Sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter 2019
Acts 16:9-15 Psalm 67 Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23 –29
A man had fifty-yard-line tickets for the Super Bowl. As he sits down, another man approaches and asks if anyone is sitting in the seat next to him. “No,” he says, “The seat is empty.” “This is incredible,” says the man. “Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the Super Bowl, the biggest sporting event in the world, and not use them?” He replies, “Well, actually, the seat belongs to me. I was supposed to come with my wife, but she passed away. This is the first Super Bowl we haven’t been together since we got married in 1967.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. That’s terrible. But couldn’t you find someone else – a friend or relative. Or even a neighbor to take the seat?” The man shakes his head, “No, they’re all at the funeral.”
The husband in the story was honoring his wife the best way he knew how, by attending a football game they had watched together for decades, despite her actual funeral going on elsewhere at the same time. We all honor loved ones in different ways, but it is important to remember that the gift of love includes the celebration of their heavenly journey with God once they depart from us. It does not make it easy or comfortable, but it does give something to be joyful for in the midst of grief.
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that you way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.
I often feel like Charlie Brown. One of my favorite Charlie Brown stories is about the time Lucy, the great philosopher, said, “You know, Charlie Brown, life is like a cruise ship. Some people take their deck chairs to the back of the ship to see where they have been. And some people take their deck chairs to the front of the ship to see where they are going. What kind of person are you, Charlie Brown?” He pauses reflectively, and then he says, “I’m the kind of person who can’t get my deck chair open.” I think a lot of our deck chairs get stuck when talking about making God known – that is the eword we are not comfortable with – evangelism – to go and tell.
Could the psalmist have looked across the years to see the gospel go all over the world? This psalm surely speaks of the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), when Jesus commanded that the gospel be taken to all nations. Count yourselves among the great crowd of believers worldwide who know the Savior, praise him for his Good News, and share that gospel so that the harvest will be abundant.
This psalm appears to look in two directions and to express two sentiments. Offering thanks, it makes request; celebrating the harvest, it looks forward to divine favor. Verse 1 with its three indirect requests to God – “be merciful,” “bless us,” “show us the light of his countenance” – reminds us of Aaron’s priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” As a reading during the Easter season that precedes the Ascension of the Lord Sunday, this text invites us to examine the meaning of blessing in relationship with salvation.
At the Ascension of Jesus, we affirm the divine blessings poured out upon the church. These blessings radiate outward to the nations of the world. The Christian also gives thanks for the blessings received (“the already” of Christian faith) but looks forward to blessings, the promises to come (“the not yet”).
The season of Easter brings great joy for God’s astonishing blessings in the resurrection of Christ. Psalm 67 expresses this joy and locates it in the experience of God’s faithful people from generation to generation. It begins and ends with joyful benediction and blessing. “May God be merciful to us and bless us,” the people sing, “may God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.” It bubbles over with wonder and awe for all the gifts of a gracious and good God. The people rejoice, as does the whole of the earth. “The earth has brought forth her increase, may God, our own God, give us his blessing.”(v.6).
For many of us, during these hot days of spring, the earth is bursting forth with new life, the greening life, blooming bulbs and blossoming flowers. God’s people are caught up in the delight of it all. Everybody rushes to Lowe’s to plant something. Nature witnesses to God’s generosity and love. The song of joy of the whole creation is spontaneous and heartfelt. Surely God has blessed us wonderfully and powerfully and given us new life. It is as if only music can adequately express such deep gratitude and praise.
Yet even in Eastertide, not everyone may be cheerful or joyful. Internal rhythms and personal circumstances are sometimes out of harmony with the mood of the season. There will be some of us for whom life seems disconnected and sad, for whom grief abides and for whom fear constrains. Within our aching hearts and shadowed souls, the season’s cheerfulness can seem empty, and heartless. This can create a painful disconnect within us. We may feel isolated and alone in our sorrow and out of sync in our despair. We perceive our own darkness as a sign of our faithlessness. However, in Eastertide, we again hear the assurance that for us, the risen Christ still shows his wounded hands and side. The one who has risen is the one who has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
During those difficult times in our lives when we feel like we have lost our way, and that God is far from us, the prayer book, especially the psalms, becomes a special gift, a trusted means of lovingly drawing us out of ourselves and into the shared experience of God’s people over time and space. The psalms lift us from our immediate situation and places our lives in the context of the whole of God’s people and God’s work. For the cheerless worshiper, as well as the cheerful worshiper, there is a simple invitation to remember and trust through the witness of the psalms.
Even if the fullness of the light is too much to embrace just yet, even if its promise seems in vain, there comes the memory that for some, somewhere, somehow joy is real, even now. Somewhere, rejoicing is sincere. For some, even now, thanksgiving is heartfelt, and that is enough. The psalm works in this way to form Christians as people who can hold on to hope in the midst of despair and trust through times of loss and desolation. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning,” the psalmist has proclaimed (30:5). God has been faithful and will be again. God has blessed and will bless again. God does not stay distant or silent forever. For Christians, that is the deepest promise of Easter, that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ. God’s face is shining upon all in Eastertide, in our darkness as well as our light. God is blessing us all.
Sue Monk Kidd tells of watching a small brown wren huddled on the grass below the bird feeder, struggling to fly. The frigid wind bends the branches of the crab apple tree. Fifteen minutes pass. He can’t seem to find the strength. Is he sick? Too young? Too weak? It is so sad. But she supposes there is little that can be done. Suddenly her attention is drawn to another wren that flies to the feeder. She is astonished as she begins to toss seed with her beak from the ledge of the feeder down to the grass below. The kernels fall upon the little bird and he pecks at them, satisfying his hunger. The next time she passed the window, the bird on the ground was gone. All day long she watched the wrens at the feeder, thinking how we are put here not only to partake, but to feed the hungers of those around us. Drop seed. Drop seed.
We have celebrated Benjamin’s graduation. He thanked us and said that many people, friends, family, parents and a faith community have helped him to get to this place in his life to be who he is. Isn’t that what we are called to do…drop seeds….the seeds of kindness in our lives…..drop words of wisdom to help shape us in the image of Christ…..drop seeds of joy of being a part of something larger than ourselves… drop seeds of empathy in seeing the needs of others and working to meet them….. drop seeds of love to encircle us into living into God’s love…. drop the seeds of understanding….drop seeds of hope for an amazing future.
It is wonderful that we have this psalm to proclaim this Sunday. It gives us a lot to think about. It rejoices that God is present with God’s people - that God is blessing us with God’s very self. This is the deepest longing of the human heart: to know with assurance the loving, living, abiding presence of God. The blessings that will come to all people is the very knowledge of God and God’s loving-kindness, God’s saving power that will come upon all peoples and all nations of the earth. What an awesome thought…God will bless us so that we can be a blessing to someone else.
We are never to forget the wideness of God’s love and mercy. The scope of God’s salvation and blessing is communal and global and cosmic. We are to go and tell that God’s blessing is over the whole earth. May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us…May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him. Amen.
Memorial Day Prayer for Our Soldiers
My God who gave His only Son, to shed His blood for all mankind.
Give strength to all the loving ones, who give their sons to keep our land free. Your faithful men and women, venture near and far.
We call upon your mercy, no matter where they are.
Keep them safe, one and all, on land, in air, on sea.
And while we know some will not return, give us strength to accept their destiny. And to the men that have fallen, give a special place of grace in eternity. And help us Lord to never forget, the price they paid for our great country. Amen.