Sermon – 08-01-21 – Proper 13 – Cycle B
Scriptures: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15, Psalm 78:23-29, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35
Sermon Title: “Are Our Yearnings Justified?”
One of my yearnings is to have time stand still for three weeks: one week to clear and clean our house; one week to remove the jungle-like weeds in our yard; one week to sleep all day. This is not a yearning for vacation, it is a yearning for everything in the world to just stop in a peaceful state-of-being for three weeks!
What is your strongest yearning? Maybe to have a new kitchen or bathroom; maybe to have a grandchild; maybe to have restored health for yourself or someone you love; maybe to have no debts.
Millions of people try to sleep at night on empty stomachs. Their yearning for food is truly justified. Many people are yearning for shelter from the elements and I am complaining about the condition of my house and yard – not the structure but the easily corrected dirt and clutter. My yearning is really not justified. It is okay if it is a vague goal but not one that is vital immediately. I need to be thankful and learn how I can help the “others.”
The Israelites who were led by God on a 40-year wandering that was much longer than necessary, were hungry. Their yearning was certainly justified. God created a unique way to give food to these people – thousands and thousands of people in this trek. Then the people were not satisfied with just this strange bread-like substance; they also begged for meat. What did God do? God sent quails in the evening and the manna in the morning.
Now if God sent a quail to me I would indeed need to be very hungry to make myself kill and butcher the quail. I am very spoiled. My yearning for meat moves to restaurant hamburgers. I am very spoiled. I have never been desperate for food or shelter in my whole life. But, I did learn a secret about thanking God for the provision that God provides.
Somewhere along the line, I had Sunday School teachers and parents and pastors who witnessed to the idea that God should receive a return on his provisions to us. So no matter how minimal were the provisions from God, we will benefit from giving from the top. The return to God can be helping someone else who needs help. The return to God can be small or big, but it should be our first-fruits and it should be a significant portion of the whole.
First-fruits mean that our return gifts for God’s work should come first in our spending. There are many forms of these “returns;” many ways that we can ‘give back” to God. Worship is God’s main demand for us. Along with worship comes this return of a portion of our income and gifts. God yearns to receive our worship. Is God’s yearning justified? Should God expect us to stop our work or stop our fun to take a breath and be in calmness mixed with joyous singing about God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whether God should or not does not matter. God expects us to do this and we benefit from it if we bring the right attitude to the place where we find God speaking to us.
Picture this! God’s yearnings and our yearnings can be somewhat like a ping-pong game. We bounce our yearnings to God, he bounces his yearnings to us. God knows our yearnings. Even though God knows them, God expects us to come in prayer and speak our yearnings to him. It strikes me that our yearnings and God’s yearnings may be closer than we might expect. God wants our respect; we want God to respect us. Also, we yearn for God’s love and the love of other humans while God yearns for our love and not only for himself but for the hurting world of people and nature.
The Apostle Paul writes in the scripture passage Ray read today from Paul’s letter to the people in Ephesus, “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
God designed the church body to have various abilities and passions and knowledge. Have you ever thought that God intended each of us to be together at this very time to complement each other? I am using the meaning of complement to be able to work together, each of us doing something different, bringing our own personalities, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to form this assembly for one Sunday in worship, or for many Sundays of worship, making decisions and doing the necessary actions to keep the body together. When we bring our personalities together we form a whole body, worshiping God in the way that pleases us and pleases God.
The secret is love. Love is like glue. Glue is often invisible, especially when it dries. It is then that this magic ingredient really does the job. Until glue dries it is not much good. When we first think about love holding a congregation together, it feels a bit funny, especially for those of us who were raised in families where love was more-or-less hidden. Some of you grew up in families where the word love and the demonstration of love were first nature. Let’s hear about a congregation in which love is the strengthening and binding and uplifting secret.
Last Sunday, Rick and Yvonne accepted the privilege to be with St. John’s United Church of Christ in Pricetown. Pastor Paul Jones is retiring and it was a special service in honor of his retirement. Our Conference Minister, Rev. Bill Worley, later wrote about a conversation he had with a member of this congregation on this day. She says, “Our church was going down the toilet before Pastor Paul arrived. Seriously. We were considering closing. But he showed up and loved us when we didn’t love ourselves much or even each other.”
Pastor Bill continues, “And that made all the difference. Those of us who have been called to ministry can get twisted around an axle trying to do everything that we believe will grow a church, or change the world, or make a missionary movement with attention grabbing impact. But at the end of the day, our high calling, and the only one that really changes anything for God and for good is our capacity to bear with one another in love, and our unity and the bond of peace. This is the truth I come back to on those days when I unnecessarily complicate my life with all the things that keep me from seeing the simplicity of God’s invitation to love and grace. I hope for just a moment today that you and I will give ourselves space for that simplicity.” End of quote.
For our congregation of Zion United Church of Womelsdorf, we are blessed with the love of Christ which binds us together. Now we could be a clump of glued people wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years hungering for bread and meat and thirsting for water. That is not very appealing. What we are invited to do is to follow Jesus. He is our Moses. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. Let us walk where Jesus leads us, experiencing love from Jesus, our love for Jesus, and our love for each other. Let us worship this triune God with all of our hearts, our minds, our souls, and our strength and let us love each other as much as Jesus loves us!