Precious to Me

A Sermon for Proper 13; Hosea 11:1-11, Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

 

It is my practice to write sermons on Friday having read text and commentaries on Tuesday and trusting the divine muse to whisper to me during the week. This week is different; Friday I knew I was going to pick up the last group of campers from Camp Mitchell. Thursday was full of scattered commitments, so I wrote on Wednesday. No big deal, except for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. As you know, JB was in a bad motorcycle accident Tuesday evening and airlifted to Region One. Wednesday RW was admitted to residential hospice care. Thursday JT was airlifted to Egleston Children’s Hospital. Late Saturday afternoon the muse whispered such that I had to speak from these events about our proverb-barns.

JB’s accident was serious and a testimony to the value of wearing a helmet when riding motorcycles. That evening the general nature of his injuries were known; serious, significant, but none were life-threatening. Wednesday night was a less than desirable time, with setbacks, complications, and the stress of scheduling life in a Trauma Hospital. Thursday afternoon, one surgery was done, another was delayed because the extent of the injury was more severe than thought, additional specialists were required, and a different treatment plan was necessary.

Watching and listening to the family interact revealed a lot of the contents of their barns. As usual, there were lots of tears, lots of concerned looks on peoples’ faces, some worried conversations, struggles not to speak from or to what is not known but feared and there was a good supply of humorous stories. It was also clear that whatever the previous mix of the multiple families’ barns’ content there had been a shift. Everyone’s focus was Jamie. Even the Arkansas Trooper who worked the accident focused on Jamie’s well-being, by his unexpected stop at the airfield where everyone was waiting on the helicopter, that was delayed by weather-driven rerouting. Gentle and encouraging words to confused, scared grandkids and calming words to vexed children brought a healing peace to all.

Wednesday RW was admitted to residential hospice care. It is the right decision. Within a couple of days of the diagnosis of lung cancer, he was admitted to home-based hospice care. The effort to maintain 24 hours care in addition to regular work and studies, and the difficulties two hours travel for some, raised the tension levels. One sibling turned down an available spot, putting RW to the back of the list. The next day another sibling was told by RW that he wanted to go to residential hospice. The third sibling agreed, the first did not. The dispute was settled when two siblings said okay; then you take care of him if you feel that strongly. The turmoil of caring for his advanced aggressive cancer aggravated already complex stressful and secretive family relationships. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. Story became legend, legend became myth, and myth faded way into the mist of time (Tolkien).

However, the glory of God comes in all sorts of unexpected ways. Here in the recovery of myth from mist, and legend from myth, and story from legend and too long lost truths of uncomfortable family relationships from story. And the recovery of truth begot understanding, and understanding begot the beginning of healing; healing that just might rearrange the previous mix of the multiple families’ barns.

On Saturday JT was born, the 2nd child, 2nd grandchild, and 9th great-grandchild. On Thursday the shaking became seizure-like, and his parents took JT to the regional hospital. Tests were ordered, initial medications were given. Additional tests were not done because of JT’s age and shaking. The hospital realized this was beyond their ability, contacted Egleston who dispatched an ambulance. After it had arrived JT’s condition began to deteriorate; given metro traffic at that time of day the decision was made to fly JT to Egleston. Friday a neo-neurologist abruptly took JT from mom and began an examination. There were some communication difficulties. JT’s grandfather noted how human behavior always seems to reveal itself. After three days of little to no sleep, everyone was on the edge, and this pushed them over the edge. JT’s family responded better than many would have. They Googled the Doc to see if credentials were real. Not only were they real, the doctor was among the best in the field. It wasn’t long before confusion about the treatment process cleared. The doctor gave very specific orders, and the confusion about developing an evaluation and treatment plan went away. Grandfather said,

“You know we’ve got to put aside the personality stuff and be thankful for the knowledge, wisdom, and clarity the doctor brings.”

Yesterday morning grandfather reminisced about the helicopter ride one of his nieces had to Egleston after being struck by lightning 30 years ago. Once again he appreciated the marvels his family has been able to take advantage of. The conversation began to light up rearranging the previous mix of the multiple families’ barns.

The fool of a farmer in Jesus parable is very clear about what is in his barn ~ grain ~ for him. He sees the abundance of the harvest only in terms of how it relates to him. He has no thoughts of anyone else. The fool of a farmer doesn’t even think about God; he discounts God; probably not thinking that there is no God, just that God is not here; or certainly God is too far away to see or be bothered with him (Hoezee, Luke). The abundant crop is likely wheat, which is a source of bread, which is the source of life, both figuratively and literally. Hording the abundance denies his neighbors life (Hoezee, Luke). His thoughts are oppressive and unjust.

All of us have been a fool at one time or another, ignoring God’s presence, ignoring how our words and actions affect our neighbors nearby and far away. All of us have built barns and filled them with things that are “precious to me.” All of us have inheritances, or abundant harvests, or whatever it is stored away in our barns. And all of us, have our Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday moments when the contents of our barns dissolve into flotsam, and we are reminded of the mysterious value of life, so fragile, so unknowable, and yet so precious me.

It is my prayer for all of us that it does not take an existential threat to remind us of the inexhaustible sovereignty, the inexhaustible capacity, of God’s abundant love (Bratt). We’d like to believe we know JB’s, RW’s and JT’s future. We do not know; it is not for us to know (Acts 1:6, Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32) (Olive Tree). And all of us wish none of this had happened, but that is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is how to share the abundance of our barns (Tolkien, Fellowship). And of all we have to share, the God’s strength, presence, and love are the most to be desired.


References

n.d. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 13CCenter for Excellence in Preaching. 31 7 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – Eleventh Sunday after. 31 7 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Forget, André. Curry: ‘Jesus doesn’t allow us the option of self-righteousness’| Presiding Bishop sits for an interview with Canadian Anglican Journal. 11 7 2016. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2016/07/11/curry-jesus-doesnt-allow-us-the-option-of-self-righteousness/&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 13CCenter for Excellence in Preaching|Colossians. 31 7 2016.

—. Proper 13CCenter for Excellence in Preaching|Luke. 31 7 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Treasured Possessions? 24 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Nagata, Ada Wong. “Rich Toward God, Proper 13 (C).” 31 7 2016. Sermons that Work.

Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015

Reid, Stephen. Commentary on Hosea 11:111. 31 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Stamper, Meda. Commentary on Luke 12:1321. 31 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Tolkien, J.R.R. Lord of the Rings < http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/376870&gt;

—————— Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring

Walsh, Brian J. Commentary on Colossians 3:111. 31 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between Humpty Dumpty & The Looking Glass

 

A sermon for Proper 12: Hosea 1:2-10, Psalm 85, Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19), Luke 11:1-13

This morning we are somewhere between Humpty Dumpty and the Looking Glass. We all know the nursery rhyme; you may not know it is a parody on the ineptitude of the King’s Calvary

“All the King’s Horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

It was necessary to speak in metaphor and parody because to criticize the King was a hanging offense. With that in mind, let’s look again at Hosea. It is abhorrent that a prophet, a man of God, would associate with any woman not absolutely beyond reproach. Gomer does not qualify. It is not until we pay attention to their children’s names, that we begin to see the prophecy. I’m sure you remember that in ancient days peoples’ names were significant. This is especially true in the Bible. Think about how many times God or Jesus renames someone. The kids’ names are Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi. Jezreel is named after the city where the king’s great-grandfather killed off the family of the previous rulers, establishing his family’s reign. Lo-ruhamah means no mercy and Lo Ammi means not my people (Harrelson). The sequence would be heard

  •  no king,
  •  no compassion and
  •  no God (Bratt).

All this is happening because of Israel’s behavior. The King and the court have turned their back on God building alliances with other kingdoms. The Temple and priest have turned their backs on God, with empty rituals and shallow sacrifices. The merchants have turned their backs on God through economic injustice. The people have turned their backs on God through hedge bets to the Baals, the Canaanite god(s) of fertility to ensure the crops would be plentiful (Nysse) (Sakenfeld). Just so you will know how the story ends, the prophets are right. Israel, the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom, is completely destroyed by Assyria. They never recover. Judah was not conquered by Assyria; however, later they were overrun and sent into exile by Babylon. As you know, they return from exile, reestablish Jerusalem and the Temple and live under a variety of foreign empires until Rome burns Jerusalem to the ground to suppress a revolt about the year 70. Israel as we know it today was carved out of the British colony of Palestine after WWII in return for Jewish support against the Axis forces. But I wander.

Now you would think that after the destruction of Israel, exile in Babylon, and being occupied all those many centuries lessons about fidelity to God would kind of be important. And they were; well sort of.

Fast forward to the end of the Gospel time. Jesus’ followers both Jew and gentile (which is really everybody not Jewish) broadly proclaim Jesus to be the incarnation of God, the perfection of Moses, the perfection of the prophets, and whose resurrection shattered the injustice of a corrupt crucifixion and secured for everyone who believes justice, and eternal life in God’s presence. This story runs smack up against Jewish traditions, which leads to Saul’s vicious persecution of Jesus’ early followers. Then Paul (note the name change) gets converted by a private audience with Christ in God’s presence. Understanding that God has done through Jesus what the people could not do through the Temple and Torah, Paul sets out on what the Pharisees always understood the next step to be, taking the light of God to all the nations of the world. Thus we find Paul in gentile lands proclaiming Christ in preaching, in person and through letters, Yes, he ran into difficulties. Certainly with Jews living in foreign lands. At first, they just objected; they remember their history. But there was also trouble with Jewish Christians, who believed that for gentiles to be truly Christian, they had to follow Jewish laws. There were also some converts who had been followers of Greek or Roman teachers who taught you had to follow an ascetic lifestyle that included a specific set of visionary rituals. Paul’s letter circulating through churches in and around Corinth is clear don’t be deceived by human philosophies and empty deceit, old traditions, or new festivals. Beware of shallow rituals and empty traditions; do not lose touch with Jesus (Walsh). For Paul, there was nothing beyond Baptism. Through Baptism

  • we acknowledge Jesus as the center of hope
  • we commit to proclaiming that Jesus’ death and resurrection changed the balance of the world, and of the cosmos.

Paul teaches that Jesus, God’s Christ, is the fullness of God on earth. Through Baptism we are now “In Christ” and therefore we are also the fullness of God on earth (Hoezee, Colossians).

So, here we are. Two thousand years later. A couple days away from the end of one political convention, a day away from the beginning of the next political convention, and if you read the news, you’d think we hadn’t learned a thing. A review of the world reveals a commitment to God in Jesus that is as corrupt as Hosea’s world and as shallow as Paul’s world. As I listened to folks around town or read social media, I hear a constant loud voice

“That if we’d only recommit to following God’s word everything would get back to normal.”

I don’t disagree. I’ve had enough of shallow rituals and empty traditions. There is only one small trouble; their faithful way of being in Jesus is my shallow rituals and empty traditions; and my, our way of being in Jesus is their shallow rituals and empty traditions. I’ve about had enough; have you had enough (Lewis)?

Well, we are not alone. Jesus’ disciples are at their edge, just like we are. Only, they had the advantage of seeing Jesus going off to pray anytime the journey got stressful, which was all the time. They also saw how refreshed and renewed Jesus was after his time away in prayer (Hoezee, Luke). And so they finally ask a really good question “Jesus, teach us to pray like that?” And he teaches them what we know as the Lord’s prayer. And for your information, yes, Matthew’s version is different, and we’ve added a classical Jewish form of Amen to the end, so relax it is the same prayer. Now, what exactly does Jesus teach them and us?

It all begins acknowledging that God’s named is hallowed; everything dedicated to God only makes sense if God is above all (Sakenfeld). Then the prayer moves to looking forward to God’s Kingdom being on earth, literally, and right now! And that is connected to God’s desire to be in a loving relationship with all creation, being accepted. Then the prayers of our seeking forgiveness of our sins, not when we forgive others, but when we have the grace of the Spirit to forgive others because it is the same grace that allows us to see and accept our sins and God’s forgiveness. And finally, we pray to be shielded from the time of trial (Whitley).

A couple, well a few points. Jesus teaches us to address God, not convicted of our shortfalls, but as he does, with the power of the Spirit to claim our heritage of being in Christ (Pankey, Father). It’s similar to Paul’s emphasis on being in Christ.

The word ‘daily’ is not so clear. We don’t really know what it means because this is the only place it is used. It might mean necessary, or continual. No matter the precise definition Jesus’ meaning is clear, follow the wilderness tradition of relying on God for today’s needs, trusting that God will also take care of tomorrow’s needs (Pankey, Bread).

Part of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray is their observation that Jesus prays all the time. They realize prayer is not for special occasions or times of need. Jesus invites us to follow him in living all of life as prayer (Hoezee, Luke).

While it is not a part of the prayer proper, the parable that follows teaches us about God’s unreasonable grace. Actually, it is the hospitality God has always called people to live. The culture of hospitality expects a neighbor to help an unprepared neighbor offer hospitality to an inconvenient guest. So yes, God will answer our inconvenient, unreasonable prayers.

Except life reveals to us, it’s not that way, at least it doesn’t appear to be. At one time or another, all of us find ourselves at the point when we proclaim “How much more!?” Beware the prosperity gospel heresy of believing strong enough and it will be; magical deliverance from illness, or winning the lottery; it is false, it is not biblical, and it is dangerous. And I know that at the times we cry out:

  • “How much more pain and loss?” God answers “how much more strength will I give you.”
  • “How much more abandonment and rejection?” God answers” how much more will I be with you.”
  • “How much more disillusionment and disappointment?” God answers “how much more I will love you.” (Lewis).

The strength, the presence, and the love of God is always nearby, at least in the gentle ministry of the Spirit’s assuring whisper that the promise of the resurrection is true, you are in Jesus, God’s Christ. And just so we can remember, the next time we hear Jesus pray it is “Why have you forsaken me?” (Hoezee, Luke).

So this morning, as we stand between Humpty Dumpty and the Looking Glass with the endless variations of nihilistic ADHD narcissism flooding media of all sorts I’m reminded that we live in Christ in prayer, that the truth of God’s word is deeper than the surface of paper, that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love. I’m reminded that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence.

that we live in Christ in prayer, that the truth of God’s word is deeper than the surface of paper, that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love. I’m reminded that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence.

that the truth of God’s word is deeper than the surface of paper, that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love. I’m reminded

  • that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence
  • that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and
  • that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love.

I’m reminded that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence.

 


 

References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 12CCenter for Excellence in Preaching Hosea. 24 7 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 24 7 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 24 7 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 12CCenter for Excellence in Preaching Colossians. 24 7 2016.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 11:1-13. 24 7 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. How Much More? 24 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Nysse, Richard W. Commentary on Hosea 1:210. 24 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “Father.” 24 7 2016. Draughting Theology.

—. Give us today our [daily] bread. 24 7 2016.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Stamper, Meda. Commentary on Luke 11:113. 24 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Walsh, Brian J. Commentary on Colossians 2:615[. 24 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Whitley, Katerina. “Lord, Teach Us How to Pray, Proper 12 (C).” 24 7 2016. Sermons that Work.

 

 

 

Do not be overcome by evil

A Sermon for Proper 11: Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42

Monday my attention was on the march on the bridge in Memphis. Then Thursday night I read about the terrorist attack in Nice France. After all the previous mass tragedies or terroristic events, I felt the horror of those events. I’ve grieved for the losses of people and families. But I was not concerned nor afraid. Thursday night, for the first time, my emotions were somewhere between fear and concern. I was not afraid nor concerned for myself. I was, and still am, deeply aware that people who I believe can take a moderate, thoughtful approach are going to have to DO something that at least begins to visibly reduces threats; or more radical forces will gain, default, social approval to DO something, and all indicators are it will be overly drastic. The truth is; I was more than a bit off center. Friday morning’s Episcopal Café – Speaking to the Soul posting (L. Walsh), which drawn from Romans (12:9-21).

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

For those of you who are long timers in the Diocese, some verses may sound familiar; they are part of the blessing Bp. Maze pronounced. But it is verse 21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. that caught my attention. For the first time, I saw Do not be overcome by evil is not about being overcome by an external evil force. It is about not being overcome through unthoughtful, prayer-less, reflexive actions to horrific terrors of the world; some of which may be the perversity of numbers; some of which may well be evil. And overcoming evil with good is not a battle strategy, it is a matter of ethics. In the United States ethics is classically about making the right decision; or after the fact, evaluating if the best decision was made and the unthinkable still happens, i.e. your loved one is among the .1% who suffers from a severe or a mortal side effect of a product or some random event. Another ethics methodology begins with an event that draws our attention and then asks two questions

  • What contributed to this that can be eliminated?
  • What is to be done from here for those who are affected?

It turns out today’s lectionary readings speak to the subject of our response to police shootings & abuse of force, the shooting of police, mass shootings, and to terrorist attacks that may or may not appear as any of previous.

Amos has something to say about not being overcome by evil. Remember he is prophesying in Israel. Times are really – really good. If you want to get an idea, read the books of Kings and Chronicles. It is best to read them in parallel to each other because they are written from opposing sides of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Judah, Southern Kingdom. But beware, the flow of the story is not comfortable. Many of today’s social, political, economic, and religious concerns are apparent in these stories; which is where Amos’ comes in.

Today we heard him challenge the behavior of the prevailing merchant and well to do classes.

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

He quotes them saying:

We will make the ephah (which is a unit of measure, about a bushel (ISB)) too small and the shekel (a weighted out unit of money – maybe $400 – $500 (truthsaves.org)) great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.

In short, it was accepted practice for those with the ability to cheat everyone else; you know the modern business practices I’m referring to. It is accepted to manipulate the circumstance to take unjust advantage of a person, or people of another status. For example, the colonialism practice of stripping mineral wealth of a colony or occupied country. Amos is blunt; there will be consequences.

I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head;

Turning feast into mourning is Thursday night in Nice when the celebration of independence is turned into the mourning those killed by a terrorist attack. Turning songs into lamentations is having your favorite concerts become funeral dirges, like Orlando. But what is really condemning is the prophecy that

The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.

God will no longer speak to Israel. I want, I need to hear the Word of God.

The most difficult part of determining what contributed to a horrible tragedy that can be eliminated is the honest appraisal of our own complicity. As President Bush said in Dallas

Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions (Time).

 Also in Dallas President Obama said:

We cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid, … We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism. To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends and co-workers and fellow church members again and again and again — it hurts (NYT).”

It will not be easy to change. Nonetheless, I believe change begins with us, and that we can change; and as we say in our Baptismal Covenant: “We will with God’s help.”

When we have been honest, and when we have identified actionable behaviors, our and others what are we to do? Martha and Mary share an unexpected insight.

We all know Martha is busy tending to Jesus and her guest. We forget such hospitality is culturally mandated. From a strict cultural perspective, Martha is right; and Mary is a slacker (Hoezee, Proper 11 Luke10:38-42; Parsons; Lewis). So what is Jesus saying when he tells Martha … there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part. The language is complex, and thanks to my colleague Steve who unpacked it all. It seems Martha is completely distracted. Body and soul she is in turmoil, filled with anxiety (Pankey). Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, in her audacious act, of putting herself in the exclusive role of a male, she is at peace; not because she chooses to act against tradition or law, but because she is focused on Jesus, the Word of her God. So when we have identified actionable behaviors, we must keep our focus on Jesus, the Word of God. Paul shares a couple of reasons why.

First, though it is the last phrase we hear this morning, is that our purpose is the same as Paul’s to make the word of God fully known. We cannot make the Word of God know if we are distracted by any of life’s turbulences, be they the demands of hospitality or the threats of mass shooters, terrorists, wildfire, tornados, or thunderstorms that knock all the power out, or whatever. Staying focused on Jesus, the Word of the Lord will empower us to see the with wisdom and to do what needs to be done. Paul also refers to Jesus as the firstborn of all creation, and of the dead. In the ancient Jewish world, the character of the ‘first’ of anything is imputed as the character of all that follows. Jesus is first of all, thus all of us, all humanity are agents of God, as Jesus is the agent of God. We and all humanity stand before God, as Jesus stands before God.

As we begin to believe this of ourselves, we are able to ~ well you’ve heard the benediction “do what others claim cannot be done.” As we believe this of others, we begin to see them as the agents of God and respect and relate to them as the agents of God. In this way, we can respect the hurtful experiences of others. Then we can change our behaviors. Next, we can work to eliminate social traditions, legal and judicial obstacles so We the People, all created equal, may find the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness the work of the grace of God.


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 11 Center for Excellence in Preaching Amos 8:1-12. 17 7 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Couey, Blake. Commentary on Amos 8:112. 17 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 17 7 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 17 7 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 11 Luke10:38-42. 17 7 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Proper 11 Colossians 1:15-28. 17 7 2016.

Hoffacker, Charles. “Passionate Spirituality, Proper 11 (C).” 17 7 2016. Sermons that Work.

ISB. “EPHAH (2).” INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA. Ed. James Orr. WORDSearch, 2014.

Lewis, Karoline. No Comparison. 17 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

NYT. obama-dallas-attacks-speech. 13 7 2016. <http://http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/us/politics/obama-dallas-attacks-speech.html?_r=0 m/2016/07/13/us/politics/obama-dallas-attacks-speech.html?_r=0 >.

Pankey, Steve. “Unprecedented levels of distraction.” 11 7 2016. Draughting Theology. <https://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/unprecedentedlevelsofdistraction/&gt;.

Parsons, Mikeal C. Commentary on Luke 10:3842. 17 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Time. george-w-bush-speech-dallas-shooting-memorial-service. 12 7 2016. <http://time.com/4403510/george-w-bush-speech-dallas-shooting-memorial-service&gt;.

truthsaves.org. the-value-of-a-sheke. n.d. 15 7 2016. <shekel – http://truthsaves.org/articles/the-value-of-a-shekel/&gt;.

Walsh, Brian J. Commentary on Colossians 1:1528. 17 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Walsh, Laura. Speaking to the Soul: Overcoming Evil. 15 7 2016. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speaking-to-the-soul-overcoming-evil/&gt;.

 

 

Go and Do Likewise

A sermon for Proper 10; Amos 7:7-17, Psalm 82, Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37

This past week has been all jumbled up; July 4th was the 5th and the 5th was 4th. Our family was here the 6th to the 8th; all three grands 18 months, 24 months and 7 years were frolicking around. The 6 adults were outnumbered. However, Angie and I had a great time even as we were left exhausted.

Friday afternoon the time came to write my sermon for today, and I experienced tabula rasa, a blank tablet, no ideas, not even after an inspirational nap. On Saturday morning I discovered that although I prayed office daily, I had not done my customary reflections; this is one more reason I was emotionally and spiritually drained. Nonetheless the divine muse in gracious.

This year our family celebrated the Declaration of Independence by excising our independence. Our oldest and family are moving ½ way across the country so she can start CRNA School. They travel on safe roads free of fear of prowlers. We gathered at our home cars parked askew ventured forth to get whatever we needed whenever we needed it. We entertained ourselves and grands with all sorts of available gizmos, videos, movies, and. music. Come Friday morning our daughters and families went on their way, and we had no concern for they safety.

Of course, all our blessings are in multiple contexts: our independence, the police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the shootings of police in Texas, Tennessee, Georgia and Missouri (fox 2 now). And these events are in the larger context of:  57 Law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty this year; 26 by shootings (Officer Down); 509 people killed by police so far in 2016 (Fatal Force); 179 mass shootings (which is defined as 4 or more victims) in which 712 people were injured, and 256 people were killed (Gun Violence Archive); in a country with 4.4% of world’s population and 22 percent of the global prison population (Lee). Generally, there have been two ever increasing virulent reactions to all this: demands for more gun control, and demands for more defense of the right to self-defense in the form of carrying a weapon. In addition, the Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter mini-movements have evolved into movements which do and do not say the same thing.

What I have come to realized is that none of what these movements, positions, stories or statistics are what we think they are or think they are about causality. The truth is all the above are symptoms of far deeper more troubling problems; both of which are addressed in today’s readings.

Amos lived in the reigns of Jeroboam II in Israel and Uzziah in Judah in the mid to late 700s BCE. It was a period of unprecedented economic growth and political stability. The growth of economy brought about changes in the demographic pattern. The elites controlled the trade, so they were the beneficiaries of those lucrative enterprises. Everyone else was oppressed by taxes, indebtedness predatory creditors and corrupt courts (Sakenfeld). The Plumb Line Amos sees is a complex interpretation which could also be ‘tin’ or ‘plaster;’ however, the significance is clear. God will no longer overlook the failures of Israel, primarily economic oppression (Amos 2:6-7; 5:10-12; 8:46). The image is a warning about Israel’s self-delusion (Gaventa and Petersen).

Amaziah is chief priest Bethel, a long established Temple. Amos prophesies the destruction of the Temple and Israel

the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword (Amos 7:9)

Amaziah tells Amos:

[Go] away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom. (Amos 7:12)

Amaziah cannot see that Israel has become a pagan land (Bratt). A truth revealed in his claiming that the Temple is the King’s and the Nation’s which means it is not God’s. It is disturbing to realize Amaziah believes he is doing his sacred duty (Parsons). This raises two deeply profound questions. As professed followers of Jesus, whose interest are we really serving? As a self-declared Christian nation whose interest are we really serving? There is a widely held belief that biblical ethics have nothing to do with politics (Epperly). There is a more widely held belief that biblical ethics, beyond concerns of sexuality, have nothing to do with politics, economics, justice, health care, education, national defense or any other governance concern. Whose interest are we serving?

It is deeply disturbing for the church that Amos claims he is not a prophet or son of a prophet. This is not a statement about his lineage it is a proclamation that he is: not a professional prophet; not a member of the court; not a member of the prophet guild (Bratt). Amos’ rejection of official structures challenges the Church, in all her many forms to give up our privileged positions within the culture and speak the deadly truth. We should not be fooled, the decline in church attendance is not necessarily a sign of declining privilege. This story calls us to embrace the prophetic role that speaks the truth that decreases the distance between our competing cultures and God. It requires reducing resistance, including ours, to change (Jolly) especially change of our views of others. People who live in poverty do not choose to live in poverty. People who live in poverty are not the subjects of divine punishment for some sin. People live in poverty because We the People choose not to see them as the image of God they are.

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is even more difficult to hear. First, we have to get by the misadventure story. Then we have to get by the character development story. It is only when we get to the exploration of the parable as literature that we can glean the fullest truth. Everyone expects that the priest and Levite will stop and render aid. Like Amaziah, they are the professionals of the Temple and Court. Like the Lawyer we see the Samaritan’s abundance of compassion. And like the Lawyer we miss his abundant wealth; he has a donkey and leaves two day’s wage with a stranger with an unlimited promise to cover whatever the stranger’s needs are. The Samaritan also gives from freely from his abundance of wealth. And remember wealth is supposedly a sign of divine blessings. We read that the Samaritan is “moved with pity.” (Luke 10:33) This phrase is used only 3 times in all of Luke. The other two times it is Jesus who is moved with pity (Luke 7:13, 15:20). The Lawyer describes the Samaritan’s action as an act of mercy (Parsons). In Luke, acts of mercy are always associated with God or God’s agents (Parsons). Jesus tells the lawyer to “Go and do likewise.” in essence, he is telling the Lawyer – a very pious and proper Jew to go be a Samaritan.

Both readings redefine traditional boundaries and move them further than we typically think. The Samaritans are not just our neighbors; we are the Samaritans’ neighbors (Wright). It is more than loving our neighbor; it is accepting love from our neighbor (Gaventa and Petersen). Both readings offend the status quo; they upset the deeply held values of socio-political thoughts; both Republican, Democratic, or whatever. Amaziah cannot see that Israel is half dead. The Lawyer cannot see that Israel is the man in the ditch (Wright). Both readings give us cause to stop and look not at what we say, not at the accouterments of position or titles but how we behave, to towards each other, and especially to the outsiders.

When folks ask me “How are things going?” I frequently reply: “If someone is not angry with me, I’m not doing my job.” My trouble is no one is near angry enough with me. Today I am realizing just how deep that truth is for all of us. Today I realize just what that reveals about my behavior, and our behavior as individuals, as a church, as a community, and as a nation. There is work to be done change to accept change to make.

One commentator wrote about FDR’s efforts to hide his paralysis. Some efforts were extreme, like building ramps his car can drive up on. Some efforts were subtle, like painting his braces the same color black of his suit pants. There was one exception. FDR always was in his wheelchair when he went to visit veterans’ in the hospital. There he knew the calling was to share the truth of his life.

We can follow FDR’s example. In fact, we can expand it. We can change our behaviors and share all the truth of who we are. And when we have done that, we can be vulnerable to change, vulnerable to our neighbors closing the distance between ourselves and God.

After the end of WWII, the Anglican Communion realized it needed to change the relationship between the United States & the Church of England and other provinces. One effort was titled Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in Christ. It sought to live into the Christian ideal that we are all mutually responsible and interdependence to each other in Christ.

  • Amaziah and Amos are mutually responsible and interdependent.
  • The Samaritan, the man in the ditch and the Lawyer, are mutually responsible and interdependent.
  • Black and Whites, rich and poor are mutually responsible and interdependent.
  • Christians, Jews, Muslims and all faiths are mutually responsible and interdependent.
  • Police and citizens are mutually responsible and interdependent.
  • Bomb-wielding terrorist and drone flying armies are mutually responsible and interdependent.
  • Banks, Corporate Executives, the one percent, the ten percent and the shrinking middle class and the persistent poverty classes are mutually responsible and interdependent.

The truth is all the world has claimed what is God’s as ours; all the world is in the ditch. God is calling more than one prophetic voice to speak the truth revealing the way back to the divine-human intimacy God desires. All the world, all nations, peoples, tribes, cities, villages, families, and individuals are called to cross our unapproachable boundaries. As we speak to truth to strangers who do not want to hear it; and hear the truth from strangers we do not want to trust; share from our abundance of wealth and grace, with others many declare as undeserving and as we receive from the undeserving their abundance of grace and wealth we will begin to notice God’s gift of intimacy, which comes to us through Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. From there we will just simply go and do likewise.

 

References

n.d. 9 7 2016. <http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/export-finished?filename=public%3A//export-f8e3d5e9-6fc2-41a1-91d6-8fca42201976.csv&uuid=0484b316-f676-44bc-97ed-ecefeabae077&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 10 Amos 7:7-17. 10 7 2016.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 10 7 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fatal Force. 9 7 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings-2016/&gt;.

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. Proper 10 Luke. 10 7 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jolly, Marshall A. “Are We Ready to Hear the Truth? Proper 10 (C).” 10 7 2016. Sermons that Work.

Lee, Michelle Ye Hee. The Washington Post. 15 4 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/04/30/does-the-united-states-really-have-five-percent-of-worlds-population-and-one-quarter-of-the-worlds-prisoners/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. The Need for Nearness. 10 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Officer Down Memorial Page. 9 7 2016. <https://www.odmp.org/search/year&gt;.

Parsons, Mikeal C. Commentary on Luke 10:25-37. 10 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Police say officers have been targeted in Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee. 8 7 2016. <http://fox2now.com/2016/07/08/police-say-officers-have-been-targeted-in-missouri-georgia-and-tennessee/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Amos 7:717. 10 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Wright, Tom. Twelve Months of Sundays: Years A, B and V. New York: Church Publishing, 2012.

 

 

Radical Equality in The Pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness

A sermon for Proper 9: 2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 6:(1-6) 7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Independence Day: Deuteronomy 10:17-21

40 years ago I was at Ft. Gillam near Atlanta with 10 thousand Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and leaders, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. It was not a surprise that we spent almost entire entertain budget on fireworks; it was quite a show. What was a surprise was that it took every port-a-potty in Atlanta. Late Friday afternoon they were picked up, cleaned, and deliver before 7 pm. On Sunday the reverse happened. In spite of un-forecast thunderstorms, complete with a tornado warning, and an escaped prisoner from the adjoining town it was a great event. Though, I am pretty sure no one was thinking about

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

I’m under no illusion that anyone was thinking about Naaman or Jesus sending 70 disciples ahead to proclaim peace, heal the sick, and reveal the presence of the kingdom, or Moses telling the Hebrews after the debacle with the golden café, what God requires of them, because

The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deut 10:17)

 which is from the appointed readings for Independence Day. Today we will explore all of them.

Naaman’s story reveals the truest nature of equality. He is the King’s mightiest warrior and is immensely wealthy. He is ill, and he can afford the most talented physicians. He learns that when the mighty and wealthy are diagnosed with incurable “terminal” or chronic illnesses they and lowest of slaves are on equal footing (Epperly). His venture to Israel is similar to the overseas, black market cures jaunts desperate people seek today (Bratt). Yes, he wants to be cured, but I suspect more than anything, he wants to be clean, because he wants to know the gentle caress of human touch. Ever since his diagnosis of leprosy he has been considered unclean and no one will touch him. Naaman’s story also reveals a curious inequality of the powerful. Thanks to the sympathy of a Jewish slave Naaman knows of a prophet who will cure him. But, he rejects it because Elisha sent a messenger with instructions to go wash in the Jordan. Naaman’s see himself as above others; listen to what he says

I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot.

Part of Naaman being cured is to see himself equal to the slave who told him of Elisha and the slaves who convince him to listen to Elisha. And he does. We did not hear it this morning, but one clue to Naaman humbling himself is that he changes gods. Naaman becomes a follower of the God of Israel, the very lowly people Naaman and the Arameans, forbears of the Assyrians, detest (Sakenfeld). Through his experience, Naaman learns something about God’s equality.

Luke tells us that, Jesus, sends messengers to the villages, he is headed to. There are 70 messengers, which is significant because 70 is the number of nations in the world descended from Noah listed in Genesis 10. Since they number all nations, there is the implication their mission includes gentiles, which reveals that Jesus’ ministry is for everyone. This is Luke’s way of sharing Jesus’ teaching that all people are created equal (Hoezee, Luke). Jesus tells them to eat what is set in front of them. They are to accept hospitality, even if it means ignoring the Law, with respect to food, for the sake of sharing the news that the Kingdom of God is here (Hoezee, Luke). Another indicator of the radical equality Jesus tells his messenger to show is that no matter how they are received or treated they are to tell the house / village that the Kingdom of God has come near (Luke 10:11). Perhaps the most difficult bit of what the messengers are to convey; even learn, is that you don’t get to choose. Following God in Jesus is not some sort of divine salad bar, where you choose this and leave that aside (Hoezee, Galatians). You don’t get to choose who to love; everyone is your neighbor; everyone deserves to hear the good news that the Kingdom of God is near; everyone is equal.

Paul puts a very large dot on the dominant “I” of equality today’s lessons reveal. He tells the Galatians; you reap what you so; God will not be mocked. You cannot proclaim this, and behave that-a-way. There is an equality of all to the universe, and it does not bend to our convenience. (Hoezee, Galatians) Paul continues, we are to bear each other burdens, trusting that as we come to aid of the other, yet others will come to our aid as we are burdened and all at the same time (Hoezee, Galatians). This is how shalom, wholeness, the peace of God comes to all of us; comes to any of us.

I am painfully aware not everyone agrees; however, for the most part, we believe that all men are created equal. Oh, our skills and abilities and essence vary tremendously. Nonetheless, all of us, everyone is created in the image of God, and all are called to remind everyone else, by how we treat them, that we can see, and we love the image of God they bear.

Looking back across my six plus decades, I see our struggle with unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mostly because my life, liberty, and happiness appear to infringe on your life, liberty, and happiness. It is implicit in Deuteronomy, 2 Kings, and Luke, but Paul just makes it blunt: my pursuit, of life, liberty, and happiness, is dependent on your pursuit life, liberty and happiness. More importantly, our pursuit is dependent on their – the foreigners’, the aliens’ pursuit life, liberty, and happiness. It is my considered opinion that this is the most important, perhaps the only true function of governments that are instituted among us, radical equality of the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

Angie and I are looking forward to a quiet 4th and a joyous and raucous 6th, 7th and 8th as our daughters and their families will be here. It is my hope your 4th may be equally joyous and raucous. I pray that in our joy we will take the time to remember, that as the 70 were, we are also sent to all the nations, all the peoples of the world to share the news that the Kingdom of God is the true home of life, liberty, and happiness.

 


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 9 C 2 Kings 5:1-14. 3 7 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 7 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Lectionary Epistle Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16. 3 7 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 10:1-11, 16-20. 3 7 2016.

Parsons, Mikeal C. Commentary on Luke 10:1-11, 3 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Reid, Stephen. Commentary on 2 Kings 5:114. 3 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Final Text of the Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776. n.d. 1 7 2016. <http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1776-1785/the-final-text-of-the-declaration-of-independence-july-4-1776.php&gt;.

Vargas, Alicia. Commentary on Galatians 6: [16]. 3 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.