A Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost + October 1, 2017

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost + Proper 21A
First Lesson: Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Second Lesson: Philippians 2:1-13
Gospel: Matthew 21:23-32

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

humility-silhouette-kneeling-man-praying-man-prayer-the-trent-e1409473184717The week before last, Chelsea and I did something that we weren’t quite sure we could do. We successfully survived a week at Walt Disney World with our eight year old and five year old! Actually, we had a wonderful time, but the trip certainly wasn’t without its moments of frustration and difficulty. I call it a “trip” because that is exactly what it was- a trip, not a vacation. When I think of a vacation, I think of time set apart for rest and relaxation, and going to Disney World for a week is the exact opposite. Going to Disney World involves things like waking up before daybreak in order to get to the parks before the lines to the most popular attractions get too long. It involves walking for miles each day in the hot, Florida sun and waiting in long lines for what seems like an eternity in order to experience an attraction that lasts only a few minutes. It also involves long days and long nights only to wake up the next morning in order to do it all over again.

I could go on, but I won’t. You get the idea. Going to Disney World is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m pessimistic about these sorts of trips. I’m really not. In fact, I was probably the most excited member of our family when we first walked through the gates of the Magic Kingdom! 

But, it’s hard not to think about the unpleasant parts, especially while you’re standing in line waiting for a ride with two tired and grumpy children, which leads me to wonder why so many people make the decision to go to Disney World in the first place. Actually, I had some time to think about this while we were there. I asked myself, “Why do it? Why go through so much for an experience that will be over in just a matter of days?” There are many other ways that we could spend our time on vacation.

Well, I know my answer, and I think that it’s probably the same answer that most people would give when asked the question, “Why do it?” It’s because Disney World is the “place where dreams come true.” That is, after all, what it says on the logo. “The place where dreams come true.” That seems like a tall order to fill, doesn’t it? It seems to suggest that if you make the journey to Disney World, all of your dreams will be fulfilled, and life will be perfect. It’s the same kind of promise that we hear time and again from people who try to convince us that our lives will be better if we buy a certain product, for example, or if we vote for a particular candidate in the next election or if we take a high-paying job just so that we can make more money. They all have something to do with trying to acquire more so that our joy may be complete. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these things are wrong or that they should be avoided altogether, but what I am saying is that when we allow ourselves to be convinced that our joy is dependent on whether or not we have the perfect dream vacation or the newest and most expensive items, we lose sight of where our true joy lies.

Our true joy lies in the one who emptied himself and died for us, the one who was exalted by God and given the name that is above every name, Jesus Christ. I think this is the point that St. Paul was trying to make in our passage today from his letter to the Philippians. We don’t have to look far to discover where our true joy lies because in Jesus, we have already discovered it. C.S. Lewis, in his classic book, Mere Christianity, puts it this way. “Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures. This means something much more than our trying to follow His teaching. People often ask when the next step in evolution – the step to something beyond man – will happen. But in the Christian view, it has happened already. In Christ a new kind of man appeared: and the new kind of life which began in Him is to be put into us.”

Dear friends, the perfect life which God desires for us isn’t defined by how successful we are according to the world or how much money or power we’ve acquired. Jesus teaches us that the perfect life which God desires for us can only be found when we’re willing to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel, to be not only followers of Christ but imitators of Christ. Our calling is to do more than simply learn and follow his teachings. Our calling is to take up his mantle and to serve as his hands and feet in the world around us. Of course, to do so requires us to assume a posture of humility, and in my experience, there’s no better posture of humility than to kneel before the Lord. Kneeling frees us from the need to have all the answers, and it frees us from the presumption that we can make this journey alone, apart from God and each other.

One of my favorite hymns in our hymnal is the one that we sang at the beginning of our service this morning during the opening procession. It was written in the late nineteenth century and brings to mind not only our lesson today from Paul’s letter to the Philippians but also a reminder that the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus is bigger and more powerful than anything we can possibly imagine, a love that has existed since the beginning of Creation, and a love that compels us to fall on our knees in humility. The first verse says it all: “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue confess him King of glory now; ’tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord who from the beginning is the mighty Word.” Amen.

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