Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
What makes water, wine, and bread holy?
Many of us use water carelessly if we live in middle class or in wealth. Millions and maybe billions of people in the world are careful not to waste a drop of water and even then it is often filthy water which they need to drink. There is no clean water. So water is very precious!
Think how much wine is swallowed carelessly during dinner and after dinner in the homes of wealth and some middle class people. Not a prayer said before swirling and swallowing.
Water is supposed to be good for our health. Even wine in moderation is considered to be good for our health. Just staying clean with water is needed for good health. Do we say a prayer of thanks when clean water comes forth from our shower? Do we say a prayer of thanks when a waitress brings a glass of water to us? Do we say a prayer of thanks when we can cook with clean water? And, do we praise God when we start the clothes washer?
We need to be thoughtful in consuming the simplest of gifts of nature. We need to value them. Even though we may think a bottle of water is inexpensive, think! What about that plastic bottle? Where did you leave the last half-finished bottle of water you had? Aha! Who needed to decide where to discard that water before placing the empty bottle into a recycling receptacle?
Water! Why don’t we treat it as a precious commodity here in Pennsylvania, here in Pottstown or Collegeville?
Follow me into this sanctuary. It could be a sanctuary spot in a forest, in a camp site, in a church of stone, in a storefront church, in a tent church. Follow me right to the baptismal font or baptistry or a simple cup of water. Water! What makes this water holy? Why do we use the water anyway? It is because we use the word of God in connection with this water. We remember the waters of Noah’s flood or God’s flood to be more exact. We remember the promise in the rainbow after the flood. We use the words of cleansing in baptism. We invite and expect the presence of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, God spoke saying, “This is my beloved Son.” As we are baptized God is saying, “This is my beloved child.” We become children of God more fully than without baptism. We claim the working of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit within us, and around us, and leading us. The Holy Word with the water from nature becomes the substance of baptism.
The wine and bread. How do the wine and wheat become holy? By God’s word. Wine is made from grapes, grapes grow in nature. But we add the words – the holy words. This bread is the body of Christ. This wine or juice is the blood of Christ. Jesus called himself the bread of life. Jesus is sharing himself with us in the bread. Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for all of you for the forgiveness of sins.” Then we invite the Holy Spirit and this bread and wine is no longer ordinary bread and wine or juice. It is blessed by God. The Holy Spirit has been invited and is present. It is the body and blood of Christ. Do this in remembrance of me.
Why are some of our human brothers and sisters cheating themselves of this gift of healing and hope? Why do some of us partake but are not in holy mode? Holy mode! What is that? It is about faith, and hope, and love. Yes, faith is believing what we cannot see. However, there is data from individuals who witnessed how faith became real for him or her. When an illness disappeared against all odds. When a relationship has healed leaving only a tiny scar. When a near accident was avoided. When someone did an “about face’ and asked to be baptized. Faith: believing things yet unseen, yet unheard, yet unfelt. But in a second there it is. God is great and greater and greatest! God is absolutely the greatest friend ever.
Habakkuk cried for help. He cried to God in despair. He was a prophet. Prophets have an agonizing life. Habakkuk said to whomever was listening, “I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.” Then the Lord answered me and said: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.”
Faith. The Psalmist of Psalm 37 says, “Commit your way to the Lord; put your trust in the Lord, and see what God will do.” The Apostles say to Jesus, “Increase our faith.” Jesus, says to the disciples, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Jesus continued addressing the disciples, instructing them rather crudely to do what they have been commanded to do; sort of like staying in their place instead of trying to be in a higher position. This reminds me of the accounts in scripture when Jesus repeatedly instructs us to be humble; to take the lower seat and then be invited to take the higher seat; the first will be last and the last will be first. It is part of this faith thing.
We need to go about our daily duties and any special privileges with humility, by staying in our place. We do this not to be elevated later but because it is our duty to be humble, not to have unrealistic aspirations. If we do not keep pride under control, we are asking for humiliation. “In Quietness We Wait” is a title of music by Bach. We wait. We wait in faith. We are not to wait in a high place but a low place, in the shadows, I think.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Paul is explaining to Timothy that he, Paul, is suffering. But it is a privilege to suffer for the gospel. Paul is doing what Jesus sternly instructed the disciples to do: “Do what you are commanded to do, what you are called to do.” If you suffer, if you are physically afflicted or humiliated in other ways, you shall continue to do as you are commanded. Paul says, “For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
So we don’t have to force ourselves to be faithful and to stay in the lowest seat. The Holy Spirit will abide with us until the day when the call comes to move to a higher seat. We need to pay our dues. The dues vary from person to person. Why do some people have more difficulty in life than other people? How high do you think their elevation is going to be when the call comes?
Howie worked in a large corporation. Howie was trained by his parents to pay his dues in life. So Howie was grateful for his position even though frequently Howie daydreamed about how he could handle that higher job over there and that higher job over there. But, he was diligent in his current assignments and position. He was doing what he was expected to be doing. He did not fuss about it.
Josh on the other hand, had started in a position relatively like Howie’s. But, his nature was not to be patient and lowly and diligent. He was impatient to be occupying that corner office over there with higher salary and more benefits instead of having a desk in the middle of this big open office where everyone could see and hear and read your computer to know what you were doing. No privacy at all! Josh was spending his time bragging and just chatting and submitting sloppy work that included reports of things he never even did.
Well, we can be sloppy in our work and have a big mouth for just so long. The time has come for this unhumble worker to learn a lesson. He is “let go” as we say today. Josh needs to find another place to practice humility; to do as he is commanded.
Meanwhile, our friend Howie, the quiet diligent person is gradually being called along the side of the table. He is already half way toward the head seat. But let us not aspire to the head seat. Who gets that seat? The Lord Jesus Christ himself holds that seat. He has paid his dues. Jesus, by virtue of being a person of the Trinity; Jesus who got to that seat by being obedient; Jesus who became the sacrifice for our sins in place of a lamb. Jesus is the source of the Christian faith. Jesus is the source of our faith and trust and hope and love; the most potent of these is love. Let us claim this faith as we do the lowly tasks, as we sit in the lower seats at the table, as we communicate our happiness and contentment in being what we are commanded to be and at the time we are supposed to be and for as long as we are supposed to be.
When the call comes to move from the lowest seat to a much higher seat, there is joy. It is time for celebration. We can honestly rejoice and dance. We have the image of dance in some of our sacred music. “Come Join The Dance Of Trinity,” by Richard Leach and set to the tune “Kingsfold,” brings us into the delight which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shared with each other. The words: “Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun – the interweaving of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son. The universe of space and time did not arise by chance, but as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.”
This song takes us from before time through the baby come to earth, through this grown-up baby’s death, but not the end. As do similar words written as if Jesus is speaking by Sydney Carter. These words, set to a traditional tune, are: “I danced in the morning when the world was begun; And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun, And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth, At Bethlehem I had my birth.”
These words climax with “They cut me down and I leapt up high. I am the life that will never never die. I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me. I am the Lord of the Dance said He. Dance then wherever you may be. I am the Lord of the Dance said He. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the Dance said He.”
So after taking the lowest seat and the nails on the cross, Jesus and you and I can rejoice and dance as we leap with the Lord who is the Lord of the Dance. Amen