Sermon: “Grace to Proclaim”

October 16, 2016: Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 31:27-34
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Last Sunday afternoon, I decided to multi-task. For me, that’s not always a good idea, but I thought I’d give it a try. I decided that, while I was preparing the worship service elements for this week – that is, this service – I could also fulfill my civic duty by watching the presidential candidates’ debate as I worked.

The debate hadn’t even started when I got up from my desk, crossed the carpet, and closed the door. I wasn’t worried about someone stopping by and getting annoyed with me wasting company time on politics, but for the first time in my life, I worried that something might arise in the debate that would make strange listening coming from a pastor’s door.

So I closed it. And… It was a good decision.

You can tell me later how distracted you think I might have been by watching that while preparing this worship service.

The scandal of last weekend – and how odd it seems to be describing political scandals by which week they fell in – left me with this awkward question: Do I really need to declare that sexual assault is wrong? Do I really need to announce that bragging about sexual assault is wrong? Do I have to say that no one, no matter how privileged by wealth or celebrity, is entitled to commit sexual assault?

After watching and reading various people this week attempting to minimize or trivialize these questions, I reached the sad – and angry – conclusion that yes, I do. So:

Intimate touch is a splendid thing, a real gift to the human being, when it happens with the full, enthusiastic consent of the partners. Without full consent, it’s simply wrong.

Bragging about doing wrong – and for that matter, egging someone else on to brag about doing wrong – is also wrong. Words matter, and I don’t care whether the setting is a pulpit or a locker room, the stage of a presidential debate or a bar, words still matter. People hear them and they decide from them what you believe is right and wrong. They may base their own words on what you’ve said, and they may base their actions on what you’ve said. Trivializing sexual assault is wrong.


Nobody. Nobody. Nobody has the privilege to touch another person intimately without their consent.


I wear black every Thursday (#ThursdaysInBlack) to declare that. I’ll be Walking a Mile in Her Shoes on Saturday to declare that.

Forgiveness is a different question, and some have called for forgiveness. One thing forgiveness does not do is pretend that something wrong didn’t take place. Forgiveness looks the wrong, the harm, the damage right in the eye, and says, “I know you’re there,” before choosing a way of healing and renewal.

Stephen Mattson wrote a powerful essay this week for Sojourners titled, “Have we Forgotten the Point of Christianity.” I’ll have a link to it included when I post the text of this sermon on our website later today. Here’s Stephen Mattson’s question:

“…In the big scheme of things, is the purpose of having a Christian faith primarily for gaining political power, or creating and enforcing laws, or hoarding wealth, or living as comfortable a life as possible?

“Or is it ultimately about bettering — and saving — humanity?”

It won’t surprise you to hear that he chooses the second answer to that question. Here’s some more from that essay:

“God is not glorified by preventing refugees from receiving a life-giving avenue of escape.
And God is not glorified by deporting immigrants.
And God is not glorified by xenophobia.
And God is not glorified by sexism.
And God is not glorified by systemic racism.
And God is not glorified by rejecting the maligned.
And God is not glorified by fear, hate, shame, and pride.”

What does all that have to do with Jeremiah and with Paul writing to Timothy? Not much, I have to confess: except that it is a message that I must proclaim, in season and out of season.

Let’s stand with Jeremiah for a moment. He had just experienced an unimaginable catastrophe: the invasion of his homeland, the capture of its capital city, and the destruction of the temple which honored the God Jeremiah so fiercely served. The fact that Jeremiah had seen this calamity coming probably didn’t help.

But standing there 587 years before Jesus, the prophet who’d been nicknamed “Terror on every side” for his warnings of disaster, brought words of hope. “The days are surely coming,” he wrote, when the dispossessed will have a home again.

Jeremiah was right again. Seventy years after the fall of Jerusalem, descendants of those hauled away to Babylon returned to Mount Zion, and rebuilt a temple to their God, to Jeremiah’s God, and to our God.

I have to admit, though, that the second half of this prophecy still waits for its day. The ways of God have not yet been written on the human heart, or I would not have had to say what I did at the beginning of this sermon. We must still teach the ways of righteousness. We must still teach the paths of peace.

Still, remember Jeremiah, gazing at the ruins of his home, with a hope that would not be realized in his lifetime, and understand this: He had received a gift of grace, and he, in turn, proclaimed it.

Six hundred years later, Peter and James and John, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus, Paul and Timothy, and Timothy’s mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois, also discovered they had received a gift of grace, a gift of grace in the person, the teachings, and the resurrection of Jesus. They had to take hold of a great deal of courage to proclaim that grace, because they knew the potential cost. Peter, James, and John had seen Jesus arrested, then fled. Mary and Mary watched Jesus’ crucifixion. Paul had actively persecuted the followers of Jesus. Timothy, Eunice, and Lois no doubt watched Paul anxiously as his course led him to execution in Rome.

Yet they were so filled with this grace, that they had to share it. They had to.

Where have you experienced grace? Where have you encountered the compassion of God? Where have you found yourself unexpectedly lifted in hope? Where have you found a direction you’d long sought? Where have you discovered strength unexpected to face difficulty and challenge?

I don’t actually expect that you’ve had many of those experiences here. For most, we spend one hour of the 168 in a week in church – that’s just six tenths of a percent of your week (yes, I did the math). The choir gets the most opportunity, of course, being here three hours a week, but even they’re not quite at two percent. I grant you that for most singers, when we compare the first rehearsal to what we sound like on the final Sunday, each anthem feels like a miracle.

But even given that here we deliberately invite the Spirit of God within us, I expect that most people experience grace somewhere else in their weeks and in their lives. A primary purpose of this community, of the Church Universal, is to share those experiences of grace.

To share them with each other to celebrate when we’ve overcome an obstacle.

To share them with each other to offer hope to those still awaiting their inspiration or aid.

To share them with each other to seek further support on a difficult journey.

To share them with each other to discern the spirits, and to make the hard choices of life.

To share them with each other to renew our strength for compassionate work in the world.

To share them with each other to build our courage to share them with the world.

To share experiences of grace with each other, to equip ourselves as individuals and as a community, to share good news with the world.

I was going to advise you to ignore the 1897 hymn of Johnson Oatman, who wrote thousands of gospel lyrics, called “Count Your Blessings.” I don’t think it’s that helpful to count your blessings.

But then I read the words. “Count your blessings,” it says, “Name them one by one.”

Name them one by one.”

Name them.

Count them. Name them. Claim them. And share them. Share them here for practice and support. Share them with your family and friends. Share them with a stranger if the moment presents itself.

And invite them to share their experiences of grace, too.

Count your blessings. Name them one by one. Count your many blessings, share what God has done.


Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on October 16, 2016

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