Sermon Pentecost 8 – August 7, 2011

August 8, 2011 at 10:35 am Leave a comment

Elijah in the cave.
The disciples in the boat.
All of them are rocked by storms that are not of their own making,
or of their own controlling,
or of their own imagination.
Elijah is in the cave
because he is hiding from the murderous Queen Jezebel –
the disciples because they cannot cross the dangerous lake
without buttoning themselves up inside its protective cocoon.
But when chaos breaks out,
threatening to overwhelm their protection,
it is then that God proves himself master of chaos.
God comes to Elijah at Horeb,
and reveals himself as the God of a sheer silence – peace,
the one who tamed the chaos of creation
and brought a world of order into being.
Jesus comes to the disciples on the sea of Galilee,
not being swallowed up by the chaos
but revealing himself as the God who tamed the chaos of creation
and brought a world of order into being.
And Elijah, and the disciples, are left – speechless.
All Elijah’s protestations of being abandoned by God are stilled.
All the disciples fearful cries are silenced
and their frantic strugglings go limp
as Jesus stills the storm in their midst.

Our God is a God who saves in the midst of the storm.
Here is good news for all people.
And yet we turn these texts around so quickly into making them about our action,
a lesson we can learn about how to live our lives better
or to more purpose.
We should have more faith.
We should meditate more often, seeking God in silence.
If we really had faith and did not doubt, we could walk in water, or move mountains,
or heal people simply with a touch, or some such other thing.
That’s not what these stories are about.
They are about us only insofar as they are about God.
They are about us because they are about the God who has to do with us,
who lives with us in the storms which furiously assail us.

These stories are not instruction manuals about what to do
when caught in a storm at sea
or attacked by an enemy not of one’s own choosing.
They are stories that form us as characters in God’s story,
as the people with whom God has to do.

I’ve been reading several books lately about Winston Churchill,
the famous prime minister of Great Britain
who led his people through the dark days of World War II.
He was animated and thrilled and inspired by the stories he was told as a child,
about the purpose and greatness of England,
about its role in world history,
about its indomitable nature – now there is an English word –
and at the moment of decision it was not he who acted from and for himself
but from what he had been formed to be for others.
And thank God he knew those stories,
stories from English history and also from the Bible.
And others knew them as well.

Caught in the jaws of the Nazi armies in 1940,
a desperate seaborne evacuation of the British army was underway from Dunkirk, France,
across the Channel coast to England.
From the white cliffs of Dover the watchers could see a Morse Code message
flashing over and over from the embattled French Coast.
The repeated message: “But if not.”
And with chills running down their spine,
the watchers recognized the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
as they were threatened by the fiery furnace:
“If our God is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace,
well and good.
But if not: be it known to you, O King, that we will not worship your gods
and we will not worship the golden statue you have set up.

The world is full of stories from the Bible
and extrabiblical sources which form us and shape us
into ideas of who God is, who we ought to be
and what we ought to do.
Not as foolproof methods of escape,
for often these stories lead to sacrifice,
but as character studies.
Today the best may be found in fantasy – The Wrinkle in Time series, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia
– all of them stories in which ordinary people are called with their flaws and their fears
to look beyond themselves and those fears and flaws to a world and a life
where all is at peace and at rest.

We as an American people used to be full of these stories.
George Washington’s honesty.
Paul Revere’s ride.
Rosa Parks’s resistance.
And yes, the stories of Daniel and Elijah and Jesus.
Unfortunately, in some places at least,
there seems to have been decisions made that say to teach children these stories in school
is to give them a false impression of what is real,
to indoctrinate them into false conceptions of heroism,
when the truth is far more complicated.
For Washington wasn’t a great general, and certainly didn’t chop down a cherry tree.
Paul Revere was a complicated and not always heroic man,
and yes, Rosa Parks planned her act of civil disobedience –
it wasn’t just a matter of a tired woman saying enough is enough.
But do we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater?
Do we need to say that nothing is true?
We need to embrace these stories with a critical realism,
and to say that they point to a heroism and a development of character
which ought to form ourselves much more than the open dismissal
of any value other than the value of self-promotion and self-enrichment.
For we are real people who are called upon to deal with God.
We are real, flawed, yet called people who provide free clothing for others,
many of whom will never set foot in the halls of this worship space.
Who cares?
We are real, flawed, yet called people who provide food, shelter, and love
to those who are also real, flawed, and yet called people,
who may or may not be able to make it to live independently.
We are real, flawed, and yet called people who preach and teach and believe the Gospel
and yet who struggle with doubts and demons not of our choosing.
And we need these stories of others like us who dealt with the same God –
Elijah at the moment of his greatest triumph fearful for his life
and yet called to stand before before God’s presence.
Peter walking towards Jesus on the water
and failing because he was full of doubt and fear – remind us of anyone?

"Lord, save me!"

And we can be formed in the language of need:
“Lord, save me!”
and the language of doxology, the language of praise:
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”
The Holy Spirit works through the Word,
the Word that proclaims God’s faithfulness again and again
in spite of our unfaithfulness and our failures.

So let us pray that by this Word today
and by the Word that must shape our lives,
we would be formed into people who depend on the Word for our very lives.
Let us pray to be Elijah and Peter who call to the Lord for help,
and who are delivered in ways in which we cannot imagine.
Let us pray to be the people of the Word,
the people saved by the God we did not choose,
but who chose us in Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

Heavenly Father, come to us and overwhelm us not with thunder and lightning, with wind and storm, but with the silence and calm that is the givenness of your peace. In that silence, allow us to know who you are and who we are in your sight, and command us to our tasks, that we may be your willing lips, feet, and hands in the world. In the silence, we rejoice in your call to us.
Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.

Make bishops, pastors, parents, and teachers to live in your Word, to share the stories of salvation, and to themselves be formed as your disciples. In the silence, we pray for those who speak the Gospel and those who hear. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We remember that we are to be caretakers of this earth, out of which we were born, and to which we return. Make us your good stewards of the earth, the sky, all waters and every living thing, both honoring and preserving your creation.
Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.

We pray for the restoration of trust in our Constitutional form of government, and for the renewal of the stories which make our people a people who bring honor to you. In the silence, we pray for our President, Congress, courts, state and local officials, and for those who protect us. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Our fragile lives need your constant attention, your Holy Spirit, and your healing, over and over again. Teach us to cry continually, Lord, save me, Lord, save us, and lead us to the doxology, those words of praise: You are the Son of God. In the silence, hear us as we name those whose needs are known only to us.

We thank you for those who have gone before us, who know the haven of rest, the sanctuary from which no enemy will assail them, no storm will disquiet them. As we approach your sanctuary, and receive the bread and wine of Jesus’ own presence, fill us with your peace and your strength, that we like Elijah, Paul, Peter, and all your faithful may know ourselves to be your children. In the silence, we pray for the resurrection of our lives and the life of the world to come.

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Sermon Pentecost 6 – July 24, 2011 Luther’s Large Catechism – Eighth Commandment

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