Sermon 5 Pentecost A 2014 Fr. Ray Kasch St. Patrick’s Anglican Church
Lessons Is 55:1-13; Romans 8:9-17; St. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
You may have noticed in our bulletin that the month of May was not a good month for St. Patrick’s financially speaking. But I have some great news to address our shortfall. Last week I received an email from a widow lady in Nigeria about her deceased husband who had worked for the government and amassed a fortune. She has chosen me of all people to distribute his funds as I see fit in the U.S. All I had to do is to send her my date of birth, social security number and tracking number of my bank. Any day now she will wire me a fortune! We are movin on up to the east side; we finally got a piece of the pie! (I apologise for the ear worm).
I actually knew a guy who fell for that one a few years ago and was taken for quite a bit of money. This scam is the perfect illustration of a wise saying.“If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.” But as in most cases there are exceptions to that rule and our Old Testament lesson is one of those exceptions. Today we hear the call of the Prophet“Ho everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come and buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” When we hear these words we must discipline ourselves not to have a cynical response and doubt the truth of it rather than accepting this most gracious of invitations.
This call from God to come to the water, to buy wine and milk without money is a call to accept the grace of God. Water is a symbol of life and spiritual renewal. Wine is a symbol spiritual joy especilly in the context of fellowship. Milk is a symbol of spiritual nourishment. In our church these promises are symbolized by the baptismal font, the altar, and the pulpit.
But I am getting ahead of myself because these promises predate the New Testament Church. They are a wonderful reminder to us that from beginning to end, the story of God and His people is a story of grace. It is a story of an abundance of love and mercy that is unearned, undeserved and unconditional. In Genesis God promises that He will be their God and they will be His people. In the Revelation to John we read these words “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city; the new Jerusalem comign down out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will be their God.” (Rev 21:1-3)
Do you find these words as astonishing as I do? Did you notice the thrust of the passage? You would think that it would say that the dwelling place of man is with God but it says the opposite. The dwelling place of God is with man. We see this in the tabernacle being placed in the midst of the camp as the people of God wandered in the wilderness. We see this in the temple in the heart of Jerusalem. Above all we see the dwelling place of God with man in the Incarnation. So the goal of God is to dwell with man. But why? Why? When He came to dwell with us, we crucified Him, so why would He care to dwell with us? The Anglican priest John Newton told us. Because of “amazing grace.”
You have probably already noticed it but I hear a strong parallel between these words of the prophet, that invite us to come and be refreshed by God’s grace, to the promise of Jesus that we heard last week and that Fr. BE so powerfully preaced.“Come unto me all ye that are in travail and and heavy laden and I will refresh you.” These promises were made some 800 years apart but God never tires of this invitation. What do we need to do in order to respond to it?
First we need to be honest about our current condition. If we are not even aware that we thirst then we will not care about an invitation to come and drink. If we don’t get that we are in travail and are heavy laden then we will never come to Him.
If you know me then you know that I am the opposite of “health and wealth gospel” guys. I believe that the “name it and claim it” or “blab it and grab it” message is smoke and mirrors.
A good test for a truth is with what is called the Vincintian canon named after St. Vincent who died in 434. He wrote that a truth is a catholic or universal truth if it has been believed always, everwhere and by all. So let’s do a test Always? No, it is a new teaching. Not coincidentally these health and wealth teachings took hold in the greed filled 1980’s. Everywhere? While it may preach well in the United States, not so much in Haiti. By all? It works great for the guys preaching it but not so well for the poor and desperate who send in their last copper coins. So clearly I am not in that camp.
But that said, it became astonishingly popular in part because of a kernel of truth in it, and that kernel of truth is that we do not have to settle. What I mean by not settling is that God wants more for us than to be perpetually thirsty or continually in travail and heavy laden. The problem is that we have become so accustomed to being thirsty and exhaused that it becomes the new normal. And because we try to quench our thirst with everything but the Living Waterwe we think it is natural to walk around thirsty. We get so used to seeing everyone around us weighed down by guilt and anger that we take it as the natural course of life. We have lived with psychic lonliness so long that it does not even enter our minds that God wants to dwell with us. So we plug along as good soldiers, thirsty, exhausted and alone. Fr. BE described it so perfectly last week, how we will be in travail for days, weeks, months and even years before we finally give in and come to Him. Why do we do that? What takes us so long?
You know the answer and so do I. P-R-I-D-E. Much if not most of it is due to that perpetual 2 year old is in us all that says, “I can do it myself.” No we can’t and we shouldn’t even try! So the first step is to be honest where we are and admit that we thirst, that we are in travail and are heavy laden. The first step is to come to the place where we are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
The next thing we must do, after we admit that we are thirsty, is to realize
that this promise is for everyone, and everyone includes us. “Ho everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” Everyone.This may sound obvious but there is a vast difference between something being obvious and owning it
and living it as a part of our daily lives.
The other reason that we wait so long to end our thirst or why we wait to come to Him is that we know “God so loved the world” but we are not convinced that “God so loved me.” We want to believe that but dare we hope for that lest we get disappointed? That healing prayer may not work so I won’t even ask to be healed. That way I am just sick, not sick AND broken hearted.
How do we get beyond this deadlock? We do so by having more faith and we have more faith by increasing our pledge to the church!? No wait I’m back to health and wealth thing! No we move beyond the deadlock not by trying to increase our faith but by recalling Who it is that is issuing the call to come and be satisfied. We give our attention to Who it is that is promising to refresh us.
We have all been hurt before by broken promises and personal betrauyal but this is different. This is not the empty promise of a selfish man
who says that he will love you until the end of time and now is praying for the end of time (St. Meatloaf). This is not the broken promise of the State to be a servant to the people but ever encrouches upon the freedoms of that same people. This is not the false declaration of a denomination that declares love for all people…except of course for those not a part of their denomination.
This is the promise of the One who loved us and proved that love by delivering Himself up for us. If you ever doubt that this promise is for you
then look to the Cross. We are made equal by that Cross. If that promise is not for you then who? If the promise is not for everyone then it is for no one.
There was a Christian singer years ago who sang a child-like song and the refrain stays with me to this day “He gave his life, what more could he do? Oh how he loves you, oh how he loves me, Oh how he loves you and me.” It cannot be more simple or more true.
The third thing we must do to be refreshed is to come with no money. I read a story of conference in England on comparative religions. Experts from around the world came to discuss and to debate. One day the topic was if there was really anything unique about Christianity. They discussed how our doctrine of the Incarnation not really unique because other world religions had stories of gods and goddesses taking on human form. They argued that neither was the doctrine of the Resurrection unique because while not technically the same as Christ’s resurrection, other religions had stories of gods rising or being reborn after death. As they were having this debate the famous Christian writer C.S. Lewis entered and asked about the topic. When they replied that it was if there was anything unique about the Christian religion, Lewis said,“That’s easy. It’s grace.” The scholars had to agree.
God’s love offered to us without our working for it or earning it or even deserving it is the unique claim of the Christian faith. We don’t have to observe a set of laws, we don’t have to make a pilgrimage, we don’t even have to make our dogma chase our karma.We simply buy it without money. In other words it is perfectly free. No hidden costs, no fine print and it even comes with an eternal lifetime guarantee.
This claim is so unique and so foreign to our ears that we are tempted to think that it MUST be too good to be true. There HAS to be a catch. Our cynical American ears continue to listen for the next part. No one gives away something so precious for nothing. But instead of coming with a hitch to the promise of free renewal and free joy and free nourishment, the prophet adds more to the promise. He says, “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant.”
The Lord God offers us in these words more than a temporary fix to our problem of thirst. He seeks a permenant relationship with us. He seeks a covenant. I saw a sign on church that said it well. “Your heavenly Father wants more than weekly visitation.” He comes to make His home with us.
While there is no cost, this free gift does not mean that we are passive in this covenant. This brings us to Jesus’ words to us today in the Gospel. Some will hear His invitation but it will be as if they never heard it. Some will get excited initially but as they lose the initial excitement it will mean nothing to them. Some will take it in and give it serious thought but the love of worldly things will make them deaf to God’s call. Many however will receive invitation with joy and not only enter that everlasting covenant but share it with othersso that they too will know the grace of God.
This parable addresses the condition of the soil of our hearts to receive the Word of God. We cannot purchase what God brings to us but we can prepare to receive it. That is why John the Baptist came before Jesus and Advent comes before Christmas and Lent comes before Easter. Today we can come and eat and drink freely as we receive Holy Communion but in what condition will we come?
Will it be just an empty ritual where we get church over with so we can be about our day? Will we coming to look only for comfort and not for covenant? The danger of that of course is that we fall away as soon as things are no longer comfortable?
Will we come distracted by recent losses in the stock market or worries about our businesses and too concerned about the treasures that are destroyed by rust and moth to even see the eternal treasures been placed before us?
Or will we come and drink and eat and be renewed in our relationship with Jesus so that we go from here to make a difference in the lives of 30 or 60 or even 100 others?
The promises are the same to each of us. God invites each to come to be renewed and nourished. Through the waters of Baptism and through Word and Sacrament He offers us what we truly need. These are the means for receiving Jesus who refreshes us as Living Water and who nourishes us as the Word of God and who offers us the wine of His blood to give us the joy of sins forgiven. The question that only each of us can answer for ourselves is if we ready to receive Him? “Ho everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” Amen