Occasion of Rev. Ward’s Birthday –
Today, we are using the lectionary for St. Michael and All Angels Day, which occurred on my birthday, Friday, September 29. You heard the readings but I always like to review them so you will remember them vividly. The Old Testament Lesson describes Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder which reached from heaven to earth. You probably remember the spiritual written about it: We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder; every round goes higher higher; Brother/Sister, do you love my Jesus? If you love Him, why not serve Him?
Psalm 103 asks us to bless the Lord, bless His holy name and remember at the benefits we get for being children of God: our iniquities are forgiven, our diseases healed, our lives redeemed from the Pit, we are given love and mercy and are satisfied with good as long as we live, our youth is renewed like the eagle’s. We receive compassion and justice is ours, for God’s kingdom rules over all. All we have to do is keep the covenant. Let us bless the Lord.
In the epistle Paul speaks of how we should work together and look to the interests of others, following the example Jesus gave by giving His life to save us. Finally, the gospel gives another example of how the people continually tested Jesus and how Jesus continued to outsmart them.
Matthew gave us a test, asking us to decide between two sons who gave different responses and actions to their father’s request for them to work in the vineyard. His point was to show that tax collectors and prostitutes would go into the kingdom of God before those who did not because they listened and those who professed to serve God but did not listen to John who came in at the way of righteousness .
We sometimes have a hard time knowing who comes in the way of righteousness. We also have a hard time knowing that those who speak in this troubled world may or may not be following the command of God. remember the time many people came concerned about the political climate. I told them not to worry. I informed them of the e-mail I got from my pastor that said: “It doesn’t matter who is president, Jesus is still the king.” God is always in charge. When things happen, we can be assured that God knows about them and allowed them to happen for a reason. We may not be able to discern the reason because because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways. We just know that God loves us and will always act in ways that promote good for and to us.
I know how easy it is to forget that God is in charge because for many years I said that there’d be NO dialysis for me. I declared as did the poet in Thanatopsis: I am captain of my fate and master of my soul. When my time comes, I will wrap the drapery of my couch around me and lie down to pleasant dreams. God took care of that and showed me who’s boss.
For this, my birthday sermon, I will be using rain as a symbol for life’s trials, troubles and struggles and smiles as one way to counteract them. We all know how hard life can be at times. I can’t believe that anyone escapes some of the troubles of this world. I certainly haven’t. Thinking of them makes me think of Langston Hughes poem, Mother to Son. The mother wants the son to keep going despite hard times and says:
“Well, son, I’ll tell you: Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor—Bare. But all the time I’se been a-climbin’ on, And reachin’ landin’s, And turnin’ corners, And sometimes goin’ in the dark Where there ain’t been no light. So, boy, don’t you turn back. Don’t you set down on the steps ‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard. Don’t you fall now . . . For I’se still goin’, honey. [At 83], I’se still climbin’, And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. “
Yes, life is hard. Troubles rain on all of us. Some of you may be old enough to remember that many moons ago, Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots had a hit entitled Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall. Residents of Houston, the Florida Keys, some places in Louisiana, Puerto Rico and all those places hit by recent hurricanes might say that too much rain has fallen into theirs. I know that I would declare the same: Kidneys failed, blisters arrived, old age invaded my life, memory is fading . . . What can I say? It is definitely raining hard in my life. Yet, we must remember that God is always there for us, always showing us unfailing love. We have the assurance from Jesus that He will be with us to the end of the ages. We know that God’s faithfulness is great because we see new mercies every morning. So, we don’t need to let rain deter us. All we need to do is just pull out raincoat, hat, boots and go on.
Whether it rains in our physical, emotional or spiritual life, we should just follow Old Blue Eyes advice: He says that life is tough. You can be riding high in April and shot down in May. BUT, if we change our tune, we can be back on top in June. Therefore, each time we find ourselves flat on our face, we should just pick ourselves up and get back in the race. We should let a smile be our umbrella on a rainy day and not cry because a smile will always pay. Whenever skies are gray, we shouldn’t worry or fret because a smile will bring the sunshine, and we`ll never get wet! A smile is the key that fits the lock of everybody’s heart. Peace begins with a smile. Christie Brinkley says we should share our smile with the world because it is a symbol of friendship and peace and Mother Teresa says that we should always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love. Similarly, there is a portion of scripture that advises us to put on the armor of faith, hope, love and trust when things do not go well. We all have to encounter the troubles of this world. Sooner or later, though, we’ll be done with the troubles of this world because we’ll be going home to live with God and we have been promised a special place at the banquet in the sky. So, we may as well smile. As Michael Jackson sings: “Smile, though your heart is aching. Smile, even though it’s breaking. When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by . . . If you smile with your fear and sorrow. Smile and maybe tomorrow, you’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile. Light up your face with gladness. Hide every trace of sadness. Although a tear may be ever so near . . . That’s the time you must keep on trying. SMILE, what’s the use of crying? You’ll find that life is still worthwhile IF YOU JUST SMILE.” Amen.
Rev. Dr. Katherine Ward