SERMON 10/3/10 Pentecost 22C
I am grateful to God– whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did– when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” Alcye McKenzie of the Perkins School of theology asserts that this faith that lived in previous generations and now lives in Timothy was “not a perfunctory recall of past information, but the recollection of meaningful stories that have shaped personal and communal identity. The past is made alive and powerful for the present so that it can shape the future.” (Alyce McKenzie, Perkins School of Theology, July 2006 Interpretation Journal) Our faith is a gift from God. It is a gift, which is passed on to us by the power of God’s Spirit working in and through others. It is a result of the faith of generations past, that we are gathered here in this place today, worshipping, singing, and praising God. It is through the examples of God’s power in the lives of grandmothers, grandfathers, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, and mentors that bore witness to God’s amazing grace. Others passed the faith on to us.
Faith is a way of life; it is a way of being. Faith empowers, strengthens, and encourages us to face each day. Faith makes it possible to experience the joy, peace, love and even the fear uncertainty of life through the lens of God’s amazing grace. When it comes to faith, we miss the point sometimes. Faith is not a tool or weapon we can wield by our own will. No, faith is a gift from God. With all gifts, possession is about reception. For some of us, we struggle with receiving gifts without strings attached. We may feel we have to DO something to deserve the gift. Faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit is given freely to all who are willing to receive it. Our Lord says that faith is like a mustard seed. Faith is not about quantity or size but about receiving. If you have the gift, you can live in the peace and assurance of God’s promises. Jesus did not say that if you have MORE of it, you can live with MORE peace and assurance nor if you have less, you will live with less peace and assurance. When it comes to faith, size does not matter.
Faith is a way of life that makes it possible to embrace joy, to look with anticipation to a new day, to embrace the present and to face fear. Fear is the greatest enemy of faith. Fear holds us, it paralyzes us, and it keeps us from receiving the amazing grace God has in store for us. The unknown, an unawareness of the outcome of a particular circumstance, seems to be the greatest fear we face. The diagnosis of a disease discovered by medical tests and the unknown result of treatment, the uncertainty of the economy and how it might affect the ability to survive, the death of a loved one and the agony of life alone, are all fears of the unknown. We desire certainty don’t we? INCREASE OUR FAITH was the demand from the apostles. We want certainty! Faith is not about certainty, but about trust in the promises of God’s amazing grace when we face the uncertainty and fears of life.
Uncertainty and fear does not always present itself as life-threatening diseases, loss of loved ones, or other tragedies. Fear shows itself when we face changes, even the small changes in life. Changes happen and fears emerge. We are all familiar with sayings like, “we cannot do that. We’ve always done it that way and we can’t try another way. We’ve tried that before and it just didn’t work.” Holding on to certainty overcomes our fear; fear that paralyzes and holds us back from the life of faith into which God calls us. Faith is organic and dynamic. It is not static and unmoving. Paul encouraged Timothy when he said, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love.”
We as a faith community stand at the edge of a new chapter in the narrative of our journey together. In a few weeks Fr. Lee retires and we move forward to a new day. Fears, uncertainty, anxiety seem to accompany changes no matter how large or how small they may be. The mere presence of a new person in the community itself brings about change. The new person does not have to be a new clergy person, they could be that new family who shows up one Sunday, the new retiree who recently moved down to Englewood, or they could be a new employee who joins our family. Change can be frightening. We have to remember that our faith empowers us to face fear, uncertainty, and yes, even change. Our faith makes us ready to receive the gifts, which the Spirit has in store for us and the path to those gifts, which we are called to welcome and receive. We can face that fear and uncertainty knowing that the same Spirit that empowers us, will lead us and guide us.
When I was a kid, I spent many afternoons and summers working in my father’s television and electronics store. At a very young age, I had the opportunity to see and use the latest techno gadgets when they hit the market. In the 1970’s, I heard music on LP records and 45’s, 8-track tape players and AM radio. In the early 1980’s, I listened to music on FM radios and cassette players, and I watched my favorite musical artists on MTV and VH1. Even so, I can still hear my parents comment about MTV, “Music will never be the same.” In the 90’s, CD’s arrived on the scene and downloadable music was available on the internet. Today, music is all around us and always readily available. We have IPods, cell phone apps, and Pandora radio on the internet. Today, Terri, my daughter and I can chat on Skype, sync songs on our IPods or our Cell phones, and listen together on the internet. Music will never be the same, or will it.
One day while working in my father’s store, I found hidden in a corner of the store a beautiful, antique Victor Victrola. If you’re not familiar with what that is, it is record player popular in the early 20th century. This beautiful machine was huge and it had a wind-up motor, a felt covered turntable, a large metal needle and records that were so heavy that they felt like a brick. As I explored the device, I found an old gospel album inside and decided to try it out. I wound up the crank on the side, placed the record on the table, then the needle on the record, and suddenly I was whisked back to bygone days. The tinny sound of the recording was glorious and the song, which played, was one very familiar to me. “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, twas blind but now I see.” I was intrigued, I was excited, I had found something that struck at the very core of my love for heritage and tradition. I spent many days, weeks, and months exploring the richness and beauty of that Victor Victrola.
On that day when I found this treasure, I was able to share in the experience of the family who owned the Victrola so many years ago. In a way, I joined in with them as they gathered around it on Sunday nights to hear the same song to which I was listening on that day. Without their knowing it, the former owners were passing on to me, the song that they were sharing together so many years ago. Today, we gather as a community to hear the song, the song that has remained the same for centuries: the song of the gospel, which is on our hearts. The medium through which the song has played for so long has changed over the centuries. The early church, the medieval age, enlightenment, reformation, modern culture, and now postmodern culture have all presented opportunities for the church to respond to change. The architecture of our buildings, the clothes worn by the clergy and congregation, the instruments through which the music has played, the books by which we have worshipped, and even our theology has evolved and changed over the centuries. In the past 50 years alone, our culture and our technology have changed at what seems like the “speed of light.” Even our beloved St. David’s has seen the evolution of the life of the community. However, we continue to gather, and the song continues to play. The song plays and we are called to pass on the tune to the others who are waiting to join with us and us with them.
As we face the future ahead, we must be ready to receive the Gift of the other who is waiting to share the song with us who may not be with us today. We must be willing to receive others, who may not look like us, who may not dress like us, and who may not think like us. We must be willing to receive others who sing a little differently than we do but sing the same song of God’s amazing grace. These others may even listen to the song of God’s amazing grace on IPods, Pandora Radio, or cell phones, but they like us, are being called to listen to the song. We who are here now, don’t have to let go of our heritage or our tradition in order to invite the other in, to welcome the other, and to embrace the other. We don’t have to hide the richness of our tradition in a corner, in order to reach out to those who are not yet here. What we do have to do, is be willing to embrace the other, to draw them near, and then after the embrace, stand back and see that we are united taking in us a part of them, and they, taking in a part of us. Together we can share the richness, the beauty, the heritage and the tradition, which we have now, and the richness, diversity, new thoughts and new ideas they have to offer. Embracing the other is not an either/ or proposition, it is a both-and. It is both holding dear to our tradition AND embracing the richness the other has to offer; the amazing grace of God in each other.
Increase our faith! We do not have to fear the future God has in store for us, the future to which God is calling us. We just have to be willing to allow the faith in us to grow wild, to be organic, so like the mustard seed, it will grow and flourish in such a way that the birds of the air (the others not yet here) will find rest and comfort in its branches. Increase our faith Oh God, so that we may all (those here now and those yet to come) may gather around your table and hear the words of the song on our hearts, “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, twas blind, but now I see.”