Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Wes Smith
I’m not sure why, but when the sermon-illustration “well” gets dry, God has a way of causing inspiration to come from my four-legged friends, especially our Maine Coon – Oliver.
I don’t know when it started, but Oliver has become accustomed, ala Pavlov’s Dog – to the sound of running water. It doesn’t matter the time of day, whether or not you are exhausted, or if the world is ending – if the sink is runnin’, Ollie comes runnin’.
We’ve fallen into this routine, especially when either Jess or I come home. We come in, Oliver lets out a cry, and as soon as our bag is placed on the counter, he starts walking down the hallway – really it’s more of a prance. And once we start walking toward him, he bolts down the hallway, careens, almost drifts around the corner and hops up on the sink-ledge. There he lays in wait.
We’ve been doing a great deal of waiting haven’t we.
We’ve been waiting to come back to church.
We’ve be waiting to see how the world’s new ‘normal’ will work itself out. And as Lutherans, most difficult of all – our refraining from communion.
Recently I spoke with my father, who is also a Lutheran Pastor in Virginia, about how difficult it has been to preach since the advent of Coronavirus. It’s not that we’ve had any lack of material – there’s been plenty. Rather it has proven difficult because our preaching “bread and butter” has been handcuffed.
Now, of course I say this in jest, the bread and wine of communion are no joke, so much of our Lutheran identity is wrapped up in the bread and wine of communion. It is in the bread and wine that we receive God’s grace. It is in the bread and wine, and so too, our gathering together that we are reminded that if not for God, all is for naught. So when, as Pastor I am unable to distribute the bread and wine I’ve been ordained and called to give, it makes it hard to preach on that – its almost like dangling a carrot if front of a horse; I’m going to tell you about this amazing gift of grace…but, you can’t have it. You see the problem there?
Here’s the thing: it has been hard to refrain, really abstain from communion, and full disclosure, once we return to in-person worship it may be some time until communion resumes. But in the absence of this tangible gift of God’s grace, I am reminded that communion is but one outpouring of God’s love and grace in our lives. I’ve used this term before – I’ll use it again – communion is a means of grace – that is, communion is but one place where we Lutherans are certain of God’s presence – we are certain that God’s grace is received in the words – the body of Christ given for you, and the blood of Christ shed for you.
And while this is most certainly true, we believe that God’s grace can present itself in our lives in myriad ways. I’d go so far as to say, that – that is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sustains us in faith and keeps us in God’s grace not because of our failings but despite them.
The Lutheran Church is entering a new era. It is a time where we are being called upon to remain true to our faith and theology while also embarking into uncharted territories that require fresh and bold eyes. It’s hard to tell - It may be some time until we resume communion, but lest we forget – communion is God’s work and the beauty that rests at the core of that message is that God’s grace never runs out, nor does it end leave.
So, in the meantime – what can we do, how can we be reminded that God’s grace is in fact a reality in our lives? Well.
How about Matthew 11.
Take a step back for a second - switch gears – ask yourself: where did I get my musical tastes?
Chances are you received a great deal of your musical tastes from your parents or guardians. It’s just the way it goes. They listen to it, you listen to it – and whether you like it or not those tastes are a part of you. Now speaking for myself, I was born in the late 80’s, and I grew up listening to everything from The Blackwood Brothers (google that), 80’s ballads, Opera (yes, I said Opera), and, my first love, 90’s rock. Granted, that is a wide spectrum – Gospel Music, to 3 Doors Down – but what I’ve realized over time is that one’s taste in music is very similar to the concept of discipleship.
Just think about it – musical tastes are preferences – you pass along those preferences because you’ve found them to be meaningful– and discipleship is about passing along meaningful preference. In churchy nomenclature – it is about passing along faith. We are passing something to the next generation because it has touched and molded our lives at a deep and primal level.
In the strictest of terms, discipleship may not be a means of grace, but it is an absolute way that the church remains and sustains being the church in times like these. Sharing our faith, letting our faith speak through our words and actions, that is what it means to be a follower of Christ – a disciple. And I’ll be the first to admit, it has been frustrating not being able to see people, you might get the sense that because we haven’t been able to meet in person that the act of discipleship has ceased.
Friends, that couldn’t be farther from the truth, and for as odd as it may sound, I know this couldn’t be farther from the truth because of Peyton Manning. Let me explain.
I’m not a native Hoosier so I guess I’ll never fully understand, but for all of the things Peyton Manning was - that is, a father, son, husband, and friend, he was and will always be quarterback. It is almost impossible to describe Peyton Manning without mentioning or ever subconsciously seeing him in a Colts uniform – and Christian is no different.
We as Christians do many things – we are blue collar, white collar, Republican & Democrat, we are Young & Old – this that and the other, but somehow in the midst of all of that, what really defines us is discipleship. Our vocations may vary but our mission is the same. That whether you’ve been cooped up for the last three months and have only been witnessing to your wife or husband, or if you’ve been speaking to a camera like me – you are still using your place in life, you are living our your vocation to share God’s love and grace. And whether you realize it or not, we have all inherited the love of the Gospel from those who have come before us, and because the cloud of witness have passed along their faith we have been given the holy directive of allowing discipleship to enter and exit through every facet of our lives, and because of that action, our every interaction is a grace-filled moment yet to be realized.
The world may be is on its head, but the church and God’s people are being called to action – we are always called to action. That action might be for some, protesting, for others that action might simply being a good husband, father, mother, or daughter. At the end of the day discipleship and the action we are called to as Christians is a part of our baptismal DNA – it is who we are.
And perhaps that’s one of the reasons our abstention from communion has been so difficult. It is who we are. But that brings me back to my furry little Main Coon. That brings us back to Oliver, the patient kitten waiting for running water.
You know, there are times where I’ve been thirsty and far less patient than he. Oliver will sit and wait up on the counter-top, even curl up and sleep, because he knows that deep down, either Jess or I are going to turn the water on. He doesn’t know when, but he knows it coming. And when the water turns on he lets out the loudest cry as to say “finally!” – and with the cry comes the flick of his tail and a flurry of excitement that comes from a deep knowledge of trust and love, knowing that we aren’t going to leave him high and dry, that relief is on the way.
Friends, our savior doesn’t leave us high and dry, in fact we are soaked in God’s grace, and even in the absence of communion we are bathed in God’s love. But in the meantime, while we wait patiently on the bathroom counter-tops of our souls, God has called us to share and live out our baptismal calling, so that when the wine of Christ’s blood and bread of Christ’s body once again touches out lips, we can more boldly say, “here I am Lord” and believe more boldly in God’s never ending and ever-flowing grace.