Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sermon: Feast of St. Francis/Blessing of the Beasts

I, as usual, never intended such a long blog break. Actually, I intended no break at all. Life has recently hit us like a tidal wave. Matt, as you probably know, severed his Achilles tendon completely about a week before our school year started. His surgery took place the first day of school. Since then we've been adjusting to life at a much faster pace (by that I mean getting up and being to school dressed and sane four days a week) complicated by Matt on crutches. I've had to step up to the plate at church after taking something like a three year holiday, as well as start doing laundry again and cleaning (this has been good for me to find out what an amazing husband I have. Apparently not all husbands bring home the bacon and then also cook it and clean it up.) This last week, to jump from the frying pan into the fire, or rather, out of the bathtub and into the lake, our basement flooded repeated every night beginning at about 5pm and going on until the next day when nice vestry people would mop it up in time for it to start over again. This trial by water upset my very organized and functional laundry situation and also brought every single solitary toy we own into the house rather than being consigned to the basement toy room. Now I'm just whining, but honestly, some of the last many days have felt like the last straw! only to be followed by really, this time, the last straw! no really, now, the camel is dead.

So, I took a break from the mayhem to preach. Unfortunately, I edited this a bit this morning but I have no ability to go back in and fix it now, so don't be thrown off by the typos and the moments when clearly I probably said something else. I expect the days coming to be better and drier and to soon have dried out all our wedding pictures and the contents of my 'wedding box'. ("Where is your wedding box, Daddy," asked Emma. "Men don't have wedding boxes" he said.)

My Sermon from this Morning
I want, this morning, 
to revisit an incident that happened to us as a family about three years ago, 
maybe two and a half, time flies so quickly. 
The incident arose suddenly and painfully as a result of our move here—
we lost one of our cats. 
At the time we had three and on the night we first slept here at the present rectory, 
only two of our traumatized cats, 
and our dog would came with us. 
The third, a long haired black fluffy fussy cat went into hiding. 
The next day we went back to the old house to look for him, 
and so it went on for a few weeks. 
We finally turned in the keys and resorted to calling animal shelters without hope. 
But, miraculously, and I mean that in the full sense of the word, 
more than a month after we lost him, 
when the old house was finally opened up, 
the cat was heard banging around and we were called were able to get him back—
that is after tearing down part of a wall and struggling to grab hold of him  for about two hours.

Since then this cat has had a very hard time adjusting to life in this new home and is, 
as far as I can gather, 
still relatively traumatized, 
as indeed would I had I experienced what he did. 
We didn’t see him for several weeks when we first recovered him, 
and then he was very confused about the location of his lou, 
indeed still is periodically, and then chewed all his own fur off. 
I am grateful to say he stopped that but now he seems to have gained the personality of a dog. 
You cat lovers will know what I’m talking about. 
We already have a dog. 
Having a cat come and sit on my lap and lick my face and ears and adore me as a dog would is unnerving.

Anyway, we, as best we can, 
love this cat and I pray for him that he will become less neurotic and calmer day by day. 
But he continues to be a living reminder, 
or an icon for me of both our New Testament texts for this morning. 
Let’s look at the Romans first, very briefly, 
and we’ll wind up in Matthew.

Paul writes in Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Sometimes it seems that the sufferings of this present times are overwhelming. 
This is especially true when we see helpless innocent things suffer. 
What is the cause of this suffering? 
Don't turn there if you're holding an animal. 
In Genesis chapter 3 
Adam and Eve, the crowing point of creation—
as one of my children pointed out this week, 
they were created last, 
there was earth for them to stand on, 
a cosmos around them, 
food for them to eat, 
work for them to do, 
everything was created beautifully and perfectly by God, 
for them as a great gift. 
Their response to that gift was to do the one and only thing God asked them not to do, 
they ate of the tree whereof they were commanded not to eat, 
they wanted more even than God had given them, 
as if he hadn't provided enough—
and in that first disobedience they not only ruined their relationship with God and with each other, 
they made an indelible mark on the created order itself.

To cover their nakedness God took an animal and slaughtered it. 
What an ugly smear in such a place of beauty and perfection as the garden! 
Then Adam, in order to produce food, 
had to cut into the ground, 
to make marks in it. 
To bring children into the world Eve would suffer and endure pain. 
This sudden struggle and death culminated finally in Adam and Eve dying themselves. 
They weren't suppose to die. 
Nothing was supposed to die. 
That wasn't the purpose of creation. 
And we have inherited it and continued to make it worse and worse and worse. 
Along side the beauty of this fall day, 
we stumble upon pain suffering and death every moment.

But the text doesn't end with verse 18. 
Nor does the Bible end with Genesis 3. 
From that moment the whole scripture looked forward to the cross, 
yearned for a savior, 
someone to set everything right, 
to reverse the destruction and ruin caused by sin and rebellion. 
That first slaughtering of an animal to cover Adam and Eve 
was the first of many many signs that God was able and prepared to fix what Adam and Eve had broken. 

Jesus, God's own Son, took the place of Adam, and also of Eve, 
of all the people in the Old Testament who trusted in God and believed that he would provide a savior, 
a solution to the great brokenness of the world, 
who takes the place of any one of us who believe and trust in him 
for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of life that never ever ends. 
Jesus' death and resurrection stands as the crowing moment of history.

But his work, though complete, or done--
death is destroyed, 
if you believe and trust in him you will live forever, 
there is one more act to unfold. 
And that is what Paul is talking about in verse 19. 
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 
Look forward for a second to verse 23. 
And not only the creation, 
but we ourselves, 
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, 
groan inwardly was we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, 
the redemption of our bodies.
In other words, though the saving work of Jesus on the cross is completed, 
just as those in the Old Testament waited for the promise, 
we wait for Jesus to return in glory to see the final realization of that great work. 
Because he is coming back. 
And everyone will be raised from the dead.

Listen to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 15
[51] Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, [52] in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. [53] For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. [54] When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:       
  “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
  [55] “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
 (1 Corinthians 15:51-55 ESV)
 This will happen when Jesus happens and so we wait, 
but not only we--
all of creation waits and groans.
Verse 21. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 

As children of Adam, 
along with the rest of creation, 
are born already broken, 
already separated from God. 
When we sin we deepen and entrench that separation from God, 
until the moment we turn back to him in the person and work of Jesus, 
our suffering and ultimately death is part of the just penalty all humanity pays for rebellion against God. 
But when you put your faith in Jesus, 
your suffering points to the time when you will be remade, 
made whole. 
It is no longer just punishment, 
it is something that makes you holy and pure because Jesus goes through it with you. 
In this way, 
when you believe in Jesus, 
all suffering is life giving. 
That’s why Paul likens it to childbirth. 
But for ALL animals, 
for ALL God’s creation that we daily ruin through sin and mismanagement, 
ALL that suffering is like childbirth, 
all of it is the groaning and longing for their Maker 
who loves them 
and knows them 
and who will make them whole and lovely on the last day when he, 
when Jesus returns.

It is in this context of redemption, 
of Jesus fixing and making whole what we broke, 
of pulling us out of the hole that we dug 
by going to the very blackest part of it, 
the cross, 
and dying there instead of us. 
This is how it is even possible for him to command us not to be anxious in Matthew.

Did you know this is a command, 
not a suggestion? 
Do not be anxious! 
What you will wear, 
what you will eat, 
where you will live, 
how many more days your ancient 17 year old dog will live on this earth. 
That last one was for me. 
Do not be anxious. 
Your father who made you, 
who cares for you, 
cares for this whole creation, 
every creature, 
every sparrow. 
However much we ruin and destroy, 
Nothing falls out of his hand or dies without his knowledge. 
And when he returns in glory on the last day, 
this whole world that we see and know and feel so confident in, 
will be remade, restored. 

In a moment those of you who have brought creatures with you will be invited to bring them forward and Matt and I will be up here. 
We're going to pray for God's providential blessing on them--
that he will provide for them all the days of their lives and give them every good thing. 

The greater challenge this morning is for those of you who do not yet trust Jesus to provide for you--
to forgive you of your sins 
and cover you with his own blood 
and give you eternal life. 
Don't come forward this morning asking only for a blessing for your animal--
God has already provided for you beloved creature. 
For him to provide for you, 
you must trust in him and give yourself to him.

And for those of you who know and love Jesus, 
the great commandment, 
Do Not Be Anxious, is for you. 
Are you fretting about many things? 
Are you trying to plan for every possible problem and missing the glory of God along the way? 
Do not be anxious. 
Your Father has the tiniest sparrow in his hand. 
How much more does he love you and care for you? 


G 'n C said...

I love the juxtaposition of your "whining" with the beautiful overview of redemptive history, which becomes more moving in it's light.

Joyce Carlson said...

While praying for animals, please pray for 16 year old Dusty Miller Cat who is spending the night at the vet's. Very sad and anxious. Me