We Can

Ascensioncast

Sermon by The Rev. Patrick J. Wingo, February 3, 2019

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The Gospel: Luke 4:21-30

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and began to say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The Sermon

Sermon for Epiphany 4C  2-3-19 CAK PJW In the four summers that I worked in college I was a lifeguard at the local public pool. Part of that job involved teaching swimming lessons to pre-schoolers, which was quite a challenge, and really pretty ironic considering I wasn’t that great of a swimmer. If you have ever tried to teach a child to swim, you know the joys and the frustrations of that job. So think about those joys and frustrations and multiply it by 10, the average number of four and five year olds in my weekly classes. Imagine the kids coming with one of their parents on a dewey summer morning in June, with their water wings, their oversized towels and their brand new goggles. Imagine the kids who were excited, and couldn’t wait to get in the water. Imagine the kids who were scared, and held on to their mom’s or dad’s leg, and had to be coaxed or bribed to come sit on the edge of the pool. They all came because, from their parents’ point of view, they needed to expand their world, to grow, to learn about water safety. They all came, from the kids’ point of view, to have fun, or because they were told they had to.   For me it was exciting and fun as well. I loved seeing these little people kick and slap their way across the pool at the end of the week, which was the final test. Can you do it? Can you make it all the way across to the other side? Almost always, in one way or another, they made it. And almost always, at the beginning of the week, when I told them of the final test, one or two or three or all of them said, “I can’t. I can’t do that!” I would hear that refrain throughout the week. David, can you put your face in the water and blow bubbles?     I can’t! Julie, can you push off the side of the pool and kick really hard to me? I can’t! Tommy, can you move your arms in the water like a windmill?     I can’t!   But they could. They could. They just needed to know that the water would hold them up, that their bodies could be used as a tool, and that an adult would be there to catch them, to hold them up when they started to sink.   I can’t. I can’t.   I bet every single person in history has said that phrase at one point or another. Even an Old Testament prophet like Jeremiah, as we heard in our first reading this morning. Jeremiah was the son of a Jewish priest, and he was called by God to proclaim the truth to Jerusalem that destruction was on the way because the people were worshipping false gods. Now, all of us know that when someone tells us the truth about the consequences of our actions we often don’t want to have anything to do with them. Jeremiah knew this. He knew that if he responded to God’s call to prophesy to God’s people that he would be rejected and be in danger. And in fact that is what happened. There were plots against his life, he was beaten and he was mocked. Jeremiah knew that these things would be the result of responding to God’s call to be a prophet, and he  resisted. I can’t, Lord God, I can’t. Listen to the reading again:   Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”…   Now listen to a poem by a Lutheran minister named Michael Coffey:   It’s titled, Oh Boy Jeremiah   He heard a voice that only men hear when ears open put down his blue light saber removed his holster and belt   disassembled his Lego kingdom castle and retired his knights and horses and trebuchet   boxed up the green Army men with frozen pea faces and decommissioned the generals and their monochrome medals   put his red-tipped pistol in the garbage with the Mountain Dew and tossed the paper-tape caps and plasticized badge   the boy heeded his interior for the first time and convulsed at the call to be strong in word and muscle and heart and will   the yearning to do holy things for magnanimous purposes and drop pretense and armor and put his own flesh on   he looked at his father’s leathered hands his uncle’s gray hair and grandfather’s worn out body   he weighed the heft of work ahead against the helium frivolity of youth and so he said to the Spirit that haunted him   oh boy, he said, it looks too hard for this boy and the Spirit said to the one naked without toys, oh man   —Michael Coffey (Ocotillo Pub blog)   I can’t God. You can. I am just a boy, God. You are a prophet. I can’t speak well, God. I will give you my words. I can’t see where to go Lord. I will lead you. I don’t know what to do Lord. Follow me.   It is a refrain throughout the Bible. I can’t. I do not believe. I am afraid. Yet, over and over the message is, “You can. I am with you. Do not fear.” Everyone who articulates their fear or their unbelief or their inability hears a different message from God, a message of strength or hope or presence.   These truths about how God deals with us as individuals are true for communities as well. Almost all of St Paul’s letters were to communities of faith who were dealing with some issue or another. So to the Galatians Paul said, you can allow Gentiles into your community without following the Mosaic Law. And to the Ephesians Paul said, You can get along with each other—Walk in Love as Christ loved us. And to the Corinthians, in our New Testament lesson today he said, The greatest spiritual gift is love and no other gifts matter if you don’t have love. You can be open to the many gifts God has given—and the greatest of these gifts is Love. It’s everywhere. You can love. You can believe. You can be strong. You can be fearless. O man! Oh woman! You can…   Most of you received a letter from our vestry and financial leaders last week. The vestry has set up listening sessions so that you can talk more about the issues outlined in the letter. It’s important to dialogue about those issues so that everyone has clarity and can participate in the discussion. The details about the sessions are in the bulletin. I would guess that in reading that letter there might be plenty of opportunities to say “I can’t. We can’t. They can’t.” But the message of faith is that we can. You can. They can. God can. Sure, we have some financial challenges, but is that going to keep us from doing God’s work in the world? Is that going to keep us from coming here to worship God in Jesus Christ? We have some smart people working on our finances, and for that I hope we are all grateful. We have a committed group of faithful people on our vestry. They will work hard. Ultimately, however, let me tell you how we will deal with all these issues—by responding gratefully to God who has given all of us life and who has given us love for one another. We will respond to these issues by being involved in the work God has called us to do, not out of duty, but because God made a covenant with us at our baptisms. Many of us are part of organizations because we have a common goal or a common interest or a common background. Alumni Associations and PTAs and Biking Clubs are wonderful groups. But church is different—we are drawn here together through love, through grace, and our dream is nothing less than bringing God’s healing and restoration to each other and to a hurting world. I’ll close with a story. Once there was a young man who wanted to go out and make his future in the world. He set out on his journey and as he was walking down the road he saw an old man by the side of the road sitting with a bowl of mud and a stick. The young man stopped and watched as the old man stirred the mud, and after a while reached in and picked out a gold nugget. The young man was amazed, and said, “You must teach me how to do this! Tell me everything!” The old man said, It’s very easy, really. You get a bowl, a stick, some dirt and water, and make some mud. Stir the mud and after a little while you just reach in and pull out the gold.   So the young man went way and got everything he needed, sat down and started stirring. After a while he reached in, and there was nothing but mud. He stirred harder and longer, but no matter what he did, there was no gold. In his anger and frustration, he stormed back to the old man and said, “It’s not working! You forgot to tell me something! Tell me how you make gold!” The old man thought a moment and said, “Ah, I suppose I did leave something out. You do have everything you need. But while you are stirring, you must never think about the gold.” Our financial health is important—no question about that—but it is important only in how it helps us carry out our mission. God has called us to be his people, to grow closer to him, to serve his world. We have everything we need. Let’s proclaim his truth, his grace, his love to each other, and to everyone we meet. This, we can do. We can.