Sunday, July 17, 2005


A sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church,
St. Joseph Michigan
Proper 11 A,
17 July 2005
by the Rev. Jason A. Fout
on the occasion of his farewell to St. Paul's

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Different languages can be quite fascinating. Sometimes learning an expression in another tongue will make you look at something in a new way. For example, in Ancient Greek they had at least three different words for love. So they could talk about the bonds of affection in three different ways, whereas we only have the one word. Knowing this, it might prompt us to pause and think about just what kind of love we are talking about when we use the single word.

Or sometimes cultures have a certain preoccupation with something, and so they have numerous words to describe that one thing in great detail. The classic example of this is the Inuit language: Eskimos are said to have many different words for snow and ice. Rather surprisingly, though, no one seems to know just how many words they have for it. Depending on which linguist you consult, Eskimos have either 9, 12, 23, 46, 50, 52, or over one hundred words for snow and ice. This is rather more confusion than you would expect! One thing has been established with certainty, however: the Inuit do have 20 different words for trout.

It’s also interesting to see how one says farewell in different languages. A lot of the time, it translates simply as “best wishes” or “see you later”. But sometimes there can be surprising depth behind this simple sentiment. In English, for example we say “good-bye”. Even though we say it everyday, it might seem like an odd expression when you think about it. It comes from the phrase “God be with you”. And just like in the holy day of Good Friday, somehow an extra “o” migrated into God, and “God be with you” became “good-bye”. This seems a fitting way to say farewell to someone, to wish him well through asking for God’s presence to be with him. And as the two go their separate ways, they go knowing that although they may not be together, nevertheless God is with each of them.

God figures into other farewells, too. In French, they say “adieu”, which simply means “to God”. It’s the same in Spanish, when they say “adios”, it translates literally as “to God”. I think this is very rich and suggestive, and like “good bye” perhaps it’s an everyday profundity that native speakers might miss.

But what might this mean?

I would like to suggest that we might say “to God” as a farewell to remind ourselves of the total context of our lives. We live our lives to God, we are grateful to God, we are headed to God, we give our trust and faith to God. In this simple send-off we are reminded of the orientation and trajectory of our entire lives as being “to God”. This is not just a matter of an hour or so on a Sunday and a committee meeting during the week, but the whole of our lives is lived “to God”: the highs and the lows, the glamourous and the mundane, at work, school, or home, among family, friends, strangers and enemies.

Our entire lives are lived, wittingly or no, as a witness to God, in mute reference to God. In fact, the whole world – the very world that Paul in today’s epistle describes as subjected to futility and in bondage to decay – this whole world lives “to God”. True, sometimes this living “to God” is rather more hidden or mysterious than we would like, either in the world around us, or in our own lives, and this can cause us great pain. But as Christians we believe that it is there in that relationship between the triune God and the creation that we learn who we most truly are, there that we discover our destiny as human beings, there that we find our hope.

Indeed, as Paul also says, those pains that we feel are not just meaningless suffering, but are the beginnings of birth pains. God through Christ is bringing life into light, bringing his Kingdom in its fullness into the world which he created, loves, and is intent on restoring in its fullness. And so living in this hope, seeing in our lives not just pains but birth pangs of something new and wonderful, this is very much a way of living “to God”.

And this plays in directly with what we find in the gospel reading for today. As I mentioned last week, in these parables God seems a rather foolish gardener. This morning, the Master is fully aware that there are weeds in his field, he even knows where they come from, but he isn’t going to worry about them now. Unlike most gardeners, God seems content to let the whole motley patch grow willy-nilly, perhaps while he lies in a hammock sipping a mint julep.

But notice the slaves. They spot the weeds. “Why would there be weeds in the Master’s field?” they might ask. Why wouldn’t it be one, pure, holy, catholic field? Friends, this is a mystery; why would there be any weeds in the master’s field? But faced with this mystery, the slaves try to take over for the Master, offering to weed his garden for him. They are still thinking like slaves.

But God, the Master, takes the long view. Having such an untidy garden is no sacrifice of God’s honor – but someone else weeding out for him what he himself has planted: God is not willing to risk that. And so the Master counsels patience. And the slaves need to learn to no longer be slaves but to be more like the Master.

This is a parable intended for all who would be disciples of Jesus, all who would live a life “to God”. This is elaborated on in the gospel of John, where Jesus says to his disciples “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends…” And so we are invited to become God’s friends, and so to grow to be like the Master, and to be drawn into the glory and the love which are at the heart of the triune God and which pour forth into the world.

We find all of this and a lifetime more in plumbing the depths of God and in living a life “to God”.

Brothers and sisters, I have been blessed and privileged over these last four years to sojourn here with you, together living our lives “to God”. We have worshiped together, learned from each other, and mapped new territory as a parish. It has been exquisite and I am thankful for every minute of it. As we go, we carry each of you in our hearts. And now, dear friends, adieu…adios…God be with you. Amen.

* I have established this through rigorous research on the internet. Sources include http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a1_297.html and http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%22eskimos+have%22%2B%22different+words+for+snow%22 and http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~pullum/eskimo_quotes.html

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Blogger Doug Wood said...

I know Father Jason tries very hard to keep a wall of sorts between his life as a priest and his life as a blogger; he posts his sermons here, but seldom if ever comments on parish life. I hope he does not mind that I am breaking a temporary hole in that wall to let this community know how very much he will be missed by St. Paul’s. I think Mother Liza (our Rector) summed it up best when she spoke of the importance of studying theology and the richness of understanding that theological scholars give to us. She also spoke of the importance of those teaching seminary students having experience in a parish. She said that she is glad for the Church that Jason is going to Cambridge and will be adding to the richness of theological scholarship. She is also glad that future seminary students may have the benefit of a teacher who served a parish so well. She said she is glad for all of these things, but she isn’t happy about it. I couldn’t agree more.

It seems to me a great loss to St. Paul’s to lose Father Jason to these greater pursuits. I have no doubt that the Church as a whole will be better for it, but it is hard to see him go nonetheless. Father Jason has been a blessing to me and my family; his sermons, his intellect, his fellowship, and his caring heart are a part of St. Paul’s that we have cherished since we started attending. He will be missed by me, and I know he will be missed by all at St. Paul’s.

Godspeed Jason, Kristen, & Alex and thank you for adding so much to the life of St. Paul’s and to my life and that of my family.


Monday, July 18, 2005 4:37:00 PM  

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