A Sermon Preached at St. Andrew’s-by-the-lake (Turkey Point), June 1, 2014
I speak to you in the name of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
At a recent visit to their grandparents, my two eldest children, Sophie and Logan, were introduced to a new book – “Horton Hatches the Egg” by Dr. Seuss.
The book tells the story of Horton the Elephant who, as you can guess from the title, hatches an egg.
You see, Mayzie the bird is impatient; sitting on her egg is boring. So, tired of sitting on her egg, Mayzie recruits Horton to act as a surrogate egg-sitter while she takes a break. Although he is initially reluctant, Horton promises to sit on the egg with Mayzie’s assurance that she will return. However, Mayzie quickly realizes that she likes her newly found independence and decides to abandon her egg, as well as Horton, in order to go on a permanent vacation.
Horton is left alone to perform a boring and thankless task.
Though he is ridiculed and abandoned by his friends, endures horrendous weather, and is eventually captured by hunters, Horton continues to sit on the egg, refusing to budge, repeating his refrain:
“I meant what I said
And I said what I meant…
An elephant’s faithful
One hundred per cent!”
Despite not knowing when Mayzie will return, Horton is true to his promise; he remains faithful until the end.
The story of Horton and the egg is, I think, a modern parable for the Christian life.
Let me explain.
I have a confession to make – I am not always the most patient person. This is partly due to living in a culture where everything is instantaneous; I get impatient when my internet speed is slow or when my order from Amazon does not arrive immediately. In a culture where instant gratification is an expectation, patience is not a virtue; rather, patience is considered an archaic habit for those with too much time on their hands. I have things to do, so I require that my demands are met right now!
However, I also think that the church is not very good at waiting either. This past Thursday, the church celebrated Christ’s Ascension; the event in which Christ ended his earthly ministry and returned to his Father. In the nearly 2000 years since this event, there have been numerous attempts to determine the exact time, date, and place of Christ’s return, as if figuring this out would somehow hasten his coming. On other hand, there are those who are rightly skeptical of such calculations, preferring an attitude of general indifference or even uncertainty about whether or not Christ will actually returned as promised.
The church exists between the time of Christ’s Ascension and his second coming. So we wait. And waiting is not very fun. So, the church’s strategy continues to be busying itself with pet projects and campaigns in order to dull the sense of absence or to justify its very existence.
So what does this have to do with Horton?
Horton is recruited to perform a task on behalf of someone else. In many ways, the church is like Horton the elephant. God recruits the church to be Christ’s body on earth. We are recruited to this task through our baptism. Our task, our mission if you will, is to continue Christ’s earthly ministry of preaching the gospel and acting as ambassadors of God’s salvation by bringing healing to the sick and proclaiming God’s forgiveness of sins.
We participate in this mission in the absence of the one who called us, assured by his promise to return. This means that we proceed with our mission of love on the basis of faith and hope. We trust in the promise of Christ’s return and we long for that day when Christ will renew the cosmos, when, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”.
But in the meantime, we wait.
Waiting is not fun, especially since the task we are given, like sitting on an egg, can be thankless and, frankly, kind of boring (or so it seems). We are called to faithfully worship, to read Scripture, to pray, to eat bread and drink wine, and to invite others to join us in these practices, as we proclaim the gospel that Christ is risen. Simple things that are not exactly adrenaline inducing.
We would much rather enjoy life on our own terms and do the things we want to do than to sit around and wait.
Waiting becomes all the less fun when we are assured that, like Horton the elephant, we will face ridicule and even suffering at the hands of others. In our second reading for today, the Apostle Peter describes this ridicule and suffering as a “fiery ordeal” (1 Pet. 4:12). In other words, in being faithful to our mission, Christians can count on living through hell on earth.
No wonder the church impatiently looks for ways to distract itself from its mission of proclaiming the gospel! After all, who willingly subjects themselves to persecution and suffering? Who wants to confront the powers that be with the claim that Jesus is Lord and they are not? We know what tends to happen to people who take their religious beliefs too seriously; they usually end up dead.
Plus, we’ve been waiting for almost 2,000 years! Isn’t that long enough to indicate that our faith and hope are misplaced? Shouldn’t we be rational about things and accept the reality that Jesus is not coming back?
And yet, Christ’s call remains; he calls us to continue our mission to be his body on earth.
We are called to be faithful; to live a lives of sacrificial love, willing to endure ridicule and rejection for the sake of God’s kingdom of justice and peace.
This is not a life for the faint of heart.
What makes this possible?
How is any of this good news to us gathered here today?
The good news is that Christ prays for us on our behalf.
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus praying to the Father, asking him to protect the church, the church then and the church now. Jesus asks for protection because the church belongs to him. Because the church belongs to him, it belongs to the Father. This belonging is not a matter of possession; it is about intimacy, the way that a husband and wife belong to each other.
The good news is that we belong to Christ and are therefore sustained by God’s grace, the grace that heals and redeems, equips and sustains.
The good news is that we do not go into the fiery ordeal alone; we go with the one who goes ahead of us and walks alongside of us, casting our cares and woes upon him who bears them unto the Father.
The good news is that we are given Christ’s words. In Jesus’ prayer, we hear that the words that God gave to Christ, Christ gives to us.
When we faithfully proclaim the kingdom and preach the gospel, we are speaking Christ’s own words: words that speak the truth in love.
The good news is that Christ promises the gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples, then and now, in order to empower and equip them to be Christ’s body on earth and to faithfully endure.
The good news of Christ’s Ascension is that the God who took on human flesh now takes human flesh to his heavenly father. Jesus Christ is the mediator between humanity and God; he shows us who God is, and he also brings humanity before God. Christ provides the final and intimate connection between God and humanity; he is the beloved Son who intercedes on our behalf to the Father.
And so, following Christ’s Ascension, we wait.
Our waiting is not passive nor impatient.
Rather, we wait for Christ’s return patiently and prayerfully, faithfully participating in the mission he gives all those who follow him.
May Christ Jesus bless us as we act as his body.
May Christ Jesus save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
And may Christ find us faithful to him and his mission, 100%.