A sermon at Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 8, 2015
Have you not known? Have you not heard? …God brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
Sometimes I think that people think of God as just a little bit bigger and smarter than us. Actually bigger and smarter, but not that much. Sort of like when President Obama was first elected, he invited some NBA players to come and play, 3 on 3 with him in the White House gym. Of course they were a lot better, but he could play some ball, and his teammates would set him up to take a shot every once in a while, and because he was the President of the United States of America, they didn’t hurt him or humiliate him too much. He admitted he wasn’t in their league, and was pretty humble about it, but he could still play.
It’s that kind of comparison that I’m afraid that people make with God and it just doesn’t work. Thinking of our place in the universe with relationship with God is not like me posting up against Charles Barkley. It is more like while Sir Charles and I are pushing each other, the sun explodes engulfing and destroying all the planets in the solar system, and for God, it is hardly a twinkle in the fabric of the universe.
So that is why the prophet has this series of questions: “Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” This creator of ours is not to be compared with anyone or anything. The differences between what we regard as high and low, rich and poor, powerful and week are infinitely small compared to how vastly different we are from God.
Some might think that that would mean that God wouldn’t care about the differences. They are so small after all. That one has a Rolls Royce and another a Toyota is hardly an issue worth talking about. But God deeply cares about how people treat one another, how some exploit differences—regarding themselves as better, perhaps even closer to God—because they are now in a position of wealth or privilege. This happens, over and over among human beings. People, no matter how much wealth and privilege they have—or even those who don’t—jockey for position and try to get a leg up by putting others down. Sinful human creatures that we are, we like to claim to be creators, and otherwise godlike, when creativity in truth, emerges from humility and recognizing our own humanity with all its beautiful limits.
“God brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows down upon them and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.”
But the most dramatic thing of all, is that this infinite, all powerful creator, loves each and every one of his creatures: “He brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name, because he is great in strength, might in power, not one is missing.”
The judgment of God is on those who through pretense or presumption seek to damage any one of the children of God. Those who are more powerful, through birth, or wealth, or politics, or position are the more responsible to be humble and merciful to those whom God loves.
This month, we are observing Black History Month. And we recall many witnesses to the glory and sovereignty of God. Yesterday at the Cathedral, the Diocese observed the feast of Absalom Jones, the first African-American to be ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. He was not a man of great power or wealth. He scraped together his earnings to purchase the freedom of his wife, and later himself. He was never a bishop and he was never as well-known as his colleague and fellow churchman Bishop Richard Allen, who founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church. What Father Absalom Jones did was found and pastor a congregation. It is still there, in south Philadelphia, St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. He spoke eloquently for the dignity of all people and the end of slavery and servile fear. It is not for power or position that we remember Absalom Jones, but for the love of the all sovereign God proclaimed to those who had no privilege.
In today’s Gospel reading we see Jesus healing, in particular Peter’s mother-in-law. It is not that she got up and acted like she felt better. Jesus, the Word, the Son of the living God who knows and loves each individual actually healed her and made her well. Then she did what healthy women did, she served at table. That healing is not a magic act, it is Jesus bringing and extending the creation of the sovereign Creator into these lives, each of them. He healed others, then went away in the dark to a deserted place, praying by himself. When they found him, he said, “Let’s go.” And they went out to the whole district of Galilee and brought that creation, that good news of the love of God to everyone.
“The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will be faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”