July 5, 2020
We all hear hundreds, maybe thousands of sermons in our lifetimes. Very few do we remember beyond an hour or two after hearing them. (Kind of sad fact for a preacher to admit) But I have heard a few memorable sermons that have stuck with me. One was given way back when I was in college and I think it was Father Tasto and it was given at St. Gertrude's in Forest City and and it was about God's plans for our lives. The other two I'm sharing came here in this sanctuary. Pastor Truman gave a Lenten message called, I believe, “Treasures in the Attic”. He tied the issues of the day to the past in a beautiful way. The third and the one I'm going to be focusing on today is from Judy Holmes. It was given 9 years ago this week. I remember that because her sermon was about our oldest granddaughter Ariel's birthday and the title of it was Ariel's statement, “I Am 5”. And Ariel turned 14 yesterday!
First I looked through today's scripture readings and found some “I ams...” The servant, who's name is never given but Jewish tradition names him Eliezer, announces “I am Abraham's servant.” He went on to tell about Abraham's family and why he was there--to get a wife for Isaac.
In the gospels, we have many example of Jesus claiming the “I Am” title. I say title because the Jewish people understood God's name to be the one revealed to Moses by the burning bush. God sent Moses to the people and Moses asked who he should say sent him. God answered, “You must tell them: 'The one who is called I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3: 14) As I said, Jesus used the I Am title for himself, I am... the way, the truth and the life, I am living water, I am the bread of life, I am the Good Shepherd. Today we have not a title, but a description and an invitation, “I am gentle and humble in heart.”
Now to Judy's sermon. “The text for this sermon comes from the mouth of a child of God. I heard miss Ariel say 'I am five' many times on the 4th of July, her birthday. She said it factually...she said it excitedly...she said it as a form of introduction...she also said it as a prayer—as a thanksgiving.”
We saw these forms in our readings today. Eliezer used it as an introduction. Paul used it factually about his life. Jesus used it the other three ways, for us at least; excitedly for it gives us hope, as a prayer for it makes him approachable, and as a thanksgiving because his “yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Another paragraph from Judy, “There were adults and children milling around the picnic table. Ariel plopped herself down at the picnic table facing people who had their backs to her. She sat quietly, gazed at the table and focused inward before saying her prayer—her thanksgiving: 'I am five'. Ariel did not need anyone to hear her. She was speaking to herself—to the universe—to God. Her face was radiant with joy, gratitude and wonder. Her voice tone was, 'How much better can life get?' She innately knew being five is a gift from God and gave thanks.”
At age 5, who I am is largely focused on age. My title today asks, and I challenge all of us hearing this sermon today to ask yourself this question, “Who am I?” Our answers will vary and few of us would give our age as our main identifier. And yet, isn't our age a big part of who we are. I am not the same person I was was at 24 or 44 as I am at 64. And I seldom think to mention my age with joy, or gratitude or wonder. I'm more likely to complain about how hard it is to get off the couch, or to sleep through the night. We are reminded in God's word that life is a gift, that we are to live in thankfulness and joy and praise. But sometimes that seems very difficult; in the midst of a pandemic, when budgets are extra tight, when death has touched our lives. Judy reminds us, “We need to refocus and jump-start our faith at times. We need to hear Ariel say, 'I am Five'. We need to read our bibles and renew our connections.”
If we look at our gospel lesson, we see our Lord showing signs of frustration with the people who are around him. They are never satisfied. They wondered who was this man, John, strict, austere, disciplined. But rather than heeding the Baptist's message, they criticized his life, claiming that he had a demon. Now they wonder who Jesus is, one who loves to live life to the fullest, participating in weddings and dining with Pharisees and with less reputable friends. What do they say about him? ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ They couldn't get past appearances to the true message of John and Jesus. And the message of both John and Jesus was that we can know and be known by the Father. That we can be children of the most high God and come to the throne, not as lowly slaves but as sons and daughters. God the creator can be a personal Lord whom Jesus said we can address as Father, or more personally Abba, Daddy.
Who am I? I am... a child of God. Not because I am especially holy or worthy or qualified. But because Jesus has called me just as I am. Through the Holy Spirit, each of you is called; again not because you are specially gifted, but because the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has made you righteous in God's eye. We are welcomed, pardoned, cleansed by the grace by which we are called. Who are you? You have gathered here in person on line because you are responding to God's call to come; to be called a child of God. Jesus makes it clear that you are welcome even as you struggle through the challenges of life, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
He speaks here of a burden and a yoke. As wonderful as the news that the humble, gentle Jesus calls us into God's family, with that call comes responsibility. A yoke allows two work animals to pull the load together. We are comforted by Jesus' invitation to come to him and rest. But we are also challenged to take up our yoke, to help bear burdens, to pull the load with our fellow children of God; those who are like us and those who are not. We are living in challenging times; coronavirus, racial tensions, wide divides in political stands and financial abilities. Our burden is to recognize the needs around us and to join with, share their yoke. Sometimes that means challenging people to stand on their own two feet and sometimes it means walking with them and supporting them. Guard against the phariseeism that would fill us with judgment rather than grace. Guard against the self-righteousness that causes us to see only our side of the issues that divide. Give us more the humility of Paul, if we read his passage from Romans in the translation the Message, “I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.... Is there no one who can do anything for me? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does save us. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions.”
So how do we complete Ariel's statement, I am... what? I am 64. I am a pastor. A husband, a father, a grandfather. First and foremost, I am a child of God; we all are. And we can pronounce it the way Judy heard Ariel announce she was five, “She said it factually...she said it excitedly...she said it as a form of introduction...she also said it as a prayer—as a thanksgiving.” Give thanks for the fact that God invites you into the family. We are brothers and sisters together on a journey that can be hard, but one where we can share the burdens on the way. We are children of the most high God; loved for all eternity. So come to the Father through Jesus the Son. Come just as you are for you are a beloved child of God. Come and receive God's great gift. Come and take up the burden and yoke which Jesus has offered. He is gentle and humble and invites you, “Come just as you are.” Amen.
Hymn: Just As I Am, Without One Plea