Sermon for April 26, 2020
To the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
After I, much to the surprise of many, graduated from Seminary, I served two churches in California. While serving at St. Stephens, the Rector and music director decided to research buying a new electronic organ. So one morning the three of us set out to Mission Delores in San Francisco, a wonderful place to visit. Shortly after stepping into the sanctuary I realized the whole place was full of angels. I was so delighted I laughed aloud.
Now these were not Angels one could see. I have many such angels of that type in my home because I have always loved the concept of angels and it delights my heart to see those little man-made constructs I have all around my place, but the angels at Mission Delores were very real, just not visible, but nonetheless quite tangible.
Ultimately, as I recall, the decision was made to purchase the new organ. But my whole mind was full of the contemplation of those angels that had made their presence felt, if not seen, and I have even as a child been sure that whenever creation gathers to worship the Creator there are always Angels present, for God created angels for the glory of God. The amazing thing about that is God created us for the very same thing - to glorify God. The difference, of course, is we have free will and we don't always use it to the glory of God. But we COULD! We could.
Another event occurred during those years in California: the 15th anniversary of the election of the Right Reverend Bill Swing as Bishop of the Diocese of California. The commemoration extended over a fairly long period of time and gave me an opportunity to learn of the truly amazing ways in which his grace had chosen to glorify the Lord our God.
The parishes of the diocese were thriving and involved in Outreach Ministry, as is Transfiguration. The diocese had become, both as individuals and corporately, deeply involved in ministry to the poor, the outcast and the disenfranchised. One day in conversation with the bishop, I said to him “You have done amazing things in this diocese in the way you have expanded Outreach among those for whom our Lord Christ has special concern.”
And I have not nor will I ever forget his response. He looked at me, smiled and said “I have not done anything. I'm just the cheerleader.” That's how one Bishop heard and responded to our universal call in creation to glorify the Lord our God.
We can all choose to be such cheerleaders, and thereby glorify our Lord! Scripture, as you know, speaks of the “priesthood of all believers” and it is indeed that to which all we are called. We glorify God as we minister to one another, and to all of those we encounter in our lives. In fact, I am certain that it is the one-on-one individual ministry that is most effective against the injustice, deprivation and oppression that plagues so many of our own brothers and sisters.
It is a glorious and righteous thing when we provide well over a million meals to our hungry neighbors, but truly it's not about the numbers or the scope of program. But rather it's about the depth of our love for the Lord, Our God, and for one another. We cannot truly love, except that God helps us to do so. Just as truly we cannot glorify our beloved Lord unless God gives to us the grace, the wisdom and the courage to do that.
As Jesus prepared himself to face his crucifixion he tells his disciples that he has a new commandment to give them: They were to “love one another as he, the Incarnation of the Living God, had loved them.” And those disciples were to learn all too soon just exactly what Jesus meant by loving.
And it is that command that we love one another with the depth of love Christ has for all creation that resounds throughout eternity. It is that love which we, as the priesthood of all believers, are called in our creation so that we may live our lives to the glory of God as our Lord has created us to do. A command not new but eternal.
Both of the Psalms in today's readings begin and end with hallelujah! Praise to God! And that is indeed a fine place to start and end our worship and our lives. The two psalms called for God's praise in song with a great variety of instruments and to praise God with dance. The rector will lead that!
All living creatures are called to praise God and to praise joyfully in our homes, and publicly and in private. Most of all the Psalms imply that we will praise God in the synagogue, temple, church, mosque or wherever we gather to worship. And right now, we, like much of the world, cannot do that. So we improvise, our hearts longing for our accustomed worship and for the companionship of our beloved Parish family. And yet our God not only understands, God still assists us to love, to have our faith and to live our worship of our Lord.
Some folks will tell you that God has sent this horrible pandemic to chasen and chastise us. But though the song speaks of vengeance I don't think God does vengeance but calls to us still, sometimes with persuasion, sometimes with consequences.
Perhaps we know we are being called to acknowledge that God's commands are not those of an arbitrary and autocratic ruler, but rather the guidance and teaching of a loving creator. Perhaps we are being reminded by our Lord God that we are called to be stewards of creation rather than abusers. Perhaps as members of the priesthood of believers we are called to be faithful in our understanding that all people and creatures are God's own beloved, as are we! Perhaps we need to hold that faithful understanding and learn to treat each other accordingly! Truly no matter what transpires for us our God still loves all creation including us and God will never leave us. We have Christ's own promise on that.
So now I want to tell you my newest favorite story about seeing our beloved Lord God as viewed by some of God's own. My son Philip shared this with me yesterday. It seemed he had an errand to run and he took with him six-year-old Benjamin and four-year-old Brynleigh on the way into town. They passed a cemetery.
The children, being full of questions, wanted to stop and walk around and look. So on the way home they stopped. Philip endeavors to answer all questions in ways that would be relevant to the children. And, thus, the explanations, as they walked along included the names of some relatives and their titles. Some were living and some had gone to glory such as grandma so-and-so, uncle this, aunt that, cousin whatever. You get the idea.
Finally, Benjamin wanted to confirm his understanding of what his dad had said which is his usual practice. Daddy says when people die then God collects them. I love that God collects them and takes them to heaven. What do they do then? Come on Phillip. We're waiting for that answer. Philip still being relevant for the kids says well then son people get to hang out with God and each other.
Now Benjamin gives that some thought. Then he says well Daddy, do we all have to wear clothes? Phillip suggested that he could probably wear his favorite John Deere shirt. Now I confess to you my friends I have no idea whatsoever about the Heavenly dress code. But whatever it is I know that God still loves us and no matter what pandemics, heavenly people collections, improvised worship and/or paper shortages, the Lord Our God has got this and so we all are fine.
Thanks be to God.
Sermon given by Rev. Susan Smith-Allen
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