March 22, 2020

This Is Our Destiny
Signs of Life: Why Church Matters – Shelter
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A
Becky Robbins-Penniman

I know you’ve heard me say plenty of times that we select the readings a month or more before we read them in church. As most of you know, we’re doing a sermon series this Lent based on a program developed by the good Episcopal monks at the Society of St. John the Evangelist and the life-long learning center at Virginia Theological Seminary. I received the first pamphlet announcing the themes early last fall. Even then, this week, the fourth week of Lent, was labeled Signs of Life – Why Church Matters: Shelter.

This week’s theme was chosen nearly a year ago. A year ago, what did we normal people know of pandemics? A year ago, who had ever been told to “shelter in place” because of one? But, just yesterday, I got a call from the Pinellas County Health Department that I need to shelter in place, to self-isolate, because of a pandemic. Someone I know and had been close to, back when we thought “social distancing” meant bumping elbows, had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

Now, do I think the good brothers and the professors at VTS should give up their day jobs to become modern-day Nostradamuses making predictions about our destiny? No. I already know our destiny. So do they. So do you.

I remember a dog-eared old story about a guy sitting on a bus reading a Bible when a young fella gets on and sits next to him. He peers over the man’s arm to see what he’s reading, and the young fella blurts, “Hey, I read that book! I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, but we win!”

I admire the young fella’s confidence, but what’s he saying? That good wins over evil? That Christians win over other religions? Or that certain Christians will win while everyone else is damned? My faith, my trust, my hope is much broader than that: Our faith, woven throughout Scripture, teaches us: God is love. God is love, our destiny is that love wins. Love always wins. I have grounded my faith and life on this, yet I also know that our destiny in eternity doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll have a bed of roses to lie on during our time on earth, or an easy path to walk in this life.

The saying that “life is difficult” is proving true for us all at this moment. When life is difficult, a common human reaction is to be like armadillos and pill bugs: we roll up into little balls of self-protection. “Sheltering” means setting up a fortress of self-interest. Our walls are made of suspicion, they are topped with battlements of anger, we pour down the hot oil of greed on our neighbors, and shoot arrows of blame for whatever has gone wrong. Fear, despair, and selfishness rule our hearts. But they will not win, because God is indeed God.

As we get closer and closer to Holy Week, to be faith-filled disciples of Jesus, we need to look at how Jesus, God with skin on, Love incarnate, faced things when life got really, really difficult. He prayed. In his prayer, he was very honest about what he wanted, but he ended by saying, “Father, thy will be done.” Is it God’s will that we suffer and die? Absolutely not. We’ll all die, of course – someday, from something. But God does NOT will senseless suffering. Love doesn’t will that; we armadillos and pill bugs do that to each other. God’s will is that those of us on earth love each other as God in heaven loves us.

On earth, Jesus prayed, and he dealt with his reality and never stopped loving. He didn’t dump on others or blame others. He did his Father’s will by dying on a cross and exposing our heartless dedication to acting and harming others out of fear, desperation, and self-protection. Before he breathed his last anguished breath, he gave his mother, his disciples, and the thieves hanging beside him words of love, forgiveness and trust.

That Good Friday, it looked like the armadillos and pill bugs who killed Jesus won, and that fear, despair and selfishness were our eternal destiny. Today, sometimes our world looks a lot Good Friday. Jesus teaches us, by his life, that our shelter in this Good Friday world must not be a fortress of self-interest. Our shelter must be in our destiny, that Love wins. Love wins. Life, hope, and justice win. This is our shelter in times of trouble.

The prophet Isaiah wrote in the midst of horrible trouble, and promised that God will give us calm and security forever. This is our destiny. The Psalmist cries out in the midst of distress, and calls God a fortress. This is our destiny.

In the Revelation to John, we hear of people who have endured great hardship, whose lives were so difficult that they died, some because of their faith in Christ. Now they are now sheltered in the eternal Temple, singing joyfully, because God will wipe every tear from their eyes. This is our destiny.

Then, my Good Shepherd family, we hear the words of the Good Shepherd, whose way of living, giving, and being is the gate to life to the fullest. Which of you thinks a life of fear, despair and selfishness is life to the fullest? Our destiny is a Christ-shaped life of love: doing what is best for each other, loving our neighbor, doing unto others as we would have done to us.

Here’s what I know: in the midst of medical self-isolation, I have never been less spiritually isolated! I have received so many texts and emails of love and support, I know that Love has already won in the hearts of this congregation. Although we cannot gather in person in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the spiritual Communion we will soon share is as real as your love for each other, your love for me, my love for you – all of which is grounded in God’s love for us. This is our destiny.

As we spiritually share this Holy Supper, remember that at this altar, heaven and earth meet. Not only does Jesus open the gate to us to save and shelter us, we open our hearts and spirits to shelter our Living, Loving God. In a Good Friday world, we are in Christ and Christ is in us, is how we, the church, keep rising from the dead. This is our destiny: Love wins.

For a printable sermon text, click HERE.

Watch the 8 AM & 10 AM services live:

8 AM  10 AM