26 March 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed+
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Anglican Church of South America
St. Peter the Fisherman Church,
New Smyrna Beach
Grace Church, Ocala
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
God is our RESTORER: Open Your Hearts.
Several of you have asked me how do you write a sermon?
As you know, the sermon follows the Gospel reading in our Sunday Eucharist, and may be preached at several different places in the Daily Office. A typical Sunday Episcopal sermon runs about 15 minutes or 1500 words, a shorter sermon is called a homily.
A sermon, or homily, is designed to “break open” the Word of God and proclaim the gospel taking
into consideration the weekly scripture readings, the liturgical occasion, the congregation receiving the message and pastoral issues which may be occurring.
In 2005, I learned from a wise Sewanee Seminary professor a good sermon focuses on how what is happening then and there in the Bible relates to what is happening here and now in the 21 st
In seminary, I learned a good sermon has a focal sentence which reflects the inherent tension
between who God is and who we are as human beings who stray toward the flesh and how God
wants to transform us.
A good sermon, at least in my mind, challenges you and me to identify what the Bible lessons tells
us about God and the human condition, illuminate how God reaches out to us, inspires you and me to be molded by God into Christ likeness.
For as you know there is a wide chasm between God and human beings when we stray, a wide
chasm called SIN and that chasm has been miraculously bridged by Christ’s gift in his life, death, and resurrection. God reaches out and invites us to cross back over the bridge to God, to come home.
Each week, I do my best to proclaim the truth of Holy Scripture, to emphasize our Baptismal
Covenant vows, to respect the dignity of every human being and love for every one of our
neighbors. I do not and will not, with God’s help, preach politics from the pulpit nor discuss them
outside the pulpit. I don’t believe this is my role as a priest.
My sermon preparation begins on Sunday night or Monday morning when I read the Collect and all
four lessons for the week listening for images and words that strike me, identifying themes...
How do we go astray from God? What is God’s character? How does God invite you and me to come back home?
During the weekdays, I try to spend blocks of time being quiet even when walking Miss Grayce, our
yellow lab, praying, and meditating on the lessons asking and listening for the Holy Spirit to point me toward what God is calling me to preach upon.
Wednesdays when we gather for Bible Study after our Healing Eucharist I love to hear what images, words, and questions stand out for others and how the lessons can be entered into from many different angles, many weeks you will hear words or ideas from Bible study in my sermon!
As the Holy Spirit directs me toward where God wants me to preach an image or theme emerges
and then being the story teller that I am I search for a story or poem or song or movie that supports the key themes in the lessons. A story you can both relate to and engage with. Finding a story or poem or movie or song can be the most enjoyable and the most challenging part of writing a sermon especially if I cannot find an example that seems to fit. But God inevitably provides and the words start rolling.
In our lessons this week the Collect grabbed my attention. God alone can bring into order our
unruly wills and affections converting our hearts to discover true joys. the grace to love and desire God’s promises. What I heard in all the lessons is that God is our RESTORER, God invites us to be re-established with God no matter how dark our world has become or how far we have strayed.
In both our Old and New Testament stories we see how God and Jesus restore the people from the perils of living in and of the world. Ezekiel, the prophet to the Jews living in exile in Babylon offers God’s prophesy through his lips and the dry bones accumulated from war and violence are re-fitted with new sinews, flesh, and skin then YHWH’s divine breath fills the new bodies with YHWH’s very spirit bringing them to life, bringing them home.
And Jesus who delays his return to Bethany knows that Lazarus will die trusts that God would be
glorified through the delay suffers he himself when he sees Mary and Martha and the whole
community in mourning and prays to his Father thanking God in advance for the raising of Lazarus demonstrating not only Jesus’ divine power (his last straw with the Pharisees) but also glorifying God, reinforcing Mary and Martha’s faith bringing other Jewish people (not the authorities) to faith.
But as we hear in the Epistle and Gospel lessons and the Psalm we human beings tend struggle with the tension in competing internal the flesh and the spirit. As the Psalmist notes dry lifeless parts like Ezekiel’s dry bones live in the depths of our hearts and souls crying for restoration if we listen for them, longing to return home to Jesus after we have strayed. Some of these voices know and trust that God is always right on time in restoring us and returning us home. These voices in us know we may have to wait to journey through illness, loss, change, difficult times to wait with hope knowing just like with Mary and Martha Jesus waits with us, his soul and spirit deeply moved by our grief and his to trust God is a God of mercy, grace, and forgiveness who will redeem us plentifully, glorifying God in the midst of our darkness grow in patience and wisdom, connect with friends and family in new ways, open our eyes to see others more deeply..
These voices in our souls are willing to wait upon God’s perfect timing to bring us home. And,
there are other voices in our souls unruly, affections of our sinful nature that are living in and for
the pleasures, comforts and ease of the flesh in a world where we are at the center, as Paul writes to the Romans. Voices like the Jewish people , unwilling to accept Jesus’ plan or timing complaining about suffering reluctant to open their eyes to God’s glory in their midst.
Now I am not saying suffering is ever easy or should be minimized or and that there are always
happy endings. Suffering is real, loss is real but even in suffering, God’s glory can shine through if
we are willing to receive it.
This week I read an amazing story from a Facebook friend. A year ago, Sharon, my High School
friend, dropped dead of an aortic aneurism a year to the date of her major successful cardiac surgery. Sharon and her husband, Jack, were high school sweethearts together 41 years after they met while working at a local department store. And as you can imagine, after Sharon died suddenly Jack went through a very dark period writhing in pain and emotionally broken feeling like he and Sharon were two trees who had grown to be intertwined and she had been violently pruned off. And yet in the midst of his agony Jack recognizes now God sent him a parachute to break his free fall, a caring neighbor who helped run and get him to his store each day so he could receive the love and hugs from his neighbors in his small town.
Then, last Good Friday God sent Jack a safety net a woman, Liz, who had just lost her husband of
41 years a few months prior. Over the last year Jack and Liz developed a strong friendship
commiserating, sharing their losses with each other and with God discovering new feelings beside pain, re-establishing a connection to God, being restored to love again. So this week I was so excited to read Jack’s last post. SHE SAID YES.....
Jack and Liz are now engaged planning to marry in the Fall. Even in the middle of their lives being
very fragile God opened their hearts to live in and for God and they were willing to live in and for
God to appreciate in the midst of their pain that God is great and full of glory as Jack wrote.
And so this week take some time and reflect upon the dry places in your hearts or the suffering you are experiencing and invite God to open your eyes to God’s presence and glory in the midst of your pain.....God is your restorer: Open your hearts!