Sometimes I am asked how I prepare for sermons, the answer (especially irritating to those beginning their ordained ministry) is “years and years.” I say this not to irritate or befuddle but because I believe deep in the heart of God there is a divine faculty that is constantly preparing us for great things and glorious transformation. The trivial, the painful I believe are not sent or ordained by the Lord but in His creative things they become things of us. I want to grow in this vision of divine preparation in me, in those I love and serve and in the Christian communities to which I have and do belong.
The sermon text is below the sermon audio.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday May 14 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale
Today is Mothers’ Day, or as I used to call years ago in a far-off land, Mothering Sunday; in fact in that far-off land Mothering Sunday always fell on the 4th Sunday of Lent… imagine the surprise of South Dakota Episcopalians when their new and strange-sounding Rector announced Mothers’ Day Celebration in March rather than the Hallmark created May celebration!
In those days the focus started with Mother Church and the ministry of mothering; and only then did it extend to individual mothers. There is some pastoral acumen in this because Mothers’ Day is not a day of unadulterated joy or unbridled delight for every person. There are those whose mothers have died, there are those whose mothers frankly left much to be desired and there are those who ache daily to become mothers and, as yet, their desire is unmet. And so to begin with the concept of Mother Church and each of our invitations to exercise a ministry of ‘mothering’ is pastorally astute.
But, thank God, for many this day is one of joy and gratitude. Mothers are remembered, are thanked and are celebrated.
Stories are told of mothers that bring tears and smiles, laughter and weeping. Stories such as of the young man who returned home after a football game, poured cereal and milk carelessly into a bowl and left a note saying, “Sorry, mum, I clean this up in the morning.” The mother returned home late, saw the mess and did what many a mother would do in preparation for the morning… she cleaned it up. When she got to bed there was a note on her pillow from her errant son, “Thanks mum!”
He knew definitively that she would want to prepare for the morning, he knew assuredly that her commitment to preparation would shape her action.
Friends… and so it is with our God. There is about the divine Mother/Father a primal, psychic, innate, inevitable commitment to the work of preparation in our lives as individuals and as communities. Listen to these glorious, stirring and comforting words from today’s Gospel (John 14) “I go to prepare a place for you… and if I prepare a place, I will come again and take you to myself” or Message translation “I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live.” I am bold to believe that this place, this room is not only a reference to what happens after we die but a promise about what happens before we die. It has been said that sometimes we spend too much time talking about “is there life after death?” and too little talking about “is there life before death?”
We cannot know, and I am thinking maybe it is best that we do not know… we cannot know the way in which the Lord is preparing us even now… for what will take place later… later today, later this week… this year… whenever.
Consider the story from the Acts of the Apostles today, Acts 7. A young man named Saul, soon viciously eager to persecute Christians and extirpate the very name of Jesus – this young man holds the coats of those who are about to stone and kill the first Christian martyr, Stephen. This young man witnesses the faith and love of this martyr. Subsequently Saul becomes Paul, persecutor becomes evangelist, enemy of the faith becomes advocate of the faith. Can you not see with me how the Lord that day was preparing Saul to become transformed by the courage and love of Jesus that bestowed upon Stephen such dignity.
Isaiah cries out, John Baptist cries out, Jesus cries – Prepare, prepare, prepare the way. And whether we respond to this call, whether we do respond with full vigor or half-heartedness… the Lord constantly is doing his work in us (individual and community) of preparing the way for glory and transformation to come. Oh praise Him!
The Psalmist avows (Psalm 31:15) “My times are in your hands O Lord” and this gives me courage, this gives me heart. No matter the ennui or excitement, no matter the pain or the pleasure of each hour (dare I believe each moment) the Lord is at work… making preparation in us and around us and before us. O Christian, will you not believe this?
As St. Peter writes in his first letter, chapter 2 – oh the cornerstone is overlooked, the foundation is ignored, the work is belittled and yet… “the stone has become the very head of the corner.”
At 10am our choir will sing the glorious Motet “Greater Love Hath No Man” composed by John Ireland. The motet is a compendium of styles and paces and emotions. One of the great moments of true musical excitement for me is when these words are sung; words from Peter’s first lesson, words that with clarity describe what God’s work of preparation achieves…
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people… in order that you might proclaim the mighty acts of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Once no people, now God’s people,
Once without mercy, now brimming with mercy.