How Big is the Box we have God in Today?

Preacher: 
The Rev. Karla Hunt
Sermon Text: 

Karla Hunt

Revelation 7:9-17

Sermon for 12 May at ASEC

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

How big is the box we have God in today?

         Do we try to set limits by fitting God into a shape and pattern

                  we’re familiar with and

                           neglecting who God really is? I wonder.

I did not grow up in the Episcopal Church;

         my parents still attend the evangelical church I was raised in.

As a child, I was surrounded by love but

         when I began thinking for myself and asking questions

                  I was told that faith meant

                           we accepted the teaching without trying to understand.

We were also taught that

         to go out and make disciples of all the world

                  was our purpose as Christians and

                           we were not gentle about

                                    telling others where they went wrong and

                                             how we could fix them.

I can remember one Fourth of July

         when I and the other members of the youth group,

                  accosted people gathered for the fireworks

                           and read them a tract about hellfire and brimstone.

I remember this with shame and regret and

         often wonder how we must have made those folks feel.

Because my questions were not welcome

         and because I was uncomfortable with this type of evangelism

                  my experience in this church was such that

                           when I left home, I fell away for a very long time.

After much wandering and searching,

         I found the Episcopal Church when I was in my early 30s.

I loved the message I heard from the pulpit,

         the way one could love God and be a Christian

                  without being arrogant or confrontational and

                           I fell in love with the language of the liturgy.

I am tremendously grateful to have found a home in the Episcopal Church.

But one of the hardest things I have had to realize in my spiritual journey

         is that the church I grew up in that didn’t work for me

                  actually does work for some people.

For many years, I saw them as ‘the other’:

         a tribe separate than myself that was mistaken and misguided

                  in everything they did and said.

I didn’t think they could accomplish any good or

         that God could be working in that congregation.

But I was wrong.

I was trying to limit God into working

         only in a way that honored my own perspective.

And that, of course, is not the way God works.

            God works in God’s way.

And many times God uses the very last person we would expect,

         the ‘other’

         the foreigner or outcast,

                  someone for whom we lack respect or compassion,

                           in order to bring us a benefit.

In the OT, God uses Pharaoh’s daughter

         to draw the infant Moses from the water.

                  It’s hard to get more ‘other’ than that:

                           Egyptian royalty as opposed to Hebrew slaves.

When God’s chosen people are still enslaved in Egypt,

         God sends Jethro, the priest of Midian,

                  Moses’ foreign father-in-law even,

                           to help Moses find his way.

God uses Ruth, the Moabite outsider

         to provide for her mother-in-law, Naomi

                  after both of their Hebrew husbands died in a foreign land.

King Cyrus of Persia, known as God’s Anointed One, rebuilds Jerusalem

         and restores the Temple treasury to the exiles when

                  they return from captivity.

In the NT, God uses three more outsiders

         as the Persian magi announce the birth of the Christ Child.

The parable of the Good Samaritan

         teaches us that all those we consider

                           to be less than or different from ourselves

                                    are our neighbors.

Jesus angers the people of his hometown by pointing out that

                  although there were hungry widows in Israel,

                           God sent Elijah to a foreign widow in Sidon

                                    instead of to them.

And Elisha bypassed the lepers in Israel in order

         to cleanse Naaman, the Syrian.

Jesus learns from the Syro-Phoenician woman

         who demanded the crumbs from the table

                  that his message is for all of creation,

                           Gentiles and Jews,

                           outsiders and insiders.

God’s good news is for everyone because to God, no one is an outsider.        

There are no foreigners or outcasts in God’s creation.

 

It’s a natural thing to dislike those who don’t belong to our tribe.

         We fear ‘the other’ and in times past, that fear has kept us safe.

But many times we need the outsider to give us a new perspective,

         the bigger picture, a viewpoint from another angle,

                  so that we can recognize our true condition.

Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves

         and every time we draw a line between us and them,

                  you can be sure Jesus is standing on the other side.

A few verses before today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says

         ‘I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.

                  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.

         So there will be one flock, one shepherd.’

When the author of Revelation speaks of the ‘great multitude

         that no one could count, from every nation,

                  from all tribes and peoples and languages’

         he reminds us that these are ‘standing before the throne 

                  and before the Lamb, robed in white…”.

Some of these may be other Christians,

         some may be Jews or Muslims who also revere Jesus

         and some may be those who don’t know Jesus

                  but have heard his voice in their hearts.

We don’t know them or their story

         but we know that they belong to God and God also belongs to them

                  not to us alone.

We do not own God.

         Nor does God ask us for permission in dealing with others.

God loves us like a mother: unconditionally and unreservedly,

         whether we know it or not

                  whether we love God back or not.

We don’t seem to do such a good job of

         loving our neighbors as ourselves,

                  perhaps because we don’t love ourselves? I don’t know.

But maybe we could supplement the Great Commandment by

         loving our neighbor as a mother loves her children.

On this special day, perhaps the best way

         we can honor our own excellent mothers is by

                  loving our neighbor as our mothers have loved us:

                           without conditions or reservations or any kind of limit.

God is loose in the world, doing a new thing,

         working in ways seen only by those

                  who have discarded their boxes.

Thanks be to God for eyes to see!

Bibliography

The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume VIII: Luke, John, Volume X: Ephesians, Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude, Revelation; edited by Leander E. Keck et al, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, copyright 2002.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, New Revised Standard Version, New York, Oxford University Press, copyright 1991.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, S.S.; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. (emeritus); and Roland E. Murphy, O.Carm. (emeritus), with a foreword by His Eminence Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, S.J.; Prentice Hall, copyright 1990, 1968.

Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others, by Barbara Brown Taylor, HarperOne, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, copyright 2019.

https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&source=hp&ei=VorQXI2gBM3l_Qa... 6 May 2019.

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