Sermon by The Rev. Kathy McAdams
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
September 2, 2018 - Proper 17B
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Have you ever been in love? I’m talking about puppy dog, sickeningly sweet, head-over-heels, you-got-it-bad in love. When you’re in love like that, doesn’t it seem that everything in the world is absolutely perfect, like springtime? The snow and rain are gone, the flowers are sprouting and the vines blossoming, the birds are singing, the trees are beginning to produce fruit, and the air is full of fragrance. And, of course, the reason the world seems so ideal is that your beloved is completely perfect. I’m afraid that only in one case does this turn out to be true of our beloved, and that’s when our beloved is God. The Song of Solomon is a love poem, perhaps addressed to God, which expresses that idealized relationship.
But for most of us, our love affair with God seems far from perfect, and even a bit rocky at times. Not that we ever stop loving Him, or being loved by Him, but we do often let things get in the way of feeling and acknowledging that love. Often, I think, we blame God for the way things are going in our lives, or in the world in general. We might scream out in anger at God, but more often we quietly turn away, and let our anger smolder. We often hold God responsible for the terrible things that happen in the world, rather than accepting that they’re the consequence of human wrongdoing, or even simply the course of nature, or of chance.
Like any love affair, our relationship with God has to be nurtured. We have to work on our communication with God. We have to apologize and ask forgiveness when we’ve done wrong. We have to avoid harboring resentments. But once we’re able to clear all the garbage out of the way and acknowledge the love we receive from God, we become exceedingly grateful. We learn to trust in God’s goodness, our theme for September. Gathering here together, we have set aside this time to acknowledge God’s love and faithfulness, God’s goodness, to realize all that we have, and to say “thank you.”
But saying “thank you” is only part of it. How do we show our gratitude to God? How do we give thanks? How do we put our gratitude into action? Just as the Epistle calls us to be “doers of the word,” it also reminds us, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above.” God is all about giving, about free giving – whether or not we deserve it, about Grace. From all that we’ve been given, as an act of gratitude, we give some away.
In the Eucharistic Prayer, the Great Thanksgiving, we talk about offering our very selves to God. Not that we are really ours to give, since God made us, and we owe Him our lives, but we like to think that we have ourselves to give. So we offer ourselves and our lives to God. Usually giving of ourselves involves more than giving money or possessions, though those things are also important. Usually, giving of ourselves involves actually digging deep into the pockets of our souls. Often, it means giving out of our poverty, from some part of ourselves that doesn’t feel very plentiful – perhaps of our time, energy or emotion. Perhaps it means taking a risk and moving outside our comfort zone. This type of giving promises to nurture our relationship with God, to draw us more deeply into the knowledge and love of him and his goodness.
The Gospel reminds us that our fruit – what we produce –is the true measure of our hearts. It’s in giving out of gratitude, in sharing all that we’ve been given, and giving even from our poverty, that we express our love to God. It’s by caring for what God cares about – for all of God’s people, including the widows and orphans, the poor and the sick, the lonely and the imprisoned – that we express our love for God.
When I worked with common cathedral on Boston Common, nearly every Sunday we had visiting congregations that joined us in prayer and celebration, just as St. John’s will in January, and distributed about 200 sandwiches to homeless people at the service. One rainy Sunday the crowd was smaller than usual, so we had some sandwiches left over. Volunteers carried them around and offered them to folks sitting nearby on the Common, all of whom had already eaten. After, finally, we found takers for all 200 sandwiches, a man appeared who had missed the service and the sandwiches, who was hungry, and wondered if we had anything left. “No, sorry, we gave them all away,” we replied. But one of our staff had an idea. She walked the man over to where a group of men was sitting. She knew that she had given the group an abundance, and that they were probably saving some sandwiches for later, so she asked if this man could have one. At least three of the men reached into a pocket or bag and produced a sandwich, which they offered to the other man. These homeless men told the staff person, “We were just holding onto them in case anyone came along who needed something to eat. You’ve taught us about giving, by giving to us, so we like to pass it along to others. You probably thought we weren’t paying attention.”
Well God has taught us about giving, by giving to us so abundantly, beginning with our very lives. Let’s nurture our relationship with God, and show Him that we are paying attention, by passing along what we have, passing along God’s goodness, and sharing with others. Amen.