God Equips Those God Calls, for Such a Time as This

The Rev. Robert P. Travis Pentecost 18th Sunday Sermon  – 5:00pm and 10:00am Church of the Ascension, Wakefield RI RCL Proper 21 Year B 9/25-26/2021

Scripture Text: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22, Psalm 124, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50

Sermon Text:

If any of you were shocked, by Jesus’ language,

About cutting off body parts that cause us to stumble,

I want you to hear this from a great writer.

Flannery O’Connor wrote:

“I use the grotesque

the way I do because people are deaf and

dumb and need help to see and hear.” (Flannery O’Connor, from Synthesis)

 

Jesus’ use of hyperbole,

To teach, is well known,

But he is using it here, to emphasize

The seriousness of getting anything out of your way

That keeps you from being aligned with God’s will for life.

Notice that each of the body parts that Jesus is talking about has a counterpart, and so he’s also talking about being united within yourself in your pursuit of God,

Not letting part of you pull you away from God.

 

Keeping on the right path with God and getting things out of our way that cause us to stumble can help us accomplish things we never would have thought possible.

That’s what happened with Esther, the ending of whose story we heard today.

 

Do you remember the beginning of that story?

Esther was a Jewish girl among the people who were exiled from their land by Babylon. She finds herself married to a Persian king, that is, forced to join his harem because she was pretty, after his other wife displeases him. She rises in favor with the king, but is still little more than one of his wives. She doesn’t think of herself as having anything to offer, but does want to remain faithful to God.

Her cousin Mordecai convinces her to hide the fact that she is Jewish from the King, and later gets himself and all the people in trouble with the King’s right hand man, Haman.

He offended Haman by not being willing to bow to him.

When Haman plots his revenge by getting the king to have Mordecai and all the Jews living in Persia killed, Mordecai approaches Esther and tells her she needs to do something.

 

She says it would risk her very life to go and talk to the King.

Mordecai tells her that maybe she was put into her position “for such a time as this,”

To save her people.

She doesn’t know what she can do, but she asks the Jewish people to pray for her, and then she figures out a simple way of getting the King to regard her with a generous heart.

She invites him to dinner a few times, and on the last time, when he is really pleased with her, he asks her what he can do in return, offering her anything she wants.

That’s where the story picked up today.

She sees her opportunity and begs him to save her life

and the lives of her people.

When the King discovers what Haman has done, and that his own order would mean the death of his wife, he revokes the order and has Haman killed instead.

 

Esther did not think she had anything to contribute, but God knew differently. God put her in that position, and enabled her to save her people. But she had to be willing to see past her own sense of inadequacy, and realize she could do something at the right time.

 

Jesus said “everyone will be salted with fire.” But also that Salt is good, probably referring to its preserving qualities as well as its taste.

He tells us to have salt within ourselves.

Esther was certainly salted with fire,

tested by the suffering of her people,

tested by her fear of punishment,

and her sense of her own inadequacy,

after being put in a difficult position,

she did not think she was up to.

 

Certainly this seems like a time when the church is being salted with fire. As you process the news that Noel shared last week about my calling to another church, maybe you’re wondering if this means the end of Ascension.

I can assure you it does not.

Ascension will continue here in Wakefield,

just as it has for the past 182 years in Wakefield,

but it can only do so with your help.

I can understand if some of you feel unequipped to help, like “what could I possibly do to help?”

The fact of our being salted with fire may add to that feeling of inadequacy, but the strength with which Ascension makes it through this transition time depends very much on everyone taking a role.

Ascension needs you.

 

Take a look at a few people who have helped the Church in just this past year. Our new Senior Warden Bob Bernardo was willing to take on that leadership position even though he had served as Junior Warden for a full term,

And in spite of his own doubts about his ability to lead, he has grown well into this role this year.

As Senior Warden he will be the church’s leader after I am gone and he will need your support.

Donna McBurney our Treasurer, came to our church for a very short time, but was willing to use her skills in math and her experience as a treasurer to serve in that essential role, even though she was struggling with her own personal challenges of grief and loss.

They are just a couple of the many people in our church who know what it means to be salted with fire,

and to feel inadequate to a task that was asked of them.

 

But as Esther’s story shows,

God works with people who are willing,

God does not always called the equipped into service, but God always equips those who are called.

 

As I step out of the role I have here as your priest-in-charge, the church will need each of you to take on new tasks for a time as you discern together what is next for Church of the Ascension.

It may seem challenging,

you may feel like you are not up to the task.

But maybe God put you here “for such a time as this.”

 

Is there anything in your way in your life right now,

that is causing you to stumble,

keeping you from serving God in God’s church.

This is the time to clear those stumbling blocks out.

The Church of the Ascension needs you to come together in the coming months,

to help determine the future of this church.

 

Stumbling blocks may be keeping you from seeing God’s vision for Ascension here in Wakefield, and your role in it. Remember, though we put a lot of effort into maintaining this beautiful space, the church is not the buildings, it’s the people.

The Church of the Ascension is you,

each of you here and all of you together

including those who are not here right now.

You may be salted with fire right now,

but Jesus reminds us that everyone is.

He asks you to have salt in yourselves,

for the preservation of life,

and the strengthening of this church.

Have salt in yourselves, he says,

and be at peace with one another.

 

 

This church will endure, and so will your love for each other.

I will ask the Lord for all good things for all of you.

I hope you will do the same for me.

 

Amen.

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob has finished his ministry as Head Pastor of the Partnership between the Chapel of St. John the Divine and Church of the Ascension on the Eve of All Saint's Day, October 31, 2021. He thanks everyone involved in More details