And The Walls Keep Tumbling Down

A Sermon for Proper 25

Job 42:1-6, 10-17, Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22), Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52

You know the story of Job, it takes less than one chapter to introduce us to a man of piety beyond question; to let us in on the heavenly wager, and for us to witness Job get stripped of all his earthly possessions. For the next thirty-five plus chapters, we hear Job and his three friends argue about sin as the cause of Job’s woes. They insist all he has to do repent; he insists he hasn’t sinned. Next we hear Job challenge God, he simply wants to know why. Somewhere around chapter 38 God answers; it is not exactly as Job expected because God questions him. The inquiry is not about piety or sin, but about the vast majesty and wonder of the cosmos. This morning we hear Job’s reply.

I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. … I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (NRSV Job 42:3, 5-6)

We ought to know that the Hebrew translated ‘despise’ also means ‘recant’ and the Hebrew translated ‘repent’ also means to change ‘one’s mind’ (Suomala). In short, Job changes his mind and recants, retracts his former belief about the workings of the world. He now knows the “world not run by human rules nor moral justice” (Gaventa and Petersen).

This morning’s story ends with the Disney-like restoration of all Job’s lost possessions, including seven sons and three daughters. However, reading closely, we notice that Job receives comforting, all is not what it was. We know those who, like Job, have suffered a great loss, which is no fault of their own, but do not experience a Disney restoration. Perhaps, this not a story about sin and suffering. There is also the very curious detail about Job’s three daughters. We are told their names Jemaah, Keziah, and Keren-haunch; his seven sons are not named. More interesting the daughters are given an inheritance with their brothers, which is unheard of. Perhaps it is his suffering, but I rather think it is his newly reshaped understandings of the ways of God that allow him to see and respond to injustice in the world (Harrelson). Old walls have come down; a new vision is revealed.

We know Jesus can heal the blind, he did a couple of chapter back (Mark 8:22). Yet there are some interesting details. Bartimaeus is the only person healed in Mark, whose name we know. (Hoezee, Mark) Bartimaeus is rebuked for calling out to Jesus; it’s like the crowd thinks they need to protect him. Jesus asks him the same question he asked James and John last week: “What do you want me to do for you?”  (NRSV, Mark 10:51) While James and John sought power and honor Bartimaeus seeks sight; which he seems to have already, after all, he is the first one to call Jesus “Son of David” (Hoffman).

Yet, it is an old story of Jericho’s past; that may be most revealing. You remember way back when Joshua was leading the Hebrews into the promised land. In an absurd military maneuver, they march around the Jericho for six days, and on the seventh after marching around the city all the people shout and the walls come tumbling down. Bartimaeus keeps shouting to Jesus. The crowd tries to build a wall around Jesus, and run Bartimaeus off, but he keeps shouting. And you know what; Jesus hears him, has the crowd call Bartimaeus to him. The wall came crumbling down (Hoezee, Mark).

As with Job, this story ends with a new world vision, where the poor and disenfranchised are people, with names, who also bear the image of God (Hoezee, Mark).

Next Sunday is New Consecration Sunday, when we will offer our commitment to St. Stephen’s stewardship of Jesus’ ministry revealing the Kingdom of God right here, right now. Yes, there is a financial discernment to make. There is also a life vision discernment to make. As we ponder our stewardship of Jesus’ ministry what walls will we allow to crumble, revealing a new vision of divine justice, a new vision of the Kingdom’s present (Almquist).


References

Almquist, Br. Curtis. “Lifeblood.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 23 10 2015.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Job 42:1-6, 10-17.” 25 10 2015. Working Preacher.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 10:4652. 25 10 2015.

Hoffman, Mark G. Vitalis. Commentary on Mark 10:46-52. 25 10 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Richard Meux Benson, SSJE. “Healing.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 20 10 2015. email.

Suomala, Karla. Commentary on Job 42:1-6, 10-17. 25 10 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Beome a steward whose life reveals the Kingdom presence?

A sermon for Proper 24

Job 38:1-7, (34-41), Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b, Hebrews 5:1-10,  Mark 10:35-45

Week before last Angie and I went to visit her 94-year-old aunt. It was a good trip. We visited with her aunt, We got to know cousins we had really never gotten to know. I took off on a one-day photography excursion, tromping all around a mountain stream, looking for light play in the watery rapids, and in the deep forest shadows. We meandered our way towards home via Boone, Blowing Rock, and the Smokey Mountains. We were hoping, expecting to see new fall colors. Alas the turning had yet to begin. There were some stretches of yellow, but very – very few vibrant reads. It was a bit disappointing; but at least I didn’t have to decide if the leaves were dog, hog, or wolf red.

Fall, colorful leaves and football also suggests it is Stewardship time for the Church. I have read plans for intricate programs to simple askings. Most of them, all of them, want church members to tithe towards the work of their church. As I was hoping to see brilliant fall colors, I was also expecting the scripture readings to just sort of make to case. Alas that is not so, at least not directly.

Although we don’t read the it, today’s Gospel really begins with Jesus’ third prediction of his betrayal, death and resurrection. It is the two verses preceding what we heard. After each prediction the disciples’ reactions are Peter rebuking Jesus’ for his prediction, all the disciples arguing about who was the greatest, and this morning James and John seeking to sit at Jesus right and left hand. Once more the disciples get it wrong; they continue to try to force Jesus into their vision of Jesus as Imperial Rome. Jesus asks if they can drink from the cup that he drinks. They respond with an exuberant “Yes we can!” It is just a bit of a surprise that Jesus says they will.

Jesus is completely justified in rolling his eyes wondering if these followers are ever going to actually hear that God, through him, is doing something, offering a life, completely different than anything they or the world has previously known. In a prophetic tradition of offering both doom and hope, Jesus acknowledges that the promise of divine transformation is not empty. In the near future the disciples will drink from Jesus’ cup, their lives will be transformed. It is a moment forever enshrined in our weekly remembrance “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” Scott Hoezee wonders how often “drinking of Jesus’ cup transforms our lives?” (Hoezee)

It is here that the Gospel informs the season of Stewardship. As I mentioned, the stewardship programs I know about all seek to get a church’s members to tithe. The most visible component is about money. For some, the only component is about money. But in my five years here you have heard, or at least I hope you’ve had the opportunity to hear, my belief than stewardship is not really about money. Let’s frame it Gospel terms.

Matthew ends his Gospel account with the great commission in which Jesus sends the disciples out to baptize all nations, and reminding them he is with them always. Mark shares Jesus sending the disciples out to proclaim the good news to all the world. Luke recounts Jesus proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed … to all nations and that the disciples are witnesses of these things. Finally, John recounts Jesus asking Peter three times if he loves him. Each time Peter says “yes” to which Jesus replies “feed my sheep,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep.” All four Gospels end with Jesus, one way or another, sending the disciples out into the world to continue Jesus’ ministry to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Jesus makes them stewards of his ministry.

Through our baptism, through our regular celebration of communion, Jesus also makes us stewards of his ministry. Stewardship is about proclaiming the Kingdom of God to all the world. A bit closer to home, stewardship is about letting folks know the Kingdom of God is right here, right now!

Even with Jesus’ promised continued presence, it is hard to be a steward of Jesus’ ministry. The disciples continually got confused. The temptation is to make Jesus look like the prevailing culture. The disciples are trying to envision Jesus as some sort of Imperial Rome, only they are in charge. We are always trying to envision Jesus as our secular selves, infusing our cause de jure with divine blessing, power and purpose. I believe the stewardship season is the time for each of us and our families to prayerfully discern how we are to participate in St. Stephen’s service in Christ’s ministry. How are we called to serve in the church? How are we called to be the church in the community? How are we called to support the work of the church with our time, our gifts and or our money?

As a congregation it is time for us to prayerfully discern: what we are called to continue, what we are called to let go of, what challenge we are called to take on, how we are  to support the ministry of the broader church from the diocese, like our commitment to the Diocese and Camp Mitchell, and community ministries like the Great River Charitable Clinic and the Humane Society or the upcoming Thanksgiving Feast and or Ignite Christmas ministry.

In our listening prayers and discernment there are some keys: Are we in the role of a servant? Are our expectations defined with ourselves in mind or with the other in mind? Are we willing to let go of controlling where and how our gifts are put to use? How much of our hearts and hands are we able / willing to put towards continuing Jesus’ ministry?

All these are offered in the hope, that as today’s collect says:

… that the Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name

bearing in mind that confession is more about behavior than words; or as St. Francis said, “preach always ~ use words when necessary.”

Finally, are you open to be transformed? Through your life in the church are you willing to become a steward whose life reveals the Kingdom presence?


References

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 10:35-45. 18 10 2015.

Hoffman, Mark G. Vitalis. Commentary on Mark 10:35-45. 18 10 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.