- St. Luke's Dundalk
"What was and what might be" Sermon by Vicar Sarah Kretschmann
Read Ephesians 1:3-14
Yikes, our Gospel today is one of the texts that leaves me saying, “Praise to you, O Christ?”
It is a gruesome story about corrupt and spiteful leaders and the risks of living the life of a prophet. It is an important story to dive into and address, but today I think our community really needs to hear from Paul instead.
Our second lesson this morning was from the book of Ephesians, one of many letters in the New Testament attributed to Paul, a pastor serving in the very early days of the Christian church. In most of his letters, Paul is addressing specific local church communities, answering their questions, handling conflict, reassuring them when things get hard.
Ephesians is unique though in that it is not addressed to a specific community in Ephesus. In fact, in some ancient manuscripts Ephesus is left out of the letter altogether. Ephesians instead is a more general letter written to be a message for the broader Christian church as it grew.
When Paul was writing this and his other pastoral letters, early Christians were experiencing a time of painful transitions within their wider social contexts. Those with Gentile and Jewish heritage were coming together to make something new, a community based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, a Christian church in the world.
Like the St. Luke’s community, the Christian church of the first-century was at a threshold, at the start of a new season.
So where does Paul begin in his message of pastoral care for the newly formed Christian church, a community in the midst of so much change? Well, he begins with praise. We are called as Christian to sing to the Lord (Psalm 96), and as wordy as it may be, Paul gives us a great example of what that can look like.
The entire passage from Ephesians today is just one giant run-on sentence of praise for God and the grace that is lavished on us. No seriously, in the original Greek this entire fourteen verse passage is one big, long sentence. It is the ramblings of a grateful child of God.
Scripture teaches us that when we praise our Creator, we worship the most magnificent of artists. We worship the potter who formed humankind from the fertile soil (Genesis 2:7), molding us like clay (Isaiah 64:8). By just existing, the creatures and natural world proclaim the handiwork of the Divine Artist, of God, through their beauty (Psalm 19:1).
But as much as the world around us may praise our God who lavishes us in grace, I wouldn’t say singing hymns or declaring the goodness of God is always my go-to in times of difficult change. It can be hard to be grateful when you don’t know what is to come. It can be hard to give thanks in the face of uncertainty.
But that is exactly what Paul challenges us to do and exactly what we are reminded to do throughout scripture.
One such reminder comes from one of my favorite characters in the Hebrew Bible, Miriam.
We all know about the liberating leadership of Moses, but within the Exodus story is another great leader, his sister, Miriam.
Miriam was Moses’ older sister who bravely kept him from harm as a baby making sure he found his way into the royal household for care. We don’t hear much else about Miriam in the Exodus narrative until after the Hebrew people miraculously crossed through the parted Red Sea.
It is at this moment that Miriam steps into her role as a spiritual leader of her people by inviting them into a moment of worship with her. To commemorate their new-found freedom, Miriam took a tambourine in her hand and led those around her in singing to the Lord.
As Dr. Jeane Porter puts it, “Miriam reminded her people of the power and importance of celebration. Whatever other leadership roles she played in the redemption of the nation of Israel, this particular role is of utmost importance…Miriam’s celebration reminds us of the necessity of creating space between the ending of the old and the beginning of the new...The celebration gives us permission to see the old for what it was and motivates us to look ahead to what might be.”
Standing at the beginning of another new chapter of life together as the St. Luke’s community, you may not be in the celebratory mood. But I truly believe there is so much to look ahead to, so much that might be for St. Luke’s.
Even if you may not feel like it, I want to celebrate and give thanks for some of the beautiful things I have witnessed in my short time with you all:
I give thanks for the love and care shown to young people and the community through the joy of Kids Night Out.
I give thanks for the declarations of faith and the celebration of two newly confirmed members of our community, Matthew and Luke.
I give thanks for the fellowship opportunities you so graciously invite others to join like weekly brunches.
I give thanks for the collaborative administrative support you all provide to keep things going.
I give thanks for your commitment to people living with addiction and especially your loving care for the Nazareth House community.
I give thanks for faith communities who now have a place to worship thanks to your gracious invitation for them to share our space.
I give thanks for the visitation support our deacons and others provide to those going through health crises or unable to leave their homes.
I give thanks for the warm welcome of our newest community members from St. George’s and St. Matthew’s.
Like Paul, I am just so grateful for the grace of God as it shows up in this community. As church we are called to be beacons of hope overflowing into a world of brokenness, sharing a source of meaning in the mess that life can be, and providing a community of support through it all.
And that is just what I have seen here at St. Luke’s, the drawing together of people, into beloved relationship with one another.
You choose each other time and again, just as God chooses each and every one of us. You are a true gift to one another, just as grace is a gift from God given to us without exception. You welcome others into your family, just as God’s adoption invitation remains ever open.
Today, I celebrate you and all that you are as a community together. My prayer is that you will be able to celebrate as well. Amen.