The Third Sunday after Pentecost ~ June 25, 2017

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The Rev. Manisha Dostert
June 25, 2017
The Third Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 10:24-39

Last week was the greatest week of the year according to Kate Bell, our children’s minister and Mary Beth Johnson, our co-director of Vacation Bible School. Because we had Vacation Bible School Monday through Friday, and for one whole week the church was filled – it was filled with 100 small children who took over the whole entire church in the building, and they were running all over the place. And then there were 30 teenagers who were trying to round them up and corral them, so that they could go to the different places to enjoy Vacation Bible School. And there were lots of adults, who pretty much just had to sit there, and wonder, and amaze at all of the energy, and the joy and the love that children bring when they learn about God and Jesus.

We learned during Vacation Bible School that God, the incredible maker of all things, has created all kinds of wonderful inventions for us, including the beautiful invention of life. Now I need to tell you that it is absolutely a wonderful joyful life-giving experience to be at Vacation Bible School. Because you spend your time learning about God, but you also witness young people who are becoming, and being shaped and formed to be disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s an amazing, beautiful sacred thing.

And so we transformed the whole entire church, and it was this colorful fun factory, and the kids would run out to the front yard for games, and then they’d run down to St. Dunstan’s for kid-vid, and then they’d go down to the first for imagination station, and Bible study. In Bible study, they learned all kinds of stories about biblical household names, like Rahab. Yeah, I tell you, it is a gift to be an adult at Vacation Bible School because you’re like, “Oh, I didn’t know that story.” And you get to learn along with the children. Rahab. Rahab’s in the Old Testament, and she was this amazing woman, who was a non-Israelite, and she saved the Israelites when all hope seemed lost for them.

They also learned about that other household name, Gideon. And I don’t need to remind you that Gideon was the weakest in all of Israel. The weakest of his clan. He was scared. He wasn’t brave or courageous. He was small. And how God chose him to save the Israelites from those mean Midianites, reminding us that God is always with us no matter what our circumstances and difficulties are.

And then, of course, the children learned about Jesus. How Jesus came into the world and died for our sins. And then was raised from the dead to prove to us that nothing, anything we do in this world, nothing in this world will be able to stop God from loving us. And in my profession, that’ll preach.

Now each day at Vacation Bible School, the children were introduced to a new invention. Because God can make all kinds of things, and these new inventions were brought to us by the amazing VBS leaders that we had. Jamie Blair, Devon DeMello-Johnson, Cameron Carlton and Christopher Ban. And one of the inventions I thought was really interesting, they took some PVC pipes, and they hooked it together with the little thingy that goes around like that. I’m sure there’s a really important name for that. But it’s the little round thingy. So they put one pipe on it, then they had the round thing, and they had another pipe. And then they took a flip-flop, and they would cover the opening of the top of the pipe, and a sound would come on the other side. And they had a couple of these, and so they’d make different sounds, and when the kids all left, I snuck up and I started playing with it myself. It was so fun.

There was another invention that they made. They actually made foam here. And Jamie worked really hard, and she thought about how much foam all the kids could have, so that everyone could play. And she measured, and she worked really, really, really carefully, and they made a bunch of foam. They didn’t have enough for all the kids.

But lo and behold, miracle of miracles, Jesus showed up as portrayed by Anthony Estes. And he had a bowl of foam with him. Hallelujah! Now, of course, science doesn’t always match Biblical proportions, and turned out that the foam in Jesus’ bowl had deflated. But none of the kids noticed because what they noticed was that whenever things don’t seem to go right, even when you plan for it, and when you seemed to have fallen short, Jesus will always be there, and be able to take care of you in all circumstances.

Now the other awesome part about Vacation Bible School is that the children sing. They sing, and they learn these beautiful moves to the songs that we’re teaching them. So every day during the opening of Vacation Bible School, and the closing, they learn the songs, they sing, they have these dance moves. And it was the last day of Vacation Bible School, and it was right at the end. And my job was to stand out there on the porch, and greet the parents as they came in to take their children. And it was before any parents had come, and our children were in here, and they were singing.

And I turn around and I look down, and I see the most beautiful sight. A sight that I am sure was straight from the heavens. There were 100 children singing and raising their hands praising God. And they sang with all of their hearts and souls and bodies. They sang the theme song, Made for This. “I was made for this. I live for this. God has a reason, a reason for my life. I’m going to shout it out. Without a doubt, I was born for this. Built for a purpose.”

What a hopeful message. Chalked full of the gospel for our young people to hear. And to me, it is such an honor that hundreds of parents entrust their children’s spiritual life to us. And we have an opportunity to help inform and shape them into little disciples of Jesus.

Now because of Vacation Bible School taking over the whole church, morning prayer, which happens every weekday morning at 8:30 in St. Paul’s Chapel right here, was displaced to the conference room way in the back. Now morning prayer is a wonderful half-hour worship experience that allows you to be rooted, and grounded in the beginning of your day, so that throughout the day you can do everything that God has planned for you. And I love that morning prayer actually is also part of our tradition in that we share the readings with the whole Episcopal Church.

That is to say that the same readings that are being read here, are the readings that were read in morning prayer in Boca Raton, Florida, or Brooklyn, New York. So I ran into Eric Linder, who was leading morning prayer one early morning. And I found out that at the beginning of the week, the readings that were assigned to the whole Episcopal Church to read that morning, they were all about children. And it sent shivers through me.

The song that was appointed for that day was Psalm 78. And it begins, “That which we have heard and known, and what our forefathers have told us, we will not hide from their children. We will recount to generations to come, the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, and the wonderful works He has done.” And the Old Testament reading for that day, well, that was the story about a mother named Hannah, and her child, Samuel. Hannah couldn’t have children, but because of God’s mercy, Hannah was given a son, and at the birth of Samuel, Hannah dedicated him to the Lord.

And so when Samuel was a toddler, she goes to the temple, and she says to the priest, “For this child, I prayed. And the Lord granted me this child. Therefore, I am giving him back to the Lord as long as he lives.” And she left him there. And it struck Eric and me, that as these beloved children were running around in our church learning about God, we were teaching them a tradition in which the sacrifice of oneself is so great that even children are offered up to the cause and mission of God.

And I wondered about all those parents that were walking into the porch picking up their child. Did they know what they brought their kid in here for Vacation Bible School? Do any of us know what we’re getting into when we got baptized into this faith? I think next year, we should probably put a disclaimer of some sort in the front of the church. Warning! Following God will cost you! Enter at your own risk!

But the truth of the matter is that even if we were warned, we wouldn’t do anything else, would we? In our Old Testament reading, the one we heard this morning, we listened to the prophet Jeremiah. A prophet who was consecrated by God to bring a word of judgment to the nations who were not obeying the Lord. So God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

And Jeremiah had a hard life. It is not fun telling people that they’re wrong. But you’d think with God on his side, how could he lose? But in our reading today, that’s exactly what he’s saying. He’s like, “I lost. I don’t have any semblance of peace. I’m experiencing social death. Nobody’s talking to me. Everyone is shunning me. Even my closest friends don’t want to have anything to do with me. They’re all looking for my ruin, and destruction all because I’m telling them what you told me to say, God.” And so you can totally understand when he says, “That’s it. I’m done. I’m not going to say one more word.”

But that he says in his belly, “There’s a fire,” and he’s weary to try to contain it in. And he cannot. So his only consolation is he continues to do the work and mission of God is to know that God, the dread warrior as he refers to him, that God’s desire for the world will prevail. Though he may never live to see it. And he’s going to continue to do that for which he was made to do. The one who created him in the first place, and gave him purpose.

Now brothers and sisters, is this how you and I approach our lives? Our work of God? Or do we quit when the going gets rough? When we fail. Or when we can’t move the needle. I don’t know about you, but whenever I speak out, or shout out that the kingdom of heaven has come near, and I try to do the work of reconciling and loving, and changing this world for good, and I get pushback. You know what I do? I run into the corner, and I hide, and I lick my wounds, and I say, “Oh, I’m not going to do that again. That is horrible.”

But maybe, maybe if that happens to you like it happens to me, we should all remember that when the road gets long, and our voices get weary of speaking of the kingdom of heaven, and no one seems to be listening, perhaps we should remember the song that we taught our children this week. “I was made for this. I live for this. God has a reason, a reason for my life. I will shout it out. Without a doubt, I was born for this. Built for a purpose.”

It is an amazing gift to have purpose in life. This life will have meaning when you take up your cross and follow Jesus. Now Jesus knew that this is the tough road. And He knows that you’re going to suffer. And that’s why He tells the disciples, and He tells us, “Don’t fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill your soul.” And those sparrows, who are worth so little according to this world, the Father watches over every single one of them. And how much more worth are you than many sparrows. So don’t be afraid. You were born, and made for a purpose to create the reconciling community of God here on earth.

And it may be hard sometimes, but the joys of giving your life away for the sake of the work of God will allow you to find true life. And like Jeremiah, I promise you that if you do otherwise, than the work of God, it’ll rip up your insides even more. So today’s good news, is that the harder purpose that God has given you and me, is the purpose that gives life.

So who’s with me? Who will take up their cross and follow Christ? You and I were made for this purpose, beloved. Amen.