Sermon at St. Anne's, Conway
The Second Sunday after Pentecost: June 3, 2018
At baptism and reaffirmed in Confirmation we, or others on our behalf, vow to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord. The English word “lord” is a contraction for “loaf warden,” meaning “keeper of the bread.” This might prompt all kinds of images for us in the faith tradition, from Bethlehem meaning “house of bread,” to Eucharist, to “give us this day our daily bread.” In today’s scriptural context it points to the sovereignty of God as found in Christ, as he “is lord even of the Sabbath.”
We, along with the five confirmands today, recommit our life to the lordship Christ. How do we go about aligning our life with God’s rather than trying to squeeze God into ours? This is the work of what we call discernment. If you can stand another definition, to discern literally means, “to sift.”
Whenever I think of sifting I think of my father. He loved to garden. Across the street from the house where I grew up was a lush woods with deep, moist, dark topsoil as its bed. I loved to watch him push his hands into the soil, lift it up and let it fall between his fingers. It had a sweet, aromatic, earthy fragrance that infused the air around us and drew me into the dust from which I was formed. “Fearfully and wonderfully made” are we. He taught me that the nutrients of that rich black earth were being prepared from the beginning of time for that very moment.
For the gardens of azaleas, boxwoods, figs and roses, however, it needed further sifting. So he built a sifter, welding a large open grid steel cage three feet by four feet mounted on legs into which one could shovel the earth taken by wheel barrel from the woods. A crank on the end would turn the entire contraption and when there were chunks inside that needed further breaking up, there was a second crank handle on the opposite end that rotated an interior forked blade that I would turn when working with him, in order to break up the clumps. As all of this spun on an axis, a very fine mound of soil would build up under the sifter that could be taken to the garden into which the various plant life would be placed and rooted.
It is this work of sifting that we discover in the account of I Samuel today. The boy Samuel heard a voice that he believed was that of Eli, running down the hall to check it out. This happens three times before Eli comes to the awareness that the voice is indeed that of God. Rooted in his own life of prayer and worship, Eli is able to sift out whose voice the boy was hearing. We learn here that discernment must be done with another, in a community, immersed in the tradition that has gone before.
You and I live in a world bombarded by voices of all sorts competing for our attention. Each one is seeking to be lord of our life. These voices clamoring for our attention are the lords of power and domination, retaliation rather than love, conspicuous consumption at the expense of the other, politics without morality, religion without sacrifice, and the list goes on. We make countless decisions each day as to what we are going to give our attention. How do we sift out what is of God and what is not? Is the tingling of our ears consistent with the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus, or something else? Perhaps we will even have to break up a clump or two within ourselves along the way, anything that indicates our own heart-resistance to the Spirit’s movement.
Simone Weil has said that “prayer is an act of paying attention.” Our call is to continually mature in faith so that whatever gets our attention falls within the lordship of Christ. We are on this planet first to give glory to God and do what we can to have our spirits awakened to God’s Spirit already residing in us. Or to put it another way, we are here to open our hearts to the conversation of love and mercy that is always going on within the community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Do our actions bring peace and foster love? Do we respect the dignity of every human being, seek and serve Christ in all persons, and strive for justice and peace among all people? Any act of discernment must tend to whether we are manifesting such fruit of the Spirit in shaping our life consistent with our prayer: “thy kingdom come.”
That is what Jesus was doing when he proclaimed in today’s Gospel the incredibly radical awareness that, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” Breathtaking! We, the Church, get this wrong all of the time when we forget who is Lord. Just as with the Pharisees, dogma and doctrine end up taking precedence over love. Jesus preached good news that was always challenging boundaries, rules and law, in effect throwing open the doors and shutters to the wind of the Spirit, yet historically we human beings too often spend our time closing it down and restricting that love out of fear that someone, somewhere, just might get something they don’t deserve – like grace and mercy. It was so threatening that the authorities from then on sought to destroy him.
The life of faithfulness can be difficult. It is supposed to cost us something, and many of our Diocese, including some of you, have come to know this truth in new ways over the last few years. St. Paul describes it well in II Corinthians: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” “We have this treasure in clay jars,” to be sure, yet in the midst of the chances and changes of life, we continually examine which voices will get our attention.
Be the sifter. Receive the richness of what has been placed in you by the Spirit. Awaken to God’s work in us “so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.” Listen. Breathe. Keep silence. Hope. Love. For in it all, “We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.”
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Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.