Saturday, July 16, 2011

Proper 11A 2011

          Today’s Bible readings are about hope. St. Paul sums it up. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

              We live in hope. As the committal in the burial service begins, “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother (or sister)” We have learned to trust God and to live in the sure and certain hope that at the end our trust will not have been in vain and God will fulfill all his promises.

              We read from Romans 8 as the Epistle lesson at funerals. This chapter is the clearest expression of our hope for new and eternal life in Jesus Christ, and not only for our new and eternal life, but for new and eternal life for all creation. In 1961 I graduated from college the Rev. James Bertram Collins, a Church of England priest, published a book, “Your God Is Too Small.” Philips was well known for his translation of the New Testament into contemporary English. His book was important in helping a whole generation to see God at work not only within the church but in all of creation. Philips and those of us influenced by his work took seriously St. Paul’s teaching that the whole creation has been redeemed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We wait in hope for the final consummation of God’s work in Jesus Christ.

              Some in our culture seek to reduce religion to the personal and private. Theydeny any common moral vision beyond a heavily edited version of three of the Ten Commandments. Stealing, killing, and telling lies are still not approved of, with some exceptions, but the rest are generally ignored. Their God is not too small; he is not present at all. In a largely godless culture our task is to witness to God’s presence and God’s hope – God’s hope in us and our hope in God.

              In our Old Testament reading Jacob is truly hopeless. We read last week how he extorted the birthright from a hungry Esau. Later he deceived his dying father Isaac by dressing in skins, impersonating Esau, and receiving the father’s final blessing. His deceit did him no good. Their mother Rebecca warned Jacob that Esau sought to kill him, and Jacob fled for his life. His conniving and lies has brought him nothing but trouble. Jacob headed back to his mother’s people in northern Syria and southern Turkey, and stopped at a spring about 10 miles northeast of Jerusalem. It was a familiar area. Near there Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had received the Lord’s covenant promise (12:7) “To your offspring I will give this land,” and “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (15:1). Jacob was sleeping rough, and in danger from wild animals and bandits, but he was exhausted, and slept. In his dream he received his own promise from the Lord, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

              Jacob had heard of the promise of God to his father and grandfather. We have heard of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus from our parents, teachers, and clergy. But the promise came real to Jacob in his own experience of God’s promise, received in faith and hope. God continues to speak to each of us directly and each of us directly and calls for our response. That response may come in prayer; it may be as simple as reciting the Creed as our personal commitment; it may be a road to Damascus experience throwing us off our high horse. It is a personal renewal of the vows of baptism. But with Jacob all of us say in faith and hope, “Surely the LORD is in this place.”  And in thanksgiving we offer “our selves, our souls and bodies” to God’s service in Jesus Christ.

              Jesus told a parable of good and bad seed. A weed called the bearded darnel looks like winter wheat when it is growing. Only when full grown can the grains be told apart. Without Jesus we are like the bearded darnel, but we are  transformed by God’s grace in Jesus into good seed. God is good and lets both wheat and weed to grow until the harvest. Jesus promises he will come again and take us to himself. This present world will not continue for ever. The harvest is coming, “the whole creation,” and “we ourselves” wait for redemption, and we love and serve while we wait in patience and hope. Amen.  

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