Monday, July 08, 2013

Sermon, 7 Pentecost/Proper 9/ Luke 19:1-11, 16-20

During this long Season after Pentecost, I asked you to listen for the connections between the first lesson and the gospel.  I said that sometimes those connections would be easy to find and other times they would be difficult.  This is one of the more difficult times with Isaiah talking about the restoration of Jerusalem and Jesus sending out missionaries before him.  To be honest, I wasn’t able to make any kind of connection and turn it into a sermon.

Thankfully today’s gospel is full of material.  From focusing on Jesus’ travel plans, to God’s need for us to work for the kingdom, to complete trust in God to the joy that comes from total commitment, there is no shortage of material on which to preach.  With all of that material just waiting to be harvested, it certainly would have been easy to preach a missionary sermon.  It would have been easy to preach on how the harvest is just as plentiful today with just as few laborers as it was in Jesus’ day, and how we need to get out there and get to work.  

Instead, I found myself drawn to verses 5-7:  Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house.”  If anyone shares in peace, your peace will rest on them.  Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide.  Do not move from house to house.
For some reason this has been a week for faith and doubt.  I’ve talked with people about being spiritual but not religious.  I’ve talked with people about trying to understand how a loving God can hate a specific group of people.  And I’ve talked with people about the divinity of Jesus.  All of those conversations kept bringing me back to verses 5-7.
Remain.  Remain at the house where you are welcomed.  Remain there and eat what is provided. Remain there and do not move from house to house.
Peace to this house.  This was to be the greeting of the missionaries to the homes they went to.  It sounds like there was an assumption that they just showed up, knocked on the door and greeted the people with this blessing.  If that greeting wasn’t rejected outright, the missionaries were welcome.  St. Augustine picked up on the randomness of this and said, “Since we don’t know who shares our peace, leave no one out, set no one aside.”
This speaks not only to “out there” evangelism, but to “in here” welcoming.  The missionaries were looking for a house of peace.  People who come here are also looking for a house of peace.  We need to take Augustine’s advice and extend our peace to all who enter these doors, leaving no one out, setting no one aside; for God is the God of love who yearns for people to seek him out, and woe to us if our behaviors and attitudes keep people from drawing closer to God.
This should lead us to some self-examination.  Are we a house of peace?  Do people who are searching see or feel the presence of God here?  Do we have any hidden behaviors or attitudes that would keep people from coming close to God?
As I said, this has been a week for faith and doubt.  Part of religious doubt comes from trying to reconcile ancient stories with our modern sensibilities.  Or it comes from the belief that churches are full of hypocrites:  people claiming to love their neighbors but then acting in ways that are discriminatory, bigoted and judgmental.  But if we are a house of peace, then those people who are searching and struggling with doubt can have a safe place in which to question.  And it’s in the questioning that we learn.
Here’s where I think this gets interesting:  Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide.  Do not move from house to house.
Our doubts lead us to question; and questioning is okay, it’s how we learn.  I think the trouble comes when we demand immediate answers to our questions; or we desire easy answers that make us feel good.  This, I believe, is at the heart of church shopping and hopping.  People say they are looking for a place that feeds them.  What they often mean, I think, is that they want a place that only offers what they like.
But if St. Luke’s is a place of peace, then the admonishment to not move from house to house applies to us as much as the missionaries.  Jesus tells us to remain here.  Remain in this house of peace.  Remain with your questions and doubts.  Remain with those already here and struggle with us as we work through our questions and doubts together.  Remain here and eat and drink that which you are freely given.  Remain here and eat and drink with us those holy mysteries which are the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Think back to the second Sunday of Easter.  Do you remember the gospel for that day?  In a word – Thomas.  Thomas had questions.  Thomas had doubts.  He was not with the other ten disciples who met Jesus in that house with the closed and locked doors.  He did not believe their testimony.  He wanted proof.
But notice that Thomas did not leave that house for another one.  That house held his support system.  That house held his friends and spiritual family.  That house was a house of peace.  Jesus himself said, “Peace be with you,” as he entered.  And that house was big enough to hold his questions and doubts.
We are all at varying stages of faith and belief.  Some believe that the earth was created in a span of 144 hours and is only about 6000 years old.  Some believe that the earth has evolved over a period of 4.5 billion years in a universe that is 13.77 billion years old.  Some believe that there is no valid religious barrier to full equality between race, gender or sexual orientation.  Some believe in full equality as long as everyone is heterosexual.  Some believe in the virgin birth, while others are not so sure.
Faith is an interesting thing.  Aspects of it change over time.  We see things differently as we grow and change.  Our faith must be strong enough to maintain a sense of certainty, but it must not be so weak that everything must be certain.  It must also be strong enough to welcome doubts, but not be so weak that those doubts erode it away.
As I said, this has been a week for faith and doubt.  This week has reminded me that it’s important for you to know that we can live into the tension of faith and doubt.  We are not a house where everybody thinks or believes the same.  We are not a house that demands strict adherence to a tightly defined list of authorized and approved beliefs.
We are a house that allows different opinions.  We are a house that welcomes questions and doubts.  We are a house that welcomes people, as St. Augustine said, without setting anyone aside.  At our core, we strive to be a house of peace.
Remain here with your faith.  Remain here with your questions and doubts.  Remain here and eat and drink of the holy food provided.  Remain here.
Peace be with you, and peace be upon this house.


Anonymous | 5:47 AM, July 09, 2013  

Thank you for writing this, and thank you for putting it up here. I bounced around churches for a while, because I did not feel that a blessing was extended anywhere. Spiritual vagrancy was easier, except for on Slacktivist, and I'm really not sure that counts. But here (although some hours from St Luke), I think it might be time to admit defeat, of some strange and joyful sort, and go knock on the Episcopal church just off campus. (Er, sorry, the login does not want to work with me, for some reason.)

Reverend Ref + | 12:47 PM, July 10, 2013  

Thank you.

Based on the reaction from the parish, this was one of my better sermons.

"Joyful defeat" -- I like that.

Blessings in your journey.

SisterCoyote | 2:43 PM, July 14, 2013  

Thank you again. I'm wandering back because I do not think I have ever gone to a church that was both welcoming and sincere and still cared about the Word. I kept bracing myself for the "...except for you" after the "All are welcome," but it didn't come, and although I should probably feel like a heretic, Episcopal services being just about the opposite of Baptists, I don't. So - thank you.

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