Sermon for June 14, 2020

These last few weeks have been a time of sadness and a time of wondering about whether we will all get through this.  I am sure that each of you has your own struggle with emotions at this time. I am tired of the constraints of the pandemic.  I wish that we could open the church for services again like some others have done.  But just as we seemed to be coming out, the number of people diagnosed with Covid-19 in Arizona has jumped dramatically and hospitalizations are up.  And now, we clearly see other major problems in our country.  I am saddened by the treatment of minorities.  I am worried about the looting that has taken place.  I am thankful for great police work like the way Scottsdale police have recovered so much of the goods stolen from Scottsdale Fashion Mall and charged the perpetrators.  I have also seen videos of what I consider to be the use of unnecessary force by police.  I am disheartened by the way both police and protesters have been treated.  I believe that the problems can be solved.  But I have been brought down by the tremendous divide that we have in public opinion in our country.  Our divisions are deep seated and there is disagreement within families and with friends about who we are and what we should do.  I have asked myself how are we going to get out of this mess? 

In the midst of my worries, I watched a three-part mini-series on Ulysses S. Grant.  We all know him as the Union General who eventually won the civil war and became the 18th president of the United States.  I find him to be an interesting human being.  He has been called a drunk, a butcher, and a corrupt politician.  I think those views are overstated but he certainly had flaws.  But he has also been called a brilliant military thinker, a person who sought healing after the civil war and someone who cared that everyone be treated with justice.   His story reminded me that we have faced terrible times in the past and perhaps ours is not as bad.  Perhaps we could be encouraged by Grant’s ability to overcome problems especially poverty.  And I wish that his story would help all of us to realize that we all are flawed individually and as a community and to pray that God will help us overcome our weaknesses. 

I was also inspired by what I call the steely eyed commitment that Grant had to see things through.  He was a man who never gave up.  I ask that I could have more of that bull dogged determination that if I just stick to it, things will end well. 

Today’s scripture gives us words of wisdom for our time.  Think for a moment about the story of Abraham and Sarah.  We read today about the Lord coming to visit Abraham. The Lord told Abraham that he would have a son.  Despite his faith, I think Abraham was uncertain.  Sarah thought that would be impossible so she laughed at the mention of God’s plan.  This story shows us that God creates life and provides us with grace even though we may have little faith.  Their son Isaac was born despite their uncertainty about how this would happen. 

In our time of uncertainty, let us not give up on the power of God to deal with the issues that we face.  Yes, I worry about where this time will lead us.  But I pray that I will have faith in God’s work.  Abraham showed faith in God.  Abraham is a great example for us to follow. 

When we are worried about our future, let us turn to the letter to the Romans.  Paul wants us to “boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”

Yes, Paul is encouraging us to have hope even when we are suffering, even when we are down.  He wants us to remember that in our suffering we can become something better than we are.  We can come closer to God during this time.  Yes, his words feel like a pep talk from a coach.  But those words are something I need now.  I think we all still have a child inside us and we need our parent to help us reach for something that is better than we are today. 

Paul reminds us that we don’t do this alone.   God is always with us.  Paul invokes the three persons of the Trinity is his message, helping us to see how each person in the Trinity aides us.  Jesus Christ gave his life for us.  We have received peace because of his sacrifice and we are given the gift of grace.  As Paul wrote, it is through Jesus that we have obtained access to a special grace, a grace that brings us closer to God.  Jesus died for us even though we are flawed, even though we have sinned, even though we at times are ungodly.  And we constantly receive the love of God because the Holy Spirit is ever present with us.  I think Paul’s words alone lift us up out of our doldrums.  God gives us strength to carry on in difficult times.

It is Matthew’s gospel that reminds us of what Jesus did for others and what he still does today for us.  Yes, Jesus went to all the cities and towns and proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God.  But I choose to focus on the next phase.  Jesus cured every disease and sickness. 

As this virus, this disease continues to haunt us, let us pray for Jesus to come once more and cure all of those of the disease.  Let us pray that Jesus will come and bring his healing power in a way that will bring us together.  Let us pray that he will heal us of anger towards those who disagree with us.  May we be united as followers of Jesus. I love the words Matthew used to describe this. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

Jesus is full of compassion.  These days, I feel as if we have been harassed by the virus and other things.  I feel helpless because I am uncertain how to deal with some of the things that are going on and uncertain about where this is all leading us.  Isn’t it good that Jesus is our shepherd? 

Jesus did more than cure the sick himself.  He sent his apostles and told them “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”  Then he said, proclaim the good news that ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.”

I believe those words were meant for you and me.  We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus in our day.  Perhaps the words and the healing of Jesus will help us find our way together. 

I have always been touched by the words of Jesus found in John’s gospel.  He told his followers that they will do more than he has done.  The exact words are “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”  With these words we should never doubt that he is sending us out to proclaim his word to all people.  We should never doubt that we can accomplish wonderful things in his name. 

Let us be strengthened by the power of God to do amazing things like giving Abraham and Sarah a child when they least expected it.  Let us be thankful for the healing power of Jesus.  Let us feel the hope that comes from God.  Let us carry some of that steely eyed determination exemplified by Ulysses S Grant and others we know.  May we be confident that God will help us overcome our struggles and may we be steadfast in our efforts to proclaim the good news to others. 

I feel inspired by the words found in our collect today and wonder if you might appreciate hearing that prayer one more time. 

“Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness and minister your justice with compassion.”  What a great expression of today’s scripture.  Amen.

 

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