Sunday, 8 March 2009

More about my holiday later.

Yesterday I drive down to Ft. Myers, FL to officiate and celebrate at a Saturday evening service, and then three on Sunday morning.

This was at St. Hilary’s Church, in the absence of the Rector, the Revd. Robert (Bob) Hennigan.

It was lovely to be “back in the saddle”. I’ll also be there the next two weekends.

My sermon is posted below, for what it is worth. (Sermons sound better than they read!)

After the 11:00 a.m. service I hoved out to Cape Coral. There I had lunch with St. Hilary’s parishioners, Ray and Lori Uhrig.

Lori grew up in Pittsfield MA and attended St. Stephen’s Parish in that town.

I was the Rector at St. Stephen’s between 1984 and 2000.

There I got to know and admire Lori’s Mum: Debbie Herrick Bessette.

By the grace of God, Debbie was visiting her daughter in Fort Myers and I was re-united with her today.

It was so lovely to see Debbie – 6 degrees of separation and all! She is a dear sister!

Here is my sermon.

Sermon for March 7/8 2009
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Hilary’s Church, Ft. Myers, FL

Genesis17:1-7;15,16: Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

I am not much of a gambling man. I know that the odds are stacked against me. Every now and then I’ll buy a lottery ticket, knowing of course that in fact I am paying additional taxes. Years ago I had a parishioner who would go each year to the Races at Saratoga, New York. I’d give her a dollar to place a bet for me, but I never won a cent. Once I was in a Casino on the island of Aruba to cash a refund check from a tour company. I’d planned to spend about five bucks on the slots, but it was only when I was flying home from Aruba that I realised that I had cashed the check, and then had walked straight out.

I am not much of a gambling man. I know that the odds are stacked against me.

The odds were stacked against Abram and Sarai. God had promised to make them the parents of many nations. But here they are Abram at 99 years old and Sarai not far behind. Old people they were, and childless. What are the betting odds that Sarai could have conceived when Abram’s body was as good as dead, and Sarai’s womb was fruitless?

(Incidentally – we do not know exactly why their names were changed - there are a myriad of theories about this).

Abraham and Sarah took a bet on God, even though the odds were stacked against them.

Jesus was another one who gambled on God. All to ready as we are to assert Jesus’ divinity, we want to ignore his humanity.

The very human Jesus trusted in the faithfulness of God from his baptism and temptations forward. He took the risk that to proclaim the reign of God as good news for the poor and the under-classes would lead him into conflict with the political and religious rulers of his day. And so it did? Jesus was crucified because he had upset the apple-cart of the day, proclaiming the some who were last would be first; that our enemies were to be blessed; that our creditors be forgiven their debts. He broke the rules and enjoyed many a party with the bums and dropouts. He cared not one wit for the strict instructions of religious rules. He offended most people and his best friends never quite understood him.

Abraham and Sarah not only took a bet on God’s faithfulness, but they did something about it. They had sexual intercourse in their old, old age. Good for them - and Isaac was conceived. They did their bit, and God was indeed faithful

Jesus took a bet on God’s faithfulness, even through a savage public execution. He did his bit, and God was indeed faithful when Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day. Even death cannot kill Jesus’ bet on God’s goodness.

This business of being Christians is not all that much about Church, and hymns, and liturgy.
Just as the bread we buy in the supermarket is more important than the wrapper, so the faith we live is wrapped in Church, hymns and liturgy, but we are fed by the faith, not by the wrapper.

The faith is taking a gamble on God – even when we believe that the odds are stacked against us. If we are deeply honest, we know that the words of religion that we speak express our fears more than our faith. So we bet our lives on God.

Last weekend I was in Boston. I visited with a lovely family whose 12 year old son had died of complications from influenza a week before. His name was Hunter. He leaves a twin sister Molly, two older brothers Connor and Ramsey, his Mum and Dad, and a host of people who loved him.

His Christian grandfather said, when he heard of Hunter’s death, “I have a bone to pick with God”. Amen to that.

The family and their closest and best friends are confused and angry about this awful death. You would be too.

So we all have a bone to pick with God, even as we take a bet on the faithfulness of God. The odds are stacked against us. But we still gamble on God.

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