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Lent 2C Sermon
Luke 13: 31-35

February 21, 2016

 

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

On February 10, Ingrid Williams, wife of Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams, was killed when a driver in the on-coming lane crossed over the middle line and struck her head on. Both Ingrid and the woman driving the other car were killed. Ingrid and Monty were college sweethearts and have 5 children together. Monty and the kids are now left without the woman that all of them love dearly. I found it fascinating that the sports world on Friday reacted with a bit of surprise that Monty shared a eulogy at his wife’s funeral that was so “God-centered.” The Christian faith and Jesus are very important to the whole Williams family, and Monty spoke not only of his love for Ingrid, but of the source that he and his family will have for the days and years to come.

He said that when something like this happens, we want answers, but we often can’t get answers. In the midst of this we can’t lose sight of the fact that God loves us. I found that a powerful witness to his Christian faith. God’s plan is love and salvation, and the presence of sin and evil often rear their ugly heads in ways like this, but God promises to be present in those moments to love, comfort and strengthen us, and the Williams family is now relying on that love for their own healing. Just as God was present with Jesus on the cross, so God is present in our moments of pain and struggles, doubt and fears.
As Monty closed his seven-minute eulogy, he said something that brought tears to my eyes. He said, “I want to close with the most important thing: everyone is praying for me and my family, which is right. But let us not forget that there were two people in this situation, and that family needs prayer as well. We hold no ill will toward that family, and we cannot serve the Lord without a heart of forgiveness. No one woke up that morning intending to hurt my wife. Life is hard. They are grieving and need our prayers as well.”
When I watched clips from this eulogy on television on Friday, I heard the gospel preached loud and clear. I also heard Jesus’ words in my head, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wing, and you were not willing!” So many people in the world think that a eulogy at a funeral should stick to the person’s life and their accomplishments, but Monty Williams understands that our Lord is like a mother hen, we only need to surrender ourselves to those comforting wings to feel the love of our risen Lord. Of course Monty was going to share his faith in that moment … it was all he had.

We have moments like these that are holy moments for our community. Moments where all we can see is tragedy and grief and death, but God uses to accomplish wording things that lead to joy and life. If we think that we have the monopoly on them in the church, we are greatly mistaken. I remember reading about an Irish missionary's attempt to teach the Masai people about the Catholic Sacraments. The missionary said that a sacrament is a physical encounter or event in which you experience Grace or the Holy. The people were then confused and disappointed when they were told there were only seven such moments (and all of these just happened to revolve around a priest). One Masai elder raised his hand and said, "We would have thought, Father, there would be at least seven thousand such moments, not just seven."

Whenever there are opportunities for the community to gather, even if it is at the moment of someone’s death, it is a holy moment. So when many in our nation gathered yesterday for the funeral of Supreme Court Justice Antony Scalia, it was a holy moment to proclaim the story of Jesus’ love and mercy alongside the story of one who served our nation and world on the bench. And when we gather next Saturday to remember Vern Cahill, it will be a time to remember his story alongside the story of how Jesus blessed him and us through him.

But as I said before, it is not reserved for times in the church. I am sure that many of you have been like me, struggling to make sense of the vicious attack in the Nazareth Restaurant and Deli last week. It appears that a person of Islamic background who had been radicalized found out that the owner is a Christian Arab from Israel, and came to the restaurant armed with a machete. Although the owner was gone because of an illness, the man injured a number of customers before fleeing and being shot dead by police. I understand that the man’s first inclination is to flee, to return to his home country out of fear, but I hope that he stays, trusting that Jesus is like the mother hen to him and his family as well. The generous outpouring of love from customers and the community are the results of God taking a moment of evil and strife and transforming it into a holy moment, an event where God’s presence is experienced in a new and transformative way. God’s love is available to them and will be into the future.

Ever since last summer, I have enjoyed reading the writings of a Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr. I read a couple of his books and have been receiving his daily meditation in my email. This last Tuesday he wrote these words as part of his devotion: You don't have to go to sacred places to pray or wait for holy days for good things to happen. You can pray always, and everything that happens is potentially sacred if you allow it to be. Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. Your task is to find the good, the true, and the beautiful in everything, even and most especially the problematic. The bad is never strong enough to counteract the good. You can most easily learn this through some form of contemplative practice. Within contemplation you must learn to trust your Vital Center over all the passing jerks and snags of emotions and obsessive thinking. Once you know you have such a strong and loving soul, which is also the Indwelling Spirit, you are no longer pulled to and fro with every passing feeling. You have achieved a peace that nothing else can give you, and that no one can take from you.

Jesus desires to gather all of us in like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wing. As we continue our Lenten season, we are called to contemplation based on the image that this offers us, seeing all moments in life as potentially holy moments. Whether it be in worship service, in singing, holy communion, at a funeral, wedding or baptism, in a restaurant, or on a servant trip to Nicaragua, God promises to be with us to transform what may seem to the world as mundane, common or even sickeningly terrible events into times of healing, blessings and peace. May we all come to see the presence of our gathering hen in all that we face this week; Amen.