Sermon for Proper 22, Year A October 8, 2017

Isaiah 5:1-7                         Psalm 80:7-14                    Philippians 3:4b14                            Matthew 21:33-46

Today’s reading from Philippians is a lesson on pride.  Paul writes, “If anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more.”  He then goes on to list those things which make him a highly respectable member of the Jewish faith.  Paul is – or was – a well respected Pharisee, that is until he meets Jesus.

After he met the risen Christ on the road to Damacus, he says of his position in the Jewish faith, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”  His experience with Christ changed him and helped him to see the importance of a life lead seeking to do the will of God rather than feel good about who we are.

Doing what Christ would have us do is both humbling and painful at times.  Being a Christian is not about feeling good about ourselves – rather it is about surrendering ourselves to doing the work that needs to be done to make this a better world.  We are called to help bring about God’s kingdom, not to rise up through the ranks as Paul had done – becoming one who defends his faith, or as he said it, “a persecutor of the church,” rather than an instrument of God.

This past week, we were stunned to learn of the shooting rampage of a delusional man in Las Vegas.  At last report, 59 dead and over 500 were injured.  There is no question that we need people to serve as instruments of God in this world.  The world we live in is full of hate and evil and violence.  I often feel we have lost our ability to carry on civilized discussions and seek agreement on how to address even the most fundamental needs in this nation – protecting the safety of our people, caring for the sick and injured, and respecting the opinions of others.

Some may wonder, “Where was God?”  Some may suggest the killings were God’s punishment for our nation turning its back on God – comments such as this were made after 911, and although I have not heard them recently, I suspect some believe this today.  It is easy to be overwhelmed by the carnage and overlook the fact that while people were fleeing the area, others were running toward the danger.   People used their bodies as shields to protect others and when the call was issued for blood, people lined up and waited for hours to donate.

Make no mistake, God was there as God is with those who were injured and with the families of the victims.  God is always present offering comfort – though some, in their hurt and anger, fail to recognized God’s presence.  God comes to us in the faces of those who seek to help.

Paul understand this about himself.  He is nothing without Christ, for it is Christ Jesus working within him that gives value to his life.  He notes that he has not obtained his goal of Christ’s perfect love that is the resurrection from the dead, but he does “press on to make it my own.”  The resurrection of the dead, I believe is not referring to a physical resurrection, but rather the complete surrendering of one’s pride and selfish desires to be God’s instrument of peace and love in this broken world.

I don’t know of anyone who is able to completely and totally surrender our own desires, but we are all capable of doing it when called upon.  After the shootings, a person commented it was a shame that it takes a tragedy to get people to come together and help one another.  In the midst of such horror, we are at our most vulnerable state and that is when many of us are most open to experiencing God’s grace.

Those of us who have come to know and understand God’s love in times of personal crisis have been given a glimpse at what Paul is referring to as the resurrection of the dead.   Without Christ’s love and grace, we are dead to what truly matters in life.  So, if you hear anyone ask where was God in Las Vegas, I suggest you quote Fred Rogers from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.  He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers, you will always find people who are helping.'” God was in the people rushing in to help, caring for the injured, and lining up to give blood.

In our gospel, Jesus quotes the scripture, “The stone that the builders have rejected has become the cornerstone; this is the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.”  When Paul was the rising star among the Pharisees he was persecuting Christians, but after his conversion he was rejected.  Christ is obviously the cornerstone of our faith and church, but some have argued that without Paul spreading the good news of Christ to the Gentiles and people outside of Jerusalem there would be no Christian Church today.

Paul may not be the chief cornerstone, but by emptying himself and accepting Christ’s call, he began to build the Body of Church as we know it today in the people who respond to others with love and who seek unity where there is division.  What the Lord can accomplish with those who have been rejected is indeed amazing in our eyes.”

We celebrated the feast of St. Francis last Sunday with the Blessing of the Animals.  His feast day was actually Wednesday, so some churches are celebrating it today.  At the meeting of the Board of Trustees, the Chancellor opened the meeting with the prayer attributed to St. Francis, which, by the way can be found on page 833 in the Book of Common Prayer.  I want to close today with his prayer.

Let us pray.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.  Where there is hated, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where the is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be love as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive; it is pardoning that we are pardoned; and t is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen.