Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sermon at St. Patricks March 29, 2009

There was a bad accident on Mt. Rose Highway last Sunday. Just past the Mt. Rose ski area as you go from here to Reno, the road very quickly became a sheet of ice, and cars began to skid and spin out as they hit it. It was around the curve just below the ski area, so cars going toward Reno would hit it unawares, and in just a short time there were 8 or 9 cars around the sides of the road, and more skidding past. People don’t always act in the smartest way in these situations, and some got out of their cars to look at the damage or talk to a driver of a car they’d hit or that had hit them. One such fellow, early on in the pile-up, got out of his car and was hit by a skidding car. He lay on the snowy ground, face down, bleeding and not really conscious.

A young man – pretty ordinary type, snowboarder clothes, driving an old pickup that had been hit and was in a snow bank, went over to the man to see if he was alright, and just as he reached him and was trying to decide what to do, whether to move the man, another car came skidding right toward them. The young man grabbed the injured man and moved him out of the way, then getting out of the way himself. All his indecision and worry about moving the man vanished, and he just acted, and in so doing he saved the man’s life.

The theme of today’s readings is service, particularly service when it’s uncomfortable, or difficult, or dangerous to serve. In the Gospel, Jesus says “Now my heart is troubled---and what shall I say? Shall I say, 'Father, do not let this hour come upon me'? But that is why I came---so that I might go through this hour of suffering.” Remember. In Hebrews, Paul says:”In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death. Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him. But even though he was God's Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient.” In the reading from Jeremiah, we see that God is so committed to people following his Law that he will “write it on their hearts, and they will all know God.”

Jesus also says “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

When he was near death, Joshua, who had led the Children of Israel, confronted the fact that, now that they had reached the Promised Land, the Hebrews were attracted by the local gods and the local worship. Toward the end of the Book of Joshua God, through Joshua, gives them a capsule history of their covenant back to Abraham, and then demands their total commitment. Joshua then adds:

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell;

And then Joshua makes this ringing declaration:

Va’anochi uvayti, na-avod et Adonai!

but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

But what does it mean to “serve the Lord?” the word Joshua used is instructive in this regard. נעבד (na’avod) is from the Hebrew root עבד, (avod) which means “work,” so to serve God is to work for God – to do God’s work.

In his sermon a couple of weeks ago, Jim mentioned Albert Schweitzer – Schweitzer was quite a guy – a Physician, philosopher, theologian, and musician, and expert in all four fields. He wrote, lectured, played the organ at a virtuoso level, and – oh yes – in 1913 he founded a hospital in what is now Gabon in West Africa and spent the rest of his life ministering to the poorest of the poor until he died at the age of 90 in 1965.His philosophy was called “reverence for life” and he never hesitated to take on the “powers that be” on behalf of the poor, animals, and the environment. As a young man he preached a famous sermon that began Our culture divides people into two classes: civilized men, a title bestowed on the persons who do the classifying; and others, who have only the human form, who may perish or go to the dogs for all the "civilized men" care. After that introduction, he got really nasty about it, and then left for Africa. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his philosophy. This is what he had to say about service:

"I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."

The Prophet Mohammed said “to serve God is to serve your fellow man.” Jesus, by his words and his example, seems to make it clear that we’re expected to serve even when it’s hard, uncomfortable, or dangerous, to the extent that he likens it to a kernel of wheat – it must die to its current form in order to be of use. Jesus exemplifies doing the right thing, the ethical thing, the compassionate thing, even when we don’t want to. In Luke, he says “Father, if you’re willing, let this cup pass from me. Nonetheless, not my will, but yours be done.” So a good question at the end of the day (or the end of days) might be “how have I served today, and if we find in the answer we’ve done the easy thing, the comfortable thing, the safe thing, maybe to resolve that tomorrow we will look for a better way to serve.

That young man on Mt. Rose Highway earned the accolade “good and faithful servant.” Can we say the same?

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