Monday, February 11, 2019

Anything Can Happen in February Without Lent

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
February 10, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty

Preaching Texts: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11   Luke 5: 1-11

February without Lent does not happen all that often. It seems like it should be a festival where anything could happen in a February without Lent. So we are going to sing an Easter hymn as the hymn of the day. Because it is February without Lent. A miraculous catch of fish, could it be that this catch of fish actually happened in a February without Lent. Well I got that at least half right as there was not yet Lent when Jesus went out and gathered his followers. Remember last year, this Sunday would have been Transfiguration Sunday and Lent started on Valentines Day. This year we have another 24 days until Lent. It’s not Lent yet.

The NFL held a football game without a terribly blown call or a controversial overturned catch or non catch. Anything can happen in a February without Lent. For the Souper Bowl of Caring we gathered 91 items. And nationwide folks gathered 4 million (Anything can happen in a February without Lent) 4,468,998 pounds of food. Someone estimated the value of what was collected at 7.8 million dollars. A little over three thousand groups like Christ Lutheran participated to benefit 2,000 charities. That is an increadible catch of fish. Anything can happen in a February without Lent.

Some of you last week noticed that the bulletin listed Tom D--- as our assisting minister for today. The Church secretary, treasurer and a volunteer were in the church office. It sounds like a set up for a joke, but this is the way they told me the story. They talked amongst themselves in the church office about snowbirds. (Retirees join the realm of snowbirds when they move to Florida during a couple of months during winter.) The D---’s name came up. They now go back and forth, north-south. And talking about them, Br--- typed into the bulletin Tom D--- as our assisting minister instead of Tom M---. All sorts of things are going on in this February without Lent. Br--- joked with me this week as she told the story that she’s surprised B-- T---’s name did not end up in the bulletin someway, somehow. B--- and R---, apparently were also at one time snowbirds. I remember her as my first funeral at Christ Lutheran ten years ago. He died two and a half years ago. B---’s name ending up in the bulletin. Anything can happen in a February without Lent. The resurrection day has to happen someday. So not just B--- T---’s name in our bulletin but B--- T--- in our gathering, walking in those doors. That is what anything means.

Besides B--- and anything can happen in February without Lent, you have another reason to sing an Easter Hymn as our hymn of the day. The second lesson for today fills our ears with Paul’s words of the resurrection day. 

"For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.... Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."

You have to realize when you believe that anything can happen, then you live in anticipation. And if you anticipate the right things, you live in hope. Donuts in the worship space offers us today a small blessing. Jesus rising from the dead, offers us a huge blessing. Anything can happen means miracles become possible, even expected. Anticipation has a powerful effect to move us forward on the edge of our seat.

These first disciples will enter into a life with Jesus full of anticipation. With Jesus anything can happen and this miraculous catch of fish offers just a quick preview of what anything will look like. Jesus will feed the multitudes. He will heal the sick. Raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus will humble the wise and proud with his teachings. He will walk on water and calm the sea and the storms. With Jesus anything can happen and a. whole lot will happen.

Anticipation that anything can happen does not mean it will happen. That anything can happen does not mean everything will happen. I know that is a bummer. Anticipation means that it could happen. That miracles could happen like an incredible catch of fish or a dead man rising up out of the grave. It means we get to live in expectation that miracles will happen, so maybe, just maybe the miracle we want to happen will happen.

D--- and I and friends lived in that expectation full of cautious hope for two weeks before B--- died. D--- sat by his side daily. I drove to the UVA hospital just about every other day. We lived in hope of miracles because we know they happen. B--- reached that point where every day was a miracle. And we wanted one more day and then we dared hope for two, because Jesus teaches us to live in anticipation that anything is possible. 

B--- died Saturday a week ago. We continue to hold you in prayer D---, you and P---, and if you don’t mind, I want to tell folks want happened last week at the graveside service. We held a graveside service on Tuesday and I stood at the head of coffin, my toes three inches from the grave. What a place of holy privilege you give me when I get to stand with my toes three inches from your grave and I get to look down in that space and I think Jesus sanctified this grave. Jesus sanctified this grave, and Boyd’s grave and Rose’s grave and Amelia’s grave and Milton’s and Betty’s and Raymond’s and Anne's. Three inches from the grave and I am looking down into that holy space and D--- is sitting three feet away from me and we hear the grave and the coffin creak, groan. Just like your house groans as it settles and expands in the heat, or whistles in the wind. We heard the grave—somewhere between a creak and a groan. And I think listening to that sound, this grave is temporary just like our homes are temporary. That’s what the resurrection means, graves that are temporary because Jesus will one day come and empty them out, and we will live.

D--- had a similar thought. He heard that sound of the earth and he thought, wouldn’t it just be like B--- to—at his own funeral—sit up and say “fooled ya.” Give us all a heart attack. Anything is possible in February without Lent. Or said another way, the resurrection day has to happen sometime, so why not today. B---- sit up and say “fooled ya” or walk into this worship and say “fooled ya.” Jesus to stretch out his hands and pronounce today, this day, is my victory. We live in that anticipation, that anything is possible, miracles happen and the dead will be raised. All possible one day, some day. 

I do not need to live in a world where anything is possible. Frankly there are some things that I would rather not see. But I want to live in a world where miracles happen, the sick become healthy and are cured, where the dead live. I want to live in a world with miraculous catches of fish and 4 million pounds of food collected in a couple of weekends. I want to live with Jesus active in the world and in our lives.

So I will end this message with a prediction, with a prophecy. The resurrection day, the return of Christ, our judgement day and triumphal entry into the kingdom of heaven will happen in a February without Lent, anythings possible in a February without lent. I anticipate that and I share it with you because then on that day lent will be no more, crying and tears and death will be no more. That is my prediction, my prophecy the resurrection day will happen in a February without lent. One day, someday, you will have to let me know, whether or not I am right.


Monday, February 4, 2019

The Year of the Lord's Favor

February 3, 2019
Prepared by the Rev. Robert McCarty,
Pastor of Christ Lutheran, Staunton, VA

What an interesting contrast between the love chapter of 1 Corinthians and this gospel lesson. Jesus comes home. The image of home should evoke a feeling of love. But when Jesus speaks about a taboo topic, he nearly gets himself killed. He sort of gets himself run out of town on a rail, except that he walks peacefully through the angry mob.

(If you haven’t already, please take a minute and read the gospel lesson. To fully embrace and understand this message, you need the gospel scripture.)

Maybe things have changed, hopefully, but maybe not. In the 1960s, Janet found herself pregnant and unmarried. Her parents arranged to have Janet go live with family out of state, until her child was born and adopted. Then she returned home and her parents never talked about it. When Janet told her story fifty years later, she does not say why. Her parents did what they thought was best so their daughter could move on with her life, but they never talked about the child. Janet could count on one hand the number of people she told. She got married, changed her name, moved out of state, and lied a thousand times when people asked if she had any children.  Some of you remember those days with homes for unwed mothers. When daughters discreetly moved away for six months to a year, and the polite etiquette was to say nothing.

Another story from 1972, Wayne came out of the closet during his freshman year of college. He decided that going back to his home church was not a safe place for him. Again things you do not talk about at home. In fact for 13 years, he avoids church completely.

Jesus goes home, and we might think, his situation is totally different from Wayne, from Janet. Jesus goes home, and he steps into a position of leadership. He reads the scripture. He is invited to sit down and preach. First, Jesus reads this jubilee passage from Isaiah (part of the gospel passage above). This Old Testament scripture prescribes a Jubilee celebration every fifty years. In the cycle of celebrations, year forty-nine would be a sabbath year and then year fifty would mark the Jubilee. The Israelites would mark the jubilee year by forgiving debts, releasing prisoners, sharing their extra with one another. These sentiments live in the Isaiah text that Jesus reads. “Good news for the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind.” 

That last one sounds different. It sounds like something special. How might the blind regain their sight? That image suggests miracles. With Jesus jubilee sounds different and will look different and will be miraculous. “The oppressed go free.”  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” and finally Jesus speaks these words “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What does “the year of the Lord’s favor mean?” This concept anchors what jubilee will look like with Jesus. Jamison and I heard about “the year of the Lord’s favor” at Winter Celebration two weeks ago. “The year of the Lord’s favor” means no more “us” and “them.” I want to emphasize that, no more “us” and “them.”

Jesus spells that out to his hometown friends. Remember how Elijah saved the widow of Zarephath in Sidon. Remember she was a gentile. Other Israelite widows also suffered. They died then for lack of grain, when other Israelites did not share their extra. Remember how Elisha cured Naaman the Syrian, another foreigner. Remember other Israelites had leprosy and none of them was cleansed. Jesus explains what his message means, no more us and them, and his hometown tries to throw him over a cliff.

Here is another way to think about the widow of Zarephath, and Naaman the Syrian, and the year of the Lord’s favor. Friends of Elizabeth and mine, adopted a child from Ethiopia. Their family asked them why they couldn’t adopt a child from the United States? We had friends in common with another couple who adopted two children from Korea. No more “us” and “them” mean an orphan is an orphan. It does not matter where they come from. 

I know you will let me speak to you like a proud papa when I tell you what I value about the church. I guess you could say, why I am proud of the church, what I love about the church.

What I value about the church is how in the last 50 years of our life together as church we have broken down some of these barriers that separate us and them. 

Over the years, decades frankly, we have created a friendlier atmosphere, more tolerant atmosphere, welcoming atmosphere, for the Janet’s and Wayne’s of our community. We have created this Christian atmosphere not necessarily just for our sons and our daughters, but for God’s sons and God’s daughters. The Christian church is full of single mother’s—some because of divorce, some because of widowhood, and some Janet’s of the world who did not give up their children for adoption. The church is here for all single mothers to walk with them as they raise their children in a community of faith. We have long stopped making decision based on how they became single mother’s.

This change, this breaking down of barriers that separate us, it can challenge us. We struggle at times with this. But we struggle together.

Wayne recognized this when he returned to the church Easter Sunday 1985 and the Sundays following. He found a worship home at Alice Millar Chapel. He learned a new hymn “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.” He describes the experience this way. 

I thought the image of straying from the fold and being carried home by the Great Shepherd who seeks the lost ones best described that time in my life. 
But now I know I wasn’t lost. The church had left me as much as I had left the church. I wasn’t returning home. I was being welcomed into a new kind of community. 
I don’t recall hearing much about the Holy Spirit when I was growing up. But now I know the Holy Spirit issued the invitation to return. I heard it in the call to communion: “Come to this table, then, sisters and brothers, as you are. Partake and share.”
(Excerpted from “Return” in The Christian Century, November 21, 2018. Pp 22-7.) 

Janet also experienced the joy of God’s grace when she and her 47 year old son found each other. She tells her story this way.
After much considering, I made the contact that led to a reunion with my 47-year-old son. I’ve had the joy of getting to know him, seeing my blue eyes in his, and knowing that my funny side lives on in him. I’ve spent treasured moments with him, my daughter-in-law, and my five-year-old towheaded grandson, in whom I savor the little boy antics I never knew with my son.
After all the years of shame and secrecy, reuniting with my long-lost child has been for me a sure sign of redemption, resurrection, and a return to wholeness.
(Excerpted from “Return” listed above.) 

Janet chooses the word’s of God’s grace to define her experience: Redemption, Resurrection and wholeness. This is the change the church has experienced in my lifetime, an embracing of the whole experience of us. No more us and them, God embraces us, all of his children in all of our complexity. This is the church of my lifetime, not just my lifetime but our lifetime. Thanks be to God; may we continue to embrace the us and break down the barriers that divide.

From the Episcopal Common Book of Prayer - for Social JusticeGrant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.