Sermon – September 25, 2005

Called to Grace

Today, in spite of wars, and hurricanes, floods and political divisions, there is thing of great beauty and wonder happening around us: the monarchs are migrating again, making that wondrous unexpected journey home. Have you seen them? They are flying south by the millions to their winter place in Mexico, undeterred, unyielding, undistracted, purposeful on this journey to the place where they go to renew their strength and numbers.

There were a dozen outside my window this week as I was thinking about this sermon, availing themselves of the nourishment afforded them along the way.
Ann’s little flower garden provided purple cone flowers, asters, red zinnias, from which the butterflies drink deeply of the nectar and strengthen themselves for another leg of the journey.

No one knows what draws the monarch to this exact place in the Mexican mountains each year. . . . some say the sun, some say the magnetic pull of the earth, others say a combination, but it is a power felt in the heart of the monarch from generation to generation. Something guides them and shows them the way. And on the way, they give us who note them a gift of wonder and beauty and hope.

They don’t question the authority of the impulse that draws them home. They follow because they are called.

In some ways we are not so lucky as the monarch butterfly. A thousand forces pull on us, bidding us go this way or that, inviting us to sample their nectar, calling to us from a bewildering host of directions as we journey in our lives from day to day. And we struggle and we have to choose.

Let’s imagine for a moment that the monarch butterfly could choose her route, could decide whether to press forward or not, could dismiss the authority of the force that leads her. The result would be monarchs lost, falling short, failing to be renewed, with others following down pointless paths. And this beautiful journey would turn into great tragedy. Their only salvation being to heed again the impulse, the voice, the force that steers them toward home.

I imagine that the monarch who flies now into the turmoil of Hurricane Rita will find herself blown from their path, carried away on an unknown trajectory. But it is the wonder of the call that she is able to reorient herself and continue to her destination.

That, too, is a grace extended to us, we windblown folk who sometimes lose our way.

God is aware that we fail to follow God’s voice always, so God puts in our paths the things to guide us and nourish us and sustain us. Through all things, persistently, lovingly, relentless God call out to us, follow me.
Let me make my path your path, my way, your way.
It has always been so.

This is the ancient and present force that we feel in faith, that resonates in our hearts, the divine love of God penetrating through all things, with a unique, cosmic passion that names us and calls us and leads us to renewal and hope and life.

And it calls us to a specific path, a specific journey in the footsteps of
Jesus Christ. It is journey of deed and not just word. It is not enough
to say, I’m with you Lord, if we don’t pick up and follow him as he leads us on the journey.

Now, St. Paul spoke of the things that he would do, but could not. Martin Luther taught us that our good intentions are not enough to finally respond to the authority of God, to call of the Christ to follow. It has been the character of humanity to fail to follow that command, to seek our own way or to follow another, but it has also always been the character of God to give
us another shot. To be the one who does not fail us, the voice that ever
rises above the din.

Where do we stumble? Where do we stray? Jesus speaks to that today in his parable, peeling back the facade and revealing the authenticity, the insincerity within us and while it is often painful, it serves not to humiliate us, but to educate and enlighten and guide us. We cannot be those
who say yes and always keep our promises. We’re not up to that. We should
not be the one who says yes and fails to follow. Clearly, that is the point of the parable. But we are given the opportunity to be the first child in Jesus parable, one though first defiant, who turns and changes, and becomes obedient.. By the grace of God, we can turn, we can eventually follow him.
We can repent, turn, leave one way for another.

What is available to us when when we are finally unmasked is repentance which enables us to do the will of the Father. It gives us power to change, power to do, confidence that when we do, we will be met by the grace of God.

If we haven’t done so, we can start. If we have failed, we can try again.
We can do that because God’s call to us, God’s promise to lead and protect us, does not diminish in the face of our failure, our wavering and our
wandering.

This voice, this impulse, this call persists that we might finally follow to the place of our renewal and our hope and our life. The parable cautions
against being like the 2nd son, making promises we don’t take seriously or
intend to keep. There can be no less satisfying existence than to believe
it doesn’t matter whether you go to work in the vineyard, or whether you don’t. The part of us that represents the second son takes grace lightly and dismisses the journey as just another road.

When we get to that point we are too full, too full of our own selves, our own agendas, too full, stopped up to hear the call. We have become all things to ourselves. To follow requires that we empty ourselves of this vanity.

Our reading in Philippians is one of the most beautiful parts of the Bible, in my mind. It is an ancient hymn that Christian people sung in the first century. It sings of Christ’s utter humanity, and gives us the understanding that even Jesus did not allow himself to be so full, but emptied himself and followed to and end that has now made a way for us.
We who are called to labor in the vineyard must empty ourselves that we might be able to respond.

I like to think that part of repentance, part of turning and changing and examining ourselves, striving to hear the call and venture into the vineyard . . . is recognizing what fruit to be borne on the journey. Part of
repentance is clarifying and enlightening. To go follow the call of Christ
is to go to work, to reap the fruit, to gather the harvest, to sustain another generation, to sustain a friendship, to sustain a marriage, to sustain a family, to sustain a church, to sustain a community. God calls us to follow not as a test just so we know who is in charge, but into the journey, into the vineyard to do fruitful labor. This is an invitation to journey in the abundance of his grace, . . . . to change the world, to change our relationships, to change how we treat one another, in Christ’s
name.

The opportunity for our repentance gives us another chance to move into productive and creative living, into abundance. The labor we are called to do in our families, in marriages, in our church, in our communities is often truly that, hard work, like the journey of the monarch. But it is a journey on which we labor because Christ calls us to it and declares it good and
invites us to walk with him on it. It is our path and it takes us home.

Through all thing, the ravages of nature and the failing of humanity, That which would save the monarch saves us, persistent, unwavering draw of the love and power of God who delights in those he created. It is the voice that never fails, that calls us away from our windblown paths to the way of Christ, again and again.

And on the way, we will surely leave to those who note it, a gift of wonder and beauty and hope.

Amen