Proper 12B (2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21)
A couple of months ago when I was with you, we had a Gospel reading from Mark about Jesus in the boat with his disciples during a storm, and calming everything by saying, ‘Peace, Be still.” I said then that the Church is often like that little boat, buffeted and tossed about by the storms of life – but that Jesus can always bring peace if we keep him at the center of the boat!
Now, today again, after the Gospel reading about the Feeding of the 5,000, we have a similar story, as recounted by St. John, of Jesus calming his disciples during a rough sea by saying, “It is I; do not be afraid…and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.” It’s almost as if God is speaking to us about the need to find peace in the midst of our storms; storms you are still experiencing here at St. Paul’s, and storms The Episcopal Church continues to go through in the wake of our recently- completed General Convention!
I don’t know what reports you may have heard about the Convention in Anaheim from which Susanne and I just returned last week. As usual, the press got most of it wrong in that we really did very little different with respect to the controversial issues around human sexuality and other things which continue to bring stress and strain on our church and on the whole Anglican Communion.
The big, largely unreported news really was that we reaffirmed our commitment to addressing global poverty through the Millennium Development Goals, and launched some new initiatives on domestic poverty even while having to slash our own budget because of a $24 million deficit caused by the economic meltdown in this country and around the world. We’ll have to lay off 37 of our 150 staff people at the Church Center in New York, including my own Associate for ecumenical relations, and lose about 24% of our program budget in the process!
These are not easy times for any of us, but the Church should not expect to be spared from the kind of hard decisions businesses and other institutions are being asked to make.
The difference is – as I tried to say in one of my last sermons to you – is that we have Jesus in this boat with us…to bring peace, even in the midst of the storm.
But we need to be in touch with that Jesus. We need to access the kind of power and grace he can give us if we expect to draw upon his strength and guidance in tough times like these. That’s why I’ve always loved these lines from Ephesians which we had as our Second Lesson today. It’s really a blueprint…or an outline…of what we need to do, and be aware of, to draw upon the grace of God we find in Jesus.
The author begins by saying, “I bow my knees before the Father…” Well, of course, that’s just a descriptive way of saying that he is praying! And prayer is the key. We must be, in these times and always, a people of prayer! But what do we pray about? Well, the Lesson continues, “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
Well, there’s a lot there! We need to pray for each other that we may be strengthened by the Holy Spirit and that Christ may dwell within us. And what do we need to make that happen? We need to be “rooted and grounded in love.” As we pray for one another in this church – for those we agree with and those we disagree with, we need to love them! That’s the essential quality of life for Christians. We need to love on another!
The next thing the author prays for is that we “may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
That means, in the midst of our struggles, we need to see the big picture (the breadth and length and height and depth) of the Church’s mission. We have to keep “the main thing, the main thing,” keep our eye on the prize – which is to know the love of Christ and be filled with all the fullness of God.
Our mission is to know Christ better, and to make Him known, in this little church, in this community, and in the Church and world beyond. That’s why we need to pray every day, to read the Scriptures every day, to come to church every Sunday and invite others to come with us, and not to be afraid to witness for Jesus Christ whenever and wherever we can.
We had a great Collect, or prayer, for this Sunday. “O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.”
That just means that, since God alone gives us strength and wholeness, if we trust that God, we will be protected (no matter what!)…and that even while we confront temporal, “earthly” things like budget deficits and church fights and small numbers, we’ll be able to pass through them (and triumph over them) in such a way that we don’t lose the important things – like healing…and love…and forgiveness…and eventual reconciliation. And, finally, the gift of eternal life!
That life abundant Jesus promised us. That life abundant that only he can give; and only he can take away. I close with the final line from Ephesians this morning which sums it up better than I ever could:
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”