Sunday, June 25, 2017

Rooted in Jesus

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
June 25, 2017

Year A, Proper 7: The Third Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69:8-20
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Rooted in Jesus
            Some of you know that this past week my Dad and I took a trip to Baltimore.
            Because we were there primarily to see a couple of baseball games, we stayed in a hotel just a block away from Camden Yards, the beautiful ballpark home of the Orioles.
            Despite the fact that the Orioles aren’t playing very well, we still had a great time, though there was one scare.
            On our second evening there, we had just settled into our seats at the ballpark when suddenly a police helicopter began hovering over us, soon joined by a couple of TV news helicopters.
            You can imagine the noise as they circled around us.
            At first I didn’t know what was going on, but then I noticed over behind left field what looked like smoke coming from the area of our hotel.
            Being just a bit of a worrier, sure enough I began to worry.
            With everything going on in the world and in our country, my thoughts quickly turned to possible terrorism, since a big crowd of people heading to a ballpark might be a tempting target.
            Then I overheard a couple of people behind us say that, yeah, they had trouble getting to the ballpark because there was, “a big fire at the hotel over there.”
            I don’t think my dad heard that and I didn’t say anything to him, but I felt that dreadful drop in my stomach, as my imagination ran wild with visions of fire consuming our hotel and all of our stuff, including my car keys that I had left behind in the room!
            Trying with mixed success to keep calm, I used my phone to search for news on what was happening.
            After a few nervous minutes, I found it: there had been a steam explosion under the street outside our hotel.
            Almost immediately after I figured out what was going on, my sister texted me, frightened because she had received a notice at work about an explosion near Camden Yards in Baltimore.
            Later we’d see that the explosion had left a wide crater right in the middle of the street and spewed debris up onto our hotel and the surrounding buildings, with chunks of asphalt and concrete smashing several car windows.
            The steam was so hot that the fire department had to hose down our hotel to prevent its façade from melting.
            Amazingly and fortunately, there were only five minor injuries.
            And, one other thing that I noticed: the trees along that street were all kind of small and ordinary, kind of scraggly, and yet they all did just fine, with just a layer of dust covering their leaves and branches.
            Apparently, their strong roots got them through the powerful blast.
            The next day, when we were both interviewed by the local media (I don’t want to say that we became minor celebrities, but…), we reflected on the randomness of the whole experience. We had walked by that very spot just an hour or so before the explosion.
            And, in the days since, I’ve thought back to those moments of fear, when I didn’t know what was going on, what was going to happen, when I feared the worst.
            And, you know, those few fearful moments gave me just a taste of the fear that so many people experience so much of the time.
            There’s a lot of fear going around, right?
            There’s certainly a lot of fear all around the world, fear of war and terrorism, fear of environmental catastrophe, of climate change tipping past the point of no return, dooming our children and their children to a much hotter and stormy world.
            There’s certainly a lot of fear here in our country, fear of losing a job or not being able to find a job, fear of being priced out of our home and our neighborhood, fear of sickness, fear especially these days of losing health insurance and not being able to get covered because we don’t have enough money or because we have a preexisting condition – and, let’s face it, if they look hard enough, they’ll find a preexisting condition in each and every one of us.
            There may even be fear here in church, fear of the changes that have already occurred – new people and new ways of doing things – and fear of the very big news that we first learned last weekend – that our brothers and sisters at Church of the Incarnation have voted to begin conversations about uniting with us.
            Now, things may not be quite so bad as the days of the Prophet Jeremiah when he heard people whispering, “Terror is all around!” but there’s no doubt there is a lot of fear going around.
            In today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew gives us kind of a mixed bag of Jesus sayings, and some of them are a little hard for us to hear or understand.
            But, the core of today’s lesson is the simple but oh-so-important and timely message from Jesus: “Do not be afraid.”
            Do not be afraid when the world around us seems to be going to hell.
            Do not be afraid when the street explodes and helicopters hover.
            Do not be afraid when we’re in danger of losing home or job.
            Do not be afraid when two churches start on the road to becoming one.
            Do not be afraid even when it looks like we might lose our very lives.
            Do not be afraid, because we are loved, so very loved, and of more value than many sparrows (with all due respect to the sparrows), and God will never, ever, let go of us, no matter what.
            That’s always a good message, right? But, let’s be honest. Being not afraid is easier said than done, right?
            I don’t know about you, but when someone says to me, “Don’t be afraid,” I get afraid.
            When someone says, “Don’t panic,” I panic!
            So, how? How can we be not afraid and face the future with confidence?
            Well, I think of those scraggly trees in Baltimore with roots strong enough to survive the powerful blast.
            We’re not trees, of course, but we can be rooted in Jesus, giving us the strength to stand tall together and get through the storms and explosions of life.
            And, that’s what we’re about here at St. Paul’s.
            Here in this safe and holy place, behind the protection of these four walls, we become rooted in Jesus.
            We’re rooted in Jesus through our Baptism.
            We’re rooted in Jesus when we really read - really listen to - Scripture.
            We’re rooted in Jesus when we pray for those in need, when we pray for at least some of the frightened people beside us and out in our broken world.
            We’re rooted in Jesus when we extend a hand of peace not just to the people we know or like but especially to those we don’t know and maybe don’t like one bit.
            We’re rooted in Jesus when we eat the Bread and drink the Wine, uniting with Jesus and with one another.
            We’re rooted in Jesus when we take up our cross,  not waiting to be asked to help out but  offering ourselves and our skills and our work and out time in loving service to our community.
            We’re rooted in Jesus when we at least try to love the people who drive us up the wall.
            When we’re rooted in Jesus, although bad stuff will still happen, there is nothing to fear.
            Yes, there will be real challenges when we walk out through the church doors – sometimes even just into coffee hour.
            Yes, there will be real challenges when we go out into the world which is often not so holy or safe – out into the world with all of its uncertainties and dangers, when sometimes steam pipes blow up and health insurance is lost, the world where people get hurt and things get broken and not everything can be put back together the same as before.
            So, that’s why it’s so important to be here, not just once in a while, but as often as we can, because it’s especially here in this holy and safe place that we put down deep roots in Jesus.
            And then, like those scraggly trees in Baltimore, in the eyes of the world we may not look like much, but rooted in Jesus – loved by the God who will never, ever, let go of us - there is nothing, nothing, to fear.