Sermon for 17th Sunday after Pentecost 2019
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 Psalm 37:1-10 2 Timothy 1:1-14 Luke 17:5-10
One evening Pastor Steve asked how many had followed his instructions of the past week and read Mark 17, and every hand went up. The pastor said, “Mark only has 16 chapters. Let me begin my sermon on the sin of lying.”
However the psalmist, David spoke the truth when he said, “Take delight in the Lord and he shall give you your heart’s desire.” We hear the overriding theme to trust in the Lord and wait patiently for God to act. No matter how much we have, it will fade and vanish like the grass that withers and dies. Those who follow God will have far greater treasures in heaven. David calls us to take delight in the Lord and to commit everything we have and do to God. But how do we do this?
To delight in someone means to experience great pleasure and joy in their presence. This happens only when we know that person well. So, to delight in the Lord, we must know God better. Knowledge of God’s great love for us will give us delight. To commit ourselves to the Lord means entrusting everything – our lives, our families, our jobs, our possessions – to God’s control and guidance. To commit ourselves to the Lord means to trust in God, believing that God can care for us better than we can care for ourselves. We should be willing to wait patiently for God to work out what is best for us.
Several years ago, a friend prayed for me, asking God to give me my heart’s desire. It was at that moment I realized that I had no idea what that was – my heart’s desire. So my prayer began that God would reveal my heart’s desire. That turned out to be serving God more in the church. It is an example of being careful what you pray for, because the answer for me was to serve in ordained ministry. The desires of our hearts….
I heard the story of an elderly woman who went to the hospital for consultation about a mass on the side of her jaw. One of the staff doctors went to discuss the findings and recommendations with the woman and her family and schedule the surgery. He returned outraged. The old woman had refused surgery and her family had supported her in her decision. The doctor had carefully explained the almost certain fatal outcome of her sort of cancer without surgery, described the surgery in detail, and had given her the statistics of postoperative survival. The old woman had thanked him for his concern and said that she would go home now. All his arguments had failed to move her. The desires of her heart – to value the time she had left, to spend quality time with her family and friends.
Recently, I was walking Zebi in the neighborhood. Her walking on the leash is getting better, but it has a long way to go. She is fine as long as there are no other dogs, no squirrels, no birds, no butterflies, no people, no distractions. On one stretch of the walk we encountered a man walking two elderly greyhounds. The dogs were walking slowly, gingerly and the man was as patient and loving as he could be. It humbled me to see his devotion to their comfort, their joy in sharing the outing together. It reminded me that I need to be more like the person my dog thinks that I am…the desires of our hearts.
Elizabeth shares her story of working as a physician on an Indian reservation. She was asked to see an elderly woman and her daughter. The older woman was far into her nineties, tiny and dry, her hair dressed in the traditional way. She had many significant health issues that had not been adequately treated. For the past few years, she had lived with her daughter who could provide care for her. During the first meeting, the daughter did most of the talking. The old woman watched and listened.
Elizabeth saw them together every other week for more than two years. During that time, she dealt with a variety of health issues. She connected them with social services to help meet some of their needs. Finally at 96, the old woman died. In reviewing her thick file, Elizabeth was proud of the way she had handled the complex case.
Several months later, she received a call from a researcher who wanted to talk with her. He was writing a book on the American Indian medicine traditions and was especially interested in the great medicine woman who had received the lineage and kept alive the ancient ways of healing. Only a few were still living. When he located the family of one of them, they suggested he contact Elizabeth. They told him that she was a physician and had cared for their mother. Elizabeth said, “I think of all those months sitting with her, shuffling papers, tracking lab tests and knowing what she knew. She wondered what had been going through the old woman’s mind. What she would have given for even one hour with her now, to ask her so many unanswered questions, to have her perspective on suffering or loss or illness or death. Or simply to have her blessing.” She wondered how many opportunities she had missed - how many times wisdom had passed her by because she was distracted by the task at hand. The desires of our hearts…
I spent the first part of this week at Clergy Conference at Honey Creek. It is always a wonderful time being with other clergy – listening, learning, growing, sharing. We have the opportunity to hear meditations and homilies from six different folks each conference. It is a gift to connect to their stories. The worship is awesome – all those rich male voices singing out for each of the services. I try to sit next to one of the strong male singers so I can sing louder too. It is incredible - The worship is awesome – the desires of our hearts.
Who among us doesn’t want more faith? Most of us are not surprised at the disciples’ plea that Jesus give them more. Inside of us there seems to be a guilt-ridden part that is not surprised at Jesus’ response. “If you had this much faith,” he tells them, pinching his thumb and forefinger together, “you would be able to do anything you wished.” We hang our heads with the apostles, suffering with the response we deserve. If there is one thing we have come to expect from Jesus, it is the constant reminder of how far short we fall.
How do we show our faith in our daily lives? How do we grow our faith? I have shared several times before about my visit with a friend in the intensive care unit of the hospital. Some of you could tell the story yourselves. I entered the waiting area to see if any of the family was in there. They were not, but a woman was sitting in the corner quietly sobbing. What should I do – intrude or leave her to her grief? I went over to speak to her, asking if I can be of any help. In gasps and tears, she shares that her husband in not doing well and has been in intensive care for weeks. Her pastor just left before I came. He told her that if her faith was stronger, her husband would be healed. She was a wreck – such a burden to place on a person who was already struggling. Jesus said, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed…..”
A mustard seed is small, but it is alive and growing. Like a tiny seed, a small amount of genuine faith in God will take root and grow. Almost invisible at first, the seed will began to spread, first under the ground, then visibly peeking through the soil. Each change will be gradual, but soon this faith will produce major results. We don’t need more faith; a tiny seed is enough. We just need to keep it alive and growing. I shared with the weeping woman that God hears the earnestness of her prayers, that God is present with her and her husband. I held her hand. I prayed with her. I hugged her. I listened to her. Every time I think of faith, I think of that story. It profoundly touched me.
I have heard it said that God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, just obedient. How do we live our lives as followers of Jesus? How do we step up, step out in faith? If I knew the answers to these questions, I could make the talk show circuit. The answers may be different for each of us. The answers come from spending time with God. The answers come when we quiet our minds and our bodies and get in touch with God, God’s desire for us and the desires of our hearts. The answers are there. The time we spend on forming the questions is as important as the answers. God wants us to grow in relationship with God. God wants our whole hearts, our souls, our minds, our all.
How can we grow in faith, grow in our relationship with God? See and experience God. Serve with joy! No matter what task we involve ourselves in, it can be a great blessing if done with joy. Do everything with the knowledge that we are working for the Lord and not for ourselves! Invest in the lives of others! Look for ways to be a blessing in the church, to your family, to your neighbors, and to those who are less fortunate. See every encounter as an opportunity from God to grow our faith, to stretch our hearts and to expand our perspective.
Our hearts desire…God’s desire for our healing and wholeness. May we experience in our own lives what it is to know our heart’s desire and to invite God into living it out. Stewardship of our heart’s desire is like prayer. It adds so much meaning and value to our lives that we would discover, that not doing it, is a real sacrifice. If our lives could speak, what would we reflect of our heart’s desire? What must we do? Amen.