Sunday, July 31, 2011

Seventh after Pentecost

July 31, 2011, Proper 13a

Grace and peace, on this warm midsummer Sunday morning. It is wonderful to be here with you and to be back home, as Susy and I yesterday afternoon arrived home after a couple of weeks up in New England, as we have spent our summer vacations for so many years now.

Scituate, Massachusetts, where a branch of Susy’s family has lived for about 350 years. Susy’s younger brother Mike, whom many of you have met, now has the family home actually where Susy’s mom was born, and we certainly always enjoy a time of summer relaxing by the shore, afternoon swims at the town beach, lots of great meals and conversations. Just a very nice time—though honestly with e-mail and the IPhone I guess we never really cut the cord entirely, and after a week or so I do find myself beginning to think more and more about life here, and am glad to get moving on for the return.

In all that I’m very appreciative of the way Phil Wainwright and Dean Byrom made themselves available for any pastoral concerns that might have come up while I was away, and of course for Joan and Becky and Pete and Liz and all of you for keeping “summer at St. Andrew’s” on track. Probably a lot of that is actually easier when I’m not around to pester and cause problems.

And of course with thanks to Junior Warden Brandon Cooper and Dr. George Knight and our Property Committee for completing the installation of our Church Air Conditioning system and getting that all up and running over the past two weeks. A great relief to us all . . . .

While we were away we did enjoy two Sundays with our friends at St. Luke’s Church in Scituate, and I also found it very meaningful to read the two sermons that Phil preached over these weeks, as they were posted on the Rector’s Page blog (which you can get to by way of the St. Andrew’s website, or just send me an e-mail and I’ll be sure you’re connected, if you’re not already). [Scroll down past this entry in the blog to read Phil's sermons.]

I do learn really so much from Phil especially as preacher and teacher of scripture, and I hope we would all be developing a rich sense of what a gift that it is to have him with us here. Certainly I know I have been richly blessed in this, and really enjoyed reading his reflections on the series of parables in the “Sermon by the Lakeshore” that Jesus preaches in Matthew 13.

Just thinking back to Matthew 13:10, as the disciples ask Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And his reply: “It has been granted to you to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to these others it has not been granted.” You disciples have me right here with you in this close personal way, but others will need to follow a more indirect path, and these words of mine here will help them find their way. And then at verse 16, “Happy are your eyes, because they see, and your ears because they hear! Many prophets and saints, I tell you, desired to see what you now see, yet never saw it; to hear what you hear, yet never heard it.” Again, to focus on what it means for the disciples to be with Jesus in such a personal and intimate way.

After the Sermon by the Shore Jesus heads on home to Nazareth, where there is something of a buzz about his new fame, and perhaps a little jealousy. That's where he says, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown." And then comes the news that John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus and like Jesus a preacher who has caused a great stir among the people—John the Baptist has been arrested by Herod, and then the story of his execution.

It appears to be a dangerous moment for preachers, and Jesus moves away from Nazareth, perhaps hoping to spare his family and friends the danger of Herod sweeping down on them. We might even remember that it is Matthew who had told us just a few chapters back the story of this Herod’s father and the visit of the Wise Men from the East and then, in such a horrifying way, the Slaughter of the Innocents in Bethlehem, which Jesus must have had in mind in this moment of gathering conflict with the authorities. And these days as we read this it’s hard not to be reminded of what so many have been dealing with in Iran and Syria and Somalia and the Sudan. This sense of a gathering storm of violence, and the kind of fear that would take hold.

But then following along in Chapter 14 this morning, and despite the danger, the crowds continue to seek Jesus out. Despite the danger. They’ve heard something in those Parables, they have for themselves begun to catch a glimpse of what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about, and nothing will turn them aside.

And so Jesus continues as well. As I read the stories of these two great miraculous signs I can’t help but think of that famous saying attributed often to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach constantly. When necessary use words.”

Here Jesus we might say begins to preach in a different language, with a vocabulary not of words this time, but to reveal the infinite depth of his divine love in action.

He sees the crowd first, and Matthew says “his heart goes out to them.” And the first stunning miracle: he cures all of them who are sick. No disease in heaven, no brokenness, no decay. The wages of sin is death, but in his presence there is healing and renewal and restoration and abundance of life. And then he lifts up his eyes over the crowd and he senses their hunger. Their physical hunger, but also their deeper spiritual hunger. And there follows the miraculous Feeding of the Five Thousand. Five loaves, two fish. St. John tells us in his account that this small beginning was the gift of a young boy, shared now and increased and multiplied, in abundance, all filled, and even the baskets at the end overflowing. Bread and fish, and blessing, and a glimpse of heavenly banquet. From the beginning Christians have connected this story with the story of the Last Supper, and with the story of the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, as Jesus blessed and broke bread with them, and to know that even as we come forward to the Table of the Eucharist this morning we share with those who were with Jesus in his presence and blessing. More than words. We are lifted up for a moment in anticipation, to the courts of Heaven. The Parables of the Kingdom of Heaven, coming alive in our hearts and in our lives.

I would just pray that it would be so for us all this morning. For each of us as individuals, as we grow in faith and grow into Christ, and for the life of the whole Church in the midst of such troubled times in the wide world. That as we hear the Word of Scripture we are brought into his living presence. That as the Bread is Broken and the Wine is poured out, we would be drawn to him. A desire to conform our lives to his, in obedience and in love. That even now as we affirm our loyalty to him and to him alone, we would begin to know the blessings of his Kingdom.

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