Sunday, July 26, 2015

No-Name Sunday Sermon 20150726

Jesus feeding the five thousand is one miracle or sign that all four Gospel writers remember. It’s “re-member” in the sense of putting the old Sunday School story back together. Each evangelist assembles it differently, with a result like Johnny Cash sneaking out parts from the factory and building a Cadillac one-piece-at-a-time. The synoptics, Mark, Matthew and Luke are most alike — seeing the Savior’s chesed, his lovingkindness, as a powerful act of compassion responding to tired and hungry people in a deserted place far from home.

The Gospel according to John re-members differently: to witnesses in John’s multitude it’s Jesus’ sign that he is the one prophesied by Moses — Moses who also led them and fed them in the wilderness.

Regardless which gospel story we hear, it’s the same event, re-membered differently from writer to writer; but tradition actually identifies a spot high on a mountainside overlooking the Galilean Sea where this took place, and it’s so beautiful that you can long to have been there with Jesus on that beautiful day. Gospel John re-members that day as God the Son lovingly sharing the abundance of his creation. God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. There’s nothing miraculous or incredible about this story, we are being fed that day, and this day, by the Word “through whom all things were made.” In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth; and the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved over churning chaos; And God said and it was so, the Creating Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through the Word. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us: Jesus Christ, logos, the creating Word. Nothing astounds us that comes out of the power and mouth of God the Word. Just so today, Jesus Feeds the Multitude: our beautiful story and pastoral scene of God loving his people.

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In baptism last Sunday morning we renewed our Baptismal Covenant, and we’re renewing again this morning with the baptism of Sawyer Scott Cramer, a tiny boy. The celebrant will say “Let us join with those who are committing themselves to Christ and renew our own baptismal covenant,” and you will stand and say it yet one more time again. We’ve done that so often we almost know it by heart. And there’s a problem with that: do you have any idea what you are saying, what you are doing? Do you have any idea? It’s not just words. This is between you personally and God personally — or do you even believe God exists other than as an idea in songs and pictures and Sunday School stories? Because what you believe is not just in what you say, what you believe is exposed to the world like a naked streaker on a football stadium in how you live

In C.S. Lewis’ story The Great Divorce, the Ghost in Gaiters is a Bishop who’s died and gone to hell and doesn’t realize it. But with others in the story, the Bishop rides the overnight bus up to heaven to see what it’s about. Upon arrival in heaven the Spirit who welcomes him tells him that if he decides to stay in heaven he will actually meet God face to face. Scoffing, the Bishop describes God as “a beautiful idea” but scorns the naive notion that God is real. A self-important, pompous little vapor, he says he will only agree to stay in heaven if he is needed, if he can be useful. The Spirit talking with him says, “Surely you know, there are no needs here! All needs are satisfied!” Before his day in heaven is over, the Ghost in Gaiters gets back on the bus for the return trip to hell, where he is needed: he heads up an evening discussion group of intellectual sophisticates who write dissertations about God, read their “papers” aloud, and critique each other.

Are you a believer? Or a scoffer, one who just stands and says the Creed, the Vow, the Covenant? If you do not take this morning’s promises out of here as the foundation for your life this week, then perhaps you are just one who stands and says. Because if you truly believe God is real, then you cannot possibly lie to God.

There are lots of ways to go from here, but I’m thinking personal, surely about me, maybe about you. It’s 2015, an American election campaign is heating up, hatred is boiling over across the land. The, mean, hateful, scathing name-calling and bitter vitriol of our election campaigns are not the proclamation of Jesus Christ that you promise in your personal covenant with God. By that covenant and the water of baptism, you step into The Way of the Cross, you promise to live your life in a certain way because Jesus lived his life that way. But you see, this week there will be words of contempt and hatred spoken aloud, spread in rumors, posted on the internet and on Facebook. Words filled with malice. If this morning you covenant with God from your heart, you cannot participate in that evil. You cannot participate unless you believe that God is just an idea.

There are three “I believe” questions in the Baptismal Covenant -- "I believe in God the Father, I believe in God the Son, I believe in God the Holy Spirit" -- but the covenant is not about what you believe. In fact, never mind what you believe, as Saint James wrote in holy scripture, “Even the devil believes — and shudders.” The covenant is not about what you believe. The Covenant is your five promises to live your life in a certain way. Will you? Will you? Will you? Will you? Will you?

And have you ever noticed: the promises grow harder, more demanding and personal as the Covenant progresses. This was pointed out to us in last Sunday’s sermon: were you listening, did you take the point? Most important, how did you live this past week? Did you keep your promise to God? You’ll get another chance today, right now: listen —

Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Easy one: I will, with God's help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?O sure, I will with God's help, and besides, the priest always pronounces Absolution anyway, so my sins are cleared.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Okay, not sure what that means, so I will, with God’s help. Oh no you don’t! It’s quite clear what that means. It means you commit to be Christ, to become Jesus Christ in all that you say and do: do you mean to keep that promise? If you do, watch your mouth, and your attitudes.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I guess so. I will, with God’s help. Well, God helps you among other ways, with his word in scripture: 1st John 4:20, “Whoever says ‘I love God,’ but hates another person is a liar.” Hate, like love, is not a feeling, it’s how you treat other people, including malice from your mouth and on the internet.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Uhhh hmmm, can I get back to you on that? No, you may not. This is the moment of truth. God loves you, and you can only love God by respecting the dignity of every human being — 
  • Every person of every race.
  • Every religion.
  • Every sexual preference.
  • Every political party, left, right or center.
  • Every social origin. Will you?

Will you? Will you? Will you? Will you? Will you? 

Think about it before you make those promises today. This is personal between you and God. And God is not just a beautiful idea.

No-Name. Give it whatever name or title you like. Sermon in Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, Florida on Sunday, July 26, 2015. The Rev Tom Weller. Text: John 6:1-14 and The Baptismal Covenant. Printed to keep faith with a promise to a dear friend.

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