holy cross sermon for the seventh sunday after pentecost, 2012

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In today’s readings, we learn about our calling in Christ – the task to which each of us is called as a disciple of Jesus, and a child of God. We see the outworking of what St. Paul said elsewhere, that God’s grace is sufficient for us, and that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

Today’s Old Testament reading from the prophet Amos is a poignant reminder from the prophet’s own life, that we are called to bear witness to the truth in every circumstance and to every person with whom we find ourselves in relationship, as the prophet Ezekiel put it, “whether they hear or refuse to hear,” (Ezek. 2 & 3).

The prophet Amos lived during a time of great prosperity for Israel, but as is often the case with prosperous cultures, it was also a time of spiritual lassitude and moral decay. So the prophet arrives on the scene, steadfastly refusing to ignore his vocation as a prophet, and not just as a prophet but his vocation as one of God’s people, to bear witness to the truth, that Israel had fallen away from the Lord, that they were headed for destruction, and that they were in consequence of their actions about to be carried into exile. It was an unpopular message, and its unpopularity can be seen in the words of Amazaiah, the priest (who was on the king’s payroll): “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” In short: “no one wants to hear this, Amos. Go prophesy somewhere else.” And Amos responds, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, `Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” In other words: “Look, I’m not even technically a prophet; but I can’t just pretend that God has said anything other than what he has said.”

What is it about our calling that enables and empowers us to ignore and set aside the determinations of our culture, and to bear witness to a truth in the face of which the world – and the religious institutions that take their values from the world – remain steadfastly obstinate? We are called to speak the truth, in every circumstance, no matter how much it may conflict with the value schemes of those in our orbit. This does not mean that we have to be obnoxious or rude, and in fact Scripture elsewhere tells us NOT to be obnoxious or rude (cf. 1 Cor. 13). But we are commanded to live and speak the truth. Always and only the truth. The so-called “Indianapolis Statement,” given by our bishops, along with ten other bishops, at the Episcopal Church’s recently-concluded General Convention, is an example of this: graciously bearing witness to the truth, refusing NOT to live in harmony with reality, even in the face of near unanimous opposition.

But this is no easy job. It is often much easier simply to go-along in order to get along. But such going along in order to get along, as Amos shows us, is a betrayal of God’s call in our lives. We cannot claim to belong to him if we refuse to bear witness to his truth. So what will enable us to rise to this difficult occasion? It is the grace of God, which, as Paul says, is sufficient. God’s grace is, in truth, all that we need. And once we encounter it, it equips us with what St. Paul calls “the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want” – of abounding in any circumstance (cf. Philippians 4.12). When once we encounter God’s love, personified in Jesus, when once we are filled with the conviction of God’s provision for us in every circumstance, we are liberated by dispassion with respect to the world, its values and its blandishments. And by our detachment form the world, we are enabled to serve God with joy and peace, come what may.

How do we get there? First, we continually bring ourselves to Jesus: we confront ourselves over and over with his reality – the reality of him who really lived, really died, really rose, and really ascended for us – we confront ourselves with the reality of his fullness. And we do this by prayer and meditation. Then we ask God for the gift of faith. We say “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9.24). And we exercise our will and we act out of the faith which God then gives to us. Faith itself is a grace, and as we have said: God’s grace is sufficient. So we must be content with whatever amount of faith we have received FOR THE MOMENT, while always asking for and expecting more.

It is in this contemplation of Jesus that we come to realize what is in store for us in virtue of our communion with him. For it is in him – and in him alone – that God “has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth,” (Ephesians 1.9ff).

When we come – through prayer and obedience – to the realization of what has been done for us in Christ, then we receive the gift of joyful and peaceful obedience, the gentle compulsion of the Holy Sprit, the “destiny and appointment” of living for the praise of God’s glory (cf. Eph. 1.12). And THIS – this life of the Spirit – “is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of the Glory of God” (Ephesians 1.14).

This is how it is, and what it means, to bear witness to God’s truth when those to whom we are bearing witness are themselves insensible to that truth, and when sometimes it is not even easy for us to see it. But we can always see Jesus, and as Simon Peter said to Jesus (John 6.68f): “You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus is the guarantor of the truth that is to be revealed in its fullness to the whole world. And his grace is sufficient for us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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