Monday, July 30, 2007

David M. Dubay+, Proper 12, A Sermon.

I love to fly. I don’t like to take off or land… but I love to fly. However, a few years ago, a flight I was on was not pleasant for me. During what had promised to be a short hop from Columbia to Charleston, in a plane the size of a minivan, I was sure that my life was going to end in a way that I had not planned.

At take off, a women sitting beside me had noticed that I had opened my prayer book.

I do that at all take offs…

She asked me if I was a minister.

I’m a youth minister (I was then) I told her…and those were the last words that I was able to say as we began our long, one sided discussion on being spiritual, and faith, and the beauty of trees and animals and God’s love and forgiveness and her friend in College who was the daughter of a minister but didn’t like organized religion and what church did I go to and did I know her friend and I really should meet her and she’s so spiritual….

It was one of those conversations that you have with a person, about faith, that makes you want to stay and help the person find Jesus while simultaneously making you want to pull the emergency door off the wall and take your chances in mid air...

I chose to stay indoors and listen… As this young lady reached a meaningful part of her story telling me how God had been a powerful presence in her as a childhood…the plane began to buck and tilt, and swerve.

My stomach flipped and turned and I tightened my seatbelt all the while trying to pay attention to my aisle mate. During that 25 minute carnival ride my silent but constant prayer was as follows:

God of mercy, get me through this…I need to go home.

I was afraid for my life, I was afraid to break contact with a person who needed clarity about Jesus…and I needed to see my wife and children.

God of mercy, get me through this…I need to go home.

I found as I was preparing this sermon that my pleading prayer is very similar to today’s collect…read it with me…

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom
nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply
upon us thy mercy, that, thou being our ruler and guide, we
may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not
the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who liveth
and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

In other words, God get me through this life, with all it’s perils and all it’s struggles and all it’s laughter and joy …help me to be faithful and not turn from you, so that I can get home to you. To a place where there is only laughter and joy and peace and pleasant surprises….

God of Mercy, get me through this…I need to go home.

Editor’s note: (As I read this now after preaching it… I realize that there are two sermons here pressed together, and not at all successfully. However, … continue if you wish)

In the Epistle reading today we find that Paul is worried that the members of the Christian Church in Colossi are getting their faith watered down and “relativized” by pagan and heretical belief systems that are present in their area.

This early Christian church and her congregation were being bombarded by the message that believing in Christ was a weakness, what they practiced and preached was not a faith of empowerment but of mindless slavery.

The higher academic philosophies had more to offer than such a simple belief system..

The hidden secrets of the Gnostic religions held more prestige for the believer,

And the return to the ways and rituals of the Jewish faith, that they had left behind, was a more real religion.

How would you know if you were faithful if you weren’t doing enough religious things?

You’re not doing enough for God, You’re not enlightened enough for God, you’re not a member of the right sect to make it to God. God is not reaching for you… must try harder to reach to God….

Of course, those are All lies…but they’re the lies that have echoed down through the centuries. We hear those lies whispered all the time…not only whispered but blasted through our TV’s right into our houses……

They are the lies that tweak at our hearts and murmur in the back of our minds…. We need to do more than believe….we need to do more….We need to be smarter….we need to somehow blend our secular beliefs with our understanding of the faith so that we can feel more comfortable about things….

And so St. Paul rails against the whispered lies by telling us in verse 8 not to let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of the world rather than from Christ….[1]

What does he mean by that?…

To help, let me read to you a quote from my favorite Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple.

"I am the centre of the world I see; where the horizon is- depends on where I stand ... But I am not the centre of the world, or the standard of reference as between good and bad;

I am not and God is. In other words, from the beginning I put myself in God's place. This is my original sin ...

Education may make my self-centeredness less disastrous by widening my horizon of interest; so far it is like the climbing of a tower, which widens the horizon for physical vision while leaving me still the centre and standard of reference.[2]

He says the more we know, the higher we climb but we still only see to the horizon.

Paul frets, and rightly so, over the fact that the people of the church of Colossi, are being tempted to take Jesus out of the center of their lives and replace him with themselves…
And that will not just leave them will leave them lost and dead…

Paul takes special care to encourage them to have Jesus as not only their center but their anchor. He tells them that with Jesus they can weather any storm.

But Paul is concerned not only with making it through the hard times but also magnifying the blessings of this life. Because with Christ, Joy is more joyful, colors are more colorful, light is brighter, and blessings are more blessed.

Pauls says, take the living Christ into the world don’t just keep him beside you in the pew…

We all know this famous line from the 23rd Psalm.

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.

Now the change to illustrate Paul’s point.

Yea though I walk through the valley of popular opinion I will fear no stupidity.

Yea though I walk through my life putting God on the backburner until Sunday morning and maybe grace before supper….

Yea though I walk through my life absorbing bits and pieces of secular and pagan beliefs that make me feel good; all the while running from the hard choices that my Godly conscience is calling me to make.

Yea though I walk through the shadow of fact that until I sit down and write a sermon I forget that God want’s an active role in my life and not just a place in a frame on my wall.

After that exercise in creative writing, I realize my only chance of survival as I walk that valley comes when I walk it in the company of the living Lord. And not in the security of the knowledge that I have what it takes to survive on my own.

It’s funny that even though God tells us over and over that he want’s to bless us and keep us
I am sometimes afraid or maybe too embarrassed to burden with my small requests. I mean Jesus died for me I have difficulty opening a book that will tell me how I can experience his Grace…or mumbling my needs and desires from while on my knees…when I am away from church.

Think of whom I’m describing… the God who let Abraham bargain with him.

Lord if there are 50 good people in Sodom and Gomorrah will you spare them all..

Good, thanks, how about 45? Great…let’s make it 30….and so on …

When my kids do that I send them to their rooms although they are usually not arguing for the lives of others…..

Where do you think Abraham got the guts to be that intimate and forward with the Creator of the Universe? His righteous boldness was a gift from that same creator…

God wants us to be in relationship with him and in that conversation he will fortify and strengthen us as we draw near to him.

Jesus knew that timidity was a problem among the faithful. His disciples had been raised to fear any interaction with God.

Being in the physical presence of God was thought to produce instant death.

Saying his name out loud meant death by stoning.

Asking God for help must have been like Dorothy in front of the Wizard of Oz and not like child to an all knowing and all loving Father.

So Jesus, in today’s Gospel lesson about prayer…gives us the outline for a good solid prayer and then goes on to assure us that God will not bite our heads off when we come before Him. And in fact, the closer we enter into relationship with Him the more we will be aligned with His will and our requests will be more and more what he wants us to ask and more and more answered in the affirmative.

Isn’t that a wonderful thing?

The more we enter into the presence of the Lord in our daily walk the more our daily walk will be in the direction that God desires!!

It seems so simple… and we make it so complicated.

So to sum it all up…

3 things…to remember.

God want’s us to rely on Him to walk that path He has set for us. If we try to play these innings on our own we may make some good plays but inevitably, when the final whistle blows, the game will end. In Christ…there is eternal overtime.

While we should approach the Lord humbly and openly but never fearing retribution…never like you are expecting a lightning bolt. But always as if you will make contact with the savior …which you will….and you will be blessed.

And finally. The Christian faith is an all day, everyday adventure. In all situations, in all relationships, in all interactions with other people Christ should be relied on for wisdom, courage, and compassion. As well as protection…

So as we leave here to reenter the world

I’ll remind you of my prayer… the prayer sometimes I pray on every breath.

God of mercy, get us through this…we need to get home. Amen

[1] Colossians 2: 8&9 NLT
[2] William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942 ;
Christianity and the Social Order

Copyright David M. Dubay, Charleston SC 2007

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