I gave my first sermon today, which might be a misleading thing to say, because I've shared short messages before in Young Life and Wyld Life with kids. But this was the first time I've had the chance to give a sermon in a church; so the nature of the talk was quite different (I don't really think discussing the Ebenezer erected by Samuel between Mizpah and Shen would profit my junior high guys back at school all that much). The sermon was part of the noon Eucharist held in the chapel of the church's building. Here I owe a great deal of thanks to the Holy Spirit, who brought an unprecedented number of people there - 29! For a chapel that size, we were quite packed in, and were forced (happily) to bring in chairs so everyone could find a seat. I consider myself to have been blessed to be able to speak to a much larger group than normal.
My sermon used two of the texts in the year one daily office lectionary for today: 1 Samuel 7:2-17 and Luke 22:14-23. I focused on the thing that stood out the most to me about these two passages, that seemed to really tie them together: remembering. In the reading from 1 Samuel, we see that Israel has failed to do what Moses asked of them in Deuteronomy 4:9 - "Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart form your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons." But Israel has forgotten, and has fallen into the worship of idols, of the Baals and Ashtaroth. Gathering at Mizpah with Samuel, they repent before God, at which point the Philistines decide to attack. God gives the Israelites victory through the intercession of Samuel on their behalf, and then Samuel sets up a memorial, a stone between Mizpah and Shen that remembers the Lord's help to Israel on that day (so, an eben-ezer, a 'stone of help').
The reading from Luke 22 was the institution of the Lord's Supper, which is really the Christian's most profound and important 'Ebenezer'. It is a memorial that calls to our mind God's greatest victory - his victory over sin and death at the cross of Jesus Christ. And it is through remembering in the act of receiving the Lord's Supper how we were redeemed from slavery to sin that we find ourselves, mysteriously, to be partakers of the body and blood of Jesus Christ through the elements of bread and wine (that we feed on him in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it).
I observed in the sermon that as Christians, we don't know our God in a purely subjective way (though we do indeed know him personally in our lives of prayer and experience), but primarily through his great saving actions in this world - in the world of time and space - on our behalf. Through remembering all that God has done for us we are enabled to worship him more sincerely and gratefully - as I pointed out in the sermon, how would we praise God as a ruler, judge, and savior if he had never ruled, upheld justice, or saved? For most Christian traditions (the Anglican tradition among them), the whole year is oriented around the saving actions of God in the person of Jesus Christ, beginning with his incarnation (Advent) proceeding through the events of his life to his suffering and death (Lent), resurrection (Easter), ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit (Ascension Sunday and Pentecost). In all of this we remember not only that things are a certain way (which is to make Christianity into just another philosophy) but that they are so because something has happened, something profoundly important that the world needs to know about. There's good news, and that good news is that God has acted decisively in Jesus Christ to confront and destroy the forces of sin and death in creation, and to inaugurate - with his death and resurrection - the new creation in which all things will be united in Christ (literally 'headed up' in him, Eph. 1:10).
This business of understanding God's saving actions in the world around us is something that people at St. James seem to be learning well (another thing I mentioned in the sermon) through their ongoing court battles with the Episcopal Church. There seems to be a sense that God has acted in response to their prayers, an act embodied in the recent (unanimous) decision of the California Supreme Court to hear the church's case. Though the future is still uncertain, there is a definite sense that God has used this time of difficulty to teach the people of St. James to trust in him, and to know that wherever they are led by God (even if that may be away from the place they've built, owned, inhabited, and loved for over fifty years), they are his people, the one to whom he never fails to show his faithfulness and love. God's faithfulness to his promises is one of the golden threads that ties together the huge variety of books and topics to be found in scripture; indeed, I think it is the golden thread of scriptural truth that binds the Christian life together and prevents it from falling apart in despair and resignation. God's faithfulness, his steadfast love, is the cornerstone of our faith, and through the remembrance of God's saving acts on our behalf throughout history, we remember that the cornerstone is sure - nothing can move it, which means that nothing can move us if we simply stand on it.