Sunday, July 24, 2011

Finding the Treasure of the Kingdom

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Pentecost 6A Sunday Sermon

8 and 10:30am Service, Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN

RCL 7/24/2011

Sunday Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 3:5-12, Psalm 119:129-136, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Sermon Text:

How many parables do you think you heard

in that gospel reading?

Normally when we have a gospel reading dealing with

Jesus teaching in parables, we get to consider one,

or maybe two parables on a Sunday.

This time we have 5, six if you count the comparison of the scribe to the master of a household.

Each one could be a sermon in itself,

but don't worry,

I'm going to try to cover all of them,

but it won't take me the length of 5 sermons to do it.

First it's important to note that the developers of

the Revised Common Lectionary had mercy on you,

and split last week's parable and it's explanation out of this weeks lessons, so you only have 5-6 parables to deal with, rather than 6-7.

So if you were wondering why

there is a major chunk missing in the middle,

it's because that chunk is the explanation

of last week's parable.

See the way Matthew described this teaching,

is that first Jesus was teaching the crowd,

and he told them the parable of the wheat and the tares,

and the mustard seed, and the leaven,

then he met privately with his closest disciples,

and explained to them the wheat and the tares,

and told them the parable of the treasure in the field,

the merchant searching for fine pearls,

and the net.

It's good to understand that,

because grouping today's parables into two sections

helps us understand why they're different.

Maybe you didn't hear the parables at all,

but are hung up on the anxiety produced

with the image of the angels separating the evil from the righteous and throwing the evil into the fire.

If so you're not alone. . .

But the first two parables are addressed to the crowd,

and so Jesus helps them understand the way the kingdom

will surprise everyone by it's greatness.

The mustard seed is a very small seed,

but when it grows it becomes a large bush.

The kingdom of heaven planted in the world will start small,

like with a band of fishermen and poor people in Gallilee,

and develop into such a large living force,

influencing world history like no other movement,

and many will make their home in that kingdom.

Likewise, but even more hidden and powerful,

a woman mixes a small amount of yeast into a large amount of flour, and the hidden yeast eventually leavens all the flour.

It's like Jesus is saying to the people,

the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,

it is hidden,

so you may not see it now,

but it is at work, and before long,

it will transform the whole world.

Those who want to be disciples will be taking part in this

transformation, in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

The next set of parables are addressed to those who are

already disciples, explaining a little more,

what is required of disciples of Jesus,

and yet more importantly how great the reward.

Rather than dealing with many, and the grand plan,

they deal with how individuals encounter the kingdom.

The two parables about people finding the Kingdom of Heaven have important differences.

Both men in the stories experience joy,

and a desire to sell all they have to acquire that treasure.

The difference is in how they encounter the treasure.

The man who finds the treasure in a field,

finds it presumably without looking for it directly.

It wasn't his field, so perhaps he was working the field

for someone else, or surveying it,

or just walking across it.

But he finds the treasure as a surprise,

and then in joy goes and sells all that he has to buy that field,

Notice here that the man,

in his joy,

because of his knowledge of the treasure

knows all along that giving everything he has,

is small in comparison to the awesomeness of that treasure.

He's not risking it all for some unknown reward,

the only risk he experiences is that he might not get the treasure he found.

The merchant is coming to a similarly valuable treasure,

from a very different perspective,

unlike the man in the field,

this merchant is searching for his treasure.

He knows what he is after, and is a connoisseur of pearls,

so when he finds the magnificent pearl,

it is not hard for him to sell everything he has for it,

because he knows its worth,

and is prepared to give up everything else he has,

because this one pearl is worth so much more.

This is the timeless aspect of the story.

While it may not be so common to find treasure in fields,

or to seek a fine pearl these days,

it is common that people encounter the kingdom of heaven

it is always marked by joy

when one comes to know the risen Christ.

In uncovering the treasure of the kingdom,

some people encounter it seemingly by accident,

and some are searching for it a long time before they find it.

Either way, when people encounter the kingdom of God

in this world, it is not a difficult question

whether to sacrifice whatever they need to

in order to fully participate in that Kingdom.

The aspect of the treasure that is common,

is that you must give up much to acquire it for yourself,

but this is not based on blind faith,

but on a knowledge,

of the greatness of what you are acquiring.

The final parable, seems to put these disciple parables

back into the context of the crowd parables

dealing with the greatness of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The net is gathering all of the fish in

whether or not they want to be there.

This is complicated,

and I think I'm just beginning to get it,

but maybe some of you have considered this more

and understand it better.

The net shows that all will be required to sacrifice,

and all will be drawn into the kingdom,

but not all will stay.

As Dietrich Bonhoffer put it,

in The Cost of Discipleship,

the grace of God may be free,

but it is not cheap.

It requires commitment, and sacrifice,

and that is what differentiates a disciple of Jesus,

from a curious onlooker in the crowd.

Jesus showed us the commitment that is required,

and the joy that leads to that commitment.

We read that it was “for the sake of the joy

that was set before him,

[that Jesus] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2)

And so we come to understand Grace as an acrostic,

God's Riches At Christ's Expense.

It's free because Christ paid for it,

but since we are his followers,

we also need to give up everything to truly make it ours.

That is what differentiates those

who are being trained for the Kingdom,

from those who are just being unwittingly gathered in the net.

The difference between the fish in the net,

seems to be that some desire the kingdom

they are being drawn into,

and some don't

those who desire the kingdom,

submit to the training Jesus mentions

when he describes everyone who has been trained for the kingdom “like the master of a household,

who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

That is the goal of discipleship,

to become like a master of your own household.

I spoke to a woman recently

who didn't want me to come over to visit,

because she felt like her house

was completely disordered.

She was only talking about her physical house in some sense,

mostly she felt like her life was completely disordered,

her very self, felt completely disordered.

The master of a household, may live in the midst of chaos, but she knows where the treasure is,

and knows how to bring out the new treasure

and the old treasure,

and put it to the purpose that it was meant for.

That is our goal as disciples of Jesus,

to not only be aware of the treasure we have,

how we are being welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven,

not just to sacrifice all we have for the much greater

treasure of participating in that kingdom,

but when we have the treasure,

we must be trained to bring out that treasure,

and use it for what it was meant to do.

But maybe you have not yet found the treasure,

maybe you're seeking it,

and know exactly what you're looking for.

Or maybe you feel like you're just roaming in a field,

doing your work,

and it would be great if you happened upon some treasure.

The Church of the Ascension,

all churches made up of disciples of Jesus Christ

exist to help you find that treasure,

not because we want to grow for the sake of growth,

or because we need more members to be successful.

We want to help you and everyone find that treasure,

because some of us,

know just how wonderful it is,

and how pervasive the joy in your life can be,

when you find the treasure,

and give it all to acquire it.

If you think you've found the treasure of the kingdom,

and you need training for how to best use it,

we're here for that too,

that's the journey we are all on.

We're training disciples for the kingdom.

The spiritual life is a big learning process,

a work in progress

as we are all being trained for the Kingdom of Heaven.

We help each other be transformed,

and we learn how to employ the treasure within each of us,

to make the Kingdom more visible to others.

Perhaps after looking at all of these parables,

you're still hung up on the image of the fish,

being pulled out of the net and separated

into the good and the bad,

the righteous and the evil.

The Kingdom of Heave is like the Net

drawing all the fish in,

like the weeds and the wheat growing together.

But if you're concerned about whether in the judgement

you'll be in the good pile or the bad pile,

I would like to refer you to our reading from Romans.

I keep this verse on the wall of my office, to remind me,

what Paul says for all disciples of Christ,

He is “convinced that neither death, nor life,

nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present,

nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us

from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Once you have found the treasure,

and made it yours

there is nothing to worry about,

the angels will not separate you from Christ in the end.

Until then,

Seek the kingdom like a fine pearl

and it when you find it,

it will be a joy to enter the training as a disciple

for the Kingdom,

it will be such a joy that you won't hesitate

to give everything you have to make it yours.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Weeds and Wheat

The Rev. Amy Morehous
Church of the Ascension
July 17, 2011

Proper 11, Year A

Wisdom of Solomon 12:13-19

Psalm 86:11-17

Romans 8:12-25

In each family there are stories that are told and retold, that weave themselves into the fabric of family life. I have spoken about my grandfather before as a person larger than life - a high school football coach and principal who never met a stranger. He was himself a terrific story-teller, and jokester, so a lot of our stories involve him. After his second heart-attack, he retired from Lenoir City High School. Then his pride and joy every year became his garden, which spanned about an acre. I grew up on fresh, homegrown corn, green beans, okra, tomatoes, watermelon, grapes, strawberries, peaches, apples.... You get the picture.

Each summer, my sister and I would go stay for a week or two with my grandparents on their farm. My sister loved anything involving dirt, so she would go spend time in the garden with my grandfather. I loathed anything to do with dirt, so I stayed in the kitchen with my grandmother, and helped her as she boiled and canned tomatoes, and strung and canned green beans for the winter. When I say “helped”, that usually meant “stringing green beans while reading a book.” And, yes, you can do both at the same time. I had a whole system worked out.

In the garden one morning, my still-very-young sister saw something green creeping along the ground. To be helpful, she pulled it up, and dangled it before my grandfather. “I got a weed, Pa! It was creeping all over everything, and it has these funny little green hairy things on it! Yuck! What kind of weed is it?” Now my grandfather was a large man - to me he always seemed like a giant. He sighed, and took the ‘weed’ from her patiently, cradled it gently in his big hands, and said, “Well, baby girl, it was a watermelon.”

My sister, realizing her mistake, began to get upset. “Oh, Pa. I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! Let’s put it back.”

My grandfather shook his head and held it out to her. “Baby, it doesn’t work like that. You’ve stripped it from its roots. It can’t get water anymore. We can’t put it back.”

My sister ran inside to find me, clutching the limp vine to her heart with grubby fingers. She told me the story, sniffled, and swiped at the tear streaks on her face angrily, smearing dirt on her cheek in the process. With all the passion in her small body, she thrust it out to me and said “You have to help me! We have to fix it!”

With all my ‘two-years-older than thou’ wisdom, I looked up from my book, saw how upset she was, and said, with great sisterly compassion, “You’ve got some dirt on your face.” (I’m still apologizing for that one.)

Do you worry about the weeds, about the things that grow in the church, in the ourselves? The same things troubled the earliest Christians, including the community Matthew speaks to in his Gospel. Matthew is full of language of judgment, decision and division, and does not stint on the terrifying scenes of condemnation - like the one described here.

In response to our ancestors' struggle, Matthew’s gospel is meant to provide pictures and promises to help the faithful endure and persist, even if their little church, and the big world beyond it, seemed infected and flawed by "bad seed.”

Barbara Brown Taylor cautions us against reading parables as a direct answer to a direct question. She asserts that parables are almost never meant to be read that way. Instead, she reminds us that they deliver "their meaning in images that talk more to our hearts than to our heads. Parables are mysterious.... Left alone, they teach us something different every time we hear them, speaking across great distances of time and place and understanding." As soon as we’re sure that we know EXACTLY what a parable means, we're almost certain to be wrong. But if we're uncomfortable by the challenge we hear in a parable, we're probably getting a little closer to the true mystery.

Once again, as in last week’s Gospel, we hear a parable of the sowing of seeds. Last week's sower spread seeds in willful abundance on every kind of ground, with mixed results. This week's sower seems to use good ground, because the harvest is plentiful, but gets a mixed crop, with weeds co-mingled in with the good wheat.

And what is the workers’ reaction to discovering the weeds twined among the wheat? They first question the Sower. “Well, are you sure you used good seed? Because there is clearly a problem here. You must have used the wrong kind of seed, Sower.” After being assured that the weeds did not come from the Sower’s hand, the workers are immediately on alert. “Well, what should we do? Let’s go rip those weeds up, so they aren’t contaminating our wheat!”

And the Boss - the Sower - says “No.”

“No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until the harvest.”

“No, you can’t pull the weeds, because you cannot tell the difference between what is good grain, and what is rank weeds.”

Because there’s nothing we love more as human beings than being able to classify everyone appropriately. I’ve been doing some reading lately about the Crusades - three centuries of a Church attempting to sort out the weeds from the wheat. In the process, anywhere from 3 to 9 million people were killed, depending on which historian you find credible. During the Albigensian Crusade during the 13th century, one of the popular battle cries was "Kill them all and let God sort them out!" Of course, in the parable Jesus tells us today, we hear the complete reverse -- the Sower tells the workers to give them time, to let them all grow together, and let God sort them out at the end of the age.

Is it possible that the mystery of this parable has more to do with God's timing, and our own unwillingness to wait for it, with hope? Our inability to trust in the certainty of God's own judgment? Why should we wait to let God be the judge, when we are all too ready to do the job for him?

I don’t know about you, but I thank God that God will judge us, and that we will not be busy with the judging of one another’s souls. I know that the vision of judgement here is fearful - it has been used to terrify through the ages. But I prefer to see that fire as purifying, rather than terrifying. Thomas Long writes that God will burn in the fire of judgement all that "deadens humanity or corrupts God's world. Whatever is in the world, or in us, that poisons our humanity and breaks our relationship with God will, thank the Lord, be burned up in the fires of God's everlasting love."

It is a fact that there is evil and wrongdoing in this world. There are weeds in our garden. There were then. There are now. Surely we are not expected to sit by and watch as they flourish, as they consume all the resources, and grow to overcome the wheat! Barbara Brown Taylor says that "what the Boss seems to know is that the best and only real solution to evil is to bear good fruit. Our job, in a mixed field, is not to give ourselves to the enemy by devoting all our energy to the destruction of the weeds, but to mind our own business...--our business being the reconciliation of the world through the practice of unshielded and unending love. If we will give ourselves to that, God will take care of the rest...." (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven)

So, I will ask you today...are you worried about plucking out and destroying the weeds, or are you occupied with nurturing the wheat? Because our call today is not to judgement, but to love. We are here to encourage all that is good about us, all that works to reconcile this world of ours to Christ. We are not here to root out and destroy, to separate God’s people from their nurturing roots as my sister unwittingly did, so many years ago. (As I purposefully did when she asked for help, and I gave her criticism.)

Our God is a God of love AND of judgement. We are promised that God will, in God’s own time, burn away that which corrupts, that which destroys, that which separates and divides us. In the meanwhile, we are here to love unreservedly, without regard for weed or wheat, without regard for station or situation. We are called to love as Christ loved - to learn, to teach, to grow - to water the garden, to tend the plants - ALL the plants - with care and encouragement and with love, as we ourselves are loved with a great love. Our hope is in the love of Christ, which will overcome all weeds, will heal all divisions, will call all to him, even when we cannot. We have only to look forward, and to hope.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
Hearing God

“Let anyone with ears listen!”

Though a cradle Episcopalian and raised as an active member of the Church my whole life, during one point some aspects of church began to deeply trouble me. I could not understand and was completely turned off by the social aspects of church life, the fellowship, and the importance of and participation in Christian community. Though I continued to attend church and be a member on the surface, this frustration eventually led to my rejection of the Christian religion as a whole and to a serious exploration of other world religions for a time. “Some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” I heard the word of the kingdom but did not understand, and what had been sown in my heart was snatched away.

At another point in my life, a point accentuated by a strong sense of confidence in and excitement about Christianity, a point when I found myself participating in interdenominational bible studies as well as Christian community and fellowship, I also began to live a kind of double life. Unable to resist the temptation of the times, I began to develop habits that were not conducive to my newly found spirituality, and which in fact eventually reversed my spiritual progress. “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.” I heard the word and received it with joy; having little root though, I did not endure long and fell away in the face of trouble and challenges.

Now, as a husband and a father, trying to do all I can to provide the very best for my family, and yet also as a priest who has intimately experienced and dealt with the grim realities of both material and spiritual poverty, I constantly struggle to follow through with the commands of Christ. I struggle to fully reorient my life around the Truth of God. I struggle to choose God over my loved ones. I struggle to choose God over myself. “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” I hear the word, but the distractions of life and material temptations prevent me from changing.

“Let anyone with ears listen!”

As I read and prayed through this morning's Gospel lesson, it struck me just how hard this lesson is to hear; not because it is a particularly difficult message to swallow, not because it is a particularly difficult message to understand, but somehow it just seems difficult for us to hear. You see, at this point in His ministry, Jesus had amassed quite a large following. So much so, that in our Gospel lesson this morning, He is forced to go out and preach from a boat in order to reach the entire crowd on the shore. Jesus is preaching from the boat to the huge crowd of new or potentially new believers, and He proceeds to share with them this Parable of the Sower, and that is where, I believe, our problem lies. That is where our hearing problem lies, and by extension, our figurative spiritual hearing problem begins.

You see, it occurred to me that the reason that this parable may actually be so challenging for us hear is because we actually understand it to only be directed towards new or prospective Christians. It is for the crowds gathered on the shoreline waiting to hear Christ speak, the undecided. Those who have not yet committed. It doesn't really apply to us. Certainly, it isn't intended for those of us sitting in the pews. Or is it?

Today's Gospel lesson is about hearing God and listening to God. It is about us as Christians learning to recognize God all around us, and more importantly our learning how to listen to the God we hear constantly in our midst. Because while the Parable of the Sower is indeed a great image for the various challenges that one receiving the Good News of God in Christ for the first time might encounter, as I tried to illustrate with my own examples this morning, it is also a perfect image for the continual struggles and challenges that we all face as Christians trying to live into relationship with God in our day to day lives. Though the initial seed of the Gospel has already been planted in our hearts, it is important for us to recognize that there are a number of very difficult challenges that we each constantly risk facing as Christians which can and often do have adverse effects on the growth of God's Love and Truth in our lives.

I shared with you before how failing to hear God and to cultivate the relationship that I had with Him lead me to several different negative outcomes at various points throughout my life. However, there have also been times of bearing fruit as well. In my senior year in high school, I graduated a semester early before going off to college. During that time, I worked with a local landscaping company during the day, and participated in school sponsored extracurricular activities in the evenings. This was one of the most spiritually fulfilling times of my life and it is one of the periods in which I felt closer to God than I ever had before (and perhaps closer than I ever have since), not because of the activities in which I was participating, but simply because during those days, I learned how to recognize and to hear God around me, and also how to listen to what God was saying to me.

As a part of my prayer life, I had managed to set apart time in both the morning and evening for prayer and meditation, as well as incorporate several disciplines which helped me to remember and refocus myself on God throughout the day. Working with the earth, I learned to recognize God's presence in the beauty of nature around me, as well as in the people with whom I interacted daily or who crossed my path. I learned to recognize God's presence and accept His guidance in my life, which developed into a genuine desire to do His will. “Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” I heard the word of God and understood it, and indeed I bore fruit in my relationship with Him.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, this is the message that I want to get across this morning, this is the lesson that I want each of us to take home with us today: Hear God. Listen for God. In other words, let us learn to be on the constant look out for God in our daily lives. Let us reorient ourselves to recognize that God is not confined to dwell within the walls of this amazingly beautiful sanctuary and that we don't have to come here to find God, but rather only to worship and celebrate Him. The truth is, though it might be a little easier said than done, that this is how we create the fertile soil in our souls in which the seed of God's Truth and Love can easily grow; we just start to actually pay attention to God, to seek Him out, to place Him at His rightful place in the very center of our lives. Then, having the ears to hear the God who dwells all around us is easy. Then, having the desire and ability to listen to the God who dwells within our midst comes naturally.

“Let anyone with ears listen!”


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A The Rev. Dr. Howard J. Hess

What Does It Mean to be Yoked Together with Jesus? July 3, 2011

I. Introduction. As you know, we have a number of weddings here at Church of the Ascension. Whichever one of the clergy is officiating at the wedding engages in premarital counseling with the prospective bride and groom. One of the most important things I share with them is our belief that in marriage, two persons both remain separate, yet become one. They become “yoked” together in the way that Jesus is describing our being yoked with him in this morning’s gospel. The married couple become one in body, mind, and spirit and promise to remain together in times of both adversity and of joy “as long as they both shall live.” The idea of becoming connected with another in marriage is more than just a contract in our church. It is a sacred promise to remain faithful to the other in all circumstances. Contrary to much current thinking, this union does not rely only on the foundation of feeling that one is in love with another. The oneness of husband and wife is a sacramental unity in which thoughts, feelings, and dreams begin to mesh together in one. Both parties begin to see the world more broadly because they see it now not only through their own eyes, but also through the eyes of the beloved. This notion that relationship leads to unity is intrinsic, basic to our Christian faith.

II. Thus, when Jesus says “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” his words must be comprehended in the deepest possible sense. Some may get the impression that one can follow Jesus casually, that not much has to change in one’s life. After all, Jesus is love and doesn’t love only want what is best for us? Isn’t the best love unconditional? Yes, but there is more – much, much more. When Jesus invites us to yoke ourselves together with him, that means that wherever Jesus goes, we go; whatever Jesus does, we do. We take on the mind of Christ so that we are always pulling in the same direction with him. We develop such a close relationship with Christ that we increasingly think, feel, and act as Christ does. We become one with Christ. We change very dramatically, but not because Christ controls us and makes us act against our will. Rather, of our own free will, we increasingly want what Christ wants and want Christ to live through us.

III. What then do we do with the part of today’s Gospel about Christ’s yoke being easy and light? Let me explain the context of this passage. Matthew was written to a largely Jewish Christian audience. When they heard Jesus speak about being yoked to him, they would immediately associate to what they had been taught – namely, that they were to be yoked to the Torah. That meant that they were to adhere to the thousands of laws, interpretations of the laws, and emandations or elaborations to the laws. It was literally impossible for even the most pious Jew to always adhere to the Torah. Worship of the rules of religion had in many ways substituted for worship of the God who had originally given the law for the benefit of God’s people. When Jesus offered himself as the yoke, he was not intending to destroy the law, but rather to fulfill it. You see, Jesus knew that a religion based centrally upon rules and regulations could harden hearts and lead to much judgment. For example, it was the rules about not defiling oneself that led the Levite and the Pharisee to walk past the wounded man, the Samaritan, on the side of the road.

A religion based upon rigid rules and judgment turns many away. It certainly did me as a young adult for whom issues such as not drinking, not going to movies, and not dancing seemed to be the wrong things to base a religion upon. And I never did accept the explanation that my Sunday School teachers gave me that Jesus only drank unfermented wine. It was some time until I discovered a church that focused less upon God’s judgment and more upon Christ’s loving presence.

IV. If Jesus was not advocating yoking oneself with the laws of the Torah, what was he proposing? I believe that Jesus was proposing that we enter into a deep relationship with him that will be based upon two things: 1) our willingness to acknowledge him as the Son of God who loves us and gave himself over to death for us, and 2) to actively love him in return. Our love is active and sacrificial, just as his love for us is active and sacrificial. As disciples of Christ, we agree to be coupled with him and to undergo radical change that will affect every area of our lives. Our actions, particularly with those who are in need or are marginalized, become so compelling that others will see Christ through us.

Let me give you an example of how we can become more like Christ that came out of this week’s meeting of the Wednesday morning Bible study. Each Wednesday, whichever one of us is preaching the following Sunday meets with the Bible study group to reflect on the week’s lectionary. This week we spent a great deal of time talking about the many ways in which people change when they are closely yoked with Jesus Christ. Our capacity for active love can overcome our own biases and resentment. One participant told a true story of a young woman named Peggy Covill. Her parents were missionaries in China during WWII. Her parents were captured by the Japanese and killed in captivity. For many of us, such an act against our parents would create hatred toward the Japanese. However, their daughter’s story does not reflect hatred. After the war, many Japanese were asked, ”Didn’t not the Americans treated you badly in their internment camps after you were captured?” Many said, “No, in fact there was a young woman, Peggy, who looked after our every need; gave us water to drink; and take excellent are of us.” This young woman’s close relationship with Jesus Christ allowed her to love instead of hate. She was yoked with Christ.

V. Conclusion. Over the past few years, many have observed that Ascension has made many strides in yoking itself with Jesus Christ. We have found new ways to love one another, we have further expanded our ministry beyond our own community, and we have increased our financial support of God’s work. We have been further developing our gifts of hospitality and generosity. At the same time, we have also developed many programs to help us grow in our spiritual lives. However, today the Gospel tells us that we can go even deeper. I believe as we become more yoked with Christ, our conviction and commitment will beam out more fully in every possible direction. When we are one with Christ, our hearts, minds, and souls will so overflow with his love that there is no end to what we will do in his name.

For some of us, going deeper means that we will want to share Christ’s love and the love experienced in this community at Ascension with others. We will become more and more comfortable – even eager – to bring others with us to worship, study, and go deeper with us. For others of us, going deeper means that we will increasingly want to express our generosity with those in need both with those within our parish and in the larger community. As our economy continues to cause many to struggle, our resources are often insufficient to meet the need. For example, at least three times during the month of June, we did not have sufficient funds in the Discretionary account to assist our own members as fully as they needed. And we must frequently turn away others outside our parish community who come to us for help. There are countless other ways in which being yoked with Christ will continue to change our perceptions and actions here at Church of the Ascension. May we be open and unafraid to go where Christ leads us. Amen.