Jerry True

 

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to weep, and a time to laugh.  A time to mourn, and a time to dance. From Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a, 4
 
In the Name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.
 
I have been thinking a lot about time. When I awaken in the morning, often with the faint echoes of the Jesus Prayer, fading into the ether of my subconscious mind, I realize that I am becoming more and more aware of the passage of time. Often, it seems as though I fell asleep one night at the age of fourteen or fifteen but when I awakened the next morning, I found myself facing a funny looking old man in the mirror. So many of my dreams and ideas and plans which just a day ago seemed to loom so far ahead into the future, many of them are memories now; some of them joyful, some of them merely pleasant. Others are a bit unpleasant or some even painful; but none of those memories are without value to me. Some make me laugh, some lift my spirit; others may make me wince or say ouch or want to hide away.
 
I am not complaining.  I have not lost the memory of those experiences, at least not yet. Those dreams, those ideas, or those plans; they are still a part of me. In the biological computer God gave me that I call my brain, the Holy Spirit has been busy.  Along with echoing the words of the Jesus Prayer during my unconsciousness of sleep, I believe the Holy Spirit has been transferring those experiences, those dreams, those ideas, which I hold to so dearly, moving them from my head to my heart.
 
The Season after the Epiphany is about time, time which is a creation of God, and like all creation, time is a gift to us.  In his love and mercy, God gives us the gift of time; time for us to be born, time for us to grow; time for us to move from infancy to adolescence; time for us to move from adolescence to adulthood and time for us to move from narrow self-interest to the grace of giving and receiving love. As those who seek to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are given the gift of time to seek to live the Good News of God in Jesus Christ, not as some kind of fire insurance, or to prove somehow that we are better than other people, but because we are drawn by the love and peace which passeth all understanding, for entering into the fellowship of love in Jesus Christ who is truly the way, the truth and the life.
 
The Epiphany season is a time for us to renew our relationship with the God who has come into the world, the Word of God by whom and through whom all things were made. This Season of the Epiphany, the time for the showing forth of the Savior of the world to the world, includes the days until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Now is a time for us to proclaim the Presence of he who is Emmanuel, God with us. Now is a time for those of us who followed the star, to stand and proclaim in word and deed that God who has come into the world loves the world and is here to show us the Way by revealing himself as the One who is the Way, the truth and the life which leads us to God and to eternal life. Now it is time for us to build and renew our relationship with each other in Christ. Sisters and brothers, God the Holy Spirit keeps the Godhead present with us in this, our time, until Jesus comes again to carry us home; when our time is replaced by the timelessness of God’s eternal present and his utter and total presence, his eternal I AM.
 
The prophet Jonah was a reluctant prophet. He didn’t want to do it! He didn’t want to be it! The time came when God called Jonah to a task that he really, really didn’t want.  This demand made by of a call from God got Jonah’s attention. This got him freaked out and afraid. It stirred in Jonah, a desperate urge to run away. Jonah didn’t feel he wanted to sign up for a deal like this! Oh, Jonah most likely wanted love, as we all do; that “peace which passeth all understanding”. Jonah most probably had that desire to be in tune with God. But what Jonah definitely did not want was the prospect of facing hard words and uncomfortable tasks; the having to put himself “out there”, being subject to worldly judgments and rejection. 
 
When we come to an awareness of our desire to know God, to feel and know the peace and comfort and warmth of love that is part of our built-in instinctive need and nature, we reach out for a faith that comforts us and brings us a sense of purpose and meaning.  But then, when we discover to our displeasure that for faith to flourish and grow and mature, there is a cost, well then, we often find we have hit a stumbling block. With apologies to Martin Luther – not the 20th century prophet Martin Luther King, who taught us that the sin of unloving racism hurts not only the its victims but its perpetrators and all humankind. It was Dr. Martin Luther King whose feast day we celebrated on Monday. 
 
No the Martin Luther to whom I am apologizing was a Christian prophet whose writings were instrumental in what was to become the 15th and 16th century Reformation. 
Martin Luther proclaimed and taught that eternal salvation is a free gift of God’s grace as appropriated by faith.  Not something we have to earn, not something we can buy.  The grace of salvation is free for the asking. That is true. Our good works, as necessary as they are to real faith, do not save us.
 
It is with great apology to Martin Luther that I must add this cautionary word: Yes, God’s grace which bestows upon us, among other things our salvation and the promise of eternal life, is a free gift, but with the following caveat: “God’s grace may be free, but it ain’t cheap.” I didn’t make that up, well the bad grammar part I did, but the essence of the statement was from the Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He said, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” 
 
The kind of faith that gives us access to the fullness of God’s infinite grace is not a noun or rather not just a noun.  More importantly, the word faith is also a verb. Faith is not so much something we have, but more especially, faith is something that we do. 
 
Our acceptance of God’s grace requires responsibility, some commitment on our part. God’s grace, like life and love itself, is a gift.  Free for the asking, but having received it, there is more to it. For a gift to be meaningful, it must be given and received.  Given by the giver, and received by the one to whom it is given.  If someone were to give me a pet, say a dog or a cat, {don’t even think about it, we already have two cats} and I accepted the gift, that gift brought with it a set of responsibilities. Medical examinations and shots, food, a warm and clean place to sleep, some affection and kindness, and a commitment to walk the dog or clean the cat box. If I am not willing to do those things, I should not accept the gift because I am not properly prepared to receive it. God does not impose his grace upon us if we are unwilling. His love is always ours, like it or not but he will not impose his grace upon us unless we ask for it, unless we are prepared to receive it.
 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was Christian Pastor who challenged Adolph Hitler publicly during the rise of Nazism in 1930’s Germany. At first, he escaped to England and then to America. Feeling called to return to Nazi Germany, he was smuggled back into the country and proceeded to teach, preach and suffer if it need be with his people. 
In 1943 the Nazis arrested him and after several years in the stalag, he was hanged in April, 1945, just a few weeks before the allied liberation of his concentration camp. Fortunately, his insightful book, "The Cost of Discipleship", survived the Nazi book burnings. One biographer whose name I have not been able to find believes that Bonhoeffer’s idea of "cheap grace" explains the hollowness of some of our modern Christianity.  
 
He (or she) asks: “Why has Christianity in America's Bible Belt and elsewhere been so unable and/or unwilling to recognize the evils of slavery, segregation, racial terrorism, white supremacy and homophobia, if not because of its embrace of Cheap Grace?” “How could some of the wealthiest and most privileged  people in America, many of those who almost worship guns for personal use; How could those who despise the least fortunate among us, how can they get away with calling themselves a "Christian Coalition" when they refuse to accept a faith that requires some self-reflection, repentence and discomfort? He suggests that it is because of the prevalent culture of cheap grace here in American churches. 
 
Let me ask, How many of us here today are “Cradle Episcopalians”? Please raise your hand if you have always been an Episcopalian; if you are a cradle Episcopalian. I am not.
 
Following a series of experiences that I have touched on in previous sermons, and probably will again in some future sermon, I felt strangely drawn to the Episcopal Church.  I fell in love with the beautiful Liturgy, the music, the sense of beauty, dignity and awe that I experienced.  But I must admit that there was a part of me that feared I was doing something wrong. I had been brought up in a more evangelical worship environment. 
 
As much as I was drawn to the worship of the Episcopal Church, to its sense of beauty, mystery and awe; there was a nagging fear that I was skirting with idolatry. Bowing, kneeling, genuflecting, crucifixes, even statues and votive candles in some places.  Weren’t some of these suspiciously like the idols banned by the first two of the Ten Commandments?
 
I read theological treatises seeking an answer. Who could clear the confusion of my mind and spirit? I read many arguments supporting one view or another. It took time. Try as I might, the answer was not in anything that I read. But yes, I did find the answer; Not in any theological tome, not in any particular argument or demonstration.  Where then? By asking on my knees! Kneeling to receive Holy Communion, kneeling to say my prayers, kneeling to receive a blessing, kneeling to receive the assurance of forgiveness in absolution, kneeling to receive the Bishop’s laying-on-of-hands for the grace of Confirmation. That is where I found my answer. I trust that you realize that when I speak of kneeling, I am not so much talking about a position of the body as I am referring to a disposition of the heart.  
 
In case you are not aware of it, it is not so easy for me to kneel anymore.  One of my Methodist Clergy friends suggested that this was my penance for having become an Episcopalian. On the other hand, one of my friends who is an Episcopal Priest countered him by saying that no, it was my penance for having been a Methodist in the first place. I think that it is a miracle and a blessing that today, more than a few of us of differing denominations and even different faiths can come together in respectful fellowship by sharing good humor and a harmless laugh at ourselves instead of fighting over our differences of opinion and loyalty to a tradition.  
 
Love. It is that which unites us and the love of God is far stronger than that which divides us. Today, my imagery of kneeling is metaphorical. In God’s own good time the answers come, the balance is restored.  Being a Christian does call us to responsibility for the gifts of love, time and grace that we have been given.  We are called to love, invite, encourage and share the Good News of God in Christ without judgment, restrictions or exclusivity.  We do not want to return to a time when the door of faith seemed so narrow.  But neither do we want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Faith in Jesus Christ is important and we must always be ready to serve and to bear witness, to give a reason for the faith that we do and that faith which dwells within us.  We pray, and I believe, that in the fullness of time, the world will come to see and know that God has come among us, to save us and to enjoy us for himself in love. For indeed, God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that all who believe in him should not perish but have eternal life. And, that he came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that through him, the world will be saved.
O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home.
 
 
O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guide while time shall last, And our eternal home. Amen.
 

 

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