by the Rev. Canon Gregory A. Jacobs
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, June 14, 2015
Preached at Church of the Holy Spirit, Verona
Texts: Mark 4:26-34; 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17
All we can do is nothing worth unless God blesses the deed;
Vainly we hope for the harvest tide ‘till God gives life to the seed;
Yet nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be;
When the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. Hymn #534 v.4
Archbishop Desmond Tutu loves to tell the story about Jesus returning to heaven following his earthly ministry. Looking down on the disciples on Ascension Day, God shakes his head and says to Jesus: “Three years with that bunch of misfits, how did you do it?” Jesus just smiles and says: “That’s all you gave me to work with, so I had to learn to make do with that”.
This morning’s gospel brings us to a critical juncture in the disciples’ ministry. It is slowly beginning to dawn on them that discipleship is going to be hard and demanding work. No rose garden here.
Many of the disciples were probably wondering whether they have the right stuff:
- The capacity to forgive.
- The strength to proclaim the Good News.
- The single-minded love and devotion to God that Jesus has.
No doubt, the disciples had never witnessed anyone who lived his faith like Jesus does.
- No one preaches about the Kingdom of God using both parables and Scripture like Jesus does;
- No one speaks with authority like he does;
- No one heals others like Jesus does, with complete and utter faith in God.
This morning’s lessons speak to God’s power to transform the seemingly insignificant into something life-giving and purposeful. The anointing of David, the least of Jesse’s sons, to become the King of Israel. The seed that grows while its planter sleeps, not knowing what may become of that seed. The tiny mustard seed that grows into a shrub so large that birds are able to nest in it.
Such is the goodness and nature of God—taking what others have overlooked and rejected. And then blessing it and anointing it through grace.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus always drew his followers’ attention to the small things, the seemingly insignificant things. The things and people in life that were often overlooked, undervalued, taken for granted, or too easily written off.
So he taught them to appreciate God’s blessing:
- In the birds of the air and the lilies of the field;
- In the widow’s mite that is dwarfed by the large contributions of others at the temple;
- In the blessing of Lazarus who begs at the gate of the rich man and yet is ignored every day;
- In the seed that yields a hundred fold; and
- In the children that the disciples try to keep away from Jesus
And Jesus also taught them to not only receive blessing, but to offer it to others as well.
If you happened to have read Bishop Beckwith’s blog this past week, you will recall that he has invited the Diocese to enter into a season of blessing. On June 17, he will be offering public blessings at Penn Station, Newark and with the homeless later that morning. And he bids us to do the same wherever we are: “To offer blessings [to others] because it is an act of joining God.”
Moreover, he invites us to make blessings a summer discipline. To intentionally bless not only our friends and families, who it is so easy for us to bless (most of the time, anyway), but to bless those who we find it most difficult to love:
- The one who curses us.
- The one who has wounded us deeply.
- The one that when we say, “black” always responds with “white”.
Archbishop Tutu’s story points to a great truth—that is, Jesus’s faith in us in spite of all the baggage of our lives that we insist upon dragging around with us. In spite of our prejudices, our judgments, the hurts and slights (real or imagined) that we bear as scars, Jesus continues to have faith in us. Faith in us to entrust us with transforming this world so badly in need of God’s healing love and spirit of reconciliation.
- Faith that we will bless, when others would curse.
- Faith to find the face of Christ in others who are so easily demonized.
- Faith to bless those who have been pushed to the margins of this society—those who are the last, the least, and the lost.
My brothers and sisters what we and the disciples are struggling with is a radical trust in God. You see, we all want to trust in a God whose sole preoccupation is in blessing us. We want a God who is uniquely concerned about our welfare, our wants, needs, and desires.
Indeed, one can find numerous examples of those who preach the “prosperity gospel”. A gospel that stresses how to seek blessings from God, but says nothing about us blessing one another.
The deep mystery revealed in this morning’s readings is that we can be the instruments of God’s blessing. That in blessing others, we ourselves are blessed. God calls us beyond the “here and now” of our lives to the blessings that await us if we but trust in God.
Paul’s epistle exhorts the Corinthians and us to have confidence—“walking by faith and not by sight”. Living no longer for ourselves, but in the spirit of Jesus through whom “everything old has passed away and through whom all has become new.”
So much of lives is caught up in this old dispensation—that which makes us constantly seek our own security wherever we can find it. Anxiety is the byproduct of our “me-first” society. The economy, social insecurity, terrorism, even the rapid pace of technology, all stoke our anxiety.
And anxiety leads to worry. Worry leads to insecurity. And insecurity often leads to a preoccupation with seeking that which will make us feel blessed—those earthly treasures that Jesus warned us about trying to store up for ourselves.
So if you buy into this notion that life is basically, “nasty, brutish and short”, then your hope will be lodged in a personal blessing God-- one that looks out only for your welfare. In this universe, there is little room for anyone else but you, and if there happen to be those that are less fortunate than you, it is because God has chosen not to bless them.
But this morning’s gospel points us to a different understanding of faith. One that sees God’s commonwealth as abundant, life-giving, and committed to everyone’s welfare. One in which God blesses all of creation, and not just a fortunate few.
It is the Kingdom reality in which God as creator, redeemer and sustainer is actively involved and keenly interested in our lives. Faith takes the form of radical trust in a God who is generous, loving and forgiving.
Here the person of faith is not preoccupied with creating security systems of wealth and protection, but by knowing that God provides the only true security and protection she will ever need, seeks to be an instrument of God’s blessing. To be like the sower who plants the seed not knowing what it will yield, but nevertheless trusting that God will bless it. It is here that we enter the realm of placing radical faith in God.
Frederick Buechner asserts that faith is really a verb and not a noun. One way that we express our faith is through blessing others.
Let me be clear. We do not bless others because it is the right thing to do or because we might personally benefit in some way. We bless because God blesses us everyday, in ways seen and an unseen. And it is in that spirit that we recognize that we are instruments of God’s universal blessing —that we are indeed God’s hands, feet and heart, offering blessings through our words and actions. That through our blessing, others will be blessed and that our blessing will in turn be passed on to others.
As the Bishop so wisely observed: “The more we bless, the more we, in fact are blessed. “This is important”, he says, “—and indeed necessary, because as a culture we are becoming much more adept at cursing people...” or, I would add, more inclined to offer the closed fist instead of the open hand.
So, my friends, here is your summer spiritual discipline assignment—indeed let this be our lifetime faith practice. That on our journey of faith, we will open our hearts to God’s spirit so that:
- “Living a righteous, Godly and sober life” is the expression of our faith;
- Being in constant and conscious contact with God is the measure of our faith;
- Reading scripture and praying without ceasing become the tools of our faith;
- Letting go and letting God expresses the essence of our faith;
- Discovering that living our lives without anxiety and insecurity is found to be the reward of our faith; and
- Sharing a spirit of blessing and reconciliation with others in the name of Jesus is revealed as the product of faith.
My prayer today is that we will all discover that there is indeed a true faith in God that is broader and deeper and gives true meaning to our lives— And then a commitment to living out our lives in blessing like Jesus did--totally embracing God’s love, God’s vision and God’s blessing. AMEN.