A Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, October 10, 2021

By: David H. May, Rector

 

“…for God all things are possible.”

The young man who comes to Jesus today is one of the most beguiling and attractive characters in all of the Gospels. His wealth could easily have led to pursue a less noble life than the one he describes. He’s a good man who has learned the commandments of God and lived by them since he was a youth. There’s nothing about him that sounds like a stick in the mud moralist – you know the kind of person who is overly interested in the speck in your eye while blissfully indifferent to the log in their own eye. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity when he says he has kept the commandments faithfully since he was a boy. He certainly doesn’t strike Jesus as a self-righteous braggart. No, Jesus looks at him—a young man, just coming into his own as a person wanting to set his compass to point him towards that which is of most, towards those things which will abide, eternal things. And Jesus looks on him and loves him. The Lord didn’t use words, but whoever was there and remembered what happened that day and passed on the memory saw it in the Lord’s face—he loved him. And no words were needed.

But the young man’s first question to Jesus—what must I do to inherit eternal life?—shows that he is on the wrong path. An inheritance—money, property, your name even—con only be given. You can’t do anything to force an inheritance. You can’t force your mother to re-write her will so that you will inherit her wedding ring and your sister will not. Oh, I suppose one could contrive a scheme to set that in motion. But supposing you succeeded? It would never be a freely given gift, a blessing, an inheritance. How could that wedding ring every really sparkle on your finger after acquiring it that way?

An inheritance is a gift given: a legacy of loving loyalty.

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A Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, October 3, 2021

By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation

 

“Good Lord, Amelia. This is biblical.” That was my aunt’s text to me.

It was a Sunday night, and I was sitting at the emergency vet with our then 12-year-old yellow lab, Ruth, and two very tearful children. An hour earlier we had all been sitting in the living room when she was suddenly unable to stand. If you are a dog person you know this is the stuff that strikes fear in your heart. My aunt is a dog person and I had texted her knowing that she’d understand.

The Sunday before had been begun a week of unbearable sadness. We were together in the same living room when I had to tell my children that their father had died. Ruth had dutifully nudged and loved on each one of us as we sat there together. And now we were tearfully nudging and loving on her. Willing this problem to be fixable. Praying that this would not be the night to say goodbye too.

Looking into the faces of my terrified children, running the scenarios of how this could all play out in my head, feeling the sorrow heap upon sorrow, it did feel a bit “biblical” as my aunt had suggested. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I got down and whispered into my sweet dog’s ear, “Not tonight. No ma’am. Not tonight.”

Of course, my aunt was referring to Job whose story we begin in the lectionary today. Job, the blameless and upright man who feared God, who suffered mightily in the course of his biblical narrative. He is a Scriptural symbol and even secular code word for suffering, and I would guess that we are all familiar enough with his story.

Thankfully Ruth pulled out of that night and bless her she’s still with us today. And I can say with certainty that we definitely don’t deserve her because she is as blameless and upright a creature in this Kingdom as Job.

Job loses everything, his family, his home, his livelihood as the story unfolds. Job’s suffering is deeply relatable to us all, whether we’d like to own up to it or not. Job did not escape tragedy and losses through his good behavior or even the goodness of his heart. There was no way for Job to manifest good fortune for himself by changing his attitude or meditating or giving money to some cause.

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A Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 26, 2021

By: David H. May, Rector

 

In the three-year pilgrimage we make through the Bible with the readings assigned for Sunday mornings, the Book of Esther is heard from exactly one time. So, unless your church attendance hits just right, it’s possible that you may never have heard this reading or been introduced to this strange and beautiful story.

Esther has perplexed both Jewish and Christian commentators for at least two millennia. For example, you may have noticed that there is no mention of God in the reading we just heard. In fact, God is not mentioned at all in the entirety of the ten chapters. Not once. The great rabbis who translated the Hebrew into Greek in the late 3rd century before the birth of Jesus took dubious notice of this as well and tried to make it into a more specifically ‘religious’ book by adding to the original text. They inserted mention of prayer and fasting and religious observances in their translation in the hope of polishing up its religious credentials a bit.

I suppose that’s understandable, but it’s possible that God was content to inspire the writing of this book with no thought of including his own name for a reason. Perhaps God doesn’t have to always be in the business of ‘taking the credit’ (or the blame!) for this or that human experience of blessing or curse. I had a classmate in seminary who became a good friend but who also had this habit of taking my words and thoughts and treating them a little like the rabbis who translated the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek: he had to ‘religious up’ my thoughts. ‘Do you see how the Holy Spirit was leading you, David?’ ‘There the Lord’s hand was all over what you just said!’, or, ‘do you see what my prayer for you has done?!’ He was a good and faithful man who spoke entirely in earnest exclamation points. But honestly, sometimes I thought his piety must surely be grating to the Lord God Almighty who might rather that we take some responsibility too for living our lives.

Rather than ‘religious-ing up’ this text by shoe-horning it into the tale of a godly woman’s travail and victory or layer onto it our own expectations of what the Bible is supposed to sound like, maybe it would be better to simply let the story of Esther have its say.

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