Nothing but Mammals? Made for Union with God

The Rev. Robert P. Travis Pentecost 19th Sunday Sermon  – 8:00am and 9:30am Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown RI. Revised Common Lectionary Proper 22 Year B 10/3/2021 – Eve of St. Francis Day, Blessing of Animals Sunday

Sermon Text:

Back around the turn of the century,

I remember a song being on the radio all the time.

The song went,

“You and me baby, ain’t nothing but mammals. . .”

Does that ring a bell with some of you?

If it does, the remainder of that verse is probably

Already in your head.

 

I see a similarity between that verse,

And the Hebrews passage today.

The Hebrews passage refers to Psalm 8, saying,

“what are human beings that you are mindful of them,

Or mortals, that you care for them?”

 

Of course, that is the big question for us,

Because in the grand scheme of creation,

As we look at the wonder of all that

The world and even the heavens are made of,

We realize we are in some sense,

“just nothing but mammals,”

An incredible bit of evolutionary biological matter,

But really just like every other mammal,

Even like these dogs and cats with us today, and

In fact, even more like our closest genetic cousins the chimpanzees, with whom we are

99% alike in our very DNA.

Especially on this day, when we bring our beloved animals into the church for a blessing,

We realize that we are very much like them,

Even if a little less noisy.

Though today, without Daisy,

my canine sermon interpreter here by my side,

I feel a little sad

as you might remember she liked to bark along with my sermon at the Blessing of the Animals.

 

Yet from our Jewish ancestors we know,

That from creation, we human beings are special,

In that we are made in the image of God.

Made for union with God.

Which we see by following the Lord Jesus.

So while we are like our cousins the other mammals,

And very much connected to the stuff of the earth
around us, of which we are made.

We have a much higher purpose,

And therefore greater responsibility.

 

But a great part of our society

Over the past hundred years

Has been diminishing the high purpose

Of humanity’s uniqueness,

And the unique potential of human relationships,

That God intended from our creation.

 

Growing up, I heard in various ways

That this whole Christian moral enterprise,

Was somehow contrived.

A set of rules, somehow meant

to keep us from enjoying ourselves.

And that if we just listened to our bodies,

And followed our feelings,

Even our most basic instincts,

We would be happier,

Because somehow, we would be more like

The other animals.

 

The other thing that I grew up with,

Was what seemed like society’s common-sense notion,

That marriage was sort of magical,

And when it did not work out,

The best thing to do was simply get a divorce,

And an amicable divorce was

The easiest way to find fulfillment,

If somehow one found oneself married

To the wrong person.

 

Now I’m not talking about marriages

In which there is abuse, abandonment

Or other kinds of severely damaging relationships.

Those are marriages where one or more of the people, maybe

because of the hurt they have experienced before,

Is not capable of the kind of union with another person

That Jesus was describing.

I know what those feel like.

 

I’m just talking about that much more insidious

Romantic notion, made popular at least

by the hugely popular genre of shows and movies

called RomComs,

that was so prevalent in the last half century,

That if you find the “ONE” who is right for you,

Then marriage will work great and be happily ever after.

 

And if you don’t find the “ONE”

Then you better get out soon and keep looking,

Because the “ONE” is out there and you should find them

Or else you might not be fulfilled in life.

That is one of the most hurtful myths

That my generation and the one before me,

has grown up with in this country,

And it seems to play a large role in the fact that here

a majority of marriages end in divorce.

 

But this question of marriage and divorce is not new.

Jesus was tested by the Pharisees,

as we heard in our Gospel reading,

To discuss marriage and divorce,

Because ever since men and women got together

To have children,

i.e. from the very beginning of human life,

people have struggled with how to best form a family.

So marriage and divorce have been a difficult

Topic of human life for as long as people have

Been people.

 

And in spite of our best efforts,

And all the great progress we have made in human life

Over the past two thousand years,

We still haven’t gotten the marriage relationship right . . .

 

The Pharisees test him,

And Jesus turns the question directly back to them.

They tell him what Moses gave

As the law about divorce at the time when

God’s people were wandering in the desert,

seeking the promised land.

You can imagine how that lifestyle strained marriages!

 

And Jesus points out that this part of the law,

Was given, not because it was God’s original

And perfect will for human beings to divorce,

But because of our hardness of heart.

 

So when Jesus tells them, and even his disciples,

With whom he has to go back and discuss it more with after the pharisees leave, because they were really concerned about this teaching…

Jesus tells them that marriage was envisioned by God

in the creation of men and women.

 

And we might think he said,

that we are supposed to be married for life.

We kind of take that for granted,

But that is not what he says here.

 

He says the two shall become one,

And “what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

He is pointing to a much higher value of marriage,

Than simply economic advantage,

Or even romantic fulfillment.

He is talking about a kind of unity,

That points us to the kind of unity that God wants with us.

 

Jesus even goes so far,

As to say that if one divorces his wife,

And marries another, then he commits adultery.

That is a shocking statement

For any society.

 

Jesus, in setting the bar so high,

Is not asking us to condemn those who get divorced,

And remarried as somehow worse sinners

Than those whose marriages are still intact.

 

Remember, St. Paul teaches us,

Following Jesus’ commandment not to judge others,

That we are not to condemn others,

But to “work out YOUR OWN salvation,

With fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)

That is, don’t worry about other people’s sin,

But try to figure out for yourself,

How God could redeem you

after all the mistakes you have made.

As you do that, you start to see the greatness

Of God’s love for you and God’s forgiveness.

 

Jesus, as he usually does,

Is speaking to a much deeper question,

Than simply marriage or divorce,

Or any issue of the rules we must follow,

To have a good society.

He’s alluding to the idea, that if a husband and wife

Find that true unity that marriage intends,

And then divorce and remarry someone else,

That is like someone who knows and loves God,

Finds union with God in Christ,

And then leaves Christ to follow some other religion.

 

He is speaking of the condition of our hearts,

And how that matters for entering the Kingdom of God.

And I’m not just talking about going to heaven

When we die,

 

I’m referring to the Kingdom of heaven that

God is bringing into being all around us.

And that we can enter if we want to,

Even before we die.

 

Jesus says of the little children,

“it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

And then he says,

“whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God

Like a little child, will never enter it.”

I don’t know about you,

But the main reason I am here

In this church, is that I want to enter the Kingdom of God.

 

I want to follow Jesus,

Because I see in him, something quite different,

From any other human being,

And even any other religious leader.

Jesus,

And his followers I have met,

who follow him most closely,

seem to live in the Kingdom of God, right now.

And that is what I am after.

 

So this idea of receiving the Kingdom,

Like a little child is compelling to me.

Because I know that as I have grown into adulthood,

And am now approaching middle age,

My heart is hardened in many ways.

How can we not have our hearts hardened

by all the pain and struggle we experience

by growing up in this broken world?

And as one who has gone through divorce, I can tell you

It is one of the most heart-hardening experiences

Anyone can have.

 

But when I look at children,

And I see the joy and wonder with which they approach life,

I see something of the Kingdom of God

In their very lives.

 

When children play,

They totally lose concern and worry,

They enter totally into the playing,

And touch a level of joy and freedom,

That adults in our hardness of heart, often miss.

Children become united with life in their play,

The way a husband and wife were meant

to become united with one another,

and the way we were meant to become united with God.

Children just know that they need to play to live.

 

That reminded me of an experience I had,

In teaching some young evangelists,

Men and women in their early 20’s,

In Madagascar in 2014.

I was teaching about the spiritual disciplines,

From a book that I love,

Called “A Celebration of Discipline.”

You know, serious disciplines like fasting,

And prayer, and solitude.

But that book talks about the disciplines

And how they bring deeper joy into our lives.

And one of the student evangelists,

Asked me, with this sort of incredulous look

On her face.

She said, “it sounds like what you are describing,

Is a child’s game?”

 

As I reflected on it, I realized it’s true,

The best things we do in our faith,

When done in a child-like way,

Are played like a child’s game,

Even disciplines we think of as very serious

like prayer, fasting, study, and giving,

When we do them in a playful way,

Bring us closer to the Kingdom of God

than when we engage in them with a dour seriousness.

 

That also reminded me of a question,

That our first assisting priest Greg asked me about you,

Years ago when he was asking me what this church was like.

He asked me, “do they have fun?”

And at first, in my hardness of heart,

I was taken aback by that question.

 

As I thought about it, I realized I hadn’t been here

Long enough to have seen a lot of fun and play

With you.

But now, as our time together is drawing to a close,

I remember many times of fun in our parish.

I so enjoyed the Lafayette Band with you all this summer.

And when we got back together for coffee hour,

After a long time of being apart due to the pandemic,

I saw how much fun you all had just being together.

 

These times of play are important,

Because they help us get in touch with

The children in each of us, who still know how to play,

And they help us get close to the Kingdom of God.

 

So today, I encourage you to find ways to soften your hearts.

We all have wounds that have hardened them.

If you find ways to play

and get in touch with your inner child,

That child that we all once were,

we can become more childlike.

Church should be like that, a place of serious fun.

Try to remember, what it is like to play.

And bring that playful spirit,

Into the things you are doing in your life.

When you do, you will come closer,

To experiencing this life

As the Kingdom of God.

 

Amen.

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SCRIPTURE:

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