Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My eyes are not raised too high. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 15, Proper 17C, preached on Sunday, September 1, 2013.

    I hardly ever preach on the Psalm.  Today, however, the words of the Psalm seem to cry out to be heard as the voice of faith and honest humility.  They frame the lessons for the day and offer us an inviting context for our lives – one in which the fruit of faith is calm, peace, and quiet for our souls.  That is something sorely needed in our world of upset, change, and fear.
    Psalm 131: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
    That is exactly the perspective of faith.  My eyes are not raised too high.  In other words, I do not live with grand illusions about me or grand expectations of me, what I can do, or my life.  It is not that we have low expectations but that we know ourselves, we know the world, and, most of all, we know Christ.
     I think most of us live our lives in the domain of the routine and ordinary.  We deal with ups and downs, with advances and set backs, with hope and disappointment every day.  We do not presume ourselves to be the wise or powerful who understand the great issues of the day or who have the solutions for what ails the world.  We are humble people, trying to find a way through the mine fields of life, hoping for a little happiness, and some level of comfort.  And that is exactly the humility of faith.
    We do not seek greatness as much as we seek peace.  We do not seek accomplishment or immortality through our achievements as much as we seek an honest hope to carry us through the hard times and a real comfort to aid us in our sorrows.  We are people who live in the middle of the country, in the middle class, amid mid-level expectations and mid-level achievements.  But in all of this there is peace for our souls, the rich peace of God’s grace and the trust that receives it.
    The Psalmist says "I calm and quiet my soul with hope in the Lord... Sadly, the great problems of our lives are often treated with self-medication – sleeping pills, pain relievers, medicines for our anxieties, prescriptions for our depression... Our pillboxes are full but our hearts are empty of real peace, real quiet, and real calm.  Where can we go to find it?
    The Psalmist directs us not to the therapist who hears us talk or the doctor with the ever ready prescription pad but to the Lord.  Ours is a God of hope.  Not the pie in the sky kind of hope but real hope.  Not a distant hope which will be yours someday but today's hope amid today's problems, challenges, and issues.
    In the midst of illness, injustice, death, family, work, and the ever present bad news around us, Christ is our peace.  Now I know you were expecting me to say that but listen.  Words do not acclaim Christ our peace.  Christ is our peace because of what He has done.  He has made peace with our heavenly Father through His blood, He has forged peace with death by the triumph of His resurrection, He has declared peace for sinners by the forgiveness of our sins...  Christ is our peace not in a sentimental or emotional way but in the concrete of His life offered, His blood shed, His resurrection to new and eternal life.
    Christ is our peace.  Not in the sense of a temporary peace that lasts for a moment but in an eternal sense.  Sadly, we too often define peace in terms of the absence of conflict, trouble, or upset instead of the presence of the positive peace of which Scripture speaks.  So if we get through one day of trouble, we think we have accomplished something great.  But if we got through that day, was it not because God's grace and favor are ours in Christ our Savior?  Endurance is victory and yet even endurance is not our accomplishment.  It is God's gift that yesterday gives way to tomorrow, that we endured, persevered, and carried through.  We were and are anchored in the powerful peace of His death for our sins and His life for our resurrection.
    Our peace does not come from the world, not from our dreams fulfilled or from getting what we want or having somebody stroke our feelings.  Such a weak and fragile peace is of little value in a world where we are constantly tempted, constantly tried, and constantly tested.  No, Christ is our peace, the peace of love strong enough to suffer in our place and a life sturdy enough on which to carry the weight of all our sins and disappointments.  Christ is our peace.
    Nowhere does that hit home more than in forgiveness.  Our lives are framed with forgiveness.  We were born into new life through forgiveness in baptism.  We will die clothed in the forgiveness Christ won for us.  Each day is framed with forgiveness.  We rise up in the morning with our past sins washed and cleansed in Christ – a future that is not limited or defined by our failures.  We go to bed with the days sins washed and cleansed in Christ – peace in the heart for peaceful rest.
    While growing up we often gathered around the dinner table to pontificate on the problems of the world and how things ought to be.  My dad often ended his observation by saying, "But then what do I know..."  I once thought it was his way of inviting us to affirm that his way was the best.  Now I have learned it was faith speaking.  He knew his limitations and was pointing us as well as himself from that which is inconsequential to that which is eternal, the one thing needful, to the present and powerful peace Christ has forged through His blood.  In the midst of everything, one word abides – the word mercy spoken not with lips but with a life offered for us, in our place, to end the terror and reign of sin and its death forevermore.
     The Book of Proverbs which we heard from today contains uncommon common sense about humility, disputes with others, and conflict.  Today we also heard Hebrews urge us to love – to love God, love your spouse, love your children, love your neighbor, love the stranger in your midst, and love even those who govern you.  Jesus in the Gospel urges us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.  Only faith can teach such love and it is born first of the confidence that Christ is our peace.  Those who seek their peace from Him will not be rocked by the storms of change, but held secure in the anchor of His grace.
    Christ is enough.  Christ is sufficient.  If we stand in Him, we stand.  Without Him, we fall.  The humility of faith says, faith believes, and faith trusts in Christ alone.  No matter what I might think, my life is not the domain of the high and mighty but of the routine and ordinary.   When I die, wikipedia will not pass on my life to those to come.  But Christ will.   The world's problems are not my burden but Christ’s.  I live now where I live and Christ lives in me and what I do in Him will endure.  Today is my challenge.  Living today in Christ.  Christ for me, Christ with me, Christ in me.  Christ is our peace.  Christ is enough.  It matters not whether the world esteems us great or our lives show evidence of worldly success.  We live in Christ.  In Him we  endure, we persevere, we carry on... today, tomorrow, and to eternity.  This is the humility of faith.  Amen.

1 comment:

Joanne said...

Your sermon puts me in mind of this: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit. Here is Ton Koopman discussing Bach's early cantata on Gottes Zeit.