Cling to Jesus (Sermon) November 2, 2014

Sermon – November 2, 2014

The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY

All Saints Day (Transferred) Year A

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. 1 John 3:1

 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…. Matthew 5:11-12

Please be seated.

I don’t know how many of you were here the other Wednesday night when Tom talked about the difficulties of Christians in Pakistan.  I was sorry to miss it.  Tom gave me the information he passed out and he’s sent me various articles and emails about the situation.  In an October 17 Washington Post article, In Expansive Pakistan, Christians struggle to find space for cemeteries, reporter Tim Craig describes the life for Christians, who are 5.5% of the population.  Listen to this:

“In this tiny village [Torey Wala] where most homes don’t have windows and meals are cooked over fire pits, Christians are used to feeling like second-class citizens.

 Christians say they earn less than $2 a day working in the sugarcane fields. They must shop at the sparsely stocked Christian-run rice and vegetable store. They are not allowed to draw water from wells tapped for Muslim neighbors. Now, in what many consider to be a final indignity, they and other Pakistani Christians are struggling to bury their dead.”

Tom has been involved in supporting a family of 8 Christians, who fled from Pakistan to Thailand after protesting the imprisonment of a fellow Christian, 50 year-old Asia Bibi.  Ms. Bibi has been in prison for over five years, charged with blasphemy against Allah.  She was sentenced to death.  She lost her most recent appeal on October 16.

Now, certainly there have been times in the history of Christianity where people of different beliefs have been persecuted and killed, so it’s not that we are free as a faith from this kind of action.  However, what I thought about on this All Saints Day…what I think about any time I’ve read about the martyrs of our faith… is the depth of faith of these people and what about following Jesus is better than life itself and would I be as faithful as the many Christians around the world who are so persecuted and abused?

Because, really, it’s not all that easy to follow Jesus for many of us in places where we face little persecution for our faith.  Jesus says we must forgive, 70 times 7!  Forgiving others is not easy, even though it’s healthy.  We’d rather plot our revenge against the other person.  We’d rather prove how right we are. We’d rather hold on to “they dun us wrong,” than let go and be in peace.

Following Jesus confronts us with our earthly desires and worldliness.  How much is enough?  Are we too attached to our possessions?  Are we greedy?  What about our money?  Over and over again, we are challenged to examine the way we live our lives.

Jesus also gave preferential treatment to those who were marginalized during his time, to those who were not considered in the mainstream or dominant culture.  And that is true today.  Following Christ means listening to the voices of those who are the outcasts of today…those living in poverty, those whose cultures are considered “minority.”  In Luke 4:21, Jesus told the people of Nazareth he came to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah:

 The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

 And in our Episcopal denomination, we are asked to live into our Baptismal covenant, which is truly a summary of what it means to follow Christ.  On pages 304 and 305 in the Book of Common Prayer we are asked to:

  • Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers
  • Persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord
  • Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
  • Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves
  • Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being

Quite a tall order to live by, isn’t it?

And then there’s so much required of us in reconciling the beliefs and understandings of thousands of years ago with our current times.

And yet, in many places in the world, people hear the Good News and they cling to Jesus.  They cling to Jesus, even if it means they will die for their belief.  They cling to Jesus even if it means they will be discriminated against, given the lowest paying jobs or maybe no job at all.  They cling to Jesus even if it means they must flee from their homes.  What about following Jesus is so necessary…as necessary for life as the air we breathe?

In today’s readings, we have that beautiful one from Revelation, a glorious vision of heaven and we can see our loved ones right there at the feet of Jesus, can’t we?

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Rev. 7:15-17

It’s such a comforting and wonderful vision.  Maybe this is one reason why we Christians cling to Jesus.

Then in 1 John, we hear that we are children of God.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. 1 John 3:1

We know and experience God as our parent, the perfect parent, another comforting vision and reason we as Christians cling to Jesus.

The heart of following Jesus is all about love.  Jesus puts it so simply.  We just heard it last week in our Gospel from Matthew, when the Pharisees tried to trip up Jesus.  Which commandment is the greatest, they ask?  And Jesus replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  And then he says the second most important commandment is similar to the first, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:34-46)  This love Jesus describes and calls us to, is the very breath of our lives.  Without this linchpin, life just isn’t worth living.

And there is mercy and forgiveness.  Living into our baptismal covenant, living into the two most important commandments, is not easy for us.  But over and over again, we are forgiven and God shows mercy to us.  God still loves us.  Paul told us that in his letter to the Romans (8:39),

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

 Those saints who have gone before knew in their souls what it was about following Jesus that was life itself.  Those like Asia Bibi and the Gill Family, experiencing persecution and exile for following Jesus demand that we feel in our very bones what following Jesus means to our lives.  They demand that we know why we cling to Jesus. It is the least we can do in return for God’s love of us, claiming us as children.


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