- Church of the Ascension
- October 10, 2021
The Rev. Robert P. Travis Pentecost 20th Sunday Sermon – 5:00pm and 10:00am Church of the Ascension, Wakefield RI Revised Common Lectionary Proper 23 Year B
Scripture Text: Job 23:1-9, 16-17, Psalm 22:1-15, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31
In our collect today, we prayed that God’s grace may always precede and follow us.
And I know that God’s grace preceded me here,
There have been so many grace-filled times here in the past 182 years.
My prayer is that God’s grace will also follow me here.
Today is my second to last weekend here at Church of the Ascension, and I know many of you are wondering,
will we make it?
What can we do now that Fr. Rob is leaving?
The number of people coming to worship are down since before the pandemic.
Will Ascension continue in ministry here after he goes?
These thoughts may lead some to despair
Over the future of this church.
I want to encourage you today,
With the scriptures we have in today’s lectionary.
These readings are not selected by me, or any other leader in our church, they’re part of a tradition that we have been handed through generations.
And when they speak to us directly,
as you will see these do for us today,
It is like they’re the Word of God written for us,
Like a love letter to us, from the one who is really in charge.
You’ve gotten very dependent on me over these past few years, and now is your opportunity to see what God can do.
It’s true your priest is leaving,
and it’s uncertain who will be the next priest.
But in the meantime, our lesson from Hebrews today reminds us that no matter who the human priest is who is serving here, our great high priest is Jesus the son of God,
No one less than Him!
That is so important to remember.
Notice the way the thought is written.
“Since we have a great high priest…” that same thought continues by saying, “therefore,
let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
You may wonder if anything would happen if someone approached the throne of grace with boldness, right here, right now. Would we find grace to help in time of need?
Will God really do something to help us now?
Or are these scriptures just stories,
just things that happened a long time ago,
or maybe in another place?
I want to share with you a story about someone who approached the throne of grace with boldness recently from this very congregation. I have permission to share this with you this morning.
This summer, Tom and his family were camping in Burlingame State Park, not very far away from here.
They got a chance to have a few days away, and as you know Tom really loves to talk to people about the Lord.
He has a gift for evangelism and is happy to share how the Lord has reached him in his life.
While he was camping, he was preparing to build a fire to cook supper for his family, and a few of the people he was talking to had gathered around him as he was sharing stories about the Lord with them and discussing Christian things.
Some of them probably wondered why he was talking
Some may have been believers already, and some may have been skeptical of what he was saying,
but they were all interested and kept listening.
When he finished building his fire, he realized that he didn’t have a fire starter or anything with which to get it going.
So he asked the people who were gathered around him,
“Does any of you have a fire starter or some way that I can get this fire started?”
They all looked at each other and shook their head or said “no”
No one had matches or anything to start the fire with.
And Tom thought to himself “what am I gonna do?”
And he thought,
“well I’ve been talking to these people about God and what He’s done for me.
I suppose it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to say a little prayer right now just so they know that I really believe this stuff.”
That moment, out loud, so that the others could hear him,
he said a simple prayer
“God I know you listen to me, and I need to start this fire. Please help me find some way to get this fire started. Amen.”
At that moment he looked down, and wouldn’t you believe it? The place where he had built the fire
had started smoking and then caught on fire!
When Tom told me that I thought immediately that it reminded me of Elijah, and how he called down fire from heaven on the offerings when he was confronted by the priests of the Pagan religion.
And who knows what happened underneath.
Lots of people would want to explain away the miracle,
As they even do with miracles that Jesus and his disciples did.
I imagine it possible that there was an unseen coal from a previous fire underneath that fire Tom had built.
But that doesn’t explain why the fire started to smoke after Tom had said his prayer.
Without trying to explain it away, all by itself, the event makes it so clear that God wanted to glorify Godsself
through Tom’s prayer,
through Tom’s willingness to pray out loud where there were witnesses around.
You see, Tom approached the throne of grace with boldness, confident that the God who graciously provides for us would provide for him in that moment, no matter how small and insignificant his need was, even in the face of all the need around the world.
That’s approaching the throne of grace with boldness.
Many of you may feel that if you simply,
if you asked God for what you needed,
“why would God provide for little old me?”
You might think, “What have I done to deserve something from the Almighty Lord?”
But that’s not the way that our scripture teaches us to be.
It’s not about whether we deserve it, or if we’re worthy.
Our story… the love letter we received from God today,
tells us to approach the throne of grace with boldness.
Tells us to have the confidence to ask God for what we need and trust that God is full of grace and mercy,
that God desires to help us,
especially when what we’re trying to do is glorify God,
with our actions and our desires.
And the way God’s grace works most powerfully,
is when we have nothing to offer.
The struggle that the rich young ruler had when he approached Jesus in our Gospel reading today, was that he thought he could do it all himself.
“What must I do to inherit the Kingdom of heaven?”
he asked Jesus.
And after Jesus reminds him of the commandments, and the young man says, “I’ve followed all of those since my youth,” Jesus asks him to get to the place
where he has nothing to offer.
“You lack one thing,” Jesus says, “sell what you own and give to the poor then come follow me.”
And the young rich man went away sad because he had many possessions.
He had too much to offer,
and was unable to get to a place of really needing God.
Our God is the God who told us, when he told Paul,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
When we think we have nothing to offer, remember,
Our God can do a lot with nothing.
Our God is the God who created the universe out of nothing.
God seems to say,
“’Nothing’ is some of my favorite stuff to work with.”
Our God is the God who when the disciples were faced with a crowd of thousands of people who had no food, and no money to feed them.
Jesus’ response was, “exactly, that nothing is what God loves to turn into abundance.”
And God provided plenty of food for all those people, whether they were worthy or not.
Our God is the God who was faced with a ragtag group of people wandering in the desert, who constantly complained, and definitely were not worthy of his gift, but he gave them more Manna and Quail each day
than they knew what to do with.
They may not have been worthy, but God’s grace was sufficient to provide for them nonetheless.
And our God provided combustion for a campfire, for a man and his wife and daughter in the woods of Rhode Island, when he, and all the people around heard that man’s prayer.
Tom approached the throne of grace with boldness, and God provided for his small need, and that should give us confidence to approach the throne of grace with boldness about our needs for this church.
For this church continues to need God, so that we can proclaim God’s good news on this corner Main Street in this village of Wakefield.
We can be assured that God wants God’s name proclaimed, God’s love for God’s people lifted up,
and God’s people in this community cared for by this church.
But the scripture says, we have to Find Grace.
Grace is available to us, but we have to look for it.
We need to ask for what we need.
What would be some bold things that we could ask,
some boldness with which
we could approach the throne of grace?
We could ask God to give us strength and the will to serve here when our priest is gone.
We could ask the Lord to give us more people
to reach with his Good news right here.
Ask God to fill these pews with people who seek God who need God’s comfort, God’s love, or reassurance of God’s presence with them.
But not so that we could simply pay the bills or keep things going as they are, but so the God’s name would be glorified by the work that we do in this community.
So that people could see what we’ve been faithfully trying to show for the past 182 years,
that God loves beautiful worship,
that God loves God’s people,
and that God truly helps those in need
through the people dedicated to Jesus.
We could ask God to have people notice our sign, and come for private prayer in our church, since a dedicated group of volunteers opens it to the public every day and tucks it in at night.
Do you know, I heard this weekend from another priest,
That a church where he had served, had recently been given millions of dollars in a bequest, by a man no one knew,
Who had come into the church regularly to pray alone,
during the week when it was open to the public.
The church served him as a place of refuge and peace,
Even when they didn’t know it!
We could ask God to give wisdom to our vestry leaders,
who are meeting this week to begin to discuss what clergy leadership is possible in this place.
That God would show them a clear vision of this place and its people, so that the next person of the clergy can be called here with a clear understanding of what this place needs.
We could ask God to give us passion and a heart for our neighbors in this community, so that we will be inspired to serve and care for them in God’s name.
We could ask with boldness that God show us what God can do through each of us here,
because many of us don’t believe we have anything to offer.
When the disciples despaired about who could be saved, when they realized how difficult it is for people like that rich young man,
to let go of the things they have and fully rely on God,
Jesus said “for mortals it is impossible,”
that is, for people who are dying,
it is impossible to save ourselves.
“But with God all things are possible!”
You might think it is impossible for us
to keep this church going,
without a priest to do the things you want one to do,
and you’re right, on your own it is impossible
for you to keep this church going.
“But with God all things are possible!”
So approach the throne of grace with boldness, in this time.
I ask each of you every day,
to pray with boldness to the Lord
for what this church needs
for what you need in this community
So that God’s name may be glorified here.