Sermon 1 September 2019
O Lord Jesus Christ, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left unto us a memorial of thy passion: Grant us, we beseech thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When we last saw each other, I spoke to you about the rich symbolism sewn into the fabric of the letter to the Hebrews. We explored how the original author wove together the argument of the letter by pulling on several important threads of the tapestry of ancient Israel’s history, observance, and identity. Recall how I summarized the result of the author’s ultimate point: that the things God revealed to Israel are perfected in Christ, and thus the Church as perfected Israel should remain faithful. My point was to encourage the faithful to be mindful of the richness present to us in our own Sunday liturgy, to take it seriously as it our early Christian brothers and sisters did as well. Recall also, that I suggested that there was more to explore as a result of our reading from Hebrews last week and I suggested the resolution to a cliffhanger ending.
I am absolutely, 100%, sure, therefore, that the deep anticipation of today’s sermon was the chief source of apprehension this past week.
Maybe not. And I do confess that a weekend like this one, usually set aside for a solemn barbecue or cookout in remembrance of our labors, now taken over with the angst of hurricane prep, has wreaked havoc on what was looking to be a relatively elegant resolution to what we talked about last week. You can imagine then that I have been praying this sermon is the extent of the real damage inflicted by Dorian.
But the more I thought about it, the more I was watching anarchy spread from the epicenter of the weather channel, braving the intensity of a dehydrated Publix, and basically seeing many Orlandoans abandon reason in favor of Tom Terry memes, I realized that what the Letter to the Hebrews encourages, the result and zenith of all of its argument, is all the more germane to this weekend as we look to whatever the storm brings us. It’s right there in the first line:
Let mutual love continue.
Hebrews has been helping us to see that in Christ we are meant to be drawn into greater and greater contact with God, deepening our rapport with Him as we offer Him a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. If we take seriously the prospect that Christ does this as a result of God’s perfect love, it shouldn’t surprise us that our own love is the result of our being close to Him. And right now, with or without a hurricane, is a time when that love ought to be made manifest around us.
That’s where the little list of exhortation comes in as we continue in the lesson from Hebrews. We read several expressions of Godly love working out in the lives of the saints. Hospitality to guests represents the love God has for the sinner coming into the warmth of His presence from the cold of sin and death. Regard for the prisoner helps us to recall Christ’s intercession and faithful care for us despite our own transgression. The covenant of marriage is meant for the world to observe the faithfulness of God’s love in mysterious unity out of diversity of persons; each marriage working as icons of the Holy Trinity. Our living free of the love of money only sets us up to love God more, and remember his help in our need rather than under our own strength. The faithful are even encouraged to consider their leaders, folks like me perhaps, who are meant to represent God’s love in ways that inspire greater obedience to Christ – who remains the same in his great love, yesterday, today, and forever; no matter how much water is at Costco.
We might be forgiven for seeing these things as just good things that Jesus’ disciples do; and that’s ok for a start, I guess. But as we take inventory of our lives after we have come to know Christ’ love, we should really start seeing each choice, each behavior, each action great and small, each thing we do for one another, as little glimpses of heaven; just as each celebration of the Eucharist gives us a glimpse of the same. Indeed, as Christ gave Israel, and then us, the perfect vision of the character of God, so we should who were bought with a great price into his holiness be representing that same loving character of God to the angst-filled and love-deprived folks we meet every day. Again, let mutual love continue.
And as our lesson from this morning closes, we can actually observe the writer of the letter connect what we just talked about, the exhortation for good and loving works, back to that idea of worship and offering. We read:
“Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Thus, our very proclamation of Jesus’ good news, our offering together the Eucharist, and all that follows in our own self-giving acts of love are part of a package deal. In the minds of the leaders of the Early Church leaders, the writers of the New Testament, and therefore our Lord himself, we should know that the entirety of our lives are truly expressions of offering and worship. That’s why Sundays are important; that;s why weekdays are important too in the life of Christ.
With that in mind, I pray that the desire to represent the hope and love of Christ to the world would be our true work this labor day, and that the peace of our proclamation would help to calm the hearts of those overwhelmed by the stress of the storm. Keep each other in your prayers, as hurricanes and such are quite scary and dangerous. Keep the parish in your prayers as well as we seek to be Christ’s ambassadors in our beloved neighborhood. And should Dorian make a very unwelcome westward move closer to our fair shores, remember these words as you look to God for comfort:
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
May we, who have met true love and peace and Christ, be filled with the same this coming week.
In his name I speak, who lives and reigns world without end. Amen.
The Very Rev. David Bumsted
Emmanuel Episcopal Church