Sunday, October 17

This is the text (as best as I can recall) of the sermon preached this evening at Reconciler. It was somewhat extemporaneous, so there may be some minor inconsistencies.

Psalm 119:97-104
Jeremiah 31:27-32
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Are your ears itching? Mine are.
Then Jesus told them a parable about the need to pray always and not lose heart.
I was sitting there in an uncomfortable chair, dry-mouthed and stunned. One of the members of the Ordination Commission had asked me about my answer to the first essay question: Please share with us a concise statement of your faith. Somehow the Apostles' Creed* was not sufficient. So, I sat there stupidly while the seconds ticked away...What were they looking for?

What do you believe, Tripp?

Um...well...(The Creed is my answer...I don't know what else to say.)

I had no idea what they were looking for. Then Pastor Carol rescued me. God bless that woman.

"Tripp, how would you say it? I mean, could you preach the Creed?" She smiled as she asked the question.
"Sure! What part?" I responded.
Carol answered, "'And on the third day he rose again from the dead...' Pretend it's Easter and give me the first paragraph of your sermon."

Her response freed me. I spoke about mystery and hope, of renewal and promise. I brought to the fore themes of the Resurrection...how the impossible history of our tradition allows these things, these themes, to be possible. From there the interview continued.

I'm glad that Carol was there to bail me out. I'm glad she was there to help me understand exactly what it was they were asking. But I've been puzzled as to why the question was so hard for me. Then a line from our Gospel reading was given to e to preach.
pray always and do not lose heart
Huh. What does this mean?

Am I reading correctly that somehow prayer and hope are connected? Really? I want to ask the stupid question...Why? Why does it matter? Why pray and why not lose heart?

This is the skeptic in me speaking. This is the voice in me that stubbornly denies faith and hope and charity - the mysteries of our shared tradition. Our faith is a challenging one and it asks us to trust in a the midst of uncertainty, to go along with a Savior who dies to bring life.

In this passage about the judge and the widow, I imagine the disciples on one of their bad days. This is not one of those days when Peter is walking on water or when someone else may be healing in the name of Jesus. This is one of those days when you wonder why it is that Jesus singled them all out. I imagine them saying, "Pray? You want us to pray? But, Jesus, prayer doesn't do anything...not really. I mean, maybe I relax a little or get something off my chest, but c'mon. Keep praying? Really?"

The emphatic answer to this skepticism is "Yes! Yes, really."

God is greater than our skepticism and doubt.

And yet there is skepticism and doubt. I still wrestle with it in my own life.

Hear again the words of Paul.
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
There will be competing voices within your own heart. Your own ears will itch. Standing firm and not losing heart...with prayer to uphold you is easier said than done sometimes midst such noise.

The scripture lessons speak to us of the competing voices in this world. There are "false ways." Sometimes these ways come from voices within...sometimes from without. Our ears do itch. This is, at least, what I experience.

Still we are asked to reside somewhere, we are called to bear up persistently, to proclaim, to convince, encourage and even rebuke (the greatest of challenges in a community is to rebuke in love), but all of these happen within the person of Christ Jesus. Through constant prayer and not losing heart. We must pray.

Jeremiah also holds a promise before us.
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they teach one another, "Know the LORD", for they shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive them their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
God will act.

Bear patiently and live the life you have been given and God will act, showering forgiveness upon us.

There is hope.
There is mystery.
There is redemption.
There is reconciliation.

There are also itching ears and false ways.

But God will not be overcome by these.

The struggle I had with the question from the ordination interview becomes clearer for me now.

You see, the themes from our tradition have never been difficult for me. Rebirth I get. Hope? Sure. Mystery? Eh...yep. The thing I always had trouble with is the Creed*. This is where my ears would itch. This is where my struggles are.

All of the work that Paul assigns Timothy, all the things that Paul swears are true, are handed to him from Jesus. Timothy's work cannot come to fruition without the faith proclaimed within the Creed.

For the Christian, the hope of Jeremiah would be false hope without the faith stated in the Creed.

Certainly, the parable from The Galilean is just a clever story without the impossible truth proclaimed in the Creed.

You see now? Without belief in the content of the Creed, these themes are nothing.

Please share with us a concise statement of your faith.

My answer is the same...only this time, my ears don't itch so much.

*I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
Amen.