November 10, 2019 – Sermon

Pentecost 22 November 10, 2019 Psalm 145, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ephesians 4:1-17, Luke 18:9-17
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Jesus tells a parable – one of many – this time about two men praying. Judging by what the first man says about himself – he’s keeping all the commandments, giving the expected amounts, and doing a little extra in the spiritual practices department by fasting twice a week. As he prays he gives thanks to God (a good thing to do of course – except) – what he’s praising God for is what a good guy he is, compared to others… Including that other guy over there…
That other guy who makes his living as a tax collector – working for the Roman empire that has colonized and oppressed Israel.
And – all that other guy can say for himself as he prays is “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
So – which one gets it right – the guy who’s sure he’s been doing it by the book? Or the one who should perhaps have the book thrown at him? And…
This is an open-book exam, and the book’s open if our bulletin is open. So – we know the guy who beats his chest and asks for mercy gets it right – while the guy who puffs out his chest and recites his accomplishments gets it wrong…

Next, we see Jesus correcting his disciples as they attempt to keep him from wasting his time with little children. (In those days children were loved but not regarded as sufficiently important for grown men to be concerned with.) But here’s Jesus, lifting up even infants – helpless, dependent infants – adding emphasis to Jesus’ theme of his kingdom reversing many the world’s priorities… As he instructs us in how we need to receive the great gift of God’s kingdom.

Probably many of us know this parable and this teaching of Jesus. Probably most of us know the message of our reading from Ephesians in which we’re reminded to live lives worthy of our Christian calling – “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Probably we remember “there is one body, one Spirit, one hope – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all – who is above all and through all and in all” – within whose oneness we all have our unique individual gifts and graces to be employed in God’s service…

Probably we know the good news of Jesus Christ better than we know we know… Because the days the prophet Jeremiah speaks of (which are recycled almost word for word in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews) are at least partly already fulfilled in Christ. God’s law of love is already written in our hearts and in our minds through the gift of faith given by grace that we have already been receiving… Yet…

At the same time, we have plentiful evidence of the persistence of sin and error even in the church, even among the saints. So we know the kingdom of God, while present indeed, already, is not altogether fully here yet. And we have evidence aplenty of our need to recognize ourselves as both sinners in need of ongoing repentance – and as saints in need of ongoing growth in grace and faith, hope and love. Growth in living the Christian life – partly for our own sake – and in even greater measure for the sake of the whole body of Christ – whose health depends on the spiritual health of each and every member.
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We’re baptizing (3) people and taking in (5) adult members today (in Bourne). Which is totally beautiful. And – not something we get to do every week – every month – even every year – in recent years. So we’re grateful. And praying and hopefully studying and learning to keep getting better at extending the invitation to all…Keep warmly welcoming all into closer relationship with Jesus…

Because our faith, while personal, is also always related to the community around us. Our Prayer of Dedication today (on our back page) summarizes the promises we make to God and one another in our baptismal vows – which are the same vows we make when we join the church, or renew our commitment to the church. We promise to faithfully participate in the ministries of the church through our prayers – our presence – our gifts – our service – our witness.
We don’t promise to be sinless or flawless. We do promise to do our best to be faithful to Jesus. And each other. Both are necessary parts of our faith.

As our Thought for the Week from Bible scholar and retired Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright says: “It is as impossible, unnecessary, and undesirable to be a Christian all by yourself as it is to be a newborn baby all by yourself.” Our faith depends on the faith of others – we can’t do faith alone. I like the way NT Wright says it, but I think it’s best to reverse his order, and say not only is solo Christian faith undesirable and unnecessary – it really simply can’t be done. Solo faith just doesn’t work. (Even if you’re a hermit monk or a prisoner in solitary confinement you are always going to be dependent on the prayers and service of other Christians you may never see or hear directly from… But whose prayers and acts of faith, hope and love do more than we can yet imagine to support our faith…)

We need the church. We need each other, to remind us that we are not alone in our walk with Jesus. We need the scriptures as our guide book. We need the traditions and long-term memory of the church to understand the bible and the world we live in. We need to be part of a worshiping, praying, God-serving community to be whole human beings. We need the law and prophets, we need the gospels and letters. We need Jesus calling us on to perfection – meaning wholly given over to God in love…

And at the same time we need the assurance of Christ’s full and gracious forgiveness when we fail, falter, and fall – as we will surely continue to do… as long as we are human here on earth…

We especially need Jesus’ intensely realistic, creative and imaginative parables and teachings – to remind us – what this church we are part of is supposed to look like. As, along with his core message of faith, hope and love – today we hear Jesus remind us of our need to be humble, persistent, and creative. Creative as little children are creative.

Children can be very creative in asking for what they need. Asking persistently, as repetitively as necessary, till prayer is answered. As another parable about prayer says in this same chapter of Luke – asking is the simplest form of prayer – and persistence is required… Children often figure this out faster than adults.

Children can teach us a lot about creative prayer – including radical child-like trust in God. Children figure out all kinds of creative ways to ask God for things we adults don’t dream of asking – and children often really believe their prayers will eventually be answered and keep asking – creatively. Practicing creative naivety – something adults can do too, with practice. Meaning among other things, cultivating the ability to believe in apparently long-shot possibilities being very possible with God. Even when the visible evidence says otherwise…

Holy creativity is God’s gift. And I’m convinced we all still have access to this gift if we ask God. Even if we’ve lost or misplaced our childhood creativity – or left it in a box in the attic of the soul. We’re all made in the image and likeness of God, we’re told in the beginning of God’s story – where we’re also told (in the bible’s opening words) – God is the Creative Creator of all that is good and true… And God, our God is still in the business of empowering all who ask in faith…
To keep learning from God how to create with God… a better village, a better community, a better world – starting with a better me – a better you – a better we, the church, together…

And if we’re willing to enlist or re-enlist in God’s kingdom, God’s church, God’s beautiful future… Let’s say together –
Thanks be to God. Amen.
And let’s sing –