|Sunday, May 22nd, 2011||
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
The Reverend Nina R. Pooley
Sermon Preached by the Reverend Nina Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Church, Yarmouth, Maine
Sunday, May 22, 2011 ~ The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Still Here, For Now
Ken and I jokingly thought I should begin the sermon this morning with roll call, to see who had been taken in the Rapture. On Friday, The Bangor Daily News ran an article about evangelical churches trying to deal with the end of the world. But by Saturday afternoon the Christian Science Monitor had weighed in as well, in an article entitled, “Apocalypse Not.” It’s an interesting thing this predicting the end of the world, and our fascination with it. We do, as Christians, believe in the second coming of Jesus, that Jesus will come again and that life as we know it will change. That there will be a new heaven and a new earth. And the point is for each generation to live in such a way that knows that to be true. Meaning we live as though it matters right now what we do and say, and we work toward God’s justice here on earth. And we know that it’s all temporary. That it will all end. We as Christians live as though it might end tomorrow. But not in an end of the world kind of way. In a holding it all a bit lightly sort of way – focusing on what matters, relegating the rest to lower status. And living with a deep appreciation of all that is good in our lives, as we concern ourselves with righting the balance here and now, to address the needs of those who are living in poverty, those who are struggling with the weight of injustice.
The R13 group picked as their theme – valuing what you have, holding fast to what is good. A significant statement coming from young people who are members of a media saturated, consumer frenzied culture. To know at a young age that coveting everything around you will only make you crazy is no small amount of wisdom.
We have amazing young people in our parish family – who have learned a great deal from this community, and who have a great deal to teach us themselves.
For their Gospel lesson for the ceremony today they chose the Parable of the Good Samaritan – one they know well from all those reenactments with their Sunday school classes. I know Holly says its because everyone wants to play the bandits that beat up the traveler – but that’s not what I heard from the kids. They chose it because as they said, “What if the Samaritan hadn’t stopped?” What if he had decided that he wasn’t the best person to rescue the man – after all the other people had position and money to help…and lots of people had problems with Samaritans doing anything for them…there were plenty of excuses the Samaritan could have used to talk himself out of helping, but if he hadn’t helped, what then? No one would have and the man would have died. The Samaritan might not have been the best person for the job, the most likely person, but he was there and he could help - so he did. He did what he could with what he had, and it was enough. It wasn’t free and it wasn’t easy, and he did it anyway. To most of us it makes no sense, but he didn’t do it because it made sense. What Jesus was telling people with the parable was ‘this is the right way to respond to someone in need.’
Emmanuel Celestin Suhard, Catholic Archbishop of Paris during the Nazi occupation of France, said, "To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda or even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist."
I think that’s what our young people are really getting at – we live in response to the Gospel, to what God is about in the world and in our lives. And because we’re living in response to something other than the culture around us, it might make no sense to the world. Rescuing the injured man by the side of the road, righting injustice, working for peace – what matters will make little sense to the world.
But then again, the world often doesn’t make sense either. Sometimes things happen and we can barely take them in for their senselessness. Like the prediction of the end of the world and all the attention it garnered is one. It makes us shake our heads.
Like the death of that little boy whose body was discovered in South Berwick last week is another. The sheer senselessness of it all, the pain and the sadness of it weighs us down.
I was stuck by the response of the people in the Berwicks – they held several vigils and church services grieving this child’s death. They have claimed him as their own.
The couple who found the child’s body spoke at a prayer service held for him – they talked about how they would have taken him in, had they the opportunity to do so in his life, but that hadn’t been the chance they were given in this particular case. Instead all they were given was the opportunity to respond to his death – which they did with a great deal of love and attention. Theirs was the information that allowed the police to find the truck that had dumped the boy’s body alongside the road – they had seen it in the early morning hours that day, more than 8 hours before they found the body, but they could recall enough detail about it to lead the police to the boy’s mother’s truck which was found days later in Massachusetts.
The couple are responding in ways that seem out of the ordinary – they are offering to bury the child at their expense near where he was found. In his new home here on earth, South Berwick, which has adopted him posthumously with open arms. Sounds crazy – unless we see it as a form of their witnesses to the Gospel – living their lives in such a way that simply makes no sense without God. They are responding to the Gospel as much as they are responding to their own shock and grief that this would happen.
The nation reacted in shocked horror that a child would be found dead on a roadside, and no one would know who he was. The police received hundreds of tips trying to help them figure out who he was, and what had happened to him. So it seems appropriate that in churches around the country we would be reading the Gospel from John 14 this Sunday. It seems right to be hearing the words that are read in funeral after funeral - Jesus’ words from John’s Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms, if it weren’t so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
And at each funeral we stand in witness to the truth of these words, from the depth of our grief we nod our heads – we know this to be true. True for our loved ones, true for this little boy.
God gathers us home, into a place where there is room enough for us, all of us, space set aside for us to be with God – intentionally, by God’s intention. That Jesus goes to prepare a place for us, each of us, all of us…and the implication is astonishing – that it has always been God’s plan to gather us home. That God longs for us as much, more even, then we long for God. This is the core of our understanding of the second coming of Jesus, not frightening tales of destruction and agony. At the core of our theology is this knowing that God longs for us, and will take us to Godself. Love, not fear, is the center of our understanding of the new heaven and new earth.
This section of John’s Gospel is the beginning of Jesus’ farewell discourse that will continue through chapter 17. Through out these chapters Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure at the ascension. He’s assuring them that while he is leaving them, he will go and prepare a place for them, and then when he comes again, he will take them with him. But for now, those who believe in him will be empowered to do even greater things than he has done.
So we needn’t be disappointed by the failure of the rapture yesterday to appear as directed by Harold Camping we’re not the first to be left behind. And while we are here, in the time given to us, there is a great deal of work to do in this world, and we have been given the power to do it. So we’re still here, for now. And if you ask me, that’s a good thing.