Ember Day – September 22, 2018 – Exodus 19:3-8; 1 Peter 4:7-11; Matthew 16:24-27 – St. Mary’s Convent
I was delighted to preside at the Eucharist at St. Mary’s Convent in Sewanee this morning. Below is my sermon. To learn more about the Community of Saint Mary visit their website here.
Today’s lessons come with a lot of instructions. In each of them God tells his people what they should do.
In Exodus, God gives Moses a message for the Israelites. “Tell my people that if they obey my voice and keep my covenant, then they shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. The whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” If you obey me then you will be my people.
The author of 1 Peter gives us some suggestions about community living. “Therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Maintain constant love for one another. Be hospitable to one another (without complaining). Use your God-given gifts to serve one another.”
And in Matthew’s account Jesus himself tells his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, take up your cross and follow me.”
It’s a lot to take in on a Saturday morning. Obey me. Keep my covenant. Love each other. Be hospitable. Serve. Pray. Take up your cross. Follow me.
These things can read like a to-do list, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. We are Episcopalians, products—whether we like it or not—of a blessed reformation. A reformation that told us, it’s not about what we do; it’s about what is done for us on the cross and the promise of resurrection.
So why all these instructions? Can God just not help himself?
Maybe God, like my own father, in an effort to show me how much he cares about me, and how much he loves me ends up…sometimes…kinda sorta…telling me how to live my life.
Sometimes it feels like my father’s well-intentioned advice, is his way of piling on to my work load. “You might consider calling your mother more.” “When was the last time you talked to you grandfather.” “Have you mailed those insurance papers yet?”
My husband does it, too. “That was really nice of them; you should write a thank-you note.” “Have you considered inviting her for coffee.”
OK. Whatever. Great. Wonderful. All good ideas, but I’m a little busy here.
“Well, I’m not trying to make your more difficult,” they say, “I’m just trying to help!”
And then it dawns on me! Obey my commandments. See my covenant for instructions. Love each other. Be hospitable. Serve each other. Pray. Take up your cross. God’s just trying to help.
God doesn’t make lists of tasks for us because God needs us to prove something. God provides examples so we don’t have to figure it out all by ourselves. God knows exactly what he’s doing. I’m the one turning it into a to-do list.
All of these things: love, service, hospitality, scripture reading, and prayer are appropriate ways not to earn our salvation, but to respond to it with gratitude.
Isn’t that liberating? You don’t have to do anything to earn God’s favor. So cross it all off your to-do list, and be grateful.