20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 24 October 22, 2017 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“Grace to you and peace.”
This morning we have a message of encouragement from our sponsor.
Psalm 96. Cantate Domino A song of David for the people of God. 1 Sing to the Lord a new song; * sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. 2 Sing to the Lord and bless God’s Name; * proclaim the good news of God’s salvation from day to day. 3 Declare God’s glory among the nations * and God’s wonders among all peoples. 4 For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; * he is more to be feared than all gods. 5 As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; * but it is the Lord who made the heavens. 6 Oh, the majesty and magnificence of God’s presence! * Oh, the power and the splendor of God’s sanctuary! 7 Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; * ascribe to the Lord honor and power. 8 Ascribe to the Lord the honor due God’s Name; * bring offerings and come into God’s courts. 9 Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; * let the whole earth tremble before God. 10 Tell it out among the nations: "The Lord is King! * God has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved; God will judge the peoples with equity." 11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder and all that is in it; * let the field be joyful and all that is therein. 12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, * when God comes to judge the earth. 13 God will judge the world with righteousness * and the peoples with God’s truth.
That’s a good Psalm. It is encouraging. With the world as it is, with our lives as they are, we need a word of encouragement. St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica, the one we heard from this morning, is likely the first letter that he wrote. It is the probably oldest part of the New Testament, written as early as 50 CE, only twenty years after the death of Jesus. And what are Paul’s first words in his first letter? Encouragement. “Grace to you and peace. We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…”
We all need a word of encouragement. The Thessalonians did because they felt all alone. They were a fledgling community of religious dissenters in a city that was thriving in the Pax Romana. That prosperity bred loyalty to Rome and to the Imperial cult. Paul, Silvanus and Timothy came and taught them a new way, the way of Jesus Christ. And while that way brought grace to them and peace, it was a soul peace, a peace in kairos, in God’s time that was offered. In chronos, in our time, in day to day life, in their larger community, peace for these would be elusive for a very long time, as it so often is for any people outnumbered by their neighbors. They needed encouragement.
The encouragement they got, however, was not the words of Paul. His words bore the grace, but they were not the source of grace. The source of grace was the Holy Spirit.
Do you take too much responsibility for things? Successes or failures, do you ascribe praise or blame mostly on your own effort or lack there of? I certainly do. Particularly when something doesn’t work out very well, all I see are the places I would have/could have/should have done better or different, because obviously it was within my power to make it all go exactly as I envisioned. That’s kind of arrogant, isn’t it? Well that’s what my therapist would tell me. And the same goes for when it does go well, does go as I wanted it to. “I did a good job!” meaning that it was all me that made it so. I don’t know. I think there is a lot more than we can ask or imagine going on in the world around us that has very little to do with us.
Welcome Morning by Anne Sexton There is joy in all: in the hair I brush each morning, in the Cannon towel, newly washed, that I rub my body with each morning, in the chapel of eggs I cook each morning, in the outcry from the kettle that heats my coffee each morning, in the spoon and the chair that cry “hello there, Anne” each morning, in the godhead of the table that I set my silver, plate, cup upon each morning. All this is God, right here in my pea-green house each morning and I mean, though often forget, to give thanks, to faint down by the kitchen table in a prayer of rejoicing as the holy birds at the kitchen window peck into their marriage of seeds. So while I think of it, let me paint a thank-you on my palm for this God, this laughter of the morning, lest it go unspoken. The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard, dies young.
Surely we have influence over the world around us, but it is so much more power of suggestion than control. Like we can get a child to stop or start some specific behavior, but we can’t change them, not for good or ill. That is not up to us. All of that is the wisdom and work of the Holy Spirit.
So we look out into our lives and we face our children, or our careers, our friendships or marriages, the parts of our bodies that don’t work like they used to, or death that looms out there on the horizon somewhere… yes we play our part but much of it, most of it, is not up to us.
In a way that is the most terrifying and discouraging news we could ever receive. You are powerless! Great.
But actually, it is great. In the gospel Jesus is asked about what we should give to Caesar and what we should give to God. Jesus was clear: give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. One of the titles the Roman Emperor took on was Kosmokrator, Creator of the Universe. That’s fine. The early Christians had fun with this and a title they used for God was Pantokrator, Creator of Everything. Everything.
When we rest in the glory of God; when we let Jesus into our hearts; when we relax and surrender to the Holy Spirit holding and steering and turning our lives and the lives of those we love and have trouble loving, and we let that be and we know our place in the world, what a wonderful word it will be.
Nothing easy in resting into the Lord. It is like relaxing right before the chiropractor snaps your neck wildly this way or that. It is like letting that rip tide take you out past the breakers before you start swimming parallel to the shore. It is like escaping from the old monkey trap. Do you know about those? It was a coconut shell tied to a stake with a hole big enough for a monkey’s hand. Baited with rice, the monkey slips an open hand in and grabs a fistful of rice, but a fist can’t slip out of the hole, not while holding on to something and no monkey will let go of a fistful of rice.
It is hard to let go. It is hard to let yourself be pulled from where you want to go and let yourself be taken where you are going, but that is the encouragement of Jesus Christ. Yes, we are subject to the whims of this world. But we are also the Subjects of the Kingdom of heaven, and the Holy Spirit has you if you’ll let Her. And Jesus Has you if you’ll let Him. And the Creator, the Pantokrator has you, and always has. The trees will topple, the mountains will crumble to sea, all of this will go the way of the world, but Jesus is only in this world, not of this world, and in that state, “rescues us from the wrath that is coming.” And that is an encouraging thought indeed.
Fishing in the Keep of Silence by Linda Gregg There is a hush now while the hills rise up and God is going to sleep. He trusts the ship of Heaven to take over and proceed beautifully as he lies dreaming in the lap of the world. He knows the owls will guard the sweetness of the soul in their massive keep of silence, looking out with eyes open or closed over the length of Tomales Bay that the herons conform to, whitely broad in flight, white and slim in standing. God, who thinks about poetry all the time, breathes happily as He repeats to Himself: There are fish in the net, lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.