Sunday, October 25, 2015

October 25, 2015 - Proper 25B

In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            What’s the best meal that you’ve ever had? For me, it was at an Italian restaurant a few blocks from where we lived in Alexandria, Virginia. We eat several times a day, and so it can become routine. But when we have one of those truly exceptional meals, they tend to stick with us. What’s the most beautiful thing that you’ve ever seen: perhaps a piece of artwork in a museum, a sunset in the mountains, a star-filled sky on a clear night, your spouse on your wedding day? Again, our eyes are so used to seeing things that when we are presented with true beauty, it stops us in our tracks. Taste and vision are powerful senses, and perhaps that is why the Psalmist wrote “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Sunday, October 18, 2015

October 18, 2015 - Proper 24B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            This is a full day here at St. Luke’s: we’re continuing our sermon series on Job, we’re launching our financial stewardship efforts, and we’re celebrating our church community as we commemorate our patron, Saint Luke. There is a theme though that will run through all of these topics: gratitude. Gratitude is something that I’d like you to keep in your mind, well, always, but especially so over these next several weeks.

            You’ll recall that Job’s faithfulness is being put to the test. Though Job has gone through tragedies, none of these events were the result of his actions. As wisdom literature, the book of Job helps us to see God in new ways. Last week, we heard Job speaking to his friends, claiming that he wanted a chance to plead his case before God. Our reading this morning is God’s response to Job. Chapters 38-41 record God’s speech to Job, and I’d highly recommend reading the full speech when you get home this afternoon. God’s response to Job is yet another example of us needing to readjust our expectations of God.
            Job is questioning God’s sense of justice. And how does God respond? It isn’t with a legal or logical defense of God’s actions. No, instead of answering Job, God takes Job on a safari. God shows Job the power of storms, the depths of the oceans, the dimensions of outer space, the beauty of stars, the loveliness of goats and deer, the strength of an ox, the speed of an ostrich, the soaring wonder of eagles’ wings. Instead of answering Job’s question, God replies with a question to Job, and us – “Did you make these things? Do you sustain these things? Are you more powerful than they?” God reminds Job of his place in Creation.
            The universe is unfathomably old and large. The universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old, and humans have existed for about 200,000 years. If you condensed the time of the universe into a clock, our existence wouldn’t even take up one second. On size, it’s really difficult to put it into terms that have any real meaning. If the earth were shrunk to be the size of a grape, the sun would still be 163 yards away and the nearest galaxy would be a trillion miles away. And that nearest galaxy is just one of roughly 100 billion galaxies that are out there. Given the factors of time and space, we aren’t even a blip on the radar.
That’s not quite the response we might have expected from God. I would have preferred that God explain things in terms of love and free-will. Even a statement like “I have my reasons, but you can’t understand them” would have been expected. Instead, we have a puzzling and frustrating response. St. Teresa once said to God “If this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.”
But we would misread God’s response to think that God is saying “You don’t matter in the scheme of things, so get over it.” There are two things to take from God’s response to Job. The first is that God is God, and we are not. We only have our perspective. Mine are the only eyes through which I will ever see this world. Sure, I can talk to others, I can study biology or read literature to understand people and the natural world better, but I will never fully see things from their perspective. You will never know what it like to be a starfish or an asteroid. Ignorance is a part of the human condition, and when we make it all about us, we commit idolatry. God’s speech to Job reminds us that we don’t have all the facts, so a bit of humility will be helpful.
The more powerful thing to glean from God’s speech though is that God is with us. Yes, the size of Creation is beyond comprehension and God is grander than our intellects will ever grasp, and yet God still talks to Job. God knows that Job is suffering and is with him in that. God still heard the cries of the Hebrew people in Egypt. God spoke to the prophets. God came to us in Jesus. God hears your prayers, cries with you, loves you. One of the things that I find most problematic with the way we approach science and philosophy is to assume that there is a separation between us and God; that somehow God is outside of the universe and we are inside of it. As the Psalm today proclaims, light is God’s cloak and God rides the wind. It has been said that “God is closer than your jugular vein.” God is present in every moment. Every atom was created out of God’s love. God’s answer to Job is the wonderful proclamation that God is always with us, and for that, I am grateful
So with those themes of humility and gratitude in mind, I’d like to pivot to stewardship. The theme for our stewardship efforts this year is gratitude. Gratitude is born out of humility. Without an acknowledgement that we are not self-sufficient, we can never truly be thankful. As God reminds Job, we are not our own masters. We did not choose to be born, nor did we create ourselves or the world in which we entered. We are created, we are loved, we are redeemed. These are things not that we asked for or earned, but rather have been given by God.
Our stewardship efforts are rooted in a passage from 2 Corinthians that says “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Let’s start with the first part of that sentence: Each of you must give as you have made up your mind. Giving is something that we need to actually think about, as it doesn’t always come naturally. You should have received a stewardship packet in the mail this week, and if you didn’t, there are pledge cards near your seat. But before you fill that pledge card out, the Stewardship Committee asks that you give it some thought and prayer. And in addition to the pledge card, we hope that you’ll fill out a gratitude card. No need to put your name on those cards, but think about a recent moment of gratitude. Think about a recent example of God’s grace and love that you’ve noticed. Then consider your pledge to church – remembering that everything comes from God and is in God.
There is a reason why we don’t do “donation drives” in the church, instead we do Stewardship. A steward is a person who holds a gift in trust for someone else. Your life, your skills, your income, those all belong to God. Yes, many of us have worked hard to get to places we are today. But just as God reminded Job, we did not create the world, nor did we create ourselves. Today, as we celebrate St. Luke and our parish, think about the ways in which we are stewards of God’s mission. As Jesus proclaimed the Good News in today’s reading, God brings good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. And this work happens at St. Luke’s. Here, God’s love is proclaimed, Habitat houses are built, children and youth learn about God, community is formed, Sacraments are celebrated, the Word is proclaimed, forgiveness and reconciliation happen, peace and healing are prayed for, and the Gospel is made known. That work excites me, and I hope it does you, too. You are a steward of God’s mission, and this stewardship effort is your invitation to join more fully into this good work.
The passage then says that we should give without being reluctant or under compulsion. I don’t do guilt. I don’t do shame. And I don’t do pandering. And I’m truly sorry if any of you have ever experienced stewardship as anything other than a wonderful opportunity to join in God’s work at the church. Giving isn’t about “shoulds.” I want you to give, and to give generously, because you have experienced the grace of God and want to respond faithfully. I want you to give because you want St. Luke’s to grow in the area of Christian Formation for our young people. I want you to give to St. Luke’s because you think that St. Luke’s is doing the work of God and you want to be a part of that. I want you to give so that you have control over your money instead of your money having control over you. But I don’t want you to give because you feel guilty, or because you want to buy your seat in the Kingdom, or because someone shamed you into it.
The passage then says that “God loves a cheerful giver.” Desmond Tutu once said that “Without us, God will not; Without God, we cannot; But with God, together we will.” When you give, you join the work of God in this world. And there is great joy and cheer in this work. When Job seems to be lost in his pain and grief, God comes to him and reminds him that he is not alone or forgotten. There’s a call and response that is often used in some churches – “God is good all the time; and all the time God is good.” And how true that is. There is so much goodness, and hope, and joy in God. Now, Job helps us to redefine this goodness not as being a divine version of Batman, but rather as being with us in our suffering and redeeming us through love. There is great joy in finding the love out of which we were created. There is a reason to be cheerful when we align our mission with the mission of God. When you give out of a sense of gratitude and with a prayer for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, there is indeed much to be cheerful about.
As we celebrate this feast day of St. Luke’s, let us pray for our parish: Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. We give you thanks for the legacy and future of this holy community, and pray for grace and wisdom to be faithful stewards of this place and in this time. Strengthen the faithful, O Lord, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Make us aware of your gracious and loving presence with us. Help us to remember with humility our place in the cosmos and with gratitude our place in your heart. Bless us in our stewardship efforts, that your will might be done at St. Luke’s for the glory of your name and to the benefit of our community. Be with us as we consider our giving, and make us cheerful givers. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

October 11, 2015 - Proper 23B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            As I mentioned last Sunday as we began our exploration of the book of Job, this Biblical book forces us to rethink our assumptions. We’ve skipped over 21 chapters since last week and today we have a speech by Job as our entry into the unfolding story. The premise of the book is that Job is being tested to see whether or not he will ever curse God for all the calamities that have befallen him. Job doesn’t quite curse God, but he does curse the day he was born. And then some of his friends come by to offer him encouragement and advice. Today’s reading is part of Job’s response to one of his friends. The book of Job invites us to go deeper into our faith, but doing so will require rethinking some of the most foundational aspects of our faith.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

October 4, 2015 - Proper 22B

In the name of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Imagine that you lost everything. You get into an accident on the way to work and your car is totaled. When you get to the office, you find out that you’ve been fired. So you go home, only to see several fire trucks in front of the place where your house used to stand. Tragically, all of your children also died in that fire. Your phone then rings and it’s your doctor calling you with the test results, and it isn’t good news. Then your neighbor comes over to you and says “What did you do to make God so angry at you?” You insist that your actions didn’t warrant such calamities, but everyone around you insists that this is all your fault. The question that haunts you is “Why did this all happen to me?”