Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, 2011
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

 

Let us pray: Assist us mercifully with thy help, O Lord God of our salvation; that we may enter with joy upon the meditation of those mighty acts, whereby thou has given unto us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Several years ago, somebody published a book called "Corporate Cultures." It caught on, sold a lot of copies and started a trend in the studies of American and, eventually, multinational companies. The premise of the book was that each successful company has its own values, rules, regulations, political structures and even its high priests and prophets. In order for an individual to succeed in any corporate culture, he or she must get with the program. If the person does not "get with the program," he or she is cast into the outer darkness. In other words, they get fired. There is not a lot that is surprising about all this, but someone made a lot of money by labeling it, giving it a name and comparing the various corporate cultures that exist in the world.

 

If we read this book, we learn about hierarchical cultures, top/down authoritarian companies, charismatic cultures and even those cultures that have a so-called "flat" administrative structure, where everyone is (in theory at least) equal when it comes to making decisions. But one thing is shared by all these corporate cultures: they have their rules and their specific ways of doing things. Certain things are done. And other things are simply not done.

 

We have all been in situations where we have joined a group. It could have been a school, where we were the "new kid on the block." We were pretty uncomfortable at first. We didn't really know who was in charge. Were there bullies on the playground? Who could we trust? And then, what about the teachers? Each one seemed to have a different set of rules. It took awhile to figure things out. But, in the meantime, everybody seemed to watch our every movement. We were judged and evaluated.

 

In the gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus comes to dinner at the house of one of the chief Pharisees. He is a man in charge. He didn't get where he is by ignoring the rules. He didn't get where he is by being a naive politician. He is a pretty savvy guy. And he watches Jesus very carefully. Others watch Jesus carefully as well. But they also watch the Chief Pharisee. How, they wonder, will he react if this man Jesus makes a mistake or steps out of line? Such is the corporate culture of this slice of ancient Judean life. How will the new kid, this Jesus, behave?

 

Into this scene comes a man with dropsy. He is quite a sight. Dropsy is a disease that has very physical manifestations. The body retains water. The water reveals itself in growths that are impossible to hide. I suspect it is very painful.

 

Now, there is another thing to watch. The man with dropsy gets everyone's attention. Jesus also sees the man with dropsy, he sees those who are watching. And he knows their hearts. Jesus is aware that the sick must be made well. But who is it that is in need of healing? The man with dropsy, certainly. But, in fact everyone in that room was in need of healing. And son, Jesus says this: "Is it unlawful to heal on the Sabbath day?" And they had no answer for him. Perhaps, though, in the dim recesses of their minds, the healing power of God's words began to take hold. Perhaps those who were there heard the words and knew that they were meant for them all. Perhaps they began to change. It is like that when God speaks.

 

Now, there is complete silence in that room. And Jesus tells a parable. It is a parable that we might call the heavenly seating chart. Perhaps God has such a chart in heaven. And there is a place for everyone. But, of course, no one knows precisely where he or she will be seated. That important piece of information is known only to God. We cannot claim a particular place any more than we can tell God precisely what to do.

 

But we do know something about the corporate culture that will lead us precisely to the right place. That heavenly culture is based on mercy and love. The particular rules are simple indeed. Is it right to heal on the Sabbath day? Of course it is. It is right to heal at any time and in any place. It is right to care for all of God's children whenever they are in need.

 

I have several favorite phrases. One of them is this: "at the end of our lives, very few of us will wish we spent more time at the office." Perhaps I take it too literally, because more than one person has said to me recently: "bishop, I can never get you on your office phone. Are you ever there?" Well, I am there now and again, but I keep it a secret.

 

But the work of God's church is with God's people. This is the message that Jesus leaves with us. Would the Pharisees have wanted to spend more time with the details of their corporate culture? Would they have spent their time studying the details of the fine points of the law so that they might argue their case for a better seat at the table. That would certainly hand God a laugh.

 

But Jesus didn't laugh at the Pharisees on that particular evening before a Passover meal. He asked them a simple question: "is it lawful..." It was because of God's law that they were there. It was God's presence that healed them all.

 

What happens when God comes among us, when God speaks His words to us, when he seeks to heal our hearts and minds, to bring us to a full knowledge of His presence in our lives?

 

Let us pray: O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given us an hearty desire to pray, may, by thy mighty aid, be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.