Monday, November 1, 2010

To Make Up for Last Week: A Sermon

With my travel schedule last week, I never got to post anything. I didn't really have anything new to post about a sermon anyway. Last week, Bend UMC heard the final sermon in the "I am" series and Lometa UMC had laity Sunday (I don't blog about other's sermons, most of the time).

Anyway, I figured that instead of blogging my sermon scraps (what didn't make it into the sermon), I would post one of my sermons -- sort of. I gave this sermon for my RIM (Residency in Ministry) group last month, so it's a sermon to pastors. Still I think there is something for all christians. Where I said "sort of" above, I should explain. This is the sermon as well as I can remember it. I usually preach from notes, not a full manuscript. I have only recently, for discipline and training purposes, gone back to writing out my entire sermon. I wrote this manuscript based on my notes and what I could remember about what I said. Without further ado . . 

Galatians 6:14 – 18 (NRSV)
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Matthew 11: 25 – 30 (NRSV) 
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.’ 

The Marks of Ministry
When I was preparing to leave Perkins for in my internship, one of my professors said to our group, from now on, wherever you go, you will have a steeple coming out of your foreheads. You don’t know what that means until you know what that means, am I right? In our epistle lesson today, St. Paul writes, From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. This is his hand written benediction to this letter. As he wrote this, he was referring to the actual marks that had been branded on his body, the scars he had received from his years of imprisonment for having the audacity to preach the gospel. He refers to the scars he received because he bore the name of Jesus Christ.

Marks -- Car, banners, tree limbs
But this got me to thinking about the marks of ministry, the marks of being a Christian. My car marks me as a pastor. A few weeks ago I was driving to an Emmaus meeting when a bird of scavenge hit my passenger side mirror and took it off. I swear; it hit me. I did everything I could to avoid it, but it had its aim. I have a perkins sticker on my back windshield, and an OSL sticker. I even bought one of those clergy stickers with the cross and flame, but I haven’t put it on yet. I tend to multitask while I drive and I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea about pastors.

I’ve been keeping a mental list of the things they didn’t teach us in seminary that come up with some regularity. How to get a cow back in the fence. I could have used a course on banner hanging 101. That left a mark. The other day, I found that one of my other duties as assigned included piling up branches. While I was piling up the branches, my foot found the fire ant bed. Did I mention I was wearing flip flops? Yeah, that left a mark.

Marks of Sound
But we receive other marks from ministry, don’t we? Our people make their marks on us. I was having a discussion with one of my musicians the other day about changing the 2nd hymn on Sunday. I said, I’m preaching on I am the light of the world, and the words to I want to walk as a child of the light works well. And he said, yes, but we don’t know that hymn pastor. And I said, I’ll sing loudly; and he said, I know. And then he said, listen to this pastor. Doesn’t this sound like light? And he was right. Later on, he came to asked, it’s the words that are important to you isn’t it pastor? And I said, yes. I’m a poet. I studied poetry in college. It’s not for you. And he said, no, it’s the music. I’ve been mulling over this conversation for a while now, and it’s affecting my theology. It’s marked me.

There are sounds in ministry that mark us. When my congregation sings How Great Thou Art, and we get to that last verse, and I hear so many voices singing about bowing at the throne of our Lord. I’m overwhelmed every time.

Other sounds in ministry mark us, brand us with the marks of Jesus. I met Jerry a week after I moved to Lometa. Over the next few weeks, each time I was in Lampasas I would stop by his nursing home for a visit. I didn’t know that 6 weeks later I would walk into Jerry’s room for the last time. I had been told about that sound. That sound, you’ll know it when you hear it, and when you hear it, you’ll never forget it. That sound that people make as they’re dying. And then there was the silence that followed. Jerry branded me with the marks of Jesus.

St. Francis’s Marks
The reason this lesson was chosen for the feast of St. Francis, is because St. Francis himself was branded with the marks of Jesus. One day, while he was deep in prayer he received a vision of the feast of the cross. Upon having this vision, he received the stigmata – the wounds of Christ. He lived with them for the rest of his life. But long before he received the stigmata, he had been branded with the marks of Jesus. Later in his life, when he was no longer able to work, he dictated his memoirs. He told a story about his life before he belonged to Jesus. He would leave his house and if the wind was coming from the right direction, the stench coming from the homes of the lepers would overpower him. He would hold his nose and run to get away from that smell. Later, after his conversion, he told about the joy he had in ministering to those same lepers from whom he used to run. He told of his joy in caring for them, and tending to their needs, even cleaning their wounds. Long before he received the stigmata, he bore the marks of Jesus branded on his body.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus said, Come to me 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.

In the rabbinic tradition to take the yoke of your rabbi meant to take on his teachings, to follow your rabbi, wherever he went. Rob Bell reminds us about that old saying for the rabbinical students. May you follow your rabbi so closely that the dust from your rabbi’s feet covers you. The whole thing about taking on the yoke of a rabbi means that we will do what our rabbi does, go where our rabbi goes, that we will follow so closely that the dust from his feet will fall on us. And if we have studied his teachings, if we have followed closely enough, if we have listened to him closely enough, if we have truly taken on his yoke, eventually, we will begin to look like our rabbi.

If we go where our rabbi is already at work, we’re going to receive the marks that our rabbi has received. If we do what our rabbi does, we will be marked like our rabbi is marked. That easy yoke of Jesus sends us out to hospital rooms, and nursing home, to bad neighborhoods. That yoke of Jesus sends us out to receive the marks of Jesus branded onto our bodies. And may it be that the dust from our rabbi’s feet covers and we look like him. Amen.

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