Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Third Sunday in Lent, 2011
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

Let us pray: O Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

The gospel reading for today is filled with lots of details, but the real focus of this message is all about what we take into our hearts and minds. Do we make a place for God? That place, of course, is already there, just waiting for us to fill it with the presence of God. As St. Augustine reminds us, there is a place within each of us that is in the shape of God, perfectly designed for God; just waiting for us to extend the invitation. Until we do, we may fill that space with all kinds of "stuff." Because we do need to fill that space with something. And sometimes we seek to fill that place, a place often seen as emptiness and loss, with things and activities to cushion ourselves from pain. Perhaps we try to escape it by sedating ourselves. We do this in lots of ways: wild shopping sprees, overeating, overindulgence of any kind...Lots of fun, certainly. But, well, we know all about the seven deadly sins. They are, after all, the devil's playground.

The reading from St. Luke's gospel begins with a phrase that sounds a little funny to our ears: "Jesus was casting out a devil, and it was dumb." But it is deadly serious. The devil does not wish the truth of God to be spoken. When the devil gains a foothold in our lives, he seeks to push out all that is of God. When the devil gains a foothold in our lives, he makes it difficult to speak the truth of God. The devil likes it that way.

This past week, I attended a clericus in Kansas City. Bishop Strawn had invited me to meet the clergy of the Diocese of the Missouri Valley. He asked me to deliver a short homily about preaching the gospel. I was totally unprepared for this, but realized that being unprepared is a natural state when one becomes a bishop. I have learned that you must trust the Holy Spirit and speak honestly about God's world. I began by saying that, if we live our lives as faithful stewards of God's word, our lives will be an accurate reflection of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I went on to say that our very lives and witness to Jesus Christ will provide us with constant illustrations about the gospel; we will never lack for any number of personal stories about the working of God in our daily lives. Whatever good that was said on that morning was truly because of the workings of the Holy Spirit and I can't take credit for anything, other than the physical act of delivering the words.

After lunch last Wednesday, I drove to the airport and prepared to fly back home. The Kansas City airport is not large and there were very few people in the waiting area. Because of storm delays, I would be there for several hours. I parked myself in a quiet corner and opened my kindle. I had received that kindle as a Christmas gift and had grown fond of it. I began filling it with "books." I ordered a copy of the Bible; King James Version, of course. I also bought a few novels and three books by C.S. Lewis. But on this particular day, I chose to read a history of the Second World War. The battle of Stalingrad had just begun. After reading about that harrowing battle for an hour or so, I began to feel hungry. There was a food stand a short walk from where I was sitting and I packed my bags and spent a greatly inflated price for a sandwich. I sat at one of the tables near the lunch counter, unwrapped the sandwich and decided to read more about the Battle of Stalingrad. Alas, the kindle was missing. I had left it behind.

I quickly rewrapped the sandwich and retraced my steps. There were still very few people in the waiting area. But when I returned to my former seat, the kindle was gone. I looked for it, but it was nowhere to be found. I asked a young man who was in the area if he had seen it. He pointed to a man walking away, "I think I saw him put something in his bag." I followed the man he had identified, stopped him and asked about the kindle. I had seen him before because he had been one of the few people in the waiting area. He was a big guy, football player big. I appealed to him, telling him I had misplaced my kindle. He told me he hadn't seen it. He appeared sympathetic about my loss. Still, I was more than a little suspicious; he was one of the few people who might have taken my prized kindle.

I went back to my quiet corner. I ate my sandwich. All of a sudden, the world seemed like an unpleasant place. My kindle had been stolen, the sandwich was hardly worth what I had paid for it and I might never find out how the Battle of Stalingrad ended. And I was pretty sure I knew precisely who had stolen my kindle. I was filled with all kinds of anger. Then, the young man approached me. He asked if I had recovered the kindle. I told him I hadn't. He told me once again that he had seen this particular man put something in his bag. I thanked him for his help. He had been concerned enough to check back with me. This stranger who had no real need to assist. But for some reason he wished to express his concern. Somehow, because of that simple expression of concern, something changed.

Well, I thought, I can hold onto all the negative feelings or just let them go. I began to wonder if I had left the door open for the devil. Yes, I thought, perhaps I have done just that.

I rolled my luggage away from my quiet corner and toward where the football player guy was sitting. (He might have been a football player, but I decided he wasn't a New England Patriot). I sat across from him and explained once again that I had lost the kindle. It had been a gift. The Bible was on it. And I had been in the middle of reading a certain book. I explained my situation simply and factually. I didn't accuse him, just stated my feeling of loss.

He was quiet for a moment, then reached his hand into his bag. He pulled out the kindle, handed it to me and said, "I'm sorry." I thanked him and said, "God bless you."

I returned to my quiet corner for one last time. I tried to read, but couldn't. This was a moment for reflection. What was it that had happened? It was a moment of grace. Perhaps it was a moment when God had visited three strangers in very specific ways. My heart was filled with thanks and forgiveness. This is what God and I prayed that the others felt that, too. Had we all gained something this particular afternoon in Lent? I like to think that we had. I like to think that the place that is made specifically for God, the one that is within each of us, had been made ready for Him.

Let us pray: Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy; and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.