Sermon for August 25, 2019
Here we are approaching the end of August, with more of the summer behind us than ahead. I am hanging on to every day through September 21 and invite you to join me in embracing the whole of this special season.
Before summer 2019 is over, we find ourselves amid transitions. This week I had several great friends who took their teenagers off to college for the first time. For some it was a time of nostalgia, evoking rueful sadness, and for others, an all-out celebration.
Perhaps you have loved ones or family members experiencing transition. Young people heading off to school, a more hectic work pace almostvisible ahead on desk calendars, group and committee meetings scheduled and resumption of the Fall schedule and normal workpace soon to arrive.
If history is our teacher the pace is going to quicken, and transitions continue. The next part of this service is going to include a joyful and profound transition, as we baptize Mae Helen Gusah, welcoming her into the household of Christ. While busier lives and packed schedules are nearly guaranteed this Fall, we might want to reserve some of our calendar to live into the promises that each of us will make this morning; promises to Mae, to each other and to God.
This morning’s first scripture reading as well as Psalm 71 remind us that God knows us and has a purpose for each of us.
Mae has been known and loved by God since before she was born and God has a very important purpose for her. The promise made in Jeremiah is that God will use Mae and she will be able to rely on God and return to the Lord for a reminder of her belovedness all of her days.
While Jeremiah protests that “he is only a boy” and what can a young child be expected to do? God answers that God’s purpose will be accomplished and that Jeremiah can do a great deal, by being available, faithful and always trusting in God.
We have nine consecutive weeks ahead of readings from the prophet Jeremiah, so he is going to say a lot to us – now through the end of October. He calls us to be faithful and to live God-centered lives.
We gather each Sunday at All Saints to be reminded of what a God centered life looks like, to reflect on how well we did in our pursuits during the previous seven days and to be nourished and sustained for the week of God-centered work ahead. Living a life where our actions are fueled by faith and pleasing to God is neither an easy, nor a passive pursuit. It takes work and can sometimes be hard.
This morning’s gospel offers a profound lesson about God’s expectation for us with the example of Jesus teaching in the temple — on the Sabbath – so a day just like today, with a community gathered – as we are. Without being asked, Jesus calls to a woman who has been bedeviled by an ailment that has had her bent over for years. The woman approaches Jesus, and he places his hands upon her and heals her. She is overcome with gratitude and gives thanks and praise, but this action draws the attention and ire of the leader of the synagogue who is indignant and criticizes Jesus for working on the Sabbath; for breaking the customary rules.
We might want to debate whether healing someone should qualify as work, done on the sabbath or any day, but the critical point is that Jesus has upended the apple cart. He has broken a rule and drawn rebuke and consternation from the Temple leaders and the establishment. He has prioritized the alleviation of human suffering over rule-following.
Jesus does not take the Temple leader’s indictment silently. For the second week in a row Jesus yells at people and calls them hypocrites. This week’s hypocrisy is about the Temple being in the business of worshipping God and shaming the devil – of condemning evil but not condoning its banishment because the healing happened in a particular time frame, set aside for scheduled worship.
In other words, Jesus is clear that arbitrary and human-created rules or customs must not stand in the way of doing divine work. This woman had suffered enormously. Imagine navigating life bent over, unable to stand straight, looking at the ground, isolated by not being able to look people in the eye, or being prevented from looking heavenward to give thanks. Jesus is having none of it. He wants not one moment’s more suffering or bondage for this woman to continue regardless of the day or setting. We are invited to emulate his priorities.
In a few minutes we are going to ask Mae’s parents, Stephanie and Sawalla, and god parents Paula and Matt, where they stand on Satan, and not in the Saturday Night Live Church Lady’s version, but with some solemnity. We understand and affirm that there are some sins and hatreds against which we must stand, today and always. As a community, we are going to check to make sure that this morning they are prepared to renounce the devil and any power that wickedness has to draw them, or Mae, from the love of God.
As a community, we are going to promise to support them in this effort – AND as we renew our own baptismal covenant, promising to renounce Satan and resist evil wherever and whenever it crops up, we are promising to tackle evil regardless of the social situation or pressure, regardless of the personal embarrassment, regardless of the professional cost or toll this repudiation might take.
Doing God’s work in the world and following the example set before us by Jesus is tough, sometimes unsettling work. Extending the radical love and welcome expected of us – loving our neighbors as we love God and ourselves with the profound understanding that it is easy to love the neighbors who are like ourselves. The challenge comes with the divine expectation to extend ourselves, to love those neighbors who are nothing like us, the disenfranchised, disillusioned, the destitute, the broken and challenged people of the Beatitudes. That is where our work begins.
We are not simply to love them, but to seek and serve Christ in them and to strive for justice and peace with everyone – and everyone means everyone.
This morning, we welcome our newest team mate to join us in this effort. Mae is going to be baptized and officially join us as she grows into this work. We are promising to be with her and support her in her new life, and to support her parents, god parents and grandparents as Mae grows into the life God intends for her.
For the children who are gathered here this morning, it is important to remember that the work of creating God’s kingdom may not easy, but that you are never alone, and you can help God at school or at home – AND you’ve got a really good headstart! Jesus told grownups to bless and listen to the children, to let the children come to him. Well, here comes Mae.
As we reaffirm our own baptismal covenants, let us read and renew each pledge with inquiring hearts and minds, making ourselves available to God to make room and time in our lives to strive for justice and peace.
Jesus knows these tasks are tough and we can not hope to do this challenging work alone. As we make these promises, we affirm that we will do this work, and will do it with God’s help. We also promise to return each week for worship and nourishment, for solace and strength to do the tough work we’ve promised to do.
Let us use the joy of this extraordinarily beautiful August day to recommit ourselves to our Christian calling, to join in setting a good example for Mae and for drawing this community closer together as we share in the work of the household of God. Let us pray for and remember those college bound students who are going to be called to do God’s work as they encounter strangers, discern which rules are to be followed and which are contradictory to striving for justice and peace. As they undoubtedly learn new exciting and sometimes challenging lessons.
While Stephanie and Sawalla have years and years before Mae and big brother Jamie and sister Nora leave home or head to college, we joyfully welcome Mae into the Household of God, giving thanks for her new life, for enhancing of our team, and for reminding us of the profound responsibilities, joys and new possibilities inherent in baptism and affirmed in our covenant with her, with God and with each other.
The Reverend Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Esq.
Sermon for Sunday 10:30 am service, August 25, 2019 || All Saints Parish Brookline || Proper 16 Year C || Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17