August 14, 2016, 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Year C, Proper 15
August 14, 2016
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was


“Let us run with patience the race that I set before us…”

Good morning everyone!  It is really good to be back after a few weeks away.  Well, that is not maybe completely true.  I totally love you all, but maybe today I’d rather love seeing you via skype from the lake in Maine.  I usually find family vacation stressful, the indignities of modern air travel, traveling in general, the whole rigmarole is pretty stressful for me, and I usually return kind of depleted and anxious to get back to a sense of normality.  But this year, heavens, we had just a marvelous time.  The cousins, the weather, perfect water on the North Shore of Boston and a lake in Maine, a stack of books about this tall that I got to read…  Windy and I both found some real peace and relaxation and even fun.  We can be a pretty serious people and this vacation lightened us up a bit, so coming back to church on Thursday I even had some post-vacation blues (which is not my usual feeling coming back from New England).  And I am grateful for that feeling.  It was very real, this feeling of loss over something I usually don’t miss. These moments of transition, of moving from one phase to another, one mode of being to another can shine a light of understanding into ourselves and our situations.

The glimpse that I got returning to the glories of high summer here in the southern Willamette Valley is the long game.  The long game.  If you are a fly, the long game means thinking about the whole day!  For us, people, maybe it’s the five year plan, or until the kids leave home, or mom dies.  Or maybe the long game is all the way out to that day when you return to the heart of God yourself, light perpetual shining on you.  Or the long game is the lives of your children and their children and seven generations on.  I’ve preached on the Roman catholic cathedral down in LA, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the one with those tapestries of the Saints along the walls, spectacular, and the starting point of the design process was that the building was to last 500 years.  The long game.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with patience (or perseverance) let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Preach it Brother Paul!  Preach the long game.

We are not alone. You are not alone.  St. Paul calls it the cloud of witnesses, others call it the communion of saints, or the glorious company of apostles, the noble fellowship of prophets, the white robed army of martyrs… we are not alone.  We have companions on this journey, some are sitting next to you right now, others are walking into churches very different then ours, or are on the other side of the world and have never even imagined us.  Others have been dead for a thousand years and others are not even a dream in anyone’s heart yet, and yet they are with us, we are not alone so we can leave all of your baggage, just leave it, those things that weigh you down, we’ve got a long way to go.  Great is the mystery of faith!  “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us…”

The long game can be a hard row to hoe.  Our ecosystems, our institutions, our own selves, we ebb and flow, there are bullish seasons and bearish ones, it is hot sometimes and cold others.  We can be madly in love for a time, and settle into life along side each other for a time, and sometimes worse.  Nothing is static.  An amazingly deep spiritual realization has been unfolding for me over the past few months that is opening up the long game for me.  Want to hear it?  This is profound: sometimes things don’t go how you want them to.  Sometimes the way things should be, aren’t. Sometimes, and this is the one really shaking me up, sometimes you have to do things when you would rather be doing something else.  I guess it is never to late to grow up.

We have time, in the long game, to let things be as they actually are.  Not to be complacent, wrongs always need righting, but to allow things to be as they are before rushing in and making a mess of it all. I’ve talked to quite a few folks since I’ve been back, and the news isn’t all good.  Nerine broke her hip.  Someone else is anxiously awaiting some medical news.  Some transitions are happening.  And of course there is plenty of election anxiety, you know, all the comings and goings of life.  Over all, with all of that, I’m hearing a lot of people being pretty OK, even those struggling.  Nerine, 98, broken hip, and as spry as ever.  She’s home, doing great, wearing out the physical therapists.  While waiting for a diagnosis someone else is pondering, gently, fully even, the big questions.  A great blessing.  People are coming, people are going.  Christopher is off to Portland State in just a couple of weeks, to be so sad and happy at the same time!  And the elections… well I heard the writer Roy Blunt, Jr. commenting on folks looking past this year to the 2020 elections for satisfaction.  He said something along the lines of “Well, I am encouraged by their optimism that there will be elections in 2020.”  That’s looking at the long game for sure.

We’re an on-demand people in a long game world.  There is no “My Preferences” drop down menu for life.  There will be hardship.  Difficult times. Conflict!  St. Luke fed us a heaping dose of angry Jesus this morning. “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the Earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.” Doing what is right is not guaranteed to make you popular.  It might not earn you any respect.  You might even be considered foolish.  Or dangerous.  But there you are, what are you going to do, do the wrong thing for the short term gain, succumb to the temptations of lesser evil?

The long game means (gasp) failure.  Sometimes.  And is there a worse fate than failure in our culture?  But it happens. All the time.  Consider the vineyard of Isaiah’s beloved.  He cleared it, planted choice vines, and hewed a wine vat in the living stone.  Ah what a sight!  So beautiful, nothing like the promise of freshly tilled soil.  It takes real faith to put a seed in the ground.  When Luther was asked what he would do if he knew the world was ending tomorrow he reportedly answered, “Plant a tree.”  But what does Isaiah’s love song reveal?  What does his beloved’s land yield?  Bupkiss.  Nothing.  Wild grapes both sour and bitter and maybe poisonous, certainly hard to eradicate.   I shudder to think of the sour grapes being sown in our politics.  What is it going to be like when it is over, no matter who wins, how will we live as a nation, as people living together in this land?  And much closer to home, how many conflicts are alive in your life?  How many failures are looming?  How many things have you done and had done to you that you wish you could take back, or forget, or even forgive and be forgiven?  These are problems, the problems of life that only have long game solutions.  And the only solution that I know of that has any chance of working is, like most things this important, is very simple: faith.  Not blind belief, not submission to doctrine and dogma, but living, breathing, walking around in the world faith.

The same faith that led Israel through the Exodus, that toppled the walls of Jericho, that led Rahab to do the right thing and live is what will carry us for the long game (and we have the benefit of Jesus Christ).  Faith.  Faith is knowing, believing, wanting to believe that Jesus is with you, and knows you, carries you when you need it.  He is a pioneer, breaking the path on the way to God, encouraging us to patience and perseverance in the day in, day out joys and concerns of the lives we have been given.  It is the blessed assurance of faith that helps you commit to what is right, that keeps you from rising to senseless conflict or shirking from righteous ones.  It is faith that gets you to give more than you think you have to give.  To forgive even when it hurts (especially when it hurts).  Faith is what helps you say what needs to be said and keep silent when words would only make them feel worse and you better.  Faith allows you to open your mind to God’s unexpected truth revealed in unexpected ways by unexpected people.  Faith is being present in this very moment to what is actually happening, what you are actually feeling, and assures you that you are strong enough to bear it because He was strong enough to bear it all for everyone.  Faith has a lot less to do with believing in some right way then it does with trusting that the world is good, it is defined by love and that you have a place in it.  Faith is the long game changer.  You can suffer all sorts of trials and tribulations with that kind of faith.  You can love pretty monumentally, world changing, life changing love with that kind of faith.  With faith like Jesus Christ had and offers to us, you might even survive doing things you’d rather not be doing, because living with faith like that, its all for the glory of God!  AMEN