Sunday, June 28, 2009

Holding Back, Giving Up

Sermon for June 28, 2009
Fr. Timothy Fountain

"Proper 8"Lessons

Holding Back and Giving Up

Last week, I was surprised during the 10 a.m. sermon as God, for the first time in my life, not only added an illustration or joke, but actually filled my mind and my mouth with a whole new content for the sermon.

I attribute this to your prayers this month, asking God to give our church the Holy Spirit. And I need to mention that Denny and Irene Thurman, who were the prayer team last week, prayed with me and for me between the services, asking God to reveal more of his purpose.

The message I received up here in the pulpit last week was a challenge to identify areas of our lives that are “held back” from God, and to give them up to Him. We know that Jesus was the only perfect life offered up to the Father, we lift him to the Father as our offering always. But we are to “grow into the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13)and “be perfect”, which means “complete.” Jesus shows us this in Matthew19:16-21. Notice that the young man had lived much of his life in a Godly way, but was holding back something big, and that Jesus asks him to give it up.

In my daily prayers and Bible reading I am letting God shine some light on what exactly I’m “holding back.” I have some beginning insight but I don’t want to say more until He’s given me clear guidance and I actually start “giving it up.” Then I will share more and ask your specific prayers to help me put Jesus first in that aspect of my life.
[If you need a headline news example of this idea, last week's admission of long-term adultery by Governor Sanford of South Carolina is probably it. He has many fine qualities, but for whatever reason he exempted one area of his life from his own value system.]

For today, our Bible lessons give us several examples to reflect upon. We see people holding back and we see people giving up. Maybe we will recognize something of ourselves in them.

1) In our lesson from II Samuel, David laments the death of Saul. As I mentioned last week, David had profound flaws, but he was very good at giving up grudges. Saul tried to kill David several times, but David passed on a chance to kill Saul. At Saul’s death, David mourned him. Later, when David became King, he showed this same quality by forging alliances with former enemies.

David shows us that there is no weakness in giving up a grudge. David expanded ancient Israel to its greatest days in terms of territory, peace and prosperity. He did so as much by laying aside hostility as by conquest.

One of our greatest spiritual challenges is to give up grudges. So much of Jesus’ message is about this and it is written into our worship. The “passing of the peace” is not “intermission.” It is in the service to let us extend a hand to our neighbors, giving up any grudges we might be holding. Unwillingness to give up a grudge is one of the few reasons that a priest can refuse to give you communion (Book of Common Prayer, p. 409). To hold onto our grudges separates us from Christ; to give them up brings us closer to him.

2) Psalm 130 reminds us to give our time and attention to God. We hold back time and attention from God because they seem to be in such short supply in our busy lives.

The Psalm gives us the picture of a town watchman looking for daybreak, which is a symbol of a soul seeking God at all times. The watchman’s sacrifice of peering into the dark and listening through the wee hours is rewarded with the complete safety of the daylight. The Psalm tells us to bring our supplications – our needs – to God, and to seek His mercy and to find hope in his word. Our habits of prayer and Bible reading require us to surrender time and attention we might prefer to spend on other things, but by doing this we become more complete in Christ.

3) Paul asks the Corinthians for the hard one – “Give up some money.” Notice how Paul starts out: he praises the Corinthians for the many ways in which they “excel” for God. Then he turns to what they are holding back, which is their considerable resources as a key trade and transportation center. His pastoral care challenges them to be more complete people of God by generous giving – to devote themselves to “service of others” as we put it in our mission goals. The effort of churches in our diocese to help Christians in the Sudan is a direct reflection of this lesson, one we will look at again during our July 12th potluck.

As I said a few weeks ago, you can only give from what God actually puts in your hands. Circumstances can cut into the amount you give or even your ability to give for a period of time, and Paul is clear a few chapters later that none of us should give “under compulsion” (guilt being the usual form).

At the same time, we remember the rich young man who walked away from Jesus rather than give up treasure. When Fred Borsch was Bishop of Los Angeles, he like to tell his “In days of old when knights were bold” story. Knights used to be baptized with their sword arm out of the water to give them a superstitious justification for killing people. Bishop Borsch would wonder out loud if many Christians were baptized holding their wallets out of the water. The point is pretty obvious. We have to ask if we are holding back on what we can give to God’s work.

4) Finally, in our Gospel from Mark, we see people taking a risk by not holding back their faith (this is a counterpoint to the disciples in the boat last Sunday). Jairus and a chronically ill woman come to Jesus with faith, and they risk disappointment, rejection and embarrassment. Other people had already given up on their situations, the lesson tells us, or would laugh at the idea that Jesus could do anything.

But Jairus and the chronically ill woman push toward him just the same. And though their paths are not easy or pleasant, their faith is rewarded in ways they did not expect. Jairus and his family receive more than a healing, they get a resurrection. The woman receives more than the secret end to a problem - she hears a public word of praise and blessing from the Messiah.

Jesus can help us, and will help us, even when we are holding back our faith. He helps us every day in many ways we might not even notice. But when we take the risk of offering up our faith, of trusting him with our God-sized hopes and needs, he will do “much more than we can ask or imagine.”


Let us pray. Father, we call to you “out of the depths” of our needs, our fears and our hopes. Our souls wait for your light. We ask for the Holy Spirit to show us, through your Word, anything that we are holding back from you, and to guide us, by your Word, to give it up to you in the way you desire. We pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

1 comment:

The Underground Pewster said...

Thanks for letting it out. (Oops, that didn't sound right).
I needed a good sermon today. We heard one of the other options provided for in the lectionary for today's lessons (Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24 & Psalm 30").