3rd Sunday after Pentecost, year A (Proper 8), 2014 (preached June 29, 2014)
first reading: Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
second reading: Romans 6:12-23
gospel reading: Matthew 10:40-42
***This sermon was preached at a neighboring congregation whose pastor has just retired. I was their guest preacher for the day. At this congregation, during the summer (to shorten the service) they only read the second and gospel readings.
When I agreed to lead worship for you all today, way back in January, I had no idea that I’d be following Pastor H’s last Sunday. It’s my understanding that it was a wonderful day, and he enthusiastically shared all the details with me when we spoke this week.
I’m so glad that you had a “good” goodbye, celebrating your many years of ministry together in this place. And I’m pleased I could be here with you today, to begin this new chapter in the life of your congregation.
In a church this size I’m sure your collective feelings are all over the map. Some might be feeling quite sad, some happy to wish Pastor H well in this new chapter of HIS life, some relieved that all the events of the past weeks with all the planning and details and anxieties are done – some feeling, well, LOST – unsure of the future and what it holds for ministry here.
After so many years with the same pastor as your spiritual leader, who could blame you for a feeling a little lost or uncertain. NO ONE likes change. Yet this is what you all are facing.
The good news is that even in the midst of all the change that will be happening over the next months, as you enter the chapter of interim ministry and begin the process of finding a new spiritual leader, there is ONE thing that will stay the same, ONE constant that has been with you all along. And that unchanging constant is God’s love. The unchanging constant is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In this time of transition it is my hope that the gospel shines through to you stronger than ever before. For it is the gospel that carries us through all the times in our lives. It is the gospel that makes our joys more profound and our tragedies bearable.
It is greater than any one of us here and greater still than all of us put together. Because the only “person” on whom it completely relies is Jesus. Jesus is the ONE. It’s all about him – all about his sacrifice, all about his love, all about freeing us from sin as Paul writes in our reading from Romans. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But as much as Christ’s Church is more than any one of us, it is also about you and me. Now, when I say the gospel is all about us, I don’t mean that it’s about our selfish egos, but about Jesus’ willingness to die for you and me. Jesus is supremely concerned about our welfare. He died so that our eternal future is secure. We are given his Holy Spirit so that we may not be left orphaned.
When we think of “little ones” our first thought is children, but each one of us from the oldest to the youngest are the “little ones” in our gospel reading. “The world” gives important people stature and respect – the prophet and the righteous person – but Jesus is concerned about the “little ones.”
Jesus came for the world, but he also came for you and me. Jesus loves the world, but he also loves you and me. And I don’t mean that in a flippant way. It is not a casual thing to say “Jesus love me,” just as it’s not a casual thing to say “the body of Christ given FOR YOU.” It is utterly serious, utterly profound, earth-shaking, heart-filling and life-changing.
We who, as Paul tells us in Romans, were slaves to sin, have been brought to new life. Sin no longer has power, or dominion, over us – but through Jesus we are FREED from sin. And this love of Jesus, this handing over of his own life for us is a FREE GIFT to each one of us, his little ones.
It’s amazing to me that God can be so concerned about the world and all its deep deep troubles, and also supremely care about ME, and all my hurts and struggles. But that is our God – ONE who is concerned for the community, indeed the world, but the ONE who also knows the needs and desires of every human heart.
There are certain things in life that change. Indeed we face change throughout our lives. Even the Church changes. Throughout its history many things have changed in the Church, be they musical styles, theological viewpoints, leadership structure etc… And even in the life of this congregation I’m sure there have been changes – leadership and worship practices.
But there always has been, and always will be the constant that is Jesus – his life, death, and resurrection.
His love for each and every one of you sitting here this morning. His love for those who could NOT be here with us today. His love for the whole world. His love given to us through his preaching, through his sacrifice on the cross, through his body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, his love in the waters of Holy Baptism.
As you move forward over the next many months, as you reflect upon your ministry here and how it will continue, as you hit the inevitable bumps in the road, let the constant of Jesus ground you, be your anchor, your pillar of strength. For Jesus is the founder of this and every congregation, and the reason we are here.
HE is the reason we share with others the faith that is within us, as your mission statement reads (and I love this!):
“Reaching and RISKING to welcome the world in the Word that has come among us in Jesus Christ.”