A Sermon for the Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost

By: David H. May, Rector


A man comes to Jesus, today, in quite a state, filled with such passion and such heart. God bless him. He even makes a little bit of a scene by flinging himself dramatically on his knees in front of Jesus. I guess we could be forgiven for thinking what’s going on with him is maybe a little too much, maybe a little too overwrought, the man is maybe a little too caught up in the drama of his own life with himself in the starring role. We could be forgiven, I guess, for wanting to roll our eyes a little bit and sigh, ‘oh brother’.

But his question for Jesus is one that matters to us too. A lot. What must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do to share in the love and goodness and wisdom that God is pouring out at every moment? What must I do to know God’s great goodness til it at last my heart is found in his heart always? What must I do? For this man, Jesus says that he needs to unload his possessions and take a deep breath and leave behind his old life and go ahead and jump right straight into the deep end – no wading in from the shallow end, little by little. Follow me, Jesus says. Jump. Let go of your life, stop trying to control so much, trust God with what comes next.

We do have our part to do in this world. We have our lives to live that God has given us responsibility for, yes. But maybe we forget too often that God has his part to do with each of us. Jesus words hold before us this promise. Let go of your life and the thousand was we all try to control what happens and what doesn’t, who acts the way we think they should and who doesn’t, and all the rest. You do what is yours to do. Let God do what is God’s to do.

I absolutely get that I am not ‘the ruler of the universe’. I am not in charge of figuring out how things should or should not happen. But that doesn’t stop me, from time to time, from acting like I am. Of course, I am far too polite, or just too squeamish, to actually say anything about how things happen that might sound judgmental. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking my own ‘if I were the ruler of the universe’ thoughts.

A couple of years ago in the spring time, I was home for the day. I was working around my yard and a chore I’d set for myself was to pick up the branches that the river birch in our front yard had been shedding. That included branches that the tree had shed but which had never made it to the ground. They were stuck way up in the branches of the tree. It’s a beautiful tree but I wondered why can’t it just shed its lower branches first, you know, in order, and not sort of willy-nilly? I started picking up some branches on the ground and as I stooped down I saw a perfect nearly white little egg. Perfect except it had been broken in half and was empty. I picked up the pieces in the palm of my hand to examine them and to consider the fate of the former passenger of the egg. A gust of warm soft air came across the yard, puffing up the trees and in the blink of an eye lifted the shell halves out of my hand and tumbled them to the ground. Oh well. Probably some stupid cat had gotten it.

I climbed up into the tree to pull some of the dead branches out of the tangle of living branches. I climbed higher and higher because, like I said, it doesn’t shed it’s branches in order. There were plenty of dead branches up higher. I got just about as high as I dared to go – actually probably higher than I dared. I heard my next-door neighbor call out, ‘what are you doing up there? Be careful!’

I reached out and shimmied along the last large branch I could climb on and saw something – a miracle or a disaster about to happen I couldn’t tell which. The branch I was on was nearly parallel to the ground and it branched into a Y shape. And right there, right where the single branch Y’ed into two branches was the most ridiculous bird’s nest I had ever seen. It looked like what you’d get if you had a handful of twigs and just plumped them down with very little thought. I don’t know what kind of bird makes a nest like this but obviously nest-making is not really ‘their thing’.

So maybe the empty broken egg on the ground below didn’t have anything to do with a stupid cat. Maybe it was just this precariously perched nest, this clump of twigs, that provided very little protection. You might think: well maybe it wasn’t a nest; maybe it was just a bunch of twigs caught in that little Y shape. And you might be right except that sitting right there in the middle of the twigs was one perfect round white egg – the sister or brother of the one below in color and shape. Inside was what could become a bird that could chirp and sing, dig grubs from the ground or chase down mosquitoes, and someday ride a breeze in flight.

That is if it could survive the peril of this half-baked excuse for a nest. I thought maybe I could fix up the nest a little, you know, improve it, and increase the odds of this little egg surviving. Or, ok, let’s assume a breeze doesn’t tumble it out: how is some brand new just-hatched baby bird supposed to be sheltered in this bunch of twigs. I really can’t stress enough how poor a nest this was. If this baby bird took one half of one step in any direction, he’d be on the ground and then a stupid cat would definitely come into play.

A big gust of wind came and I could feel the branch that the egg and I were on move and sway. And then I thought, hmmm, it may be that whomever laid this egg knows what she is doing in picking this spot and whatever my thoughts on the matter might be, has made this nest precisely the way it is meant to be made. There was the broken empty egg on the ground. But eggs get broken – there’s no way around that. And there was still this one egg with life in it.

A gust of wind picked up and blew hard for a minute. My choice was either to stay where I was and make sure the egg didn’t get tossed to the ground, or, climb down from the tree and let it be.

The Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ is ruach, which also means wind and breath. The Spirit of God is what first gave life to all life. It is the Spirit of God within all life that is giving life now and keeps life alive with every breath at every moment.

And it was that same Spirit blowing that day that maybe showed me God’s heart too.

With the wind blowing and blowing and the limbs of the tree tossing and moving and swaying, and as I watched that egg I thought I saw something. I saw the egg in the nest, but I saw something else, something like the earth, as delicate and precious as this egg and precariously perched in the ferocious cold vacuum of space, but filled with the promise of God’s life-giving Spirit, and placed right there by God in the shimmering darkness of space.

It is the Spirit who gives life and certainly doesn’t require that I be the ruler of the universe. Yet there is One, the source of all life, and who – remember the old hymn – whose eye is on the sparrow and I know he’s watching me…and you…(and Taliaferro that little baby-bird of a person who is to be baptized today) and this beautiful, beautiful world.

Jesus says to the man, and to you, and to me, follow me. Amen.