July 9, 2017

Proper 9 

Zechariah 9: 9-12; Psalm 45:11-18; Romans 7: 15-25a; Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30

The Rev. James M.L. Grace

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

            Ten years ago, on July 9th, 2007, my second child, William Grace, was born.  It seems so long ago.  He was born at St. Luke’s Hospital in the Medical Center, back when that hospital was owned by the Episcopal Church, and when they used to deliver babies there, before outsourcing that to Texas Children’s. 

            I remember the joy of holding my second child in my arms, looking upon his face for the first time.  I remember a close friend visiting my wife and I in the hospital, and bringing us a beautiful plant with yellow blossoms.  The name of the plant, I learned, was an Esperanza, Spanish for the word “hope.” 

            That word – hope – characterized my whole experience of William’s birth, an experience vastly different from the birth of our first child.  But that is now past, and I now have a ten year old son closer to adolescence and adulthood than I am admittedly comfortable with.  Those of us who are adults here understand the ambiguity and complexity of adulthood – the challenges, the loss of innocence that precipitates our journey to adulthood.

            I know that becoming an adult is necessary and inevitable, but I wish I could shield my son from the pain that often accompanies it.  I wish I could shield my son from the self-doubt and disappointment he will inevitably experience, I wish I could protect him from doing what he knows he should not do, but I too know that seems inevitable as well.

            Perhaps as a result of fathering a ten year old son, Paul’s words in the letter to the Romans seem to ring so true.  Paul’s description of his own actions, his own selfishness, his own impulsivity and hypocrisy – are they not also descriptive of our behavior as well?  Paul writes, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  If we are honest with ourselves, we can admit that Paul’s words I just read are an accurate description of our behavior at times.

            In this excerpt from Romans, we have a candid and honest look at Paul’s own inner conflict.  And yet Paul did many great things.  He started many Christian communities, and some scholars even argue that if it were not for Paul, Christianity would not exist today.  But, Paul was human.  He was broken.  And while we don’t know precisely what Paul’s inner conflict was or what where the things he did that he was ashamed of, perhaps we can be grateful that Paul owned his shortcomings.  In spite of all that Paul accomplished, the churches he started, the communities formed, the lives changed – Paul sums up his own self opinion of himself in these words: “Wretched man that I am!”

            Thank God Paul does not stop there.  He continues, realizing, that it is through God that he is loved, that he is saved from himself.   His humanity, his brokeness, his selfishness and impulsivity, his reality of doing what he knows he should not do, it’s all healed, it’s all redeemed, in Christ. 

            Another reason today is special for me is that this is the only Sunday that we hear a reading from the book of Zechariah, a small book near the very end of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament.  It tells the story of the Hebrew people’s return to Jerusalem, after a period of painful exile in Babylon, in modern day Iraq.  In the book of that prophet, we hear these words: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope.”  That line is part of the larger reading which is intended to be a hopeful reassurance to those returning that their lives would begin anew.  They are prisoners, though not to the limitations of their desires, or imprisoned to their own hypocrisy, brokenness, or impulsivity.  They are prisoners of hope.

            I, too, am a prisoner of hope, because I have found nothing more liberating. 

            That is the paradox of Jesus.  To follow Jesus means that we accept a burden, a weight, or as described in today’s Gospel from Matthew, a yoke.  But the paradox of accepting that weight is that the burden is light, because God carries it with us.  God offers us hope, and if I am to be imprisoned by anything, I will always choose hope.

            So, as I celebrate my son’s tenth circle around the son today, I do so with hope.  I have hope that as he faces the complexities and ambiguities of adult life, that he does not journey alone.  And neither do we. 

            I will offer a special invitation to you all today, and maybe this is something you already do, but if you haven’t – consider this.  If you choose to come forward for communion today, or to receive a blessing, I want to invite you to think about what you can bring to the altar today.  Is there something within you, that you no longer need, something draining you of hope?  Is there something within you that you feel God will not or cannot forgive?  Bring that up here, and leave it.  Give it to God.  Because even though, like Paul, we do the things we should not do, never forget that we also are prisoners of hope.  Give to God what you need to.  Because in that giving away, you create space inside to receive.  For God is faithful, always, and all of us, in spite of our imperfections, are perfect in God’s eyes.  AMEN.