This sermon is taken from Jesus’ parable of the Two Men Praying in the Temple and St. Paul’s words from Ephesians 2.
Luke 18:10-14 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Ephesians 2:1-10 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Luke 19:41 - 20:1 41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation." 45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer,' but you have made it a den of robbers." 47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.
Luke 5:1-11 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret,
2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.
3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."
5 And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets."
6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.
7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken,
10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."
11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Luke 6:36-42 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 37 "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you." 39 He also told them a parable: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.
This sermon is based on the entire chapter of Luke 15, in which Jesus teaches us the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son.
Luke 14:15-24 15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" 16 But he said to him, "A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.' 19 And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.' 20 And another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.' 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' 22 And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' 23 And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'"
Today’s saints are both identified by their relationship to another person. Silas, fellow worker of Paul and Peter. Scholastica, twin sister of Benedict of Nursia. Silas worked with the heavy hitters, the authors of the New Testament, who formed our faith with the words of Christ. Scholastica’s brother Benedict shaped the whole of western spirituality, and is essentially the reason why you say prayers before you eat. Whether you know it or not, Benedict is also the reason you think you should read your Bible and do your devotions on a daily basis. Peter and Paul write most of the letters of the New Testament, and follow the spreading Gospel during their lives, heroically dying as martyrs in Rome. Silas and Scholastica? Well, Silas is a minor figure in the Book of Acts who sort of disappears. Scholastica, we know next to nothing about her, and maybe she didn’t even really exist. She gets a paragraph in Gregory the Great’s biography of Benedict.
This all goes to say that the church celebrates people who aren’t necessarily important. The church needs people that don’t seem important. The church appoints people who will be forgotten. Christ calls you, who the world will forget. My hunch is that no one here tonight is all that important. We might get big heads from time to time, but at the end of the year, the historians probably won’t be writing your biographies. One of the shocking things about growing up is finding out that you really aren’t all that special. School trains us to work for rewards. Grades. Degrees. Achievements. Points. And then, once you’re out, you really just kind of live, and do something relatively similar from day to day. The outliers are outliers for a reason… there aren’t many of them. You may be the next Benedict or Paul, but the odds are that you are more like Silas or Scholastica.
It’s my guess that you might even know this already. You’ve taken the hint. You’ve been stepped on. You’ve been cast out. You’ve been forgotten already. You’ve been embarrassed. You’ve been hurt. You’ve been not cared about. You think that no one will even notice.
Very early in the history of the church, shortly after Christ ascended into heaven, we thought it would be good to remember people that the world forgets. Christ Himself was left in a tomb, meant to be forgotten. The idea was that you would simply crucify this man, and He and His followers would just sort of go away. Ah, but this is not right! And it is not right for us to forget the forgotten. We remember. In addition to the preaching ministry, the church also established the offices for service of deacon and deaconess. They are not the same, and never really have been, but they helped the early pastors care for the least of these, those who mourn, those who are poor, and poor in spirit.
The church started selecting women to serve other women. A beautiful calling. Phoebe, the first called “deaconess” of course, is mentioned by St. Paul in Romans. We know little about her, other than that she is simply called a deaconess. And then we find them mentioned in the Fathers; Clement and Origen. The Roman investigator of Christianity, Pliny, reports that he tortured two deaconesses to find out information about the Faith.
Right off the bat, we find that the church is so much more than just a collection of passive laypeople who give money to the lazy priests on Sunday mornings. The deaconesses have no liturgical roles, but are given, consecrated to the work of serving the wellbeing of those who are often forgotten by the world, and even by the church! All of the sudden, the unnoticed ones are the ones whom the church exists for. The sick ones. The poor ones. The orphans and widows. You, who are lowly, who are heavy burdened, who are mourning, who are poor in spirit, who find little comfort in the world, yes, you are the ones to whom Christ has sent His word. Scholasticas and Silases. This is for you. Phoebes, once mentioned characters in the Scriptures, and all the rest who have been left out of the spotlight.
They thought they could get rid of us by getting rid of our Leader. Bury Him and they’ll go away. We’ll forget. And we might have, if it weren’t for the fact that Christ rose from the dead. That certainly isn’t something that’s going to be forgotten any time soon, and hasn’t been for a while, thanks to Phoebe, Silas, Scholastica and millions of other forgotten saints who have risen before us. Pastors who have preached. Teachers who have taught. Deaconesses who have served. Churches who have remembered together. We stand at the end of a long line of forgotten people who have remembered. We’re not done yet. We wait for the day that is surely coming, when the forgotten dead will be called to life, by their names, names with which they were baptized into the Great Name. You were baptized, and the Lord remembers your name. Silas! Scholastica! And then, you will hear. Your tears will be gone. Your feet will jump for joy. Lonely never again. Everything fulfilled. To God be the glory. Amen.
Sermon from Zion Lutheran Church in Anchorage AK for Gaudete Sunday, based on Matthew 11.
This is the first of a three part series on the antiphon to Psalm 141, “Let my prayer rise before you as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”