JuLY 05, 2020, Scripture Readings and Sermon
Rev. Mark Hatch
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The Lord is loving to everyone
and his compassion is over all his works.
All your works praise you, O Lord,
and your faithful servants bless you.
They make known the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your power;
That the peoples may know of your power
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;
your dominion endures throughout all ages.
The Lord is faithful in all his words
and merciful in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all those who fall;
he lifts up those who are bowed down.
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus said to the crowd, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Sermon: Would You?
THE ENIGMA OF ‘HOME’
What is this thing, this notion, this vision, this ideal that we so often call “home”? What or where is this place, this locale, this spiritual center or geographic touchstone, this essence by which, at some level, we know or we feel like we have arrived or that we belong or that we are welcome and safe and, for some time anyway, secure and sound and loved? Though many of us, and certainly me, are constantly wrestling with this fundamental aspect of our very beings there is arguably no time of the year when the matter comes more to the fore than now, in early summer, amid long, unfolding days and starry, silent nights; or for some of us (like me) amidst the melancholic splendor of autumn, whose very hint can arrive even now at any unexpected moment, around any unsuspecting corner. A season, for me, when all our stories and songs, poetry and prose, both past and present, seem to be filled with both poignant sentiments and profound, if sometimes complicated, yearnings.
In some way it is always true, (again, speaking for myself), that we don’t really know or feel just how much we miss such a sense of place or belonging until it is no longer there, until it is absent from us, removed by death or age or change or fractured relationships, or simply by a broken heart. We often do not know or name or admit to how so very deeply we yearn for such a place, precisely until such a place seems or feels to be beyond our present reach. Quite often we turn or hearken back, searching ever more intently for that which once was, or so we thought. Sometimes we are swept along by a wave of nostalgia and gilded remembrance, only to find that what we have now so carefully burnished in memory is but a deceptive and even counterfeit rendition of something both far more complex and yet ultimately far more pure.
I left home at the age of 17 and, in one way or another, I have been on the road ever since. I have been blessed beyond all rhyme or reason to circle the globe and to wander far afield and to work and play in locales both exotic and mundane, arctic as well as tropical, tumultuous as well as tame. And always, forever, some small part of me both searches for and hearkens back to this notion of “home.” Where is it? What became of it? Where did it go? Why does it compel me so deeply? Part of what makes this longing somewhat odd and enigmatic is that I had neither an easy nor a happy childhood, and I detested the town where I was raised. Thus it seems to me that what I regularly, as now, reach for is something else, something far more elusive, yet something of seemingly greater import and incalculable value.
Mine is not so much a desire to relocate what ‘once was’, or to turn back the clock so as to reemerge in some cherished setting. I possess no sense of life having once been perfect and idyllic, and now somehow demanding or inviting my return. Instead, “home” is held out before me in some more ambitious and yet intangible way, as some “thing” which is of great merit and solace and which, despite the world’s trials and tribulations, is perhaps even near and in our midst. When the prophet Zephaniah assures us so exuberantly that “I will bring you home….when I gather you in” [Zeph 3:20], this fortune to be restored before our eyes is not, to me, a literal or material realization. This place, this “home”, is not a building or an address or a physical shape, really. Rather, it is this culmination, this emergence, this discovery, this grand confirmation, this resounding affirmation of a right relationship with God and Spirit; a peaceable civility amongst one another that, when it happens, we shall know as “home”, far more than merely that place, as the old saying goes, “where when you go there they have to take you in.”
We are urged to “rejoice and exult.” [Rom. 12:12], not least, as Paul reminds us, to “Rejoice and exult in hope; [to] be steadfast and patient in suffering and tribulation; [to] be constant in prayer.” This is what brings us “home”, and which, in its own mystical way, is a very home of its own already.
We are comforted and consoled so as to be liberated from fear. We will arrive at some safety and all shall be included. My best guess is that such a place, such a home, is rather far removed from that which most of us know or have known in our daily lives. Despite our deepest prayers and best efforts, and certainly in keeping with the central spirit of the life of faith, we know that such a way of life shines before us but we are not there yet. Light a candle, illumine the way, believe, rest and reflect, renew and move on, ever onward, always onward.
More than 45 years ago I was tromping around the woods of northern Maine for the first time, with my closest friend from High School. This was one of what would become many such excursions into new and, for us, uncharted places; youthful quests for greater meaning and the answers to life. Such seeking continues to this day. Quite by accident and rather far removed from most anything else, we came across an old graveyard, a true resting place in the soft, pine woods which was unlikely to be very often disturbed by the sounds or the feet of the living. Both of us were struck then, as we still are today, by the central gravestone, a large carving of a clipper ship plowing through turbulent seas, the bowsprit pointing directly at us. Below the ship were these simple words carved in the stoic gray stone: “Life is a voyage, homeward bound.” And so it is. For the life of faith and the quest for the Spirit, if it is about anything, is about making our way toward something. It is about moving in our hearts as well as in our lives, towards something more, something greater, something pure and timeless and ancient and yet new, something that speaks to fulfillment and soulfullness and justice and conviction and belief and acceptance.
“Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say rejoice,” St. Paul pleads both to the people of Caesarea Philippi and to those of us in these very unsettled days of the 21st century, for “the Lord is at hand.” [Phil. 4:5] The pressures and temptations of a fallen and fractured world are all about us but we must remain steadfast. We must continue on our expedition toward Bethlehem. We must endure on our journey to the Kingdom. We must persevere in our rowing towards God. We must stay vigilant and thirst for the truth and seek the light. We must heal and be healed. We must forgive and be forgiven. And so, perhaps, we hug someone just a little bit longer. Or we tell a person “I love you”. Or we peer into our children’s bedroom late in the stillness of a summer night for a tender glimpse of reassurance, or we hear yet again the long-lost voice and reliable footsteps of a deceased loved one.
These small epiphanies and grace-filled glimpses are like precious gems and timeless treasures. They are sustenance for the Spirit. They strengthen us for the journey. You and I have come too far, we have sacrificed too much, so much is at stake, the great and mystical moment of redemption and release is near us. We must keep watch and we must keep wake. Truly then, as we await gentle starlight and numinous unfoldoings, shall God’s peace “surpass all understanding.”
May each and all of you, in your own special and beautiful way, and by your own inner and spirit-filled sense, find a way “home.” And may that “home” be precious, lovely, and the spiritual fulfillment of all your hopes, all your dreams, all your prayers, and all your longings.