Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost
Year B – June 17 2012
David H. Knight, Priest Associate
In the Name of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“We are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:6
One of my favorite Anglican theologians, Yogi Berra, once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” It’s true. We can. We can observe, for example, the faith, and it’s often the quiet faith, of someone in such a way that we become inspired by their example. That person’s faith that we observe can be a source of strength to our own faith. Some of the most important lessons I learned about life were those from my mother and father. As I read today’s lessons, what came to my mind was the fact that my mother continued to teach some of life’s mot important lessons right up to the final days of her earthly journey. Now, over the years my mother was not always right, but she was seldom, if ever, in doubt. When I was a teenager, of course, she wasn’t right all that often, but an amazing thing transpired. I returned from my first year in college to discover that something had happened to my parents. And what had begun to happen to them during my first year away from home continued as I grew up and grew older. It was during the year of 1963 to 1964 that a transformation had begun to take place. I came home and began to notice that my parents had grown. They had grown in wisdom and in stature and continued to do so as the years progressed. It was remarkable. Remarkable, indeed how much they had learned!
It would be some years later when my mother began to teach those around her yet another powerful lesson. It was the fall of 1993. A year earlier they had sold the family home at 20 Nielsen Laneand had moved into a continuing care retirement community their hometown of Lenox, Massachusetts. There they were looking forward to some years of care free living. In September of ’93, however, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer that was inoperable. She elected to undergo a protocol of chemotherapy in the hope that it might give her some quality time, and in her case it did. She began to respond very well and had nearly 4 years of quality life. Her attitude was positive. She had a wonderful sense of humor which in no small way brought quality to her life and the lives of those around her. On the cupboard over the kitchen sink she posted a little sign that read, “Laughter is the calisthenics of the soul.” I think she found that somewhere in the writings of Norman Cousins, journalist and long-time editor of The Saturday Review magazine. She was determined to live as long as she could as my dad was becoming increasingly frail. One day during one of the many conversations we were to have she told me about what someone said to her one day as her treatment began to run its harsh course. So often, as you know, people want to be helpful in the things they say. A well meaning friend said to her, “Lois, remember, God never gives us more than we can bear.” I could see the look in my mother’s eyes as she quoted the well meaning friend. Knowing my mother as I did, I began to imagine what her response must have been. My mother, you see, was never very good at beating around the bush. I said, “Mother, what did you say to her?” She said, “I told her in no uncertain terms that God had nothing to do with giving me my cancer, these things happen in life, but I can tell you this, that God right now is giving me the strength to go on and to face what I am facing.” She had become aware of the abiding presence of a merciful God. With determination and with her vintage sense of humor she met the debilitating treatments head on without surrender for as long as she could, grateful for those around her and grateful for the prayers that she said sustained her each day.
I think most of us have difficulty with easy explanations for why bad things happen to good people. The notion that God does not give us any more than we can bear makes little sense given the nature of a merciful God. Why would a loving God do that? Why would a loving God test us in that way? Why would a loving God bring suffering upon us just so that we might become stronger as we so often hear? Such notions make no sense. Observing the faith such as my mother’s simply confirmed once again, and in a powerful way, the reality that a merciful God does not willingly afflict God’s Creation. For that matter, my father also continued to teach me lessons of grace and patience even as his memory failed. As he became increasingly confused certain things remained, however. He remained patient through all and he was ever grateful for the smallest kindnesses of others.
God is present in the midst of whatever life brings. It is by God’s grace that you and I may remain confident
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the church gathered inCorinthcontinues the proclamation that God is a merciful God. In last week’s passage from the Book of Genesis, we heard how God, a God of judgment yet still a God of mercy, sets boundaries for human behavior. In her sermon last Sunday, Eleanor spoke of how we ask for God’s mercy when we acknowledge what we have done to cause brokenness and how we find that God is merciful, but not with cheap grace, as Dietrich Bonheoffer puts it, but with mercy that empowers us to move forward in obedience to that mercy. God’s mercy does not end with punishment, but rather it continues, as Eleanor said, with God’s abiding presence that removes our shame and enables us to become whole once again. God comes to us offering mercy.
In this week’s readings, we hear again of that abiding presence of a merciful God. It is a merciful God who gives to you and to me hope at those times when most we want to find hope in the midst of all that life brings. It is a God of mercy and love that is present with us as we face the chances and changes of this life
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
As my theologian friend has said, you and I can observe a lot by watching. We can see all around us as the eyes of our hearts are opened, as God works in the lives of others as well as in our own lives each and every day. We need only to look at the life of Jesus who, with his mercy, compassion, and obedience to God’s will, points us to a God of mercy, a God who never brings suffering upon us, yet with an abiding presence gives us the strength to face what life brings, and to do so with patience and without surrender.
We discover as well, for example, in today’s gospel reading in the parable of the mustard seed how a very small seed can grow and become something that gives life to other. You see, you and I never know how something we say or do might just be what brings God’s grace and mercy to someone else.
How then, might you and I observe the faith in another person’s journey in such a way that we find our own faith strengthened? How then, does Jesus’ life and ministry inform and inspire our faith? And how might you and I be a beacon of hope that others might have a glimpse of God’s mercy even in things we cannot readily see. We can be confident
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
In the words of the hymn we just sang,
O day of God, draw nigh in beauty and in power
Come with thy timeless judgment now to match our present hour.
Bring to our troubled minds, uncertain and afraid,
the quiet of a steadfast faith, calm of a call obeyed. Amen.
(Hymn 601, Stanzas 1 & 2)