Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sermon for Trinity XVII – Proper 22B
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 4, 2009

There are occasions for a preacher when the appointed lessons seem to be so perfectly matched. This morning’s lessons happen to be one of those times. However, when I read them, I asked myself a question – why this morning? Why this time in the Church Year?

I’m not really sure that I have an answer to the question why we hear them this time during the year, but I think that they are terribly important for us to hear, and also hear on this morning as we begin a new relationship together.

I wish to begin by saying how honored I am to have been called as your Rector. I am humbled to be standing in this pulpit and preparing to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries in a few minutes not as a supply priest, but in your midst as a servant and also as spiritual head of this wonderful congregation. My family and I very much look forward to the days, months and many years ahead.

In looking at our lessons this morning, there seem to be two matched themes which go hand-in-hand with one another. It certainly wasn’t difficult to pick up on the theme of marriage and divorce that is matched in the lessons from Genesis and Mark. The other theme is found in the link between Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2. The theme that comes out of those two lessons deals with mankind and how important we are as the pinnacle of God’s creation.

Certainly there are at least two separate sermons here if I were to speak just on marriage, or just on humanity in God’s eyes. However, I want to address these themes together and why I believe that these are appointed to all be read together.

For me, the place to begin with these Propers is with the Psalm. The Psalmist asks, “What is man that thou art mindful of him; and the son of man that thou visitest him?” That question is one of the most intriguing in Scripture, and certainly bears light to the theme which we heard from the Epistle to the Hebrews.

In our world of religious pluralism, relative truth, materialism, and any other “ism” you care to include it is an absolutely stunning thing to comprehend that God would come down from heaven and become a man, live and die as one of us, and be subject to every form of temptation and suffering as we do. One of the dogmas of our church states that Jesus had two natures – one completely divine, and one completely human. This dogma is crucial because it addresses two fundamental points for us as sinful human beings.

First, Jesus’ divinity addresses the issue that we believe in a God who is actually capable of saving us. If Jesus were not 100% divine how would he be able to save us? Only God is able to save us from our sins, and we affirm in all three of our creeds that Jesus is in fact completely God.

Second, Jesus’ humanity addresses the issue of what does Jesus save us from? N.T. Wright once said in a lecture that the fact that Jesus took on flesh, and lived as a man keeps us from manufacturing a Jesus who just seemed to move about 6” off the ground and never really got his hands dirty. This certainly isn’t the Jesus we read about in the New Testament, and it certainly can never be the person we worship as our Lord.

As the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, “Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendents of Abraham; therefore, he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

Jesus did not shun the Virgin’s womb and became subject to suffering in order that we too who suffer and struggle in our own lives daily.

The reason that I began by addressing the theme of mankind is so that the marriage theme would make sense in this context.

Not only does God in His infinite wisdom and grace become one of us, he does so with the intention of entering into a relationship with us so deep, so profound, and so mysterious as that of a marriage.

The opening lines of the service for the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony begins with the following: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together the Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church…”

God gave the Sacrament of Marriage at the beginning of creation, and was actually instituted prior to man’s fall. Even in our innocence, as the marriage service from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer states, God gave us His intended ordering for all mankind with the union of one Man and one Woman in a sacred bond and covenant.

That sacred bond and covenant has been extended to us as well. Throughout the New Testament our Lord spoke of His relationship with mankind as a marriage between Himself, the Bridegroom, and us His bride, the Church. The spotless Bridegroom is forever waiting for his Bride. Throughout our lives we constantly strive for that holiness and sanctification that will make us ready to meet the Groom when the cry goes forth at midnight proclaiming that He has arrived.

I conclude with a short story that made it through my e-mail several months ago. Perhaps some of you saw it as well.

On a busy morning around 8:30am, a gentleman of around the age of 80 entered the emergency room of his local community hospital. He needed to have stitches taken out of his thumb, and did not have the money nor the insurance to cover a regular doctor's visit in order to do so. Yet, he seemed to be in a hurry, looking anxiously down at his wrist watch.

A young intake nurse on the floor noticed that he seemed rather nervous, and asked if he was in a hurry. "Yes," he said. "I have an appointment at 9."

The nurse took his vitals and asked him to sit out in the waiting room, knowing fully well that it would be a few hours before anyone could help him. Seeing that he was so preoccupied with the time, and since there were no other patients waiting to be checked in behind him, she decided to take a look at his wound. Upon examination, it was apparent that he had healed well. She talked to her supervising physican, asking for permission to go ahead and remove the stitches for him.

While removing the sutures and redressing the wound, she asked the gentleman if he had a doctor's appointment at 9.

"No," he replied. "I just need to go and see my wife at the nursing home for breakfast."

The nurse asked politely about her health, in a casual, conversational manner.

"Well," he said, "she has been there for some time now. She caught Alzheimer's, so I couldn't take care of her on my own anymore."

"Will she be angry with you if you are a little late?" asked the nurse.

"No, I guess not." he replied. "She doesn't even remember me anymore or recognize who I am. She has not known me for five years or so now."

The nurse was surprised to learn this information. She asked, "Yet, you still go to see her for breakfast every single morning, even though she has no clue who you are?"

He smiled at her in a knowing, wise way, patted her on the hand and said, "Yes honey. She may not know me, but I know her!"

Certainly there are times when our Lord continues to visit us when we don’t know or recognize Him. However, His faithfulness is the true source of hope that we can forever lean upon in our lives. Christ will never forsake those who call upon His Holy Name, for He has made a vow and covenant with us that He is who He says He is, and has done for us that which we are incapable of doing for ourselves. He has purchased for us an inheritance that surpasses anything we can ever imagine or comprehend; He bids us to say yes to His marriage proposal, and share that Good News with all.

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