Sermons from St. Martin-in-the-Fields:
Jun 06, 2021 |
Things Are Not What They Seem| The Rev. Dr. Matthew Burdette
Things Are Not What They Seem
Sermon from Choral Evensong for the Season After Pentecost. The Rev. Dr. Matthew E. Burdette, Rector of St. Thomas' Church, Whitemarsh, preaches on the nature of revelation within the Bible, the world around us, and in Jesus Christ.
This evensong (night prayer set to music) is led by Director of Music Mr. Tyrone Whiting and sung by the Choir of St. Martin's. Music includes Basil Harwood’s setting of the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” and Tchaikovsky’s anthem “Hymn to the Trinity” at the Offertory.
This month we are thrilled to welcome the Rev. Dr. Matthew E. Burdette, Rector of St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh as our guest preacher.
For those of you who don't know me, my name is Matthew Burdette. I'm the Rector at St. Thomas' Whitemarsh, and it's a real delight to be with you this evening. Thanks especially to Jarrett for the invitation. You should know, Jarrett's one of the first priests in this Diocese to invite me to conversation, and so one of the first people to welcome me here, and I'm very grateful for that.
In the name of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Things are not always as they appear. This conviction that there is something fundamentally mysterious, deceptive even, about the way the world presents itself to us, this conviction or insight or maybe even suspicion, has been whispering in our ear for millennia. It tells us there is sometimes an inch and sometimes a mile between what we perceive and what is the case
And if we're lucky, or wise, or pay attention long enough, we'll see through the sleight of hand. And whether it's Plato talking about shadows dancing on a wall of a cave, or Immanuel Kant being jolted from his dogmatic slumbers, or Marx critiquing ideology, or Freud convincing us that we've all been pulled here or pushed there by unconscious drives and desires, or these days the torturously endless supply of news commentary, there is no shortage of people willing to tell us what the real truth is.
And we might well add to this list the Holy Scriptures and its vision of reality. What the great theologian Karl Barth referred to as the “strange new world” within the Bible, that peculiar world that claims that it is the world that we're actually inhabiting. It is this question that the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, sets out forcefully to answer. What sort of reality is it, this reality into which we've been thrown?
And Revelation, speaking for the whole of scripture, alleges that this reality is one in which the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord. The Book of Revelation, a portion of which we heard tonight, offers itself as the concluding word of the scriptures, and its very title already raises the question, “revelation of what?” And its answer is found in the book's very first words, chapter 1, verse 1, “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” If you want to grasp your life, if you wish to understand what's going on in the world around you, then you need to see what has happened with Jesus, and with those that he has gathered to himself.
More boldly, there is no navigating this reality into which you have been thrown unless you come to see Jesus and his people in their suffering and in their victory. That is the truth about the strange world within the Bible, and what the Bible is telling you is that this strange world isn't just in the Bible, it's all around you, and you're in it.
We are confronted by a portent in the heavens, a woman clothed with the sun. The text is not clear whether this woman, whose son is to rule all the nations, is Mary, Jesus's mother, or is the nation of Israel, the suffering people of God through whom Christ comes into the world, or whether she is the Church, who bears Christ in a dangerous world, and who trusts in God's protection. And this ambiguity, this multivalence that inhibits the words from any static meaning, but forces them to rattle with life, that's precisely the point. This is no mere text, it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. He lives, and His heart is beating, and the words on this page shake with His presence.
All creation, from the moment when first there was light, to the enunciation to this young girl Mary that she would bear the savior of the world, to the Church of women and men that that very savior has gathered as his body in the world, from beginning to end, from heaven to earth, the life of all who live, whether or not they see it, they are living with the life of Jesus in glory and in humiliation, facing adversity and fleeing from persecution, we, the people of God on earth, are living out in our own history the glory and humiliation of Jesus. In us, he once more faces persecution, once more flees for his life, once more retreats to a place of rest, once more carries his cross, faces his passion, once more rises victorious from his grave.
This truth that Jesus doesn't keep himself to himself, but gives himself away, so holy, that those who are in his company become members of his body so that their lives come to be echoes of his life, this is the inner truth of the story we heard in Matthew's Gospel. Jesus has gathered a crowd to himself. and he is putting away their diseases and bringing wholeness to those who were suffering. and his activity results. the text says. in the praise of the God of Israel. And just so, as the crowd has joined him in offering up his life to God, Jesus turns back to them and offers to them the life of God in offering them himself. He multiplies that little bit of bread that they have on hand, and this bread comes to be enough food to sustain them all. This bread is none other than the bread that is his own body, and they are sustained by nothing less than his own life, and their journey home is no longer just a walk through the desert, it's a sojourn through all created history, in which God our maker is also our final home.
The crowd gathered to Jesus comes to be that woman who has to flee to the desert, to that place prepared by God, where she is sustained. The people are faced with the threat of hunger, and while this hunger is no metaphor, neither is it simply physical hunger. They, like us, are threatened with that demonic hunger that seeks to consume us, the dragon who offers us life, a life well lived that amounts to little, costs us everything, the delusion that we might live our lives cut off from Him who is the source of life. And to them and to us, Jesus offers the bread of life.
Most of us do not face hunger, yet here in a place like this, we gather to be fed by true food. And if we are to eat, then we must open our hands like beggars, and receive. The gift of life that Jesus gives to us is one that we must always receive, never take. When we gather at the altar to receive this bread, this body of this child born to this woman, this body of Jesus which makes us his body with him, we stand at once at the center of this strange world within the Bible, and also at the center of our own world, and we see that these are not two worlds, but one. The Lord puts away our hunger, his holy angels cast down the dragon that would devour us
“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven proclaiming ‘now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God in the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God, that they have conquered him by the blood of the lamb, and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.’” We are threatened, not only with eternal hunger, but by the sins that we have committed. There is within each of us a voice that says what we have done. And it repeats what we have done to God, not as a confession, but as an accusation. It is this voice which keeps us from prayer, which tells us that we are not objects of God's love, which convinces us that if we are defeated, we have defeated ourselves. This voice, this voice is the voice of the deceiver.
The one who speaks the truth is the one who says, “I have compassion on the crowd,” the one who will not send us away hungry at the risk of our fainting. This same one who gives us the bread of his body is the same one by whose blood we have overcome our sins. He who is the beloved son of the Father stands in total solidarity with us, so that there can be no question that we too are God's beloved children. This is the revelation of Jesus Christ, that your world is none other than that strange world within the Bible, thick with metaphors and symbols, and the life that you live is none other than the very life of Jesus, the lamb slain whose life is given for you.
Things are not as they appear. There is, indeed, something deceptive about how things appear. But look to the heavens and see, a dragon has been cast down, and listen, not to the voice of deceit, but to that shout from heaven, “our salvation has come.”
Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained from One License with license #A-701187. All rights reserved.
Video, photographs, and graphics by the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martin's Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19118. 215.247.7466. https://www.stmartinec.org