A Sermon Delivered by
The Reverend E. F. Michael Morgan, Ph.D.
Trinity Episcopal Church
Morgantown, West Virginia
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 21, 2019
The task of the preacher on any occasion is to proclaim the good news of God in Christ. And this morning I find that religious task particularly challenging, if not a bit daunting; and the reasons for that are fairly obvious. I am still relatively new here as a preacher, seeking to function in the capacity of a liturgical officiant; and trying to sustain pastoral and administrative leadership to the parish at large. I dare say, even though I’ve been here less than a year; as Christian brothers and sisters we have much in common. The spirit is operating in a very special way – bringing us together for a reason that perhaps only God completely understands. My role today is to tell you the Good News of Jesus Christ - and your role or job, presumably, is to listen carefully: because if I am up to speed, what I have to say will transform your life and make you a new person in touch with your own religious heritage. Hopefully, you will leave here a better person: a little bit happier, a little more at ease with yourself, and a little more humbled; but mostly, you will leave here a lot more faithful and a lot more committed to honoring the core values that identify you as a Christian, those same values which provide you with the guidance and direction needed as a child of God.
So as preacher, what am I to say? As listener, what are you to hear? And all of us together, as latter-day pilgrims and followers of this man named Jesus; what pray tell, can we even think about, let alone say or hear, in terms of what is happening today in this very service of the Holy Communion?
Perhaps we would be wise to let the scriptures speak to us on their own terms. In the various lessons appointed from the Common Lectionary, and indeed throughout the Bible, I would suggest that every Sunday we are reminded of a shared and steady theme – which is; we must acknowledge the sovereignty of God’s Word as we go about loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Jesus, in similar fashion, is also aware of God’s commandments, and calls us to do something which is fairly simple and straight-forward. He calls us to follow - not necessarily to lead - but to follow. He asks us to put our ambitious plans and our highly developed personal agendas aside, and then to follow Him – wherever He leads us. That may be easier said than done. Were it not for the fact that it is Jesus calling us to new life, and that we can ultimately trust him, this can be a pretty scary proposition.
And if you don’t believe me, think of it this way.
There is a story about an ordinary person – in fact, a person just like you or me – who is driving down a long, long road. Let’s pretend for a moment this hypothetical person really is YOU.
And as you’re driving down this long, long road you look ahead and at first dimly perceive a person hitching a ride. You don't normally do this, but today you slow down, thinking about giving him a lift, and the closer you get, you realize, amazingly, that the person looks like Jesus, and then you discover that he is Jesus.
So obviously you stop, put down the passenger window and ask if He would like a ride. Jesus says “yes.” But as you reach over to unlock the passenger door, you notice that Jesus is coming around in front of the car. So you put down your window and hear Jesus say, "If I'm going to ride with you, you will need to slide over and let me take the wheel of your car/ as well as your life/ and let me drive. Is that Okay?"
So, what do you say? Sure, Fine, Okay?
Or maybe – Wait a minute, Let me think for a second? Hold on a moment …
I suspect a number of things went through your mind as you heard this story just now. That’s what happened to me when I first heard it. My initial reaction was dismissive. Hey, c’mon, it’s only a sermon illustration, and it would never actually happen that way. Second. It’s totally fabricated and unrealistic, not based on anything solid or reliable. And third. It’s completely beside the point because I’m facing far more serious problems here and now. I have some very real-world matters to which I must attend - dealing with aging parents, getting my kids through college, making payments on my loans or mortgage, helping friends through painful divorces or loss, and so on … I can’t be bothered with these silly hypothetical sermon illustrations.
Well maybe not. But I hope this vignette at least raises your level of curiosity. The story is meant to show the distinction between believing about God theoretically, and actually believing in God existentially (here and now). And though the story is obviously fictional and imaginative, the truth that lies behind the tale hinges on the significance of a personal experience or encounter with Jesus. … And as such, I’m the first to admit that makes me uncomfortable because not everyone thinks or believes in that fashion, or understands their religious sensibilities that way. Clearly, one size does not fit all – theologically or otherwise.
So what are we to do? One approach is to consider what others have thought about Jesus and God. And in that regard, I am mindful of the reflections and especially the spellbinding oratory of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who contemplated the role of Jesus and God in his own life. Remember his stirring remarks at the Lincoln Memorial only a few years before he died? I have a dream... he said…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed…
How striking! – A Baptist preacher referring to creedal affirmations for America. In fact, in his book, “The Strength to Love” Dr. King further described how he moved from believing things about God to believing in God … He wrote:
"The agonizing moments through which I have passed during the last few years have drawn me closer to God. More than ever before I am convinced of the reality of a personal God. ….. In the midst of lonely days, and dreary nights I have heard an inner voice saying, `Lo, I will be with you.' When the chains of fear and the manacles of frustration have all but stymied my efforts, I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose, and that in the struggle for righteousness humanity has cosmic companionship."
This is all to the good. The statement represents, perhaps in a surprisingly subtle way, a very positive reflection of how Jesus comes into our spiritual lives and transforms us – completely turning us around. It raises questions about what we truly believe, how we come to know what is important in our lives, and why we should emphasize the personal nature of God.
In a strange and perhaps unusual way, living by faith and following the man Jesus in the driver’s seat, suggests that we can implement righteousness as presented in the Gospel lesson. We can learn to follow the commandments of God. And if we emphasize faith in our lives, God will be open to the way we interact with each other. God will be honored, and God will be found at the core of our values. By such means, our interaction with one another will reflect the goodness and vitality of the living Lord.
So let Jesus be the hitchhiking driver of your car as well as your life. Let God be the center of your moral code; and let God’s commandments be the cornerstone of your spiritual formation as you live out the remainder of your God-given days here on earth.
We ask all this…
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
CREDITS, NOTES, & REFERENCES: available on request.