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Sermon for 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B - 9/30/2018)

    Sep 30, 2018

    Passage: Mark 9:38-50

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Series: Sermons for Year B (2017-2018)

    Category: Sermons for Year B (2017-2018)


    Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (2018)
    September 30th, 2018
    St. Anne’s Episcopal Church (Lackey Chapel at CCU) 

    Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22      James 5:13-20         Mark 9:38-50

    It almost seems strange to be back in this space for normal Sunday worship! 

    Last Sunday, when we were one congregation in two places, I made the observation that one of the great strengths of St. Anne’s is that we are about as flexible as can be. And I want to repeat that observation this morning. If we’re not able to meet in our usual spot, we’re great at adapting - even with just a couple of days’ notice - and finding a way to come together to say our prayers and praise God. It’s almost like we’re a family of disciples that wants to be together; no matter what! I don’t want to downplay the stresses that we all face as a result of doing church-on-the-fly, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that I’ve actually kind of enjoyed the times when we’ve had to come up with creative solutions to not being able to gather here. Last year, thanks to a hurricane, we did church in Pete and Julie Hearn’s backyard. This year, we met at my house one Sunday and then at Dan and Jennifer Ennis’ house as well as the Hut chapel at FUMC the following Sunday. So we’re really good at this! Granted, I wish we didn’t have to be! I’m reminded of that line from Fiddler on the roof: “I know, I know, we are the chosen people. But once in a while can't you choose somebody else?” I hope that you’re all saying your prayers for a quiet remainder of the hurricane season!  

    Now again, I know that everything that has happened over the past few weeks has been stressful. So this morning, I want us to have a little fun together. 

    Conventional wisdom suggests that in the wake of a major disruption like a natural disaster, the best thing one can do is to find ways to return to a sense of regularity. I heard that choir practice this past Wednesday was a genuine blessing for folks who were thankful just to have some sense that things were getting back to normal. And I know that at least some CCU students are actually looking forward to being back in class. There is a comfort in routine. But this morning, I want us to take a look at the Gospel in something of an irregular way. 

    I think it fair to say that the Gospel lesson from this morning is pretty serious. It’s all about taking our responsibility as Christians seriously and appreciating the importance of being faithful. And Jesus’ words are severe, to say the least. And that’s all good and true - we certainly should be deeply concerned about how our actions reflect who we want to be and claim to be. And woe to us if we put stumbling blocks in the way of anyone who is trying to love God and be loved by God. 

    But sometimes seriousness and severity can get in the way of what the gospel is. Especially in the wake of disaster. 

    What I mean is this: we all seem to have a millstone hung around our necks at the moment. If you take a stroll around Conway, things are still deadly serious. There are barricades everywhere, military vehicles on every corner, and the flood waters are still standing as a reminder that many lives have been devastated by what has happened. We’re up to our eyes in seriousness. You can see it on people’s faces. And I do not wish to discount anyone’s determination to carry on or anyone’s frustration at the disruption to daily life or anyone’s sadness over having lost everything. All I mean to say is that there’s more than enough seriousness to go around right now. 

    So my hope is that our coming together in the presence of God this morning might offer us all a bit of holy levity. Because there are times I think when lightheartedness can lift us up over life’s stumbling blocks.        

    Igyaeowim: A few days after the storm, when the waters really began to rise, I seriously and deliberately set out on my bicycle to get a sense of what the flooding was going to look like. It was a sobering ride, especially as I rode down Laurel Street and saw how high the water had risen. I noticed that there were police and National Guard troops stationed at several points near the water, so I decided to stop and talk to a group of officers. We spoke briefly about how things were going and how they were holding up under the heat and stress, and one of them said, “Well, sometimes all you can do is laugh…I mean, look at that guy,” and he pointed down to the water where, about a hundred yards from where we stood, there was a man sitting on a bench with a fishing pole. The bench was actually in the water, and the man was sitting there fishing in water that came up to his knees. The officers said the man wasn’t in danger and that he had been there all morning and seemed perfectly content. And I remember thinking to myself, “That guy must have a screw loose!” And he may well have, but then again, he may have been trying to have a bit of lighthearted fun in the face of the disaster. I don’t think he was being a stumbling block to anyone - at least, if the officers’ reaction to him was any indicator - and he certainly provided the officers with something to smile about. So it might be the case that he was being something of a holy fool. 

     And I want to suggest that we might take a lesson from this kind of lighthearted foolishness. 

    If we’re supposed to be deadly serious about not being a stumbling block to ourselves and others, then at times such as this, the best way not to be a stumbling block is to laugh together. To share with each other. To enjoy being the church together.    

    So here’s what I’m going to encourage us all to do over the next few weeks. Call each other up. Invite each other over for a visit. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy or formal. Just touch base with one another and find out what’s going on. Every one of us is going to have a story to share; whether it be about a guy fishing in the flood water or about being stuck in traffic for seven hours. As you share stories, I am certain that you will hear notes of God’s grace in action, and it’s ok to laugh at the sometimes apparently silly ways that God’s grace makes itself known to us. At times like this, I think we’d all do well to relax a bit and find joy because that will help us as we deal with the seriousness of helping others and putting lives back together. 

    I’ll be issuing calls for volunteers to help with the relief effort over the next several weeks and months, and I want you all to know that I’m convinced that everyone here - from toddlers to nonagenarians - has a part to play in the work to come. But the initial work begins today. And your assignment is to find some space for some lighthearted and holy joy.