Who’s On Your Guest List?

PENTECOST 15 TRADITIONAL SERMON

One of the candidates on my summer book reading list was David Whyte’s his delightful little book, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.  He offers short but insightful considerations of 52 different ordinary words … think of it as a word a week for a year.

If words like “unrequited” or “besieged” or “procrastination” interest you, this is the book for you.  As I thought about today’s celebration of Sages Sunday … a day when we pause to reflect upon and honor those persons who have spent 80 or more years of life on this earth … I thought about Whyte’s consideration of the word “Maturity.”  And I could not help but think about the hundreds and thousands of touch points of ministry that our Sages have been a part of, knowing that most of them have spent their entire lives in faith communities, in some cases here in these pews, and the pews of our former church sanctuaries … and also in other Christian congregations.  ear now just a bit of David Whyte’s wisdom on the word “Maturity”:

Maturity is the ability to live fully and equally in multiple contexts; most especially, the ability, despite our griefs and losses, to courageously inhabit the past the present and the future all at once.  The wisdom that comes through maturity is recognized through a disciplined refusal to choose between or isolate three powerful dynamics that form human identity:  what has happened, what is happening now, and what is about to occur ….  Maturity is not a static arrived platform, where life is viewed from a calm, untouched oasis of wisdom, but a living elemental frontier between what has happened, what is happening now, and the consequences of that past and present; first imagined and then lived into the waiting future.

All of these Sages grew up in the years between the two World Wars … three of our Sages were born during World War I.  Our youngest Sages have seen thirteen presidents in the White House … our oldest Sages have seen seventeen, with another soon to be added to the list.  All our Sages have lived to see the atomic bomb created through the Manhattan Project … the IBM 610, the first personal computer controlled by a keyboard … the first TV videogame … the development of the V-2 long range ballistic missile … the unveiling of the Worldwide Web … the first hologram … and most of you were alive when Buddy Holly was born, along with Yves Saint Laurent.  You have witnessed and participated in a vast array of experiences and historic moments.  Many of you witnessed the Hindenburg Disaster.

But it is not so much the history our Sages have experienced that is most interesting to me, but the way in which they have learned to live within this history.  Maturity is a living elemental frontier between what has happened, what is happening now, and the consequences of that past and present; first imagined and then lived into the waiting future.  The ability to live in the moment and enjoy it, but not be completely dictated by what has gone before or what lies ahead, is the essence of wisdom, and allows a life to be lived within the realm of grace.  As we gather today to honor our Sages, I think about that kind of grace and wisdom.

I think about Irene Kiehl … one of our Sages until her passing from life back in 1991.  Irene was one of the Neffsville matriarchs of the congregation when I first came here as a vicar in 1981.  Irene detested facial hair … especially on her pastors or vicars.  And while she would tease me about my winter beard each year, and occasionally make believe she was trying to scratch it off my face with her fingers … she honored me and respected me as a part of our pastoral staff, and I always knew that.  Irene balanced her historic aversion to beards, with her desire to help me become in time an invested part of the St. Peter’s community – it was a graceful wisdom that integrated the past present and future.

I think about Sam Bailey … another Sage who left this world in a little over twenty years ago at the end of 1995.  Sam and I stood next to each other in the tenor section of the choir, when I was a vicar.  Sam was a true tenor, and a man who had put many years into singing in church choirs … while I had one year of experience, at the Gettysburg Seminary.  But Sam was always glad to have me next to him, and encouraged me greatly, even though my struggles in managing the higher tenor lines was apparent to him and the rest of the section.  Sam took his experience as a choir member, and helped to pass it along to me – it was grace made concrete in action, as he drew on the past and used it in the present to create a better future for me as a singer.

I think about Pr. John Kammerer who was one of our Sages until his death two years ago in February of 2014.  He was the epitome of wisdom, along with his wife, Mary, who is still with us as a resident at Brethren Village.  Pr. Kammerer had served more years in the church than I had been alive when I came back to St. Peter’s as an assistant pastor in 1986.  But he always treated me as a colleague, and fondly referred to me as “his pastor.”  The stories he shared with me from his former years as a pastor who had seen much in ministry, coupled with his strong desire for me to do well in my future pastoral duties at St. Peter’s, led to a rich and vibrant relationship in the present that I was always grateful for, and continue to miss … although I am still the beneficiary of some of that grace through Mary, when I am able to be with her for communion.

I could tell story after story … as could many of you here … and each one would be better than the last … but then we would miss out on lunch, right?  So instead, let’s remind ourselves of the source of this spiritual maturity that so many in our community here and beyond, model each and every day.  We see it at work in this morning’s Gospel Lesson from Luke.  Jesus tells two stories about banquets … and as many of you know, when Jesus talks about banquets, he’s not remembering his most recent trip to Buffalo Wild Wings … he is talking about the Kingdom of God and the final banquet we will all be invited to.  The stories are different … but the same really.  They describe situations where the past, present and future meet.  In both stories we hear about people who have been defined by their past history.  We hear about those who are sometimes overlooked in life … the humble … the poor … the crippled, lame and blind … in short, those who think of themselves as the least of all.  We hear about another group, too … those who expect to be honored by others … friends and family … the rich and powerful … the A-list guests at every party … in short, those who think themselves to be the best of all.  Each group knows their place, and each group knows what to expect in social settings.  Their past history has shaped how they are seen in the world.

But we also hear Jesus perspective on the future, and it is defined by these final words he speaks in today’s lesson … “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  For Jesus, it is never the way the world sees you that defines the future, but the way that God sees you.  God knows that every person on earth is God’s own child, and so the future God envisions is that every child comes home to be with God who is Mother and Father, Savior and Redeemer, Life and Light of all.  God desires the unification of God’s own family.  When the past days of our lives in this world meet up with the future desires of God’s world in the Kingdom, we encounter a present that is then dramatically changed.  And the change is often one of reversal – many scholars call stories like the two we have today, Parables of Reversal.  So in today’s lessons we hear that the humbled are exalted and the exalted are humbled.  Please note that it is a picture of present reality that is offered here.  The past is over and the future has yet to arrive … and as such, God’s Word to us is always spoken to create new and faithful moments in the present … now … at this moment.

For the lowly of the world, they are reminded that by hearing God’s powerful words of grace and love, they too, are seen as part of the best of God’s family.  For those in the world who hold the tiger by the tale, they are reminded that God’s call to humility and repentance, connects them more fully to what is the best part of being in God’s family.  Yes, the present is reversed for both groups of people characterized in our parables today, because each one lives within an incomplete vision of what God intends for us in the Kingdom of Heaven.  These are not words of judgment and praise, but are invitations into a fuller life that God intends for us.  I will let you ponder for yourself, into which group of people you find yourself ….  But if you need help, how you answer today’s preaching question, “Who’s on Your Guest List?” may help you figure it out.  And while you are thinking, remember the vast difference between our guest lists and God’s Guest List.  Because as people of faith, we know clearly who’s on “God’s Guest List” … everyone and anyone who will come to the party.  Today, as we celebrate our Sages and the rich legacy of years they have modeled for us, I suspect that most of them are closer to seeing this present in which we live, through the eyes of their own past and through the eyes of God’s chosen future for us.  Eighty or more years of faith tends to rub the sharp edges off your life and beliefs.  It leads to a spiritual maturity that recognizes the rhythms of life – the beautiful symphony of the past and future coming alive with song in the present, sung by the graceful love of God’s voice.

Another Sage I love, once spoke these words: “Persuaded of our nothingness and with the blessing of obedience we attempt all things, doubting nothing, for with God all things are possible. We will allow the good God to make plans for the future, for yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come, and we have only today to make him known loved, and served. Grateful for the thousands of opportunities Jesus gives us to bring hope into a multitude of lives by our concern for the individual sufferer, we will help our troubled world at the brink of despair to discover a new reason to live or to die with a smile of contentment on its lips.”  She is not one of our St. Peter’s Sages … she is a Sage to the world.  These words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, were written down in a book by Brother Angelo Devananda, entitled, Contemplative at the Heart of the World.  While these are not the words of any of our more than 100 Sages at St. Peter’s … they speak to a life that I have seen reflected in the lives of those we honor today.  On behalf of all gathered here today, we thank you who are our Sages, for modeling a life that invites us to embrace our past and anticipate our future, so as to live in the present as God’s holy people.  Amen.

Rev. Craig Ross

Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

I have always appreciated the positive perspective on life and faith that is here… the broad range of life/social/political perspectives in our congregation… and the staff with whom I am blessed to work.

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