The Sunday Sermon.....
SERMON: 3 Lent B 3 4 18
We have been conducting an accidental and modest survey here at St. Paul's recently. Or so I have concluded. For two Sundays our sign on the corner of Mansion and Hamilton has read:
WHAT R U WAITING 4?
GET TO KNOW JESUS
SUNDAY AT 8 AND 10 AM
It was obvious to me that no one unknown to us came through our doors last Sunday or the week before or the week since. From that I conclude that the message did not resonate with folks. Or didn't resonate sufficiently to inspire their entry into our church.
That is not to say that some didn't look at the sign and say to themselves, "Gee, I think I'll check that out at my own church or temple or mosque." That could well have happened. Although the Jews and the Muslims likely wouldn't have been looking to get to know Jesus. They'd be looking for a better connection with the God of their understanding. Or...
It also has occurred to me that people already part of this congregation may have looked at that sign and wondered how that was going to play out in our Episcopal liturgy.
When I put that question and that suggestion on the sign I truly wondered if anyone would notice. I am still wondering because no one, not one person, has volunteered to me that they saw it or reacted to it without my first inquiring. I asked a few before I put it up if they thought using letters and numbers for the words 'are' and 'you' and 'for' and 'to' would attract attention. All thought it would, though it was pointed out to me that people might just wonder who was putting up the sign this week, in place of the stuffy pastor who's always quoting the Bible.
I had a good time with it, doing something different, seeing if it would get noticed or commented on, if it would spark conversation, thought or audible reaction. As you can tell, since I'm giving this sermon about it, I'm still working on it, considering it, trying to start something.
Maybe it sounds a little condescending for me to suggest that there's a possibility that someone who attends church with us regularly hasn't already come to know Jesus. Who could I be speaking of here? Do you know who I have in mind?
I am speaking of myself and I am speaking of you and I am referring to the entire congregation. Our relationship with Jesus, like any relationship only more so, is constantly changing. Our relationship with Jesus grows when we engage and confess and ask for guidance and forgiveness, and it shrinks when we ignore it and keep to ourselves our struggles and strains. The more we seek to let Jesus know us the better we get to know him. We come to know him as our companion in the way, the one who will hear all and love us despite our shortcomings, every single time.
And since we are not done until we're dead with discovering our shortcomings and confessing them to Jesus, we are equally not done with learning how generous and gracious and merciful Jesus can be with us. And in that regard we are continually getting to know Jesus. Or, as the sign says, Getting (number) 2 know Jesus.
Our connection with Jesus is often biblical based. We learn about him from the Gospels, which portray his life, from the epistles, which translate and interpret his earthly ministry, and from the Hebrew Bible, which was his point of reference as a faithful Jew. It is no coincidence, for example, that we are given the Ten Commandments from the Hebrew Bible on the same day that Jesus destroys the Temple because it has been profaned. The former leads to the latter. Jesus, as I just said, was a faithful Jew.
We see also this Lenten season examples of Jesus insisting on conformance with God's will. Last Sunday he chastised Peter for attempting to deny Jesus' cruel fate. This Sunday he overturns the money changers' tables and scatters the other vendors' tables in the Temple, he is so outraged by the profaning of God's house.
The advice Jesus gives us in both of the Gospel readings is that our basic objective needs to be the fulfillment of God's will, not the fulfillment of our own. That means sublimating our personal and selfish perspective and seeking instead to conform to the will of God. Jesus knows all too well this is not an easy task for mortals.
Last week Jesus made the point that we might as well face it and accept his direction. "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me," he said. This directive was a not-so-gentle suggestion that we need to identify and pick up that cross of ours and not get distracted or waylaid by other causes.
This is how we get to know Jesus. This is how we work on the relationship with him that we have and which we hope to improve. We face the challenges of our faith, fulfilling our role as Christians, and we commit to it. That means we're on board.
There are other ways to get to know Jesus. One is to become acquainted with those who know him well. Last week, for example, we got a good look at Absalom Jones and his ministry in the eighteenth and nineteenth century through the lens of Mother Gloria's expansive and riveting sermon. We heard of his birth into slavery, how he was recognized and advanced as a youth and then as an adult interested in learning and improving himself. We heard how he saved and borrowed to buy his wife's freedom before he purchased his own. We learned of his founding the black church in this country with Richard Allen, and how they would not be relegated to the gallery of the church they helped build, so they built another.
His life is a testament, the Absalom Jones Testament, in the larger Bible, the story of people of intense and immense faith. When we start to think about picking up that heavy cross that's always available to us we need to consider the cross of Absalom Jones and his belief in Jesus and his faith. In so doing we see what Jesus inspired in him and so we, you and I, thereby better know Jesus.
When we look at our leaders, when we consider our bishops, when we reflect on the saints, when we work closely together in the name of Jesus we see Jesus in each other and in those who, like us, seek and sought to do good in Jesus' name. This is another way to get to know Jesus.
Paying close attention to our hymns and what they say about Jesus is still another way to get to know Jesus better. When we recognize our own reactions to some of the language in the hymns we can sense what it is about Jesus that registers with us as important and meaningful to us. And what moves me might not move you, and vice versa.
Fortunately, Jesus is so broadly known that there is an endless variety of examples of his nature, his love, his work in the world and his heavenly residence. We just have to pay attention to what we sing and what we read and how it moves us.
Getting to know Jesus can be a lifelong process if we're lucky. If we continually find ourselves recognizing Jesus' work in the world, if we emulate his love of all, especially the downtrodden and the marginalized, if we communicate with him in prayer and we regularly encourage others to do the same we will find ourselves filled with the promise of faith. That promise is in the Hebrew name for Jesus, Emmanuel, a word which means God is with us.
He certainly is! Amen
A sermon preached March 4, 2018 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector