Sunday, May 12, 2013

12 May 2013 Sermon ~ The Rev. Peter M. Carey ~ Easter 7

The Rev. Peter  M. Carey
12 May 2013 – Sermon - St. Paul's Memorial Church, Charlottesville
8am Holy Eucharist 

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

In today’s reading from Acts, we have an amazing description of the overwhelming and abundant power of God to overtake the ways of the world. It is exactly this kind of power that you and I have perhaps prayed for in our darkest moments, in our saddest times, and in those days when we cannot see any way forward or any route out of our present circumstances.  It is hard, at time, to believe that God’s power can actually come into our lives as it does to Paul and Silas, jailed and beaten, but then set free through the miraculous power of God.  In our rational and logical world we are like Spock on the U.S.S. Enterprise in Star Trek, arguing that logic does not allow for such things as the hear, or for emotion, or for anything that is beyond our understanding.  However, we all have some notion of the peace which passes all understanding or we would not be here today, waking up early on a glorious morning and skipping out on our coffee or tea, on our New York Times crossword, or our NPR weekend edition, or on our Sportscenter, or on our beach reading which arrived from just yesterday. 

What brings us here, I would hazard a guess, is that we do believe, we do have some notion that the power of God is really beyond our understanding, and to this I say Alleluia!  Alleluia!  We live and breathe and make our way in this world, and in this time of Easter we do proclaim that Christ is Risen, he is risen indeed – even though we may have a hard time describing just what this might mean to the logic-centric mind of Spock, or to our friend who wonder why we need to schedule a later tee time so that we can go to church.  The reality is that we yearn for what God provides, we yearn for the walls of our own jails to be broken open, we yearn for an earthquake or a thunderstorm to crash in on our small and limited lives, on our locked in/restricted existence.  We yearn for the peace which does pass our understanding, we yearn for the peace which  may come, even when disappointment hits, even when our five year plan explodes after a few months, even when some of our dreams have to be set aside because of the vicissitudes of life.

In some ways, the peace which passes our understanding is going to shake us up in ways that we cannot control, that we cannot predict, and  in ways that may, at the time seem to be nothing like grace, and perhaps even nothing like peace.  God can be like that in our lives.  We make plans and they get jettisoned, we embark on journeys and then we swerve, we sit down and chart out the future, and then we realize that we are more servant than master, more follower than leader, more rider than driver. 

Who Makes These Changes

Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right.
It lands left.
I ride after a deer and find myself
chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want
and end up in prison
I dig pits to trap others
and fall in.

I should be suspicious
of what I want.

~Jelaluddin Rumi

However, God may be breaking us open for some new delight, even when the unexpected happen.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crows of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond

He may be clearing us out for some new delight!

And, so in this last week of Easter, we affirm that the peace which God sends is beyond our understanding, and this may be scary, this may fill us with holy fear, with awe (awe-some) (awe-ful), however, think of Paul and Silas in the jail, and think of the jailer.  God was at work, in a most incredible and dramatic way and god is also at work today, even for folks like us who cling to our “spock-ness”, our logic, our focus on rationality, our skepticism.  Leave these aside, and see who may be knocking at the door, perhaps, indeed, it is the living God.  Perhaps we need our spiritual houses swept clean of its furniture, perhaps we need to be cleared out for some new delight.

We gather here at this table, and we remember  and re-member the remarkable last days of Jesus Christ on Earth, of Emmanuel, God With Us, and we pray that God would send His Holy Spirit, even today, even in this place, even in the midst of those of us who are morecomfortable with logic, reason and skepticism.  Here in this place, we call up on the living God to be in our midst, just as when Paul and Silas were singing and praying in that place.  Are we ready for God to enter, are we ready for the peace (and the clearing out!) which may pass our understanding.  I pray that we are, because God does have plans for us.

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.
Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982

Acts 16
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

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