Sermon Notes From Seldon Walker’s Message

The aftermath of Sunday’s horrific tragedy in Las Vegas has shaken me, my friends, as I’m sure, it has shaken you. In the moments after I first heard the news Monday morning through my wife April, my stomach dropped, my knees became weak, and I became instantly nauseated; a feeling which seemed to linger with me throughout the day. As the week carried on my emotions about the event never seemed to improve. In fact, at one point I found myself on the brink of tears while listening to that age old Christian hymn, “It is well with my soul.” It seemed to bring me to awaken the understanding within me that “it is not well with my soul.” How can it be well with my soul when things like this keep happening? How can it be well with my soul when there are threats of nuclear warfare among nations of the world? How can it be well with my soul when violence and racism continue throughout our lands and throughout the world? As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his last Christmas Eve sermon, “This…season finds us as a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without.” So what are we to do? How are we to continue living in a world that seems to be constantly dragging us down? That seems as though it’s on the brink of complete and utter failure?

To begin, even in the midst of tragedy, we have been given a glimpse of hope in our fellow human beings. I have been warmed, as I am sure you have been, about the many stories of bravery and heroism which resulted in many lives being saved. I have been encouraged by the fact that for the first time in a very, very long time, republicans and democrats seem to be agreeing on some form of further gun-law; while it is perhaps only one law of many which need to be reviewed and revised, it is a start. Finally, I have been moved by the athletes, singers, and stars of the world, who have banded together to raise support for Las Vegas, including our own Washington National, Bryce Harper who has created VegasStrong t-shirts and wore a specially designed pair of cleats for the playoff game on Friday (Go Nats!). And so friends, my hope has been raised.

But these things are not enough. While good, they just aren’t good enough, and I’m afraid they never will be enough.. Why? Because all of these hopes are built off of the works of men and women and are not founded in the One, Living God. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the world has forgotten what it’s like to put God before all else, to live with God, to be in relationship with God, to be carried by the loving hands of God; to know that God has a plan for the world. And without God in the picture, I’m afraid the world will never be the same. So what are we to do? How are we to remind the world what it is like to live with God? To be in relationship with God? Lucky for us, our scripture readings from this morning serve as a reminder of what we should be doing as a group of people who are dedicated to God, and God’s plan for the world, because God does have a plan. A plan for you, a plan for me, a plan for all who are not with us this morning, and it is our task to remind the world what that plan looks like, and how that plan is to be lived out.

But that plan is probably not what you think it is. You see, in the times like we are experiencing right now in the world, it seems that when people want an inspirational word, or a feel good message, they turn to those preachers on the television to give them the hope of the providential gospel. But the providential gospel doesn’t really help, or provide hope at all, if we don’t understand what God’s plan really is. As followers of Christ and as children of God, we must remember that our plan given to us by God is very simple and it is found in the two greatest commandments of the Gospel: love thy God and love thy neighbor. That is our plan my friends. That is how we get the world back on track. When we show the world how simple God’s plan really is, perhaps more people will jump on board. At this point you are probably thinking that this all sounds good, but are wondering what the plan looks like. Again, lucky for us, our scripture reading from Exodus tells us..

If you will recall, our Exodus reading gives us God’s 10 commandments; and while these commandments were written to Israel upon their exodus from Egypt, they were written for us as well. And for that we are grateful, because these commandments my friends, tell us exactly how we are to love our God and love our neighbor.[1] It may seem so simple for me to suggest such a thing, but if we as a group of people both here and outside of these walls, really live by and through what these commandments are telling us to do, I truly believe our world will become a better place.

You see, these commandments not only speak to the vision of God that defines our biblical faith, but they speak to how precious the human life really is. Even in all of its ambiguity, even in all of its messiness, even in all of its imperfections, because we are made in the image of God, God’s commandments remind us that the human life is intrinsically worthy of respect, dignity, and honor. And further the commandments show us that human life should be honored as an ends rather than a means.[2] And once that happens my friends, once we help the world to realize this, the world becomes a better place.

So now that we know what the plan is, and what the plan looks like, we need to look at an example of someone who lives out this plan perfectly. You all probably know by now where I’m going with this, but if you haven’t guessed, we need to look at Jesus. I know I’ve said it before, and Rev. Hillary has said it before as well, but its something that’s worth repeating over and over: Jesus is the way the Truth and the life. In Jesus, we have the best possible example for what it looks like to live as someone who is following God’s commandments, who is living God’s plan to the fullest extent, and our Epistle reading and our Gospel from this morning remind us of this.

If you will recall as with the last two weeks, and this morning, in the Letter to the Philippians, Paul is struggling and trying to make sense of his calling as Christian. He ultimately decides that living like Christ is what he, what we, should be doing. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus,” Paul says, and we too, must press on toward this goal.

Our Gospel reiterates this message. While it may seem like just another one of Jesus’ undecipherable parables, it actually tells us something pretty important which is that that living like Jesus lived, living fully into God’s plan, is the way the vineyard keeper produces the healthiest fruit in the vineyard. And thus It begs the question of us, “What kind of vine keeper will you be?”[3] Will you be like the one who strays from God’s plan? Or, will you be the keeper who loves thy God and loves thy neighbor, and thus produces the fruits of God’s kingdom in the here and now?

My friend’s God’s plan for the world is pretty simple, and I think, is pretty amazing, and pretty wonderful. God has provided everything we need to fully carry out the plan, and what is more, God is always with us, working in us, walking along side of us to help us carry out that plan. We just have to invite God in; and we have to show the world what it is like to invite God in. The gift of free will is such that we can live into the freedom of God’s covenant, knowing that even when we stumble, God will never leave us. That is the beauty of being in covenant with God, and it actually is freedom, my friends, not chains. But we have to actually live into this covenant We have to actually try out best day in and day out to do what God is calling us to do and that means just not here within these walls, but out there in the world as well.

While it is nice that there are people in the world who are doing things to show support for the Las Vegas tragedy; while it is good that law makers are seemingly trying to work together; all of these efforts will be for naught, if God’s plan is not put back into the picture; and that is what we are called to do. To go out into the world, spreading the good news of God’s plan. Telling our friends, families and neighbors, just how good and wonderful God really is, such that all will be able to produce healthy fruits in the vineyard. I’ll promise to do it if you will do it. Amen.

[1] “Sermon Brainwave #562 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Working Preacher,” accessed October 5, 2017, http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=934.

[2] “V. 1. General Articles on the Bible. General Articles on the Old Testament. Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. — v. 2. Numbers,” n.d., 842–44.

[3] “Sermon Brainwave #562 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Working Preacher.”