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Receiving a Greater Share of Grace: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 5th 2015 Christ Lutheran Church

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost July 5th 2015 Christ Lutheran

Ezekiel 2:1-5 Psalm 123 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:1-13

Receiving a Greater Share of Grace

What wonderful lessons we have today! I’ll be just touching upon all of them today. I finally understood what this Psalm is about. Think about how your dog might look at your hands when you are about to give it a biscuit: that’s the same way that we are supposed to look to God’s hands, so that we receive a share of grace. Grace, that is, God’s favor comes to us in many forms, of course, and eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor a heart been able to imagine the good things God has in store for those who love God and are called to the divine purpose.[1]

Ezekiel reminds us of the wonderful way God’s spirit stands us up, puts us on our feet and sends us with God’s message into our rebellious natures and bids us hear, reminding us like the last time, when we mourned and began repenting of our racist system that we are captured in and we look for ways to dismantle, so that we take down the walls that divide the races.

God can make unimaginably good things happen among us. Crimes and miracles are opposites. I like to show that we can experience equally miraculous power of love and kindness precisely in the reverse of a crime. The forgiveness of the families of the martyrs and members of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston was like that. Their forgiveness made it possible for the people in the South to mourn and repent. Imagine if they had called for revenge? Their response can make us Christians somewhat more proud of our faith. I won’t expand about how we responded to 9/11 and all the troubles it has brought to the world, especially still in the Middle East. On July 4th it’s all right to celebrate, so we don’t have to go into that disaster.

But imagine if someone received the grace to do something wonderful for love and life, to the same degree and intensity as that racist did against life by inflicting demonic hate and evil. When God provides us a greater share of faith and grace in our hearts – miracles filled with angelic power far greater that the crimes of the demonic can come about and we pray that God might use us!

Now when Jesus was in his hometown of Nazareth, he was amazed at their unbelief. His small town people took his greatness against him. You realize that for a while, Jesus’ own family considered him insane.

We can compare that town to a pool of water with no stream of grace entering it and no flow of water streaming out into a river to the ocean; like that a community can become stagnant, so that everything dies in it. We need the Holy Spirit to stream into our congregation like fresh water, so that random acts of kindness and compassionate deeds of love flow out, so that all the fish we’ve caught in this congregation come alive, receive fresh new life, and experience the miracles of healing.

Jesus does not succumb to the damper that his hometown people and family put on him. He goes into high gear in response to that unbelief and, multiplying himself by twelve, sends out his twelve disciples two by two and gave them the authority to drive out demonic spirits, which are the harbingers of crime. Today among other concerns, Jesus would order them to preach and teach anti-racism; preach against White privilege and supremacy, let Black and White, Native American and White, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, what have you – lock our arms together, like soccer players on the sidelines hoping for a goal during a penalty kick. And our goal is to become one.

We often confuse unity with conformity or uniformity. True unity is internal. Therefore “true unity differentiates; it does not confound” – to quote Teilhard de Chardin. When we are one heart and soul, we can be as different outwardly as we want to be. Uniformity means that we all have to be the same outwardly and then no one knows where our hearts are. A uniform can mean the license to kill and that is why police and soldiers wear them. Internal unity, being one heart and soul together, makes new life, abundant life, and love issue forth. True unity, like in marriage, can mean the license for life and love, we might say.

St. Paul speaks of someone he knew 14 years ago caught up into the third heaven. Back them they thought of sub-lunar, solar, and astral space; that means, under the moon, in the solar region, and among the stars. (Don’t forget back then before Copernicus they believed the sun, moon, and stars revolved around the earth in different spheres.) St. Paul, says, “Whether in the body or outside the body, he did not know.” He’s really not fooling us: he’s talking about an experience that he had himself. He was somehow lifted up into a place like paradise and heard things that are not to be told that no mortal is permitted to repeat.

You and I may also have had such experiences and they are very personal. That is why St. Paul tries to disguise the fact that it was his experience. But it has nothing to do with boasting, it just goes to show that God has a share of grace up there accessible to us, the power from above with our name on it, for random acts of kindness and compassionate deeds of love. When the freshness of the Holy Spirit flows into the water of our community with all the new life that comes about, then love and compassion overflow into all our neighborhoods around us. We really can’t even imagine what God can bring about in the miracles fashioned by all the angelic power God’s grace sets afoot. And that power is real and accessible to us by faith. Luther said, “Believe and you receive; don’t and you won’t.” He really said “Believe and you have it” which rhymes in German, so I make it rhyme in English. But it’s Glaubstu, so hastu.

I could also tell how St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) had an experience like Paul. Two years before he died he describes something like the experience of a beatific vision that made him stop writing. In the face of that experience, he said, all his words were like mere straw. His words held the theology that Catholics still cherish today – almost 750 years later. What an incredible experience it must have been to make words so valuable appear like straw!

Then there is St. Augustine (354-430) before him: his mother Monica prayed for him almost twenty years before he converted from the Manichaean heresy to Christian faith. Augustine converted when he heard the voice of a child saying “Tolle lege!” which in Latin means “Take and read!” And having a bible at hand, he read a verse from Romans that turned his life around.[2] But he and his mother had an experience like Paul as well. Just five days before Monica died, she and her son were leaning out of a window looking into a garden, in conversation about what eternal life with the saints in heaven would be like and they were thinking about the verse we started with: how could they imagine what eye had not seen, nor ear heard, nor what had never entered into a human heart? They talked tenderly “forgetting those things that were behind and stretching forward to those that lay before” – and suddenly lifted up, their hearts began speaking together among divine beings up in the celestial streams flowing from God’s fountain, the fountain of life, which is in God. Augustine writes that they ascended above themselves transcending their own minds, beyond the light of the sun, mood, and stars to the region in eternity where abundance never fails, into the first fruit of the spirit, and then descending they turned back and heard the noise of their mouths once again, heard the words they were speaking, where their sentences began and ended. They came back down to earth.

You can read about it in Augustine’s Confessions,[3] I’m only giving you a brief description of their experience, only to show how we can ascend in faith to a place filled with our share of grace and where that fountain of life can wash upon our whole community as well, so that Christ can send us as well to proclaim what eyes have not seen, nor ears heard, nor any hearts imagined, bringing about all those great works that God can do among us. Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 2:9. Origin believed Paul was citing a passage from The Apocalypse of Elijah. Perhaps Paul quotes an early lengthier Jewish version, because the extant versions do not seem to have these words, while they are also quoted but attributed to Jesus by The Gospel of Thomas: logion 17 and The Acts of Peter, 39, both apocryphal. Also cf. Isaiah 64:4.

In his Exortation to the Greeks, Clement of Alexandria [in the Loeb Classics (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1919-1979), p.207] has more of this citation, relating the passage to God’s power and glory inherited by the saints: “A glory ‘which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered the heart of human beings. And they shall rejoice in the kingdom of their Lord for ever, Amen.'” [I updated the language.] The Hebrew version of the Apocalypse of Elijah was abridged and thus this verse may have been a  prayer or a doxology in the version that St. Paul is quoting. But the tone of the apocalypse seems so very negative so that it is hard to believe these uplifting words could have come from it. It’s possible, of course, since Lamentations has the wonderful chapter 3. Epiphanius also ascribes Ephesians 5:14 to this apocalypse: “Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Perhaps St. Paul in this case was quoting the words from a song, because the latter citation very much resembles a song. In any case, a friend of mine, The Rev. Richard Miller of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, in Brooklyn made it the refrain of a new song.

[2] Romans 13:13.

[3] Book 9, chapter 10.


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