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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sermon: Waiting for God to Act

by The Rev. Elizabeth Beissel
Seventh Sunday of Easter

Let us pray: Gracious God, you promise to be with us to the end of the age. May that promise bear in us love and hope visible for all to see.

At Augustana Lutheran Church where I served as pastor we always had lectionary studies before Sunday and preaching a sermon. They were held on a Wednesday and then after the study the preacher could muse and meditate and relish the working and preaching of the texts. And we almost always asked this silly question during those Wednesday morning studies. The question was, "Do you suppose the texts today are going to be a bit dull?" and in the midst of the study we’d say "NOOOOOOOOOOO - NOT THESE TESTS."

This happened every time we met, every Wednesday, and then on Sunday morning inevitably people would open their bulletins and look at the sermon title, eager to see our lectionary study in it.

And this Sunday is no exception for the texts are not dull. They are a full range from a slave-girl hosting a spirit of divination to the heavens proclaiming the Righteousness of God in Psalm 97 to an ancient seer promising that Jesus is coming soon to Jesus praying not only for us who are followers of the Christ of God but also for those who will yet believe in the Christ of God through our words and deeds.

And I hope that some of you, as you opened the bulletin and listened to the texts read, may have asked yourselves, "What's with the Title she has chosen for this sermon: WAITING FOR GOD TO ACT? What’s that about?"

I know how some of our friends at the condominium where Joe and I live would say to such a title. We have lived in this condominium for five years and over that time love and care has developed between unlikely friends. Some of us are Jews who have deep roots in Judaism but over time and all that happens in a life those roots have weakened. Some of us are Catholics raised in the heart of the faith and in the heart of the Catholic parochial school system and their faith has become cynical and certainly disaffected. Some are atheists who do not believe in God but whose love shines through in caring service and any are without roots in faith communities.
And I think most of them would scoff at such a title as Waiting for God to act. It is because of all these friends and my own life that the slave-girl hosting a spirit of divination has caught my attention.

The book of Acts records that the Apostle Paul is eager to share the discovery that was brought to him on the Damascus Road when in a blinding flashing light he discovered that the God of all, the God of the universe, the Center of all things knows us and loves us without end and Paul is eager to share this discovery and to proclaim it from the rooftops.

Thus he and his companion Silas enter Europe and the city of Philipi where, in today‘s first lesson from the Book of Acts, the 16th chapter, they encounter a slave girl who the text says had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.

Now I know that over the years this slave girl has been identified as evil or crazy or mentally ill or inhabited by an evil spirit. But I want to suggest another possibility for it's a possibility I know well. I suggest that she is none of these but rather she is bright and inquisitive and receptive and vulnerable for she’s hungry. She's not food hungry but spirit hungry, like so many of the people in this city today. I know her well for I was like her as a child and teenager and a beginning college student. Most likely she was not raised in a faith tradition just as I was not. but out of my own experience I believe she heard something calling her.

This was "something" for which she had no name or identity for that calling was strong and deep and rich and promised that there was a future and a reason for being and a purpose for living. What that "something" was she did not know but Paul did. Paul saw her owners, for she WAS a slave and Paul saw how they were using her. They had used the culture of the day, the pagan world of that day, and her hunger for spirit to support evil entering her so that they could make a buck.

"I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." That’s what Paul said in today’s first lesson and the text goes on to say And it came out that very hour. But I do not believe this text is about evil spirits invading a girl but it is about the Spirit of God eager to let her know who God is. I believe this text is about letting her know that that Something calling her for which she had no name or identity was in fact God Almighty, The God of the universe. And The Center of all things who knew and loved her.

I came to know this truth over many years but it started in a dormitory room at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio when I was a sophomore and my new freshman roommate was a girl raised and schooled from birth in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

And as a result of God working, we were roommates. One evening we were at our desks talking about what I don’t remember when in the course of conversation she said "LIKE JOHN 3:16." And I asked "What?" And she replied "like John 3:16" and I asked "What?" And again she replied "like John 3:16" and again I asked "What?" and she said in a very irritated tone "LIKE JOHN 3:16" and when I once more asked "What?" she was dumbfounded and at a loss for words. She had never met someone like me!

And that was the beginning of the answer to what that something which had been calling me was. It was the beginning of discovery of that something for which I had no name or identity - that something whose calling was strong and deep and rich and promised that there was a future and a reason for being and a purpose for living. For I believe that God is constantly at work bringing life out of death and God uses us - all of us - to bring God's will and love to bear.

Today that calling is to you, Mount Olive Lutheran Church. The final words of the Apostle John from today’s Gospel are spoken and prayed and called to each of us as Jesus prays these words: "Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

And so what do we do? What do we, who believe that God Almighty loves us, do? In today's second lesson from The Revelation to John the author writes this description to us about who Jesus is:

'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.' 'It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.'
The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come.'
And let everyone who hears say, 'Come.'
And let everyone who is thirsty come.

And we who are followers of Jesus have a job to do for there are so many hungry for hope and spirit and joy. We are called to believe that God is at work and is already acting in our lives wherever we live and play and work and laugh and suffer. For wherever we are God will use us as we live our lives, just like God acted when a Freshman at Wittenberg University encountered a sophomore who did not know John 3:16.

God is using you even now for Jesus is God Almighty come to us in human form so that we and all those hungry for Spirit and hope might know the truth which is THAT GOD LOVES US BEYOND MEASURE.

That word "LOVE" is tricky for our definitions of love in today's culture are so terribly diluted that oftentimes this phrase GOD LOVES YOU has little meaning for many. The word I want to use is a word we rarely if ever use for God. And that word is adore. We use it in reference to humans in relationship to God - We adore God - but we humans almost never use this word in reference to how God sees us. We rarely, if ever, say God adores us. But According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary the first definition of Adore is To regard with the utmost esteem, love, and respect; honor.

What is the cross if it is not God regarding us humans with the utmost esteem, love and respect; honor? And if this is not true of God then the cross is a sham. But we believe that the cross is in fact life. We believe the cross is God showing us the depth of God’s love and power and presence.

Trust that God is acting right this minute and the moment you leave this sanctuary and every moment of your life. Trust that God is acting in the world and with us and in us even when we have no clue at all. For we believe that God is acting in the world and in our live in ways we often do not understand so that those we meet or see or with whom we have conversation will know that their hunger for Spirit and hope can be filled.

And so my dear friends waiting for God to act is not passively sitting around wondering when and where and if God acts but rather trusting it for God is acting this very minute!!!!


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