Year B, Proper 13
It is good to be back home after a profound and inspiring pilgrimage in Ireland. I am sure my experiences will be reflected here at Sermon-Stories.com as I continue to process them. I hope your summer has included travel to some inspiring “deserted places” for rest and renewal.
This week our main lectionary texts include one of my favorite biblical stories. I love annoying and gratitude-inducing tale in Exodus 16 of the Israelites complaining in the desert and God’s response. How often do we as modern people complain in the midst of God’s care and abundance? (Raise your hand. I know you are out there. My hand is definitely raised!) How often do we complain instead of asking in faith for what we need? Psalm 78 poetically reiterates the tale. This story makes me laugh and cry at the same time.
Then in our epistle lesson from Ephesians 4 we get the writer’s challenge to lead a life worthy of our calling in Christ Jesus. I feel quite confident this does not include complaining. Though it does include gifts from that equip us, the saints, for the work of building God’s kingdom. If we have identified with the complaining Israelites we can also through the grace of God identify with the early Christians in Ephesus. We are not alone in the work that may lead us to wilderness-feeling places and experiences. We gather in “one body and one Spirit… called to the one hope of [our] calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Each of us must grow up in faith to use the gifts we are given and God’s grace is there all along the way.
The crowds Jesus speaks to in faith are also called to grow up. No longer can they have faith in God simply because of sign like the manna given in the wilderness. They are called to have faith in the One who is among them sent from God. Just as God sent the Israelites God’s presence in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, so God has sent Jesus as presence to guide us in the paths of new journeys.
- What are the scary, fearful scenarios that your congregations are facing? Do you hear legitimate and gratuitous complaining?
- What are the gifts they have been given to equip their journey as they face their fears?
- What stories of faith do they need to hear as God’s presence on the journey?
- What stories of forgiveness do they need to hear to know that God even forgives our complaining?
In the stories of King David that we have been following in 2 Samuel we find a story of confrontation and confession this week. We have heard the heart-breaking tale of the king’s seduction of another man’s wife and his murder of her husband. Now all his actions are coming to haunt him even as he rejoices in the birth of new son (who will later be taken from him in death.)
Could this story be a metaphor for the way we as first world people have treated third world people? At times have we “seduced and raped” their gifts for our own benefit and brought them into our “palaces” as they are grieving and experiencing the death of their cultural heritage for their children? Does the story have anything to say about the way African-Americans are still treated in with violence in our own country? Questions for thought in relation to the times we live in.
This story could also be told in the midst of a sermon as an example of the spiritual growth that we all must engage in as God’s people. We must grow up in faith as we are called to do in Ephesians and in John. And we all sin and learn by our mistakes in the process. Yet God is ready to forgive.
Also consider using Nathan the prophet’s story in 2 Samuel 12 as a children’s story. Children will immediately see the injustice in the story. It is a short story so there would be time to ask them questions about their responses. Perhaps they have experienced (or even participated in) a similar injustice. Close with a prayer for guidance to grow up in faith and trust in the knowledge of God’s forgiveness.
Finally there is delightful small tale from the tradition of stories surrounding St. Francis of Assisi. It comes from the collection of stories about the life of St. Francis written after his death, The Little Flowers of St. Francis. Here is a short version that can and should be lengthened through repetition to heighten the ending.
It seems that St. Francis and Brother Leo, his assistant, were traveling one day and when it came time for evening prayer they realized that neither of them had a breviary to read from. So St. Francis said to Brother Leo, “I will teach you what to say so that I too may give you my confession. When I give you my confession and say, ‘O, Brother Francis, you have done so many evil deeds and deserve hell’ then you say, “Yes, it is true that you deserve the depths of hell.” Brother Leo agreed and said, “Begin in the name of the Lord.”
St. Francis then began, “O, Brother Francis, you have done so many evil deeds and deserve hell.”
Brother Leo replied, “God will perform so much good in you that you will go to paradise.”
St. Francis was quite upset and said “No, say this, You deserve to go to hell!”
Brother Leo said, ”Yes, Father, I will try again.”
This happened two more times with St. Francis instructing Brother Leo to say more and more extravagant and damnable words. And Brother Leo would reply with more and more words of forgiveness from God and God’s great pleasure in St. Francis.
“Why is this happening?”, cried Francis. “Why do you disobey me?”
Brother Leo said, “Every time I resolve to answer as you have instructed me, but God makes me speak as God pleases. The only words God gives are of grace and forgiveness. I can’t say anything else because God is speaking through me.”
You can find the original text from The Little Flowers of St. Francis at http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/flowers1.htm .
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015 and beyond. Texts and photos to be reprinted by permission only.