Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, 2012
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

 

Let us Pray: Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household 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.

 

Today is the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity. It is about midway through the Trinity season. It is also the last Sunday in August. The season is nearing its end. We often grasp onto these last days in August to hold onto a Summer that is determined to slip away from us. No matter how hard we try to hold it near.

 

In the church, we sometimes regard the Summer months as times when nothing special happens. It is vacation time and often we think of leisure activities. But it is on this day that the faithful of Christ's holy church gather together to share the most important event we can experience in this life: we come together as the people of God to share holy communion. We come together on this Sunday morning to hear the great mystery opened to us once again. We come together to be touched by Jesus; to be touched by the human hands that will open our ears to the truth of life; to be touched by the hands of Jesus who will loose our tongues to speak the truth of his presence among us.

 

St. Ambrose once wrote that a preacher is symbolically touching human ears that they may be opened to the living Word by the mystery of grace. We touch that mystery here today on this last Sunday in August. We are truly the fellowship of that mystery, the mystery of God's grace.

 

There is a hunger to know and experience that grace in most people, though it often exists just below our consciences. We are not fully aware of its presence. Perhaps there was a certain blind man at the Sea of Galilee who had no idea what it would be like to hear the truth of eternal life. But inside him, there was no doubt a yearning for the mystery of grace, a deep longing for the presence of something he couldn't quite know or understand. And then there was Jesus. And they brought him to Jesus.

 

As most of you know, this past week I flew out to California to give testimony in a trial. This trial concerned one of our parishes. I was not looking forward to the trip. Not only would the flight be very long, but my task in California would hardly be much fun. Answering questions in a court of law is not something I would want to do at any time. You may have noticed that amusement park rides are rarely named after legal terms. Perhaps that's why people would avoid rides named “Take the Stand” or “Tort Law Reform.” Preferring rides named something like “Tower of Terror.” Such thoughts went through my mind as I read dozens of pages of declarations. I would need to be familiar with these as I prepared for my time on the stand.

 

Although the plane flight would be long – something like eight hours – I had not counted on the inevitable delays. My first plane was late getting into Chicago. Delay Number One. Though the airline booked me on another flight, a late gate changed caused me to miss that one. Delay Number Two. After standing in line to get yet another flight, I was informed that I could not fly into Orange County, California until morning. Finally, I was able to get a flight into Los Angeles. Alas, it would be nearly midnight when I arrived. I would fly the whole way in the dreaded middle seat and I would have that dreaded Disney ride, “Take the Stand” when I arrived. How I longed for Universal Studios' “The Tower of Terror.”

 

I was angry. I was frustrated. And I thought about becoming a hostile witness. But I had forgotten that, in God's world, there are no accidents. I boarded the plane, sat in my middle seat and witnessed a long series of “musical chairs” routines as friends and family members negotiated with other passengers to sit with their preferred company. My aisle seat companion changed three times. I fiercely opened the airplane magazine; you know, the ones filled with sunny travel stories. It didn't help.

 

But then I heard my aisle seat companion speak of her grandchildren. She was traveling to Maui to visit two daughters who lived there. She had a new grand child that she would see for the first time. I remembered my own visit to Maui some thirty years ago. Ljuba and I had spent a week on that island and I remembered it well. Our conversation about Maui, children and grandchildren last about half an hour. Then she asked: “what do you do?” I told her I was a clergyman. Most strangers, upon hearing this, usually do a little eye raising routine. And there it was. Perfectly timed. Eye raising; right on schedule. But our conversation changed. She told me about her own journey, about her challenges in life. People sometimes do that when they meet clergy. She was a Christian, a committed one. We shared the truth of the gospel. There are no accidents in God's world.

 

On the return flight, there I was in my middle seat. My aisle seat companion looked like a pro football player. I silently prayed for a tiny human being to sit next to the window. Alas, it was not to be. My window seat companion was clearly the largest person to book on the plane that day. As I exited my own seat to let him into his own, I said: “they always put the big guys together.” Several rows of people laughed as we sat down.

 

But we began to talk. My window seat companion had just returned from Viet Nam, where he had been born. He and part of his family had left in the early Sixties. His recent trip had been to see his grandmother. He had taken his wife and children. His grandmother was well into her nineties and he was certain he would never see her again. Then, he asked: “what do you do?” I told him. There was the eyebrow business. Right on schedule. And our conversation changed. He told me he had gone to a Christian college and that it had meant a great deal to him. We talked for a long while. And, as we said our goodbyes when we changed planes, he asked for prayers for his grandmother. I told him I would certainly do so.

 

Somewhere, through the midst of the coast of Decapolis, Jesus came to the sea of Galilee. And they brought him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. And Jesus opened his ears and gave him his speech. There are those who bring others to Jesus. It happens in the strangest of places, sometimes even on cramped airplanes that fly between Chicago and LA or LA and Dallas. It may seem like an accident, but it is not that at all. It is God's world. And we are brought to Jesus by those we know and those who may be strangers.

 

And it is the preacher's task to touch the ears of those who hear with our very human voices; to bring the word of God present for this time; that the tongues of God's people may be made free speak their truth; that truth which lingers just beneath the surface in all our lives; that truth which is Christ our Lord.

 

Let us pray: O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.