Sermon III Pentecost June 30 2019
Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
What a week! Starting this past Monday, the bucolic cloister of Emmanuel’s campus was transformed by our Vacation Bible School into a flurry of singing, laughing, and all kinds of awesome noise made by God’s people at work. I’m absolutely amazed and blessed by how this year’s VBS turned out and I know that our students and volunteers were themselves blessed by their reflections on the different ways Our Lord, Jesus taught his disciples to ‘Love Thy Neighbor’. Throughout the week, the students were led in class centers focusing on several teachings of Jesus, from the parable of the Good Samaritan to the story of our friend Zacchaeus. Our prayer throughout the week was that the goodness and beauty of the Gospel would take root in the lives of our entire VBS so that our ministry together would bring an increase in God’s love to all the neighbors around us.
It’s pretty satisfying, then, that our lectionary cycle of readings contains the very theme we spent so much time on. Did you catch that this morning during our reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians? As he used his pastoral role and theological ability in this letter to draw that ancient church away from the false teachers that had plunged that community into dissension, he reminded them all that to be in relationship with the one true God, to live in His grace and love was to abide in the truth that: “…the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
This statement, on its face, seems like a no brainer. We like love, right? We like to hear songs about it, we like to watch movies about it, we like to say that we love each other, and so on. But as meaningful as those things can be, it turns out that actually loving people is kind of hard, especially when they have the nerve to think different things than us. Look at the very next verse from Galatians. He wrote: “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” It’s safe to say that he knew that that community was in the middle of eating itself alive, and had begun to exhibit the results of living outside of love for each other. When we read that laundry list of naughty things, we might understand them us things we do in selfishness, in opposition to the Spirit that increases in us true love and charity. Those fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, these are things that increase the love of our neighbors and increases the glory of Christ and his love in the world.
St. Paul’s work here once again reminds us that a life spent under the yoke of Christ is to live in constant remembrance of the primal importance of love, the difficulty of extending it and the help we hope for in growing into it. As we say, it’s a process. Look at the folks who were closest to Jesus, literally hanging out with him 24/7, and see that even they didn’t get it right. St. Luke recorded an episode when Jesus and his mates were traveling and some Samaritans did not receive him with appropriate hospitality. Samaritans and Judeans, like Jesus and his friends, didn’t get along so it’s not actually surprising, historically speaking. But the disciples take the slight to the next level, don’t they? Jesus usually counseled humble restraint at this kind of thing (see later in Luke Chapter 10 for more details). But the disciples basically offered another option: which is to wipe the settlement from existence with fire from actual heaven. Jesus wasn’t having it. His love sees the whole picture, his love doesn’t write folks off without a chance, and his love was as available to the Samaritans (even if they rejected it in moment) just as it is available to us (even as we reject it time and time again).
But maybe imagining Jesus at work with his disciples is a little too removed for you. I get it: we don’t do a lot of walking around from village to village these days. But here’s a question: what’s in front of us all the time that we can see how people are more inclined to biting and devouring rather than love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? I would offer that our habits on social media are a great way to measure how serious we are in the desire to love our neighbors. I confess that I have left social media behind in most regards because of my very real impulse to dunk on folks, call them out, and basically steal joy with my iPhone. Your mileage may vary of course and I’m not saying that you should abandon social media (though many folks report an increase in overall happiness and a decline in anxiety), but if your feed is marked by biting, devouring, quarreling, and the like, prayerfully consider asking the Lord to be your content advisor. It might be necessary to start letting the Samaritans (whoever that may be) in your feed ride rather than writing that post that’s white hot with fire from heaven. It might even be better to invite folks into your actual presence to enjoy life together. That is, after all, a staple of how Jesus lived his life.
Of course, that’s a fairly specific example. There are always a million more ways we act on the impulse to bite, devour, and rain fire from heaven. But today and tomorrow, and throughout our week, when we meet those that trouble us, may we ask God to rain His love on us and therefore those troublesome other humans, rather than raining his holy fire on them. I pray that we would open our hearts to the Spirit so that the same would increase in us great love, that we would be a part of the increase of the love of God’s Kingdom in the world, and that we would lay aside all those things that would distract us from that heavenly inheritance. In that Spirit of love and charity, I thank you for another amazing VBS and I pray you have a safe and happy Fourth of July holiday.
To God be all glory. Amen.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church The Very Reverend David Bumsted