sermon preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler
The Second Sunday after Christmas [transferred], January 2, 2015
Rite-13 Pre-Retreat Eucharist
|Piero della Francesca, The Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah (c. 1466)|
In this reading, Jeremiah gives us a vision of bringing everyone home from the places where they’ve been scattered. You might think of the whole family coming home for Christmas, but much better than that. He’s also talking about the people of God returning from having been banished from their homeland. Has anyone here read The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis? If you have, remember the end of the book—that’s the kind of homecoming Jeremiah is ultimately talking about. We can imagine all these things at once when we hear this reading.
When I was in middle school, the thing I loved most about church camp and youth events was that everybody belonged. Now, we weren’t perfect about it, but at least we knew that was supposed to be the goal. Teasing and put-downs were not all that common, and when they did happen, we were doubly aware that such things didn’t belong. Furthermore, we knew that everybody had something to contribute. When we sang around the campfire together, I felt God moving in our midst, turning strangers into the best of friends.
I was raised in the church, but my experiences at camp and on youth retreats helped me understand God all the more: God has created all of us, we all belong together, and we are all meant to love one another. Jesus taught us this at the cost of his life. And then, by rising from the dead, he showed us that even death can’t stop God from continuing to bring us all together.
Is the circle of kids at your school like the circle of friends here? Can you talk about the same things you discuss in Rite-13? Is it sometimes like this? Have you had experiences at school that felt better than school? In the same way, when we’re at our best, our experiences at church point beyond this world to one in which God always feels near to us, binding us all together in friendship, love, and camaraderie. We all belong, and we all have gifts to share.
Just as the Magi brought gifts to the baby Jesus, we bring our gifts to God when we use them among each other, and especially when we use them to make our circle of friends even bigger. Because, as Jesus told us, the Kingdom of God isn’t someplace far away, in the sky or in heaven or in the great beyond. The Kingdom of God, he said, is among you. Where is God? Right here in this circle. In fact, calling it a Kingdom is a little misleading. Perhaps we could call it the Dream of God.
Have you ever caught a taste of God’s Dream? You don’t have to wait for it, you know. God’s Dream is here every time we act towards each other out of love, especially when we don’t expect anything in return, and especially when we overcome difficult temptations to do so. Maybe you’d rather exclude somebody, but you include the person instead. Maybe you’d rather speak hurtful words, but you hold them back and find something constructive to say. Maybe you stick up for someone who’s being mistreated. When the church is on the ball, we get this part right. When we’re not on the ball, we get it just as wrong as any other group of people in the world.
The Kingdom of God is right here among us; we just have to decide whether we’re going to be citizens of it. The Dream of God is right here among us; we are invited to live in it with God. And in every moment of our lives, we have an opportunity to decide whether or not to do that. Will you do that this weekend? Will you go out of your way to be good to each other, to get curious about and learn about each other, and to create the kind of community that is God’s Dream?
Among you are two boys who want to be baptized. They’ve been raised in the church, but between one thing and another, they’ve never officially become members of it. That will happen at the Great Vigil of Easter on April 4. Between now and then, you are the group who will get to help prepare them for it. Although they are not able to join the rest of you this weekend, maybe this weekend you can imagine together some ways to help them become more and more a part of you. It’s not that hard, really. Just get to know them. Invite them in. Learn who they are. Be there for them.
When Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” he meant that loving is as easy as falling off a log. And then he went to the cross to show how difficult it can be as well. That’s what being a Christian is all about: always doing the loving thing, whether it’s easy or not. What do you think? Are you up for it? Amen.