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Sermon - 18 Pentecost

“I use the grotesque the way I do because people are deaf and dumb and need help to see and hear.”

The great Southern, Roman Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor explained her writing with these words. If you have ever read her, you understand what she meant. Her characters are strange, distorted, bizarre. They are fictional expressions of the words Jesus speaks to us this morning.

Grotesque – there is no other word for it. Millstones about the neck, cutting off hands and feet, gouging out eyes, unquenchable fire. What IS Jesus talking about?

Sharia law, in a Christian form? Radical forms of fundamentalist Christianity?

Or, is Jesus simply following a way of preaching that was later used by Flannery O’Connor – grotesque hyperbole to shock us into seeing and hearing the soul-killing consequences of sin and the overwhelming grace and love of God, generously given to all.

The disciples – followers of Jesus, (then and unfortunately all-too-often still now) – are deaf and blind and unable to speak of the love of God. They still don’t “get it.” They still don’t hear and see the call of the Messiah, not to power but to service and love.

They, like we, think it is so much easier to blindly follow our own path, based on our own selfishness and egoism.

It is so much easier to proclaim a message of exclusion, judgment, and be deaf to the words of the Holy Spirit.

It is so much easier to set up stumbling blocks. Rules, beliefs, requirements and laws which we THINK are based on the Gospel, but are really simply expressions of our sin, following the paths that lead us away from God.

What does Jesus want us to hear and see? In these words of grotesque hyperbole, what hoping to show us and teach us?

  • First -- Whoever is not against us, not against God, is for us, included in the community of grace. The abundant love of God, the power of the Spirit, works in amazing, sometimes hidden ways. Even those who are different, separated from us by our blindness and deafness - or theirs – can, through the grace and miracle of God make divine love incarnate in our world.

(Remember that in the book of Esther, God is not mentioned. Prayer and the Torah are not mentioned. God is backstage, so to speak, but Esther “comes out” as a Jew, and God’s work is done.)

  • NEXT -- Don’t cause people to stumble as they search for God. Don’t throw up barriers, don’t build walls based on our traditional beliefs, our politics and dearly held moral positions – don’t let all that become a stumbling block and keep others from God and from faith in Jesus.

  • ALSO, perhaps more importantly -- don’t stumble yourself. Don’t do things, don’t live your life in a way which causes you to stumble. Don’t follow the path of foolishness and self-destruction. Stumbling down the wrong path, the path away from God into our self-centeredness, is easy and has dire consequences.

  • FINALLY, hear the call of Jesus: A radical giving up, giving over to God is necessary. Jesus calls us just to stop – to stop doing what destroys and kills us. Faith, trust, seeing and hearing God around us, in the world, in others, in strangers, no matter how grotesque and odd it may seem – that is what following Christ is all about. And God gives us the grace and power to stop the sin and begin living the life of the Spirit.

What are stumbling blocks for you, keeping you from God?

And what stumbling blocks do you set up for others?

What do you need to cut off, to stop doing, in order to turn from the path of (using Jesus’ grotesque metaphor) unquenchable fire? How do we turn to the way of peace with one another, with ourselves, and with God.

These are serious, life-giving and life-threatening questions, worthy of every grotesque, hyperbolic metaphor that Jesus can muster.

This is serious and dangerous business, this Christian life.

Ask the questions – search for the answers, prayerfully, truthfully and honestly. But – don’t give up. Don’t get overwhelmed.

Remember the salt of grace and love which Jesus promises, and brings us peace with God and one another.

Get out your hymnals. No, I am not going to make you sing at this early hour. But I discovered a new hymn this summer. The tune is a bit difficult but the text is great. #629

Look at the refrain:

“the Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.”

We don’t have to figure everything out; we don’t have to control everything and everyone. God has shown us a way, the good way, for us. But who knows the ways of holiness God has shown to others, and will show us in the future.

“the Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.”

Words of assurance, whether we are looking for a new Rector for St. Paul’s, looking for grace and peace and healing in our own life, or struggling with the grotesque sin we see all around us in our lives and in our world:

This is our blessed assurance when we are lost or troubled, stumbling along the way: “the Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.”

Trust in that light and truth which God gives to each of us, now and always.

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