09 October 2022
Year C (Proper )
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of the Province of Central Africa
St. Paul’s Church, Winter Haven
All Saints Church, Winter Park
Let us pray.
Gracious Lord, thank you for the privilege of gathering together in the name of your son and for the promise that he makes that when we gather together in his name he is here. So help us, God, to turn the focus of our attention on you and your presence here in and among us. Open our hearts and our minds to your work, to your will, to that which you desire to say to us this morning - the word, sacrament, song and prayer. And so we do say "Speak Lord, your servants are listening" for it is in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord that we pray. Amen. Please be seated. Thank you.
I have to tell you that's the prayer I pray pretty much everywhere I go just before the sermon and then of course with the line "Speak Lord, your servants are listening." I say that, first of all, because I really mean it. I really want there to be, in the context of this service, things that people hear that in fact communicate the word of God to them. Because honestly, that's really more important than almost everything else. But also, it's a prayer to which I am held accountable, that means that in the context of my own preparation, thinking about the service, what I should say and the like, I'm hoping I'm hearing from God so that somehow that was just developed and created says something that God might want to say within the the congregation which means that's an accountability prayer for me .I just can't go "oh what a great idea." I have to really think it through and pray it through. What would you have? And this morning particularly I was actually drawn to the collect and how they dovetail with what the scripture is. That's what one hopes.
Sometimes that actually happens for a collect and the lessons all some come together to sort of perform a kind of, be a kind of orchestra with each lesson and collect taking its part to say something with clarity. Other times it's not the case. I think this might be one of those times, so what I want to do is just run very, very briefly with you some of the things that I want to call to your attention. So if you would please turn with me, in your bulletin to the collect of the day that we offered in prayer after the singing of the Gloria. Thank you to whoever decided that this would be the Sunday that we would suffer through the Gloria that I confess some almost gosh Bishop 50 years ago. Thank you.
So here we go. We are praying something very specific and the collects always are intentional about what it is that they are calling us to pray. They are carefully crafted. They are meant to communicate something important and really give substance to what it is that we're praying, which is why we use one every single Sunday. Not just because they're appointed under prayerbook but because they're meant to say something important about what we believe, about who God is and, in fact, how we are to pray. They're constructed in that way. So this morning what we pray is first of all who are we talking to. We're talking to the Lord. So that's a way of saying we're not just addressing any old deity, we are talking to someone that we believe to be. I believe in God the Father, maker of Heaven and Earth and in Jesus Christ, his only son. In other words, the word Lord encapsulates what it is that we say that we believe, within the context of the creed. It gives an identity. In other words, this is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one when Jesus said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the father." In other words, if we ask the question "Well what is God really like?" If we're Believers in Jesus, as the Son of God, we are assuming we can say very clearly, "Well according to Jesus, God looks just like Jesus." in what he says, what he does, the way he acts. But there is a coherence, in other words, between what we see in Jesus and what we believe about who God is. So that's the one to whom we are speaking, which means we're talking to somebody who really wants to listen, who actually loves us and cares about us and wants to hear what it is that we have to say. This is not an indifferent deity. All those little things that you heard or either in any way that mean you don't need to pray about that, God's trying to deal with matters of world peace. Your particular individual concerns are not all that important. That is not what we see in Jesus, right? That's actually Illustrated for us in the letter of the gospel lesson about how Jesus responds and actually commends the response of one particular man who is healed of leprosy. If his individual response of thanksgiving was so important for Jesus to call it out in the way that he did. He wasn't only, sort of commending the response of gratitude, he was actually saying this individual person's response is actually important to me, as the son of God. Which means your prayers and your responses and how you talk to God, what you say and the way you try to find a way to live out what you pray, is in fact profoundly important to God the Father; a part of our understanding about the very nature of God is, not only is he omnipotent, everywhere at the same time exercising his will and his purpose, his kindness and his care but it actually there is pinpoint accuracy within omnipotence so that when you or I speak and talk to God, wherever we are, that's got God's attention. And do I understand or even remotely understand how it is that God can listen to millions of people at the same time? No, I don't but he's not like me .God is not a human being in the sky. There is something extraordinarily other and different about God and you see that and you see the way that Jesus speaks of God. He is clearly not talking about a human being. So we're speaking to the Lord who pays attention to what it is that we have to say and that what we say actually matters to him and therefore asking is, in fact, appropriate. In fact, it's actually not a particularly Christian idea to say that "you know, well petition's okay but that sort of infantile prayer but real prayer is is that if you just get still and allow the presence of God to shape you." So that the purpose of prayer is not so much to ask something as as it is to be changed into his likeness. No, that's actually not what the scripture teaches. Yes, prayer does, in fact, have a purpose in changing us. No doubt about it. But that never is taught at the degration of the petition, of asking. In fact, it's a part of the childlike nature in us that God values, that God values that we can come to him and ask. And that is never undercut in any part of the New Testament, whatsoever. That's a part of what gives God approachability, that he is in fact, someone who pays attention and cares about what it is that we actually say.
So what are we saying to God in this prayer "Lord we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us." Okay, so what's Grace? Grace is a kind of gift. It's an enablement. It's an empowerment. It's a word or of encouragement that is spoken into our souls. It is the reshaping of a circumstance that helps us to more faithfully live out what it means to be a Christian. Twas grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home. In other words, it's a way of God working in our lives that, in fact, helps us, helps us to be shaped more like God. To have our character changed. For our circumstances to shift in such a way that it actually allows us through. That shift in circumstances to become more useful than a way that we've been in the past. Grace is like one of those all encompassing words, all accomplishing words that says something about both the mercy of what he gives because I never deserve the gifts of God. In other words, there's no tally sheet where God looks up in heaven and says "Oh you did pretty well yesterday so you get a little more Grace today. Thank you." We're we're always in the position of being a debtor, it's a part of the meaning and the very nature of Grace. So it's an underserved gift that comes to us in a way that actually enables us, changes us, shapes us, whether that be through circumstances or his work in our lives, in a way that actually helps us to be more Christ-like. Grace. Pray that your grace may always precede us, in other words go ahead of us when we're going down the path, and follow us so that when we get there and what we do actually has a long-term, lasting effect. That's what we're praying, in other words, the point has to do with usefulness.
Usefulness. That's why the line afterwards says that we may continually be given to good works. In other words, the outworking of Grace in our lives opens the door for us to see the needs that are in front of us and do something about that, whether that be the smallest act of kindness to someone who's having a terrible day to the enablement of the creation of wholesale changes whether it be in our culture, whether it be in our local government, whether it be even in relief efforts that are going on right now. To affect those who've been so drastically impoverished by the hurricane. All of those fall into "the good works" category and that's the lesson that flows through the rest of the lessons. So that in the Jeremiah lesson, the the punch line is, and this is not what they would have expected okay, you're in you're in exile, you're in Babylon and you're an exile in Babylon because you never did anything I asked you to do to do. But now that you're here, be of good. You may not like living in Babylon. Sorry, that's just the outworking of what you've already accomplished but it doesn't mean you can't make a difference where you are. So where you are, build it, build up houses, plant gardens, eat them, have your children, marry, multiply and then, the key line, but seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. So, I don't know what brought you to Lake Placid. I don't know whether you think of it as Babylon or Jerusalem or somewhere in between but regardless of the circumstances that brought you here, whether you think it's a good move or a not good move, the fact of the matter is is that your job, as believers, in Citrus County is to seek for the welfare of the community in which you live. That is one of the ways that the gospel is demonstrated. That is one of the ways that God wants to use you because you see, the joy of knowing the grace is actually operating in your life and that you are secure in your relationship with God. See there are plenty of people that call themselves Christians but they're always so afraid of doing the wrong thing they don't do anything.
You're secure and because that's the case, you begin to see needs because the focus of your life is not on you. There's an outwardness about the life of Grace. You're paying attention to the facial expression of the woman checking you out of the grocery store and checking out your groceries. You're noticing whether or not the person on the wait staff, where you're eating at a restaurant, is having a good or a bad day. You're on the phone with somebody that you know and you know the nuances of that person's voice. And so you're noticing what's going on even in what he or she may not be telling you. All of that are clues that Grace gives you so that you can respond, even if it's just to pray "Lord I just listened to so and so and it's really clear, I don't know what to say to her but all I can do is pray for her and so God I commit her into your hands. That, in and of itself you see, is an act of Grace because the focus of Grace enables you, out of that kind of inner security in your relationship with God,to seek their welfare. Honestly, whether you feel like it or not, in fact, that is part of the working of Grace is to draw you out of your own times, particularly when there's a lot of self-pity, and it's not going the way you want it to. I mean look at Paul, I'm shifting now to the epistle lesson. Paul's in jail. If you ever feel badly, think about about Paul but notice his attitude. It's stunning. He says, and this I think is actually the best line in all three of the lessons. he said, "I suffer hardship even to the point of being chained like a criminal but the word of God is not changed." I mean talk about a different focus and out of that he is wagging to Timothy and those who would listen to this letter, a whole list of things about - it's a whole list of kind of "oh by the ways," "don't forget to do this," "don't forget to do that, don't forget to do this," and so the verses sort of jump from one subject to the next. And so this is the piece that we're getting, what astonishes me, is that in jail, where he may or may not actually come out of this alive, what he's not doing is drawing up his last will and testament. What he's not doing is feeling so badly that all he can believe in - jail in Paul's time is nothing like our present day penitentiaries - and yet that's his focus. His focus is on Timothy, his beloved, the one whom he's invested as a young leader. That's the one he's caring about and those that Timothy is leading and that's the focus of what he's writing about. In other words he's not allowing the dire nature of his circumstances to take away from him the purpose that God has for his life. That's important. We can feel so caught up in the difficulties of our present existence or the people around us it literally draws us off kilter from the purpose that God has given us, which is to be available to for good works, to be open to the grace showing us places where we can actually make a difference and are willing to do so.
You know what that results in? It really does result in gratitude because you might have heard me say this before. There are times when I'm involved in the ministry of the lives of other people and the presence of God is there and I just go, "How did I even get in on this?" I mean it's just so wonderful. Now not always, of course, and sometimes it's more like, "Boy I wish I hadn't been brought in here Lord." You know, unless I'm dealing with some really complicated difficulties that comes with the job, both the good and the bad, but in each of those circumstances I believe I bear a responsibility to be available, to be useful to the people and the problems that are in front of me regardless of how it is that I'm feeling in the moment. That kind of determination, in and of itself, is the evidence of Grace working and operating.
And so that's why Lord, you're the one who listens to all of us. You know exactly what's going on in my heart, the things that I say and the things that I don't say. What happens in my life actually matters to you and even what I'm praying to you right now actually matters to you, so what do I pray? God, I'm praying for grace. Thank you. Grace, go ahead of us so that when I get there I can trust that you're already at work in those circumstances. In the phone call that I'm about to make, that you're already going ahead of us-me setting that stage and as I'm present,
Help me listen carefully to those things I might not normally see, to pay attention to what it is that you want to do, that you're speaking into my life in a way that actually allows me to be useful in the lives of other people and once that event has passed and I'm moving on, Lord, be at work continually in the life of what was just planted so that what comes out of it is fruit far beyond anything that anyone could ever ask or imagine. That's what we're praying when we pray, that calling and that's what actually produces the kind of "how did I get them in on this gratitude" that we see in the closing lines of the Gospel. And notice there's a a point and a distinction that's important. Jesus says "Were not ten made clean? The other nine, where are they?" and he says to the one to "Give thanks. Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you (notice) well." That's bigger than physical healing. That's a wellness that has been planted into that Samaritan's soul.
And isn't that a part of what we're about? Would God want that kind of wellness, that kind of wholeness within us. Not just so that we can feel better about ourselves but that we, in fact, can be more secure and more worthy and humble to be used in the life of God. And that life of giving and being available and God using you is, in fact, the life that elicits gratitude. And gratitude only opens more doors. Only, actually, brings more joy. Only causes us to see even more clearly that which could be in front of us that if God would want to use us. They'll love it. If you want a life focused on you and your problems, have at but I also want to say to you what you're also inviting is a life of implosion, a life of self-pity, a life of sadness but the gospel invites us into today is a life that is focused not on our need but, in fact, on our capacity to serve. Let Your Grace always proceed and follow us that we might be given to Good Works.
That's the prayer and that's the life that brings joy