Answering the call, it’s all good news.

A sermon for Epiphany 3

Jonah 3:15, 10, Psalm 62: 6-14, 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31, Mark 1:1420

Nineveh is the capital city of Assyria, and in times past Assyria had conquered and harshly oppressed Israel under Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser V, Sargon, and Sennacherib. (Holman Bible Dictionary) The story is told in 2nd Kings, 2nd Chronicles and throughout Isaiah. So when Jonah is told to go there, we can understand why he runs away. For him Nineveh is unclean a place to be avoided at all cost. More over there is no place for Israel’s enemies in God’s presence. (Epperly) In that adventure he learns depth of Psalm 139 “If I go to the highest mountain, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I go to Joppa, you are there. If I set out to sea, you are there. Where can I go to escape my God!?” (Hoezee, Jonah) He learns you can’t.

This morning we hear round 2. (Hoezee, Jonah)  Jonah goes to Nineveh, as instructed. And he prophesies; sort of. I mean five words “In forty days Nineveh overthrown” (Schifferdecker) without naming God, without saying why, without saying what to do; it’s an uninspiring prophecy 101 yada, yada, yada effort.

It’s almost as if he is afraid of success. (Hoezee, Jonah) And perhaps he should have been, ‘cause exactly what he thought would happen did happen. Nineveh repented, in a big way, and God changed God’s mind and that isn’t supposed to happen; at least not for non-Israelites. It’s all a rather strange reaction to the only really successful prophecy in the whole bible. (Schifferdecker)

Jonah’s story stands in stark contrast to Simon, Andrew, James and John. On separate occasions Jesus sees them going about their usual and customary daily routine. He calls for them to follow him and both pairs do; immediately. All four leave their vocation – fishing. James and John also leave a family obligation. (Hegedus) These biblical vignettes are as different as they can be. And yet, there are remarkable similarities.

Both stories are about being called by God or Jesus. Both callings are about good news. Jonah, albeit in a strange way, pronounces God’s calling to repentance. Jesus is going around literally proclaiming the good news, announcing it’s time to “repent and believe.” Both stories reveal God’s universal love; you know about Nineveh, and Galilee isn’t much better, it’s not the best city, town, village or neighborhood, and it’s in the rather unclean (Hoezee, Mark) northern territory,  whereas Jerusalem, home of the Temple, is in the true Kingdom,  to the south. (Rogness) God is present in unclean Nineveh God is present in tainted Galilee.

In neither story does the divine call come to those who are prepared, or willing. Jonah is unwilling yet his imperfect, halfhearted, distracted, all of five word prophecy is powerfully effective, not because of Jonah, but because God uses him, as God uses everyone: flaws and all. It turn out it’s not about us, it’s about God. (Hoezee, Jonah)

Simon, Andrew, James and John are ordinary folk, whom Jesus calls to use fishing like skills, to cast the story, and draw people toward God, through Jesus. (Hoezee, Mark) Both stories are full of uncertainty. Jonah isn’t certain what will happen to him; how often can you blow God off? The disciples give no indication they have any clue as to what’s up. Following God’s call is always an uncertainty. (Rogness) There is no doubt answering a divine call pulls you out of your comfort zone. (Epperly) Finally both stories reveal the timelessness of God. In Jonah it’s implicit; however, in Mark the verbs ‘fulfilled’ and ‘has come near’ indicate an action that began in the past and is continuing into the present. (Harrelson) God’s love begins with creation and continues to Nineveh, the disciples, and to you, and will continue, forever.

It turns out, ready or not, willing or not we are all called into service in Jesus’ ministry proclaiming “The Kingdom of God is near.” In truth we’ll discover we do this in specific local ways, not some grand cosmic scheme. Our response may be teaching, or volunteer activity, or tending to a family member, or any relationship where we serve the other. (Lose) In a very real way it’s how we participate in fulfilling what we so frequently pray “thy will be done on earth ~ as it is in heaven.” You are use to hearing me say “Proclaiming the Kingdom of God right here, right now.”

After we share in Eucharist, we will recess to the parish hall where we will see where we’ve been, and where we might go.

AMEN


Works Cited

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 25 1 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hegedus, Rev. Dr. Frank. Sermons that Work. 25 1 2015.

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Jonah 3:1-5, 10. 25 1 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

—. “The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Mark 1:14-20.” 25 1 2015. Center for Excellence in Preaching.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse, n.d.

Lose, David. Epiphany 3 B: Following Jesus Today. 25 1 2015. <davidlose.net>.

Rogness, Michael. Commentary on Mark 1:1420. 25 1 2015.

Schifferdecker, Kathryn. “Working Preacher.” 25 1 2015. Commentary on Jonah 3:15,.

You are my beloved, with you and am well pleased

Epiphany 1, Mark 1, baptism

A sermon for Epiphany 1 Genesis 1:15, Psalm 29, Acts 19:17, Mark 1:411

Good morning, it’s good to stop by home in the midst of this session of my DMin. studies, before I head off for next week’s adventures in faith and health, which focuses on public health while last weeks’ focus was on self-health,  specifically clergy health. We discussed nutrition, relaxation techniques, yoga I can do, no strange named poses, just relax on the floor and follow simple meditation guides, and our own:  health assessment, concerns and what we plan to do about it. Our professor said it more than once “You can’t minister if you don’t have a body.”
Now, I had planned to spend some time every evening preparing for this morning’s sermon. It didn’t quite work as I thought and as I drifted to sleep Friday night I had no – well just a vague idea about what to say.  And Saturday morning in contemplative prayer the question arose “What has baptism got to do with self-health?” It’s a better, deeper question than I first thought.
You know that today we celebrate Jesus’ Baptism. You have heard, and I have preached sermons on John the Baptist’s prophetic dress the Baptismal Covenant’s
“I renounce them”
“Will you …   do all in your power to support [the newly baptized]
in their life in Christ?”
“I will with God’s help”
“will you seek and serve Christ in all persons …?”
God tearing the heavens apart and the very next verses of Jesus being driven into the wilderness. We know this story, it’s almost as heard to preach as Christmas or Easter.
But then again. Part of my new gleaning is to pay attention just to Mark’s Gospel, in particular to what is not here. Jesus’ Baptism begins in Chapter 1 verse 9. Before this and through the scene Jesus does nothing, Jesus says nothing. All we read is Jesus comes from Nazareth to the Jordan, and is baptized by John. As he is coming out of the water “he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The scene is unique to Mark, in that “he saw,”, and by implication “he heard.” Not John the Baptist, not any of the lingering crowd, if there is any, Jesus and Jesus alone, sees the vail, the barrier between and heaven and earth shredded, hears God speak, and sees the Holy Spirit’s presence. It’s an extremely private and intimate scene. Jesus hears God tell him:
“You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”
Putting God’s words in Mark’s context in which Jesus has not previously been seen nor heard we catch the reality that God simply love Jesus, God is simply well pleased with Jesus.
Much later in Mark’s Gospel story you will remember when James and John ask to be Jesus’ top assistants, and Jesus asks
“Are you able to … be baptized with the baptism
that I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38)
and then tells them
“… with the baptism with which I am baptized,
you will be baptized; (Mark 10:39)
Our Christian belief has long held such promises made to Jesus’ disciples are applicable to us. Thus we too have been baptized with the same baptism Jesus receives. Thus God has said specifically and intimately to you:
“You are my beloved,
with you and am well pleased”
and not because of what you have said, nor what you have done, nor what you have not said nor done. God simply loves you. God is simply well pleased with you. Timothy Warren writes:
Oh, to live with the knowledge that someone is well pleased with you just because of who you are! (Warren)
That’s such a critical truth.
Just look around we are surrounded by ‘like’s, ‘follow’s, ‘fan’s, and ‘friend’s, and who knows what else; everyone is seeking some sort of affirmation that “I belong” But there is a difference between affirmation and acceptance. Affirmation says “you are like us.” Acceptance is simply being known and valued for you are, as you are. (Lose) Oh to be loved well pleasing for who you are.
This biblical vignette is not merely warm and fuzzy. I believe the next verses, which are not included in the lectionary, are part of the same scene. You know them:
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:12-13)
And yes, this is all there is to Mark’s account of the temptation. But it’s connection to Jesus’ baptism is crucial, because it reminds us, our relationship with God is not passive acceptance, our relationship with God includes an acting component. Scott Hoezee shared a story about a teenage Sunday school class.
[The teacher says] When Jesus was baptized the heavens that separate us from God were ripped open so that now we can get to God. Because of Jesus we have access to God–we can get close to him.”   … a teen says  “That ain’t what it means.” What?” [the startled teacher says.] The teen says “that ain’t what that means. … It means that the heavens were ripped open so that that now God can get at us anytime he wants. Now nobody’s safe!” (Hoezee)
The teen is right, none of us are safe. We put ourselves at risk every time we share our story of the story. We are not at physical risk as some Christians are; however, we might be embarrassed by sharing, we might be uncomfortable in sharing, and both are risky. But you know what, I really believe these are opportunities to testify, by our behavior, to our trust in God / Jesus and the Spirit (that other part of god’s gift in baptism) to be with us and surround us with accepting love which conquers our fear of unease and embarrassment, for no matter how we share, or how what we share is received God loves us, God accepts us just because. (Lose)
So as I head to Atlanta, I am going drenched in the belief that I am God’s beloved, and that is well pleasing to God. My prayer for you, is your that your week, this and every week, begins and ends drenched in the belief that you are God’s beloved, and that is well pleasing to God. Amen.
And oh yea, the self- health question, ~ what will happen as we love our physical bodies as God does, just because our bodies are as we are? You know we can ~ with God’s help.

Works Cited
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Mark 1:4-11. 11 1 2015. .
Lose, David. Baptism of Our Lord B: Baptism &. 11 1 2015.
Warren, Rev. Timothy. Sermons that Work – Reaching those who long to be loved. 11 1 2015.

Herod and the Zoroastrians

A sermon for Christmas 2

Jeremiah 31:714, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, or Matthew 2:1-12 Psalm 84 or 84:1-8

Imagine for the moment that you are Herod, King of Israel. You made yourself king by military conquest. You are not exactly well liked. Well may be in Rome, which is helpful, because of your many opponents. There is your tendency towards executions, like your first wife and sons, because of your fears they were involved in political intrigue; a trend that will continue as you execute your oldest son, and heir, concerned that he will take the throne before  you die; which you do ~ four days later. You have a grand vision for architecture, building, rebuilding, or expanding many of the grandest structures of the day, including the Jerusalem Temple. You’d think rebuilding the Temple would make you popular; but not so much, the taxes were strenuous. And many don’t like you because as a descendant of Esau, you aren’t really Jewish. So, you are King ~ yes; popular ~ no; secure ~ not really.

So, imagine some unexpected visitors from a foreign land show up. Are they astrologers? Perhaps, Zoroastrians are very interested in light, and the stars, and they are speaking of a star; are they priests or prophets? Are they royalty? It’s hard to tell; are they members of the royal court? Very probable, since many Zoroastrian priests and prophets are.

By the way, our traditions of Kingly visitors comes from Psalm 72

May the kings of Tarshish
and of the isles render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts.

and Isaiah 60:3

Nations shall come to your light,
and kings
to the brightness of your dawn.
which are grafted into Matthew’s story. (Boring)

Back to your visitors who are Persians, from a far off land, with different religious traditions, (Epperly) who dominated Israel from 538 to 332 BCE (Orr) and are enemies of Rome. They make you uneasy; they ask about the new born King of the Jews, so they can pay homage to him. Linguistically, ‘Homage’ is similar to ‘worship’ (NI1Vol) and can imply submission to political or royal powers. (Boring) On top of all this, they ask about “the new born king” and you are not new born, but you are king!

Do these visitors frighten you? Probably not, you are king, you are powerful, and quickly and ruthlessly deal with interlopers. You are likely stirred up or troubled, (NI1Vol) the possibility that their god might be about to act in your land is very troublesome, (NI1Vol) and you don’t want trouble. Rome doesn’t like trouble and it’s your job to deal with it, if you don’t ~ Rome will, or replace you with someone who will. What will you do? Will the empire strike back? (Epperly) Will the empire make a preemptive strike? There is precedence, Pharaoh attempted to kill all the Hebrew boys in response to the perceived threat of the Hebrews living in Goshen. But where do you send your assassins? You don’t know, the visitors don’t know. So you ask your priests, prophets, & scribes, who report back, based on scripture from Numbers and Micah that the child is in Bethlehem. It makes historical sense, there was the revolutionary messianic pretender Jesus bar Kochba; Bar Kochba means “Son of the Star.” (Hare) (Boring) (NI1Vol) Well informed, you make the cautious but bold move to tell your guest where they infant king is and ask them to let you know exactly where he is, so you can also pay homage. Did I mention that you lie?

The visitors follow the star to Bethlehem, (did you ever wonder why the star didn’t just take them directly there?) all the way to Joseph’s and Mary’s home. Full of wonder, they offer Jesus: veneration, and gold, always appropriate for royalty, Myrrh, a kingly gift (1 Kings 10:25) also used in the high priest’s anointing oil (Ex. 30:23-33) and frankincense, which is exclusively used in the holy perfume used in the sanctuary. (Hare)

By the way, the bible never says how many visitors there are, someone decided, three gifts, three visitors. (Boring) And the names: Melchior, king of Persia; Gaspar, king of India; and Balthasar, king of Arabia, were later identified as descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the progenitors of the three races of humankind. (Hare)

The visitors, whoever they are, are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they go home another way; you’ve got wonder if the star leads them that other way.

From the moment the mysterious visitors spoke to Herod, he was concerned about a conflict between two Kingdoms, (Boring) Jesus’ and Rome’s; and he was concerned for his throne. (Hoffacker) The first is an underlying conflict that runs throughout Matthew’s Gospel account, the second, sets up the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, and the slaughter of the innocent baby boys in Bethlehem.

We pay a lot of attention to details not in the story, 3 kings and 3 camels. We don’t often look for the implications; we don’t often associate this story with the slaughter of innocent boys, we don’t often explore the ramifications of foreign believers coming to acknowledge a Jewish king.

Zoroastrians had been looking for evidence that their spiritual life was part of a larger divine story. (Epperly) They received a divine vision in a star. But they did more than admire it, they acted on it; even when acting involves risk: going to hostile territory, and resisting enthroned powers. (Boring)

As did ancient Jews, we, Christians, tend to believe we are the sole recipients of divine revelation. Persian Zoroastrians could not have been more remote from Israel or Jewish traditions. Still, they did have a genuine quest for veritable spiritual life and they received a divine revelation.

Eugene Boring writes

Even this “most Jewish” of the Gospels is aware, from its first page onward, that it is not necessary first to have the biblical and Jewish hope before one can come to the Messiah and accept him as Lord. In following the light they have, the magi find the goal of their quest in bowing before the Jewish Messiah.  (Boring 46705)

Their acceptance of the new king stands in sharp contrast to: Herod, the Jewish rulers, his own people, and his own family. (Hare)

Imagine for a moment you are in: the White House, the State House, the County Court House, City Hall, or the church office, and unexpected Iranian visitors show up saying: “We’ve been given a vision; where is the risen messiah? We’ve come to pay tribute.”

Assuming the first call is not to mental health, what do you do?

O God, may we see your glory face to face,  (BCP 214) whose ever it may be.


References

Boring, M. Eugene. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. Matthew. Abingdon Press, 2003.

Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 16 | OT 21 | Pentecost 11, Cycle A. 4 1 2015. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 4 12 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Hare, Douglas. Interpretation A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING. Ed. Patrick D Miller, Jr. and Paul J. Achtemeier. Vol. Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoffacker, Rev. Charles. Sermons that Work. 4 1 2015. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2014/12/17/2-christmas-abc-2015/&gt;.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – Quick Verse , n.d.

Orr, James, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WORDsearch, 2004.

Petersen, David and Beverly Roberts Gaventa. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010. E-book.

The Episcopal Church. Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.