“Sermonette” for Sunday, February 28, 2021
By The Rev. Dawn M. Frankfurt
According to the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in Episcopal worship.
Scripture is from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
Today, as you worship, in the readings you will hear God’s call to Abraham when he was 99 years old.
We’ll also hear of Jesus, who at age 30, was trying to tell his disciples some hard truths about life: trying to help them see what is important, explaining how difficult it is to be principled, and that soon, they would face suffering and death.
At nearly 100 years old, Abraham was called into covenant with God. Sometimes I wonder, at 99, if Abraham wasn’t starting to feel a little tired and life-weary. Do you think he was slowing down, dragging, at all when God asked him to become the father of many nations? Maybe Abraham needed that much life experience before he was qualified for the job.
If life experience is needed to parent as many nations as there are stars in the sky, then there must be a different set of requirements of the 30-years young guy who tells hard truths (that no one wants to hear), and is so invested in his ministry that he would do anything, even hand himself over to be tortured and killed, so that the many nations of Abraham could be delivered of the message of love.
Two men, at two different places in life, at vastly different places in their ministry. Two of the things they had in common were that they loved God and were loyal to a fault. In light of the lay of the land from their disparate perspectives, I am stopping to look back at my ministry so far … to wonder how I’ve done … and to wonder what else there is yet to do. If I have nothing else in common with Abraham or Jesus, at least let it be that I love God and I am loyal.
These passages of scripture, and the juncture of sabbatical in my ministry have set me to a place of taking stock and looking out over the way we’ve come. Winding up in this very specific spot in a very specific moment in time, how did I get here? How has my life come together to make my ministry what it is? This is a personal story.
Looking back, I know with the consistency of a lifetime there are three subject areas which have dwelled in my heart: Writing, Religion, and Psychology. These places are where my mind enjoys being at work, where it seeks to grow, where I find the well-spring of life. Naturally, I have been inclined to dedicate unlimited time and energy over the course of my life surveying these subjects, cultivating related knowledge, and grasping the interconnectedness, even unity, of them.
Life is fertile ground for learning from mistakes. In the past, I have communicated poorly, suffered because of bad relationships, and, feeling far from God, I have felt homeless, friendless, and disastrous. Through the church and my vocation in it, I have seen things work together for good in my life. I know that I am part of something bigger and more meaningful than I can understand or imagine. It is living in that context which seems right to me.
Growth in one area mysteriously cooperates to build up in areas unidentified as related, yet ripe for growth. An insight in one sphere cooperates to provide a cascade of insight in others. When my attention is engaged, my interests effortlessly cooperate, and my relationships thrive. Then I know that the universe is in agreement with the life force which created – and is in – me.
For example, learning about a new aspect of prayer and putting it into practice, cultivates the skill of communication with the divine. At the same time, on another level, becoming better at praying teaches me how to write more effectively. So, when communication more clear, better relationships with others are possible.
Experiences like this, along with therapy and study, improves relationships. If we are willing to be attuned to it, we find that being in relationships with other people is a direct way of being in relationship with God. When the quality of that relationship is developed, my engagement with God expands. The symbiotic next step is that as a result of an improved relationship, my prayers would evolve.
When growth happens in one of the areas which interest me (communication, the psychology of relationships, and the subject of religion), there is a cascade of growth in all parts.
The more different parts cooperate, the less distinct and more whole they become. In the economy of forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation which God has established, the universe favors unity. When we are in agreement with the universe, and the universe is in agreement with us, then all parts work together toward wholeness. The parts of ourselves, the people of the earth, the organisms of creation, and all the systems of the universe … cooperate so that, ultimately, everything is healed, reconciled, and made whole.
Therefore, if someone asked me, as someone once did, what the main thrust of my ministry is, I answer: to be reconciled to one another. To be reconciled with each other we must see God in each other, communicate well, and know how to have healthy human relationships. In the passages of Holy Scripture (below) which follow, Paul repeatedly makes the case that good relationships are part of what it is to be Christian.
You may have heard me talk about true self and false self before. Those terms are important when you read Paul. It is important to understand that when he wrote of the flesh and the spirit he was not speaking of the body as if it were sinful and the spirit as if it were sinless, though it is easy to misunderstand Paul to be saying this. For Paul, he is referring to the false self as the flesh, and to the true self as the spirit. This is a very helpful distinction.
True self and false self:
True self = unity with the universe/the divine/God (God-given).
False self = ego (originating in the human mind).
For Paul: False self = the flesh, true self = the spirit.
Eternal life = only true self survives, lives on.
False self dies with all worldly things.
At this point I have the perspective to see that the education I once pursued, the call of my spirituality, and experience of failed relationships worked to create the person I am: a parish priest who sincerely wants to see all people of the congregation, “Be reconciled to one another, and to God.” We can all do better loving each other and being in relationship. Our religion provides us with a deep and soulful way to communicate to ourselves and each other about God. Conversations, sermons, and written material are opportunities to talk with you about how we can enrich our lives and be reconciled to one another, and to God.
I am very grateful for an opportunity to pause, reflect, and recollect all my parts while taking Sabbatical. It is important to me to keep integrity, humility and humor robustly intact, and time away will shore up those reserves. In sixteen weeks, I will look forward to continuing the joy of engaging God and being reconciled with each other in the second decade of our ministry together at St. James, and in the beginning of the second century of this wonderful parish.
In the name of the One who is relationship,
Who gives and receives perfect love by being,
Bless us that we may grow in relationship with you, ourselves, and others.
We ask this of the One who creates and makes whole,
Whose very name is love:
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
What follows are some passages from Holy Scripture exhorting us to be reconciled (in good relationship) with each other.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). Because of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
2 Corinthians 5:16 – 6:10
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Therefore, you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, ‘We know that God’s judgement on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.’ Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgement of God?
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body, we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.