Sermon – Jan 22, 2017

January 22, 2017
Jeremy Funk

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” This confession of faith falls near the end of today’s psalm, Psalm 27. This morning I want to reflect with you about seeing the goodness of the Lord here and now. I want to suggest that seeing the Lord’s goodness first has to do with trusting that God’s gifts to us are good, and second with seeking them out; then again trusting, then yet again seeking, then trusting again and seeking again—over and over.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation,” our psalm begins, “whom shall I fear?” God’s light recalls the first act of creation and reminds us that all life comes from the divine. God’s salvation recalls the Israelite liberation from Egypt and the journey to the promised land. Ongoing creative power and saving help are God’s fundamental, good gifts. They are life and freedom. They come to us because of who God is. When we trust God, we trust in one who by nature is life and liberation. So we do not need to be afraid. Across the Psalms we hear calls like this: You have saved my soul from death; and questions like this: Will the dust praise you? Of course the Christian claim is that God’s saving help has come to us in Jesus, who has died and risen to everlasting life. We too trust the God of the Psalms.

What are some ways that you pause to notice God’s fundamental, good gifts of life and saving help? Just this year Helen and I began writing down, on a new colored slip of paper for each day, something we are grateful for, or our happiest moment, that day. We’re collecting the paper in a jar and plan to read through our gratitude slips on New Year’s Eve. This practice helps me to stop and think about what I’m choosing to write down not only as a happy moment but also as part of the good gift of life God has given me.

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” After we have acknowledged the fundamental, good gifts of God’s creation and liberation, we live in God’s presence seeking out more of God’s good gifts. Verse 4 of Psalm 27 says, “One thing I asked of the Lord,” says the psalmist, “that will I seek after: / to live in the house of the Lord / all the days of my life, / to behold the beauty of the Lord, / and to inquire in his temple.”

So the presence of the Lord is a place to live in, a space to inhabit.

Helen and I meet monthly with a small group from Stony Run Friends Meeting. When we gather, we sit in silence, and out of the silence eventually each of us will share, in a way of speaking, how God is at work in our lives. One member of our group has said that her spiritual practice is to remember as often as she can that she is always in meeting for worship. That is, she is always in church, always ready to notice how God is at work within and through her.

According to our psalm, one quality of life in the Lord’s goodness is beauty, “the beauty of the Lord.” Certainly in the Old Testament a defining trait of Israel’s God is that the Lord is invisible. So for this psalmist, where does God’s beauty come from? One commentator suggests, “It is possible that the psalmist perceived and experienced God’s appearance and presence (God’s face) via the sunlight that shone in the temple and reflected off gold decorations.”

Given that the Lord is the Creator, it may be helpful to take “the beauty of the Lord” more broadly. Wherever beauty is, through that beauty we also see something of God’s beauty. So when we worship upstairs in our sanctuary, through the beauty that there surrounds us, we glimpse God’s beauty. And whether we’re upstairs or down here, when we exchange the peace of Christ with smiles, hugs, and greetings we experience through them something of God’s beauty. In the children and babies among us too we see something of God’s beauty: in Mackenzie, in Amiyah, in Hunter, and in Austin—and in the new babies that will arrive. I experience something of God’s beauty when I listen to music that stirs me. Certainly all of us could tell of times when we have known something of God’s beauty through the beauty in this world.

Another feature of life in God’s goodness, our psalm tells us, is knowledge or wisdom. The psalmist says that besides gazing on the Lord’s beauty, he also wishes to “inquire at [God’s] temple.” Later the poet prays, “Teach me your way, O Lord.” This psalmist may have inquired of God through a prophet or a priest at the temple. This psalmist wants to hear God’s word. In Jesus Christ we hear God’s living Word, and through the Spirit this word lives in our hearts. If we listen with ready ears, we may hear God’s Word preached or God’s word spoken in truth and love between members of our community. If we listen with ready ears or read with ready eyes, we can hear God’s word in Scripture. I have spent time listening to the Psalms in an audio Bible so far this year, mostly at lunch. I find that listening to the words of Scripture helps me to remember God’s goodness.

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” We see God’s goodness in the here and now by trusting God’s fundamental, good gifts of life and liberation, and then by seeking out or noticing others—signs of beauty, words of wisdom. Then we trust those and notice others, and then we trust and notice again and again and again.

In Psalm 27 the poet sings to a God whose nature and gifts enliven. But the psalmist faces enemies who want to do nothing but thwart God’s life-giving purposes: they want destroy him. That’s why he seeks protection in the temple. The psalmist is hounded by folks who want to put an end to him or at least to his good name—and those were pretty much the same thing in biblical times.

And despite all this trusting and seeking after God, even this psalmist wonders whether God will stick with him. He wouldn’t be human if it didn’t: “Do not hide your face from me,” our poet begs. “Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.” And finally, “Do not forsake me; even if my father and mother forsake me, you will not.”

Given our very human struggles to trust and seek after God, we need God’s own grace to imitate God with each other as best we can. We will do well to trust the Spirit of God in one another and to seek out God’s gifts in each other. I’ve learned a new angle on this practice from the improv introduction class Helen and I are taking. In just two weeks I’ve come to realize in a new way the importance of stepping forward in faith toward a partner in a scene and trusting in the goodness of whatever gift—in words, pantomime, or what have you—that the partner gives.

So let’s trust and seek out God’s goodness in one another. We already see goodness flourishing here, whether through Eva’s relationship with Franklin Square parents and children, or through Bertina’s nurture of this community. We notice God’s goodness in Andre’s leadership and in the music John and Anna provide to enrich our worship.

Our psalm winds to a close with the confession we’ve heard already today: “I believe that I will see God’s goodness in the land of the living.” Our psalm’s final lines call us to wait for the Lord. This is an active waiting, a courageous waiting. It’s the constant back-and-forth of seeking and trusting we’ve been talking about; it’s looking out for the goodness of the Lord. And I do see this goodness here, at Saint Luke’s. I’m grateful for the chance to keep trusting, looking, and waiting for it with you.

Sermon – January 8th, 2017 (Feast of the Epiphany)

Feast of the Epiphany (January 8th, 2017)
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
Rev. John Hayes

Today we celebrate the feast of Epiphany – traditionally 12th night of Christmas. We’re actually stretching it to 14 days, but all good things here below come to an end. The lights come down, the trees sit on curbs, the last gasp of holiday celebrating is exhausted. Its over; winter awaits.

The real cold and dark that wait is metaphorical. The world indeed is darker and colder. Who is not gripped by fear and anxiety? Unending violence in the Middle East and Africa, the butchering of innocents in Aleppo, the rising ecological crisis, the numbing round of shootings and car bombs, and again the heartbreak of racism in our country, and everywhere the cruel escalating gap between rich and poor and coming soon between rich and middle class. In a short two weeks power goes to a man whose judgment and character few trust and whose instincts and intentions many fear.

The promise of Christmas — God with us, peace on earth, goodwill among humanity everywhere —  ring hollow and empty this year. Where is God?

Today’s observance of the three magi’s journey following a star can feel like the worst kind of escapist religious kitsch, if we don’t dig deeper and open up the story, and see the sweep of the gospel message. St. Paul tells us this morning the point of the gospel is “to make everyone see what is the plan of mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.”  What is hidden in this story is forever true and its truth speaks to our dire moment.

Like every tyrant Herod trembles at the approach of God. He knows in his heart his days are numbered. The power-plays of tyrants – the deceit and trickery, the false news, the scapegoating the vulnerable, the desperate violence to hold power – nothing new under the sun-all will fall before the victory of our God and his Christ, the salvation and redemption of all peoples. That Christ who comes to us as a vulnerable child born to a poor family soon to be refuges, barely escaping Herod’s slaughter of innocents. Appearances to contrary, love will ultimately triumphs over hate, beauty over ugliness, truth over lies. The lights of Christmas go out, light of God, the Christ hidden in the human heart never will go out.

The prophet Isaiah tell us:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.

The later day prophet the priest Daniel Berrigan tells us:

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;

 

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

 

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.

 

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.

 

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.

 

It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter the new year in hope, even hope against hope. We are Christmas people. We are children of the Resurrected Christ. We are made for times like this. When the world is cynical, cruel, and dark, let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.