this mini-van pull up. I remember thinking like: ‘Why are these people here?’ It’s a disgusting hotel. It was a family that got out and they had bibles.” Unable to hold back the tears at this point in the film, the sobbing woman says, “They handed me a bible and said, ‘We just want you to know Jesus loves you.’” The woman explains, “I remember thinking like: ‘you don’t understand. Jesus can’t love me anymore’” (Ibid.). Have you ever felt that kind of isolating shame? That kind of being totally lost?

That night, volunteers of After Hours Ministries prayed with the woman. They told her she was safe. They told her she was going to be okay. On film, light begins to creep back into the woman’s eyes as she remembers, “I had this redemption of thought,” that night. She says: I realized “God sought me out. Not because God wants something from me. But because God loves me” (Ibid.). As the film comes to a close, the voice of Jen Cecil pipes back in declaring, “A lot of times the women don’t believe that they are loved or that they are seen. I believe God desires for us to know that God is with us. And that we are loved. We are seen.” Cecil declares, “I have seen and I know the depths God has gone to for me. And that God will go there for you as well” (Ibid.).

It’s reported in the gospel of Luke – the gospel that especially likes to tell stories such as these – that one time, Jesus was passing through the city of Jericho. Jericho was a place responsible for receiving goods imported from the East (Connections, Yr. C., Vol. 3; 2019. Kenyatta R. Gilbert, p. 4580) which made it a place a tax collector could do quite well. A man lived there. One who was accustomed to climbing; for he had climbed the ranks in the world of taxing those around him until at last he earned the title of chief tax collector. For the Roman Empire, this man worked. Ensuring his fellow Jews paid the price in support of the ones who forcibly occupied their land. In the eyes of everyone, this man was lost – very lost. Though not as far off as those who can’t even see they are lost. Like those in the story who criticized that Jesus would dare spend time with ones such as Zacchaeus.

It would be easy to stay focused on people like Zacchaeus. People like the young woman in the film who found herself so lost. The point we are not to miss, however, is that we all are lost. In some ways. Maybe we’ve not been ensnared in the grip of the sex industry. Maybe we’ve not been caught up in exploiting others for the benefit of the empire. Maybe we’ve just known the depths of loss after a loved never returns. Maybe we just carry the pains from parents who hurt more than helped. Maybe we’ve just felt the sting of shame because of our gender or orientation or abilities or whatever so that we know exactly how it feels to want nothing more than to be seen by some One who will love us completely nonetheless.

Earlier in the gospel of Luke, these words are recorded – words assigned by the lectionary for All Saints’ Day every third year: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven . . . But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:20-31). The Beatitudes according to the gospel of Luke offer a helpful reminder that it is for the lost that God seeks. Not because being rich or full or full of laughter is any terrible thing. But because if we don’t know it yet: woe! We must! We all are lost – needing to be found. Once we know, salvation is ours! We get found by a God who is with us always. A God who sees and loves and seeks out the lost. For such a marvelous gift, let us give great thanks!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

 

Carrying the Presence

A Sermon for 5 November 2017 – All Saints’ Sunday

A reading from Joshua 3:7-17.  We’re returning this Sunday to the story of the Israelites in the wilderness.  Well, just as they are leaving the wilderness.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“The LORD said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.  You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’”  Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the LORD your God.”  10 Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites:  11 the ark of the covenant of the LORD of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan.  12 So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe.  13 When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the LORD of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”  14 When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people.  15 Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest.  So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, 16 the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off.  Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho.  17 While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks to be God!

 

If random people on the street were approached, what do you think they would say when asked:  What are you carrying with you?  . . .  Most all Americans over the age of 13 would answer:  my cell phone.  Many adults who have a home and a car would say:  my keys.  And my credit cards or some other form of currency.  Young mothers, with and without their little toddlers, likely would be carrying some sort of wet naps and diapers and a favorite toy for distraction when the little one melts down in the long line at the grocery store.  While men might turn out their pockets to show you their wallet or breath mints or safety knife – whatever men keep in pockets; some women might be carrying a purse that includes in it everything except the kitchen sink.  If anything, children might be carrying a fist-full of dandelions freshly picked from the cracks in the sidewalk or some other hidden gem discovered along the path.

We can answer the question differently, like:  what are we carrying with us –emotionally.  Of the past.  Memories that comfort us – especially those of the saints of our lives we honor here today.  Regrets that haunt.  Anxiety that grips us as we try to go about life in this busy world today.  We’re seeing almost daily that many Americans are carrying tension – a general unease in our bodies from the barrage of critical news.  Some of us who are extra sensitive might be carrying a little depression about all the violence against each other we keep seeing, and the horrors of the natural disasters our world has been living through these past several months.

On television the other night – I think during one of those World Series games; I saw a rare commercial.  Have you seen it?  It begins with people jumping out of their cars to help push a broken-down vehicle off a busy, backed-up street.  A man who appears to be rushing to work up an escalator, stops to help a woman of a different race get her baby stroller up the escalator too.  As all sorts of scenes continue of diverse people helping each other, the narrator says:  “It would be great if human beings were great at being human.  And if all of mankind were made up of kind women and kind men.  It would be wonderful if common knowledge was knowledge commonly know,” the narrator says, as some bullies in a school knock books out of a smaller boy’s hands, while a girl steps forward to protect him.  A smile flashes across the face of an elderly woman who looks like she’s telling stories, while a younger woman stands behind her brushing her hair.  The narrator continues, saying:  “And if the light from being enlightened, into every heart was shone.  It would be glorious if neighbors were neighborly and indifference a forgotten word.  It would be awesome if we shared everything and being greedy was absurd.”  If you’ve seen the commercial, you too might have found tears welling in your eyes just 40 seconds into this ad.  The final punch:  “It would be spectacular if the Golden Rule was golden to every man.  And the good things that we ever did were everything that we can.”  Another woman’s voice comes in to say:  “Treating others like we like to be treated has always been our guiding principle.”  As the final shot shows the name of the hotel chain being advertised, the screen reads:  “We live by the #Golden Rule”  (https://www.ispot.tv/ad/w6rw/marriott-human-the-golden-rule#).  . . .  What if more of us carried that:  the guiding principle that We live by the #Golden Rule?  Helping others no matter our differences.  Protecting the weak.  Truly being neighborly and accepting and generous.  A world of people who carry within the Golden Rule that can be seen in action daily.  Indeed, what we carry can make all the difference.

As the exodus of the Israelites finally comes to a close, their priests carry the ark of the covenant into the Jordan River.  We may not be as familiar with this part of our faith ancestor’s story as we are with the escape from Egypt through the Red Sea.  The day Joshua was their new leader and the power of the LORD God stopped another body of water, so that the people could cross over from their wilderness wanderings into the land promised as their home.  The Jordan River flows the eastern length of the Holy Land – originating in tributaries beyond the Sea of Galilee as far north as Mount Hermon, and flowing south into the Dead Sea.  From their spot in the desert, the only way into the Promised Land was through the Jordan River.  It likely sounded like a crazy plan.  Choose one man from your tribe.  All twelve together then, grab hold of a corner of the ark of the covenant.  Those twelve were to walk right into the Jordan, that likely was a mile wide during the time of harvest when its banks overflowed.  “And trust me now,” says Moses’ successor, who was so new he likely was still wet behind his ears.  “God’s gonna stop the mighty Jordan from flowing.  On dry ground we’ll all cross over – the men, women, children, and herds of animals too.”  The priests are instructed to wade into the water.  Pay no attention to the possibility of snakes and sink holes.  Stop then, and stand still.  Soon the waters shall be cut off from the north to stand in a single heap.  After all, they’re carrying the ark of the covenant.

The ark of the covenant was a gift of the wilderness.  Like an artifact of faith, it got built at God’s instruction to house the tablets of the law given Moses on Mount Sinai.  Covered in gold with a solid gold throne for God on top of it, it was made portable from the start.  Placed in the exquisite tabernacle tent with an extra screen around it for added protection.  The ark was carried all through the wilderness as the people journeyed in stages from their slavery in Egypt to their new home.  In the day when the cloud of God was on the tent of meeting or at night when the fire could be seen in the cloud; folks remained in the camp.  The glory of the LORD was filling the tent, infusing the ark, enveloping all the holy accoutrements made for the ritual approach of God.  The Presence of the LORD, the God of all the earth, was fully in their midst.  Like a travel guide waiting to tell them when next to fold up camp to move on.  When the moment came – when the cloud rescinded from the tent; the ark and everything else would be packed up and moved to be set up at the next spot along their way.  Symbols of God dwelling in the midst of a people on the move, it all traveled with them as they went.  . . .  Imagine the scene then near Jordan, as those twelve men take up the ark of the covenant.  Its gold gleaming in the autumn sun – they set foot into the water.  In a sense, they were carrying the very Presence of God.  The box-like structure that reminded them of God’s promise to be their God as they did all they could daily to be people putting into action the ways of the LORD.

As a people of God today, we don’t carry around the ark of the covenant any longer.  It was destroyed the first time the Temple in Jerusalem was sacked.  Later in the story, to remind the people that even without the tangible object; the Presence of God, the LORD of all the earth, remained in their midst.  As a comfort, the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that God would renew the covenant.  It needed it, after all; as the people hadn’t lived up to their end of the bargain.  (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  This time it wouldn’t take a moveable ark to remind us.  Rather, we would carry within the promise of the LORD.  Not on tablets of stone, but on our hearts would be written the ways of God.  In our insides.  So that wherever we go in the world, together or apart, God shall be our God and we shall do daily all we can to be the people of our LORD.  The promise resides within.  The Presence of God steadier in us than the beat of our own hearts.  . . .

It’s another thing we carry – God in us.  In our daily hustle and bustle it might be easy to forget.  Like the priests at the Jordan, holding a power mightier than they might have imagined, we carry a Presence powerful enough to stop rushing waters.  Like the cloud-covered symbols of the tabernacle showing when God’s time to move has come.  Like a little piece of God lodged in our insides.  The spark of Divinity, the Spirit of the Holy, the Breath of the Living God of all the earth, is in us.  Take that in for a moment:  that the LORD God wants to be in us – living and moving and experiencing the world through our particular bodies.  Being seen by others through us as we help others no matter our differences.  And protect the weak.  And truly are neighborly and accepting and generous.  . . .  May our actions answer what we carry.  May our hashtag be seen!  We carry the Presence of God within.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)