Paradox: A Sermon for Pentecost 20A

This week more than usual, I found myself almost begging for the right heart, the right words, the spirit with which to speak to you from this pulpit, a place of such honor and such enormous responsibility.   I have this almost irrational belief in the transformative power of words.  Today I want my words to have that kind of power and the paradox, of course, is that even as I try, I have to be willing for my words to be absolutely powerless so that it will be the Spirit that will fill your heart with the true Word of God.

In a little while we will have our parish meeting.  You will hear good news.  As I gathered information, looked at a lot of numbers and tried to put them in the context of the last few years, a few things struck me.  We are doing so much more with so much less that it is nothing short of a miracle.  Out of despair and disappointment, God has made us new. We may not feel we’re new, but there is something new at St. Ambrose that is worthy of celebration.  Finally, on that gray and dreary day in December of 2009, your leadership showed such courage when they decided to accept help from others, even though you didn’t really have much reason to trust the hand that was being extended to you.  That willingness, which some might see as weakness, is what made this community so strong.

Here is another paradox.  All the good news is just enough to prepare for this:  As much as we’ve accomplished, all we’ve done is take a tiny baby step forward.  We are being called to take the next step.  El Centro and Saint Ambrose need each other in ways that we have not yet acknowledged to each other or even necessarily to ourselves.  We need each other because we have complimentary gifts and weakness and God needs us all working as one to pull this ministry through. We need each other because we can call out the best in each other and surprise ourselves, and others, by what we can do. Today’s readings underscore the magnitude of our call.  We have to do mercy and practice justice.  Each of us is tempted all the time to engage in empty piety and easy faith, so that the things we say we believe and the things we actually do must make God shudder.  We can be for each other a community of hope and accountability.  Finally, we need each other because each of these communities by itself is simply not viable, it is not viable financially, it is not viable practically, it is especially not viable spiritually.

One of the times when we most need each other is Sunday morning.  Eucharistic Prayer C is so eloquent in this: we gather to receive the solace and strength, the pardon and renewal that can truly make us one body and one spirit in Christ to then go back out to serve the world in God’s name.   We need each other because St. Ambrose needs the energy and life that young families and children can bring and the folks of El Centro need the wisdom and grace that come with having been through a lot and lived to tell the story.    We may not see it clearly but we know that trying to continue to go it alone will not carry us very far.

A small group of folks including Carl, Wayne and Jeanne, a member of the Altar Guild, and Carmen, Tania, are going to work with me to develop a liturgy for Advent that will bring the two communities together for part the Sunday Eucharist.  We will move forward slowly, carefully, reverently.  We will listen carefully and we will do everything we can to be both respectful and hopeful.  I have to tell you honestly, that I lead you into this with fear and trembling– I understand those words of St. Paul’s with a new intensity.  But I am also quietly confident that God will show us the way.

After I prayed and prayed and then prayed some more this week, I began to feel like Donkey harassing Shrek.  As so often happens, what  I heard was a gentle silence in response.  But while I was out on a walk, I remembered a piece of music that I first heard about three years ago and that I love. The pieced is called “Kyrie Litany of  Praise.” It captures yet another of the central paradoxes of our faith.   The words are very simple:  We praise you oh Lord you give us  living waters, Lord have mercy.  We praise you oh Lord, you open our eyes, Christ have mercy.  We praise you  O Lord, you give us life eternal,  Lord have mercy.    If there was ever a time when we needed to praise God for all our blessings and at the same time, to beg for mercy this is it.  As you listen to it, imagine—this could be us.

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