Year C, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8)
June 30, 2019
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
As opposed to the works of the flesh, “…fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”
Good morning everyone! You know it is going to be a good sermon when the preacher mentions “fornication”, “sorcery” and “drunkenness” in the first 30 seconds. We’ll get us some old time religion.
This is some big scripture today. Elisha taking up Elijah’s mantel. (That’s where the term comes from). St. Paul’s Fruits of the Spirit from his letter to the Galatians. And then from St. Luke, we hear of the Samaritan village’s close call with disaster (James and John, the Sons of Thunder, asked Jesus if they should call down fire on the village because they didn’t receive them) and then Jesus laying out the cost of discipleship (or at least the conditions of the disciple). In each of these readings (and in the celebration of the 4thof July this week) there is a distinct tension. It is a tension that we all feel, the tension between freedom and obligation; between the flesh – the human sphere and the spirit – the divine sphere; between putting ourselves as opposed to God and neighbor first. Why don’t we do what we know we should do? Why do we do what we know we should not?
Thuesday was the 8thanniversary of my ordination to the priesthood and today is the 48thfeast of my nativity. This is also a moment of transition for my family as Windy gets back to work outside the home. We are radically changing how we are homeschooling the girls and just as radically restructuring our home life. (What a gift and privilege it is to have someone home full time with younger children). This has brought about a moment of introspection and considering, of all sorts of stuff, but important for this morning, of where we are as our little incarnation of the Church (with a Big C), where we are corporately in our relationship with Jesus Christ and the mantle of ministry that He laid upon us.
Things are bumping here, the fruits of the spirit are abounding in this community, they really are, and in powerful ways, righteous ways. And it is easy to get excited about shiny new things. The new yurt, the lych gate and sign and pathway, the shed, the basement. But it really struck me the other day, thinking about the basement, and the sewer problem that precipitated the changed down there. From the beginning, the stated purpose for fixing the plumbing was Egan. You know what, it was never considered that since our plumbing couldn’t handle Egan, Egan had to go. Not a glimmer of that. There was not a microsecond of hesitation that we needed to fix it, and not for us, but because of the ministry we do here. Just ourselves could have used that sewer as it was for another generation, we probably wouldn’t have even known there was a problem. But that wasn’t the question posed. The question was, “what needs fixing?” You all made the right decision. And now, with this beautiful space, and with toilets that work (and if they don’t we have a much easier floor to clean up), we are set to be the host of the first woman’s only Egan site to provide safer shelter for the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable. Good job. (If you are interested in getting involved, let me know). And on top of that, there is just a lot of joy around here now. Watch for it. There is genuine love here. Your patience with our building projects and my management of them is remarkable. What incredible generosity. Half of the households in the parish gave to build a better basement. Like I said in the Tune Up, this is a great time to be at Resurrection.
Enter St. Luke. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” “Let the dead bury their own…” Or the real doozy, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Do you remember that that whole line of shirts and bumper stickers and coffee cups and such that said “Life is Good”? I don’t even know if they are still around (maybe a causality of the times). But it is true, even now, life is good. There was this little shop back in Massachusetts that had another line of t-shirts that expresses what my introspection at this point in life is making me ask. The shirts bore images of windmills, electric cars, smoke stacks notbelching smoke, pristine recycle bins, small farms all under the banner “It could be better.” Life is good. It could be better. It is a great time to be at resurrection. It could be better. (And by better I don’t mean hardwood as opposed to vinyl for the floors).
It could be better. We do a lot, individually and collectively; we could be doing a lot more, individually and collectively. What gets in the way? Jesus is very clear in Luke what following Him means (and he’s not even mentioning the cross yet). What gets in the way of us volunteering to have nowhere to lay our head in the name of Jesus Christ? What gets in the way of notburying the dead, or expanded in Elisha’s story, fulfilling familial obligations? What gets in the way that we don’t set our sights on God and God alone, keeping that tree on the far side of the field between the ox’s horns, or in modern times, lined with the gas cap on the tractor. (You look down or back while plowing or cultivating, feet of rows can be plowed under in seconds). What gets in the way of doing what we know needs doing even if everything else in the world, even our self-preservation instincts, are telling you to do precisely the opposite?
This could be about us, singly, individually. That is where I usually go, to self. What can I do. What can you do, what more can you the individual actor do. That’s the lay of the American landscape: me and mine. Where Emerson described the ideal and virtue of self-reliance, our culture has fetishized it: a side effect of free-market capitalism, or maybe that’s its point I don’t know… but all of this going on around here, the fruits of the Spirit bubbling over as they are, I’m seeing in a new way the possibility of we; the necessity of not being I, or you, but we, especially in this moment.
We can be hard. Maybe especially for liberals, with our sometimes desperate need for self-expression, our precious freedom of conscience, our individual moral code in principal being held as the ultimate statement of truth. If my principals match yours, or the system’s, ok, but if not, I feel no obligation to follow. We don’t like to follow, or at least we are not very good at it. Following is part of being we. Conservatives are better at we in some ways. They are better at subordinating the self to the whole. No doubt that can go terrifyingly wrong, but we, working under the discipline of we is stronger: we is stronger than me.
I’m getting the sense that this community is coming together in a new way. There is a lot more feeling of we around here. The mantel of leadership is being taken up in all sorts of ways. People are caring for each other in new ways. We are stretching in new ways. Taking on challenges. I don’t know, you all gave yourselves away with the basement campaign. You were asked and you answered. So many of us have participated in this moment in so many ways. Everyone has participated somehow, just being part of the story of this time in this place is participating…
What Paul is saying in the fruits of the spirit v. fruits of the flesh is that as humans we are, in some senses, free, but in other senses, we are enslaved. What Jesus is saying is that we need to be free, free of the encumbrances of the fleshy world, that we need to live inthe world not of the world. And in doing that, freeing ourselves of our obligations to mammon, we are freed for the service of others, we are free to take on the mantle of the servant of all.
I don’t have answers here. What I want to do is lay out a conversation about what we are supposed to be doing, about how it could be better. We have this beautiful place that has gotten a lot more beautiful. How are we going to use it? How are we going to allow God to use it, to use us? How are we going to get through the fear of scarcity (like we did with the basement)? How are we going to really, really have faith that we are a we, and that we, are stronger together, and that together we can leave our comfort zone, we can adjust our priorities, we can set our sights on the Commonwealth and not look back, together? How could it be better?
So that’s our work for the coming spell. First, we’ll finish up these spaces, but then, we’ve got some figuring to do. Some discernment. What is God calling us to be and do? We’ve gathered all of these resources. How are we going to use them? How are we going to bring others into the fold here, to share the light of Christ and to recruit into the workforce in the vineyard. The vestry will be thinking and praying. We’ve got a strategic plan in the works. Our annual giving campaign is under new management (Thank you so much Patty for all you have done; the Vestry will take its turn). We have these beautiful new spaces where all sorts of life giving, soul saving ministry is housed, and there is room for a whole lot more. We have the Holy Spirit of God’s Love in us and with us and amongst us. And there is a sin sick world all around, and suffering people right here, and just outside these doors, and across the country and around the world. Life is good. It could be better. Together, we can help. AMEN