• The Rector

Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)

Sunday, July 25th, 2021

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

I’ve talked before about the Summer that I spent as a hospital chaplain at the Veteran’s hospital in Halifax as part of my seminary training.

While I was there we had a full-time chaplain come in to speak to our group. He worked exclusively in the Oncology units at another large Halifax Hospital and wanted to talk to us about experiences he’s had with individuals returning from the point of death.

He said he was telling us this because of how often it happens, usually around two or three people per month that he meets who have had near-death or post-death experiences and who want to talk about it.

What he finds surprising, and what research into this shows, is that almost everyone who experiences it, regardless of who they are, where they are from, what language they speak, etc, describe the exact same experience. It is always the same.

There is always light, they occasionally meet members of their family who have died before them, they feel a great sense of peace and warmth and have most often described it as a feeling of being at home.

This chaplain said he often asks them what has changed for them after they return from the experience; how is their life now different because of it?

And almost universally, those who have had these experiences say that they now have no fear of death. There’s nothing earthly that scares them compared to the feeling of peace and love, and home that they experienced in that moment.

Now I offer this anecdotally and I am not suggesting this is an image of heaven because we cannot know. But what is clear is that these people have had such a profound experience that their fear of death disappears and they can endure whatever sufferings or illness will come their way without fear, without anger, and with a sense of peace.

I bring it up too because our readings today are at least a little bit about fear, but fear that is counterbalance. But for many of us, it is the ends of our lives that we fear most. It is the unknown aspect of what the end will be like, what we may have to endure before it, that makes us afraid.

But fear in the Gospel today has a counterbalance.

In the first story in the Gospel, a very familiar one, we hear first the fear of the disciples wondering how they will do what Jesus has asked of them, “Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."” And likewise the other disciples question how a small offering could possibly feed so many.

The second story about fear is the other pericope that is paired with the feeding of the 5000 – Jesus walking on water in the midst of a storm who appears to the disciples and quells their fears.

In both cases, I think, we are presented with instances of fear, but the antidote to that fear, the Gospel is trying to show us, is the abundance that is Jesus.

In the first story it is the abundance of the food that Jesus causes to appear. It is not just an adequate amount of food, it is not just enough, it is far more food than even 5000 people could eat. They weren’t just picking up leftover crumbs, they were filling baskets.

In the second story the abundance that answers fears is one of those eye-opening moments for the disciples where Jesus does more than any of them could ask or imagine. It’s not just that their fear is taken away, but the boat is taken through the storm immediately to the other side. In another instance like this the disciples note that even the wind and sea, the very elements themselves, obey Jesus.

In our own pilgrimages we also find ourselves facing seemingly impossible situations: wondering how we can make it through this with what I have, how can I endure, how can I possibly do the thing I need to do?

We face these challenges with fear and with trepidation.

Other times we find ourselves in situations like the little boat on its way to Capernaum. Maybe we feel tossed about in the waves, in the dark, afraid. Perhaps we are so afraid in our lives that we even struggle to recognize help when it comes, just as the disciples did at first.

The answer that God gives to our suffering, and our pain, to all the maladies and disappointments, to the hurts, the betrayals, the loneliness we experience in our lives, all of that –is to offer His faithfulness to us not just as we journey, but at our journey’s end, as well. It is the abundance of his grace that sustains us in this life, and the abundance, the over-abundance of his love, in which we live in the next life. The abundance of which we were made partakers through our baptisms.

I think this is the kind of thing that St. Paul is trying to get the Christians in Ephesus to recall and to know – to recognize how abundant the love and mercy of God actually is in their lives, he even says he will pray that they will know “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”. He prays that they will know come to know that which is so abundant, so plentiful, so rich that it is beyond knowing.

But this is the hope for each of us as well. That we “may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,” that we can be rooted and grounded in love by the love of Christ dwelling in us, so that we may know the abundance of life of which we were made partakers and which is the answer to our fears.

And it is to this abundant life that Alice is today entering. It is through the waters of baptism in just a few short minutes that she will be made a partaker of Christ’s abundance, and an inheritor of that abundant and everlasting life to come. We must like Paul pray for each other that we will know these things in our lives, and today especially we pray that Alice will comprehend and know it in hers.

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

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