A Sermon preached by The Rev. Michael Hiller, Pastoral Associate, on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, August 25, 2019
As I looked at the readings for this Sunday, and thought of All Saints’ Church in its current situation, looking into the future, asking the Spirit to lead it into mission in this part of the city, and looking for that individual who will serve as mentor and guide, I was drawn to address the whole idea of “true worship.” The idea is addressed in some manner in each of the readings for today. I couldn’t remember whether or not you use Track One or Track Two from the lectionary, so I will use the resources of both readings in forming my remarks this morning.
In Track One, the reading is the Call of Jeremiah in the first chapter of his book. We become aware of his work as a priest in the tradition of Anathoth, and then of his call to be prophet – a messenger to his present time of the Word of the Lord. Jeremiah objects to the call. He says he is too young, not given to good speech, too fearful. God thinks otherwise, however, allowing that God has known Jeremiah from the womb. He touches Jeremiah’s mouth and says, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”
The Track Two first reading is from Third Isaiah, in which he contrasts the behaviors and actions of the wicked and the righteous. God puts up a series of “If, then” statements to challenge the righteous. “If you remove the yoke from among you. If you offer your food to the hungry, then your light shall rise in the darkness. This is the typical message of the prophets – the honoring and caring for the widow and the orphan, the lifting up of the oppressed. Even though this is addressed to those returning from exile, in difficult circumstances themselves, the prophet none-the-less enjoins them in this work of charity. True worship is, after all, formed of the love we have for God with all our heart, soul and mind, and the love we have for our neighbor that equals the love we have for ourselves.
So from these two readings we understand our obligations on this holy day – to speak God’s word no matter how difficult that word might be, and to serve both God and neighbor. Third Isaiah contributes a second set of “If, then” statements that deal specifically with the Sabbath Day and worship. “If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight,…if you honor it; then you shall take delight in the Lord. Delight in the Lord! What an expectation for us as we come to do our worship and make our prayers. Delight in the Lord, and concern for our neighbor, so Jeremiah and Third Isaiah would have us think and act.
The author of Hebrews has a different set of comparisons. Here we scenes of the holy mountain Sinai, and of the holy wilderness in which Israel wandered for forty years. In this reading, the author addresses us as pilgrims. “You have come not to something that can be touched,” and then lists ineffable things that speak of mystery – blazing fire, darkness, gloom, a tempest, the sound of a trumpet, and a voice of power and awe. This places us at Sinai and awaiting the giving of the Law, the announcement of God’s intentions for us. Is that where we worship, or is that where we wait to worship?
Later in the passage, the author sees pilgrims coming to another destination. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Don’t you find it fascinating that when people are asked about the places that inspire worship, they usually refer to something in nature – a lake, an ocean, a mountain, a forest. This, however, is different. We are bound to come to the city. In our day and age, the city is often thought of as a place of sin and the absence of God, and yet that is the symbol of God’s presence. Perhaps, going back to the prophetic message about God and neighbor, we realize that the city is the place in which we see most clearly the need of our neighbor, that our true worship can begin here as we aid and care for our neighbor. That is why we worship in assembly – that we gather on a frequent basis around the table and the water and become a community – a city of righteousness.
The Holy Gospel
This image is seen with a great deal of clarity in the Gospel for this morning. Here we meet a woman who has been burdened with illness for eighteen years. She meets Jesus on a significant day, a time in which his actions over against her redefine what it means to worship on the Sabbath Day. I can remember a time, when I lived in Massachusetts, where stores either would not open on Sunday, or would cover up all manner of goods that could not be sold on the Sabbath Day. Or I remember the elevator in the King’s Hotel in Jerusalem which went up and down all day long – stopping at each floor, so that one did not have to push a button to indicate which floor was your destination.
Jesus cuts through all this to enable us to see human need. It is here that we need to recall the deep connection between worship and human need. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, just as you love your neighbor as you love yourself.” It is all bound together in a package that defines and refines our sense of worship. Here, as in the other readings, there is also a contrast. Luke contrasts the disbelief and offense taken by the synagogue leaders with the rejoicing of the people who witnessed the same actions. “And the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. They worshipped – and their worship was not only praise but thanksgiving as well.
Worship is freedom. The woman was freed from her satanic burden or pain and disease. Likewise, we are freed from whatever it is the binds us to unhappiness and distress. That is why confession is so important. It is liberation, and perhaps its words of forgiveness pass us by too quickly. Here is what ought to make us sit up and rejoice if we have in the silence that preceded our confession deeply thought about what separates us from both God and neighbor. It is this pronouncement that out to bring both joy and freedom. “Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.” With these words the rest of the Mass becomes a prayer of thanksgiving – a Eucharist.
Where are you going as a parish? Where are you going as a People of God? Where will you want your new Rector to take you? How will you be pilgrims? What will you true worship be like as you wait for new leadership, and then when you are given it? I hope these words will help you in your prayers as you await that time.