A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on February 15, 2004.
Based on Luke 6:17-26 (Epiphany 6, Year C).
I’ve always liked Election Day. Not necessarily who wins and who loses but there’s a certain finality to it. Barring a hanging chad (or the Briarcliff Manor caucus system), one person wins, the other loses. One person is elected, the other is defeated. The talking and negative campaigning and grandstanding ends and the people decide who stays and who goes. There are few things in life, outside of sports, where there is such a clear winner and such a clear loser. Unlike the moral victory possible in the legislative process, the electoral process is straightforward and unambiguous. It’s black and white.
And at first glance, our lessons this morning seem pretty black and white. Through the prophet Jeremiah God says “cursed are those who trust in mere mortals…they shall be like a shrub in the desert.” But “blessed are those who trust in the Lord…they shall be like a tree planted by water.” In the psalm we hear that those who delight in the Lord “are like trees planted by streams of water.” But the wicked “are like chaff which the wind blows away.” Even Jesus gets into the act. “Blessed are you who are poor” but “woe to you who are rich.” So we’re either cursed or blessed, we either win or lose.
But faith is not a black and white proposition. If we are honest with ourselves and with God, we recognize many, many shades of gray. And frankly that’s annoying. Because it would be so much easier if it was so simple. If thing were black and white, it would make our individual faith lives much tidier. There would be no more angst or inner wrestling for the meaning of life. We’d either be blessed or cursed. We’d either be a shrub in the desert or a tree planted by water. But there are times when we indeed feel blessed. And there are times when we indeed feel cursed. But we generally live our lives somewhere in between the two extremes. Like a desert shrub but one planted near an oasis.
Anyone who has walked with Christ for even the shortest period of time, knows that a life of faith is just not black and white. True relationship never is. It takes hard work, it takes, questions, it takes doubts. Which in time leads to trust and faith.
So why do these lessons seem to oversimplify the most important relationship of our lives? God doesn’t just curse us or bless us depending upon how we’re acting at a particular moment in time. And God still loves us even when we’re acting like stubborn shrubs. But maybe these readings point forward to a time when the choice is just that clear-cut and simple. Maybe there comes a time, in this life, but probably in the next, when the doubts and questions fade away and we are left with the sudden deep conviction of all that is true about our relationship with God. Maybe it all comes down to the most obvious truth that we’d rather be blessed than cursed. We’d rather have blessings placed upon us than words of woe. We’d rather be a tree planted by streams of water than a shrub in the desert. Maybe that simplicity is what awaits us. Maybe that clarity of truth is what we have been promised through the endurance of our present struggles. The moment we choose to put all of our trust in God is the moment we never cease to be blessed by God.
Before Jesus speaks these words known to us as the Sermon on the Plain, we hear that many in the crowd tried to touch him. “For power came out (of Jesus) and healed all of them.” Not some of them or only the ones who acted a certain way or believed certain things, but all of them. Maybe what is so black and white about the faith is that if we approach Jesus he will respond. There’s no ambiguity in this. Jesus heals all who reach out to him. The blessing offered to you and me is clear. And that’s the grace of God. Whether we’re acting like shrubs in the desert or trees planted by water, God’s healing presence is offered to each one of us.
What’s not always clear is the process involved to get us to the point that we’re willing to respond to Christ’s healing presence. That’s where the shades of gray creep in. We struggle with our fears and doubts, we hesitate to reach out to Jesus. We falter in our attempts to draw near with faith. We create the gray areas that make relationship with Jesus so difficult at times. We don’t really believe that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. And so we struggle on, making things more difficult than they need to be.
Election Days come and go. Sometimes we throw the rascals out. Sometimes we stay the course. But at the end of the day at least a decision has been made. Our relationship with God has its moments of exhilaration, it moments of anguish, and its moments of denial. Often we just plod along. But the good news in all of this, is that Jesus Christ never, ever withdraws his love from us. If everything else about our faith remains shades of gray, this one truth of God’s love is truly black and white.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2004