July 12, 2020 The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 12, 2020
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11;
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

     The Psalmist writes, “Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path.” I speak to you in the Name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

     This past week saw the first two neighborhood gatherings where parishioners and friends are welcome to be physically present to one another and receive the Holy Eucharist. I have to admit that I was nervous about how these gatherings would be received and, frankly, if they would even work. Well, they did work, and they were well-received. So much so that we are planning more gatherings. I encourage you to watch for emailed announcements as those plans are finalized.

    But what came as a surprise to me was that the highlight of each gathering wasn’t found in our praying together or even in consuming the consecrated bread – the body of Christ – as wonderful as that truly was. No, for me, it was simply being present to and with one another, and watching how each person engaged with the liturgy and with each other.

     See, like many, I have longed to be physically present with all of you; to gather side by side, and face to face insideour beloved church buildings for prayer, worship, teaching, and fellowship. And now that we are entering our 5th month of being prohibited from conducting indoor services, that longing has grown that much deeper. In fact, it has now become a holy longing; a longing that refuses to be quenched. It is with that longing in mind that I find today’s scripture lessons timely.

     Our Old Testament lesson with its story of twin brothers Esau and Jacob reminds us of the consequences of hasty decisions. Decisions that are made to satisfy our longings and immediate needs without considering the future rarely bring peace of mind. In fact, in my experience, they usually spell disaster down the road. Genesis tells us that Esau, Isaac’s oldest son, was guaranteed a double portion of his father’s estate: that was his birthright in Hebrew culture. But he gave his birthright away to his younger brother Jacob in order to satisfy his immediate hunger – a longing that refused to be sated. This short-sighted action will be the source of a festering enmity between Esau and Jacob and they will become bitter enemies for many, many years. Esau, focusing on his immediate need, lost sight of his future and paid a dear price for his hasty decision.

     In the early Christian Church at Rome, there were those who believed that after many long years of striving to measure up to the Law of Moses, the time had finally come to get rid of it, to toss out the Torah, and focus solely on the life and words of Christ. After all, some asked, isn’t Jesus Christ the fulfillment of the law? Besides, do we, in this enlightened day and age, really need all those rules and regulations? Paul says, “Yes we do.” The Torah serves as a guide for how we should live in relationship with God and our neighbor. But, Paul says, the Law, the Torah, serves an even greater purpose: It points us to Jesus Christ. See, the Torah tells us what is right and wrong, and it reminds us of our fallibility as human beings, but it cannot save us. Jesus Christ does what the Law cannot do: Jesus forgives and redeems. Therefore, Paul in today’s reading from his letter to the Romans reminds the Church that society’s problems, the problems in the Church itself, and even within our own selves, is not because of the Law of Moses with all its rules and regulations. No, Paul says, the problem is sin. And no matter how hard we try to change the rules, we are still sinners condemned to death. But thanks be to God, Paul proclaims, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Law – the Torah – points us to Christ and that is its ultimate value for the Church. Paul goes on to share that the Spirit of Christ dwells within us and brings life and peace to our mortal bodies. For those who thought of throwing out the rules or changing them to meet their longings, Paul, like our Psalmist, affirms God’s word – God’s laws – are a light to our path and show us a way forward. God’s laws teach us to look for, and look to, Christ in all things.

     In our reading from Matthew’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the Sower. Jesus, the sower, scatters the word of God - the good news of the Gospel - and it becomes a seed of faith for all to receive. Now, unlike Mark’s account of this parable with his focus on the type of soil: whether we are fertile soil where the seed takes root and blossoms or poor soil where the seed withers and dies, Matthew focuses on how we choose to nurture and cultivate this seed of faith sown within our hearts. Matthew suggests that because, like seed, God’s word has gone out to all humanity, we have a responsibility to cultivate and nurture that seed of faith. Jesus explains that the word goes forth into the entire world but its ability to grow and flourish is affected by the culture in which it is found. With proper care, this seed will grow and produce an abundant harvest, but that care is up to us. We have an important role in stimulating, watering, weeding, nourishing, feeding and cultivating the seed of faith not only in our hearts and minds, but in one another and our communities as well. We are responsible for making an abundant harvest possible.

     As Christians, we nurture and cultivate our faith through daily prayer and Bible study for as the Psalmist says God’s word sheds light on our paths and shows us the way forward. And when not restricted by pandemics, our weekly gatherings for worship and fellowship are an opportunity to grow in grace and encourage each other to nurture that seed of faith sown within us. But, we are living in a time of pandemic and we cannot meet together. What is the Church to do?  

     You know, in the opening verses of today’s Old Lesson we learned that Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, faced an uncertain future. She longed to have a child. But she was barren and yet, by faith in God and active prayer, she bore not one, but two children. In a poetic sense, she who was barren yielded a double harvest. This story suggests that people of faith are never powerless in their circumstances. Each of us has the potential to live fruitful lives, but it requires choosing to act upon that faith sown in our hearts and minds. And therein lies a challenge for us.

     See, in many ways, this time of separation required to ensure the health and safety of one another, has created a sense of longing in our hearts and minds. And that longing is an invitation to ponder the scriptures more deeply so that we grasp what it means to not only follow Christ but to truly be the Church in this modern age. Some have speculated that unless churches return to indoor worship services soon, there will be no church in the future. I can understand their reasoning just as I understand that holy longing to gather as a full community for corporate worship, study and prayer so that we do nurture and encourage that faith within each of us. Nevertheless my experience this past week with our neighborhood gatherings offers much encouragement about the future of the Church because I saw what the church is truly about. And as I pondered that experience, a poem came to mind.  A poem by Adam Tice that speaks to what it means to be the Church. Adam writes,

 

The Church of Christ cannot be bound

by walls of wood or stone.

Where charity and love are found

there can the Church be known.

True faith will open up the door

and step into the street.

True service will seek out the poor

and ask to wash their feet.

True love will not sit idly by

when justice is denied.

True mercy hears the homeless cry

and welcomes them inside.

If what we have we freely share

to meet our neighbor’s need.

then we extend the Spirit’s care

through every selfless deed.

The Church of Christ cannot be bound

by walls of wood or stone.

Where charity and love are found

there can the Church be known.

 

                                                Adam M. L. Tice ©2005, GIA Publications, Inc.

 

    As we continue to journey through this time of pandemic and look towards our future as a parish and ministry, let us remember who we really are as a church: not a building, but rather, the body of Christ – a living breathing organism that needs to be fed and nurtured through prayer and bible study; a body that forever reaches beyond itself to serve and welcome; a body that understands as the Psalmist said so well, God’s word is lantern unto our feet and a light not just upon our path, but the paths of the whole world. And may God’s peace and grace continue to surround, embrace, encourage and uphold us, now and forever.  Amen.