See all people as children of Abraham, bearers of God’s image.

A sermon for Proper 26: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, Psalm 119:137-144, 2 Thessalonians 1:14, 11-12,

Backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, and backs, and backs, backs, backs, backs. All I can see are backs, and backs, and backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, and backs. Why won’t they let me through? Backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, ah there it is a tree. It is not very dignified to climb a tree; it is certainly not one of the seven habits of highly effective people, but that doesn’t matter (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner; Hoezee). Stretch, reach, pull a foothold push, There, now I can see. There he is! I can see him (Lose, In the Meantime; Hoezee; Lose, Working Preacher).

Samaritan leper saw that he was cured. The blind man received his sight (Lose, Working Preacher). Now I can see him; and he is looking at me! He is speaking to me!! What? He is going to stay at my house!!! I’m am honored. Son of Abraham he called me Son of Abraham, I am home, once again I belong; like the younger brother who squandered his inheritance (Luke 15:11). I am home. I belong. I am Zacchaeus, and I am home.

We have to go all the way back to Lazarus to hear a name. We did not read all these stories in our Sunday services this year but, neither blind beggar nor the young ruler, nor the little children, nor the Pharisee or the tax collector from last week, nor the widow or the judge from the week before that nor any of the ten lepers before that, have a name. So, when we hear a name, we know it is time to pay attention.

Zacchaeus comes from the Hebrew zakay whose roots mean pure or an Israelite. The older roots infer to be or make clean or pure (Thomas Nelson Inc; Olive Tree). Zacchaeus’ name supports the wordplay that his short stature implies his moral shortcomings (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Tax collectors are political and religious traitors, and he is a chief tax collector. Perhaps his name is a clue to the surprise of the story that he is made clean, by Jesus welcoming him into his own home as a son of Abraham.

There are a few important details that are perhaps hard to hear or to see because they are not there. Zacchaeus does not confess or repent (Lose, In the Meantime). The talk of giving away half his wealth, and repaying anyone he has defrauded, is very unclear (Butterworth). Is it something he is doing? Is it a promise? Is it something he would like to do? For Jesus’ part, he does not condemn Zacchaeus’ actions as a tax collector; which should not be a surprise since he does not condemn the nine lepers who go to the priest, as he told them to, or unjust judge or the Pharisee praying in the Temple. But, neither does he commend Zacchaeus’ apparent penitence, or his faith or his change of heart (Lose, Working Preacher).

So, a whole lot of what we think might be going on isn’t. Nonetheless, Zacchaeus is transformed. It happens just because Jesus accepts him for who he is, a child of Abraham. It is interesting to wonder how, or if Zacchaeus will be restored to a place in the community, as the two women, Jesus healed were. Jesus called one daughter, and the other a daughter of Abraham (Luke 8:4, 13:16). I expect we might find all of this stuff a bit helpful when we are anxious about going into a situation we are not comfortable with. Zacchaeus’ story shows us that the presence of Jesus opens the possibilities for unimaginable things to happen (Lose, Working Preacher). And since we are made in God’s image we also reflect Jesus’ image and we mirror Jesus’ presence.

Way back in chapter 10 Jesus sends seventy disciples on a mission trip. Parts of his instructions are to stay in homes, and to tell those who welcome them that “the Kingdom of God has come near you.” It seems that Jesus is following his own instructions (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Yes, Jesus tells Zacchaeus what is going to happen and that he is staying in Zacchaeus’ home. And though he uses different words, Jesus calling Zacchaeus, “son of Abraham,” reveals that the Kingdom of God has come near.

I find Zacchaeus’ story a banner of hope. Despite his short stature, and his diminished moral stature, Zacchaeus desires to see Jesus, and he does. Our hope is the promise that anyone who wants to see Jesus, will see him; and Jesus will also see them. In that moment, when you are seen by Jesus, in that moment, anything, anything can happen.

I also hear a call in Zacchaeus’ story. Our stewardship of Jesus’ ministry includes continuing to expand the boundary of those who are a child of God by seeing all who are God’s people, which Paul reminds us in Romans is pretty much everyone (Romans 19:0) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner; Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set). One way to share that the kingdom of God is right here right now is, without any preconditions or preconceptions, accepting people as children of Abraham, bearing the God’s image, just as they are.

A face, a friend, a smile. Hi, how are you? Thank you. Excuse me. You’re welcome. Yes, it is good to be home.


References

Butterworth, Susan. “The Righteous Live By Their Faith – Proper 26(C).” 30 10 2016. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 30 10 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. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 19:1-10. 30 10 2016.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 30 10 2016.

Lose, David. Commentary on Luke 19:1-10. 30 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

—. Pen 24 C / Reformation – The Unexpected. 30 10 2016.

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

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

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

Thomas Nelson Inc. NKJV Strong’s Bible. Nashville: Olive Tree, 1982.

 

 

 

 

God’s Just Because Love.

A sermon for Proper 25: Joel 2:23-32, Psalm 65, 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18, Luke 18:9-14

Two men walk into the Temple. One stands tall, surveys the people there and prays “God, I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income; I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” The other slips off to the side and with head bowed in humility prays “God, be merciful to me, a sinner! I thank you that I am not like other people, like that Pharisee!”

You are right; this is not how the story goes. However, it is what many of us take away from it. We flip the roles around, thinking we should be humble like the tax collector; and that we should not be like the Pharisee. Only everything the Pharisee says is correct (Hoezee, Luke; Lose, Working Preacher). Scholars believe his prayer is a standard Jewish prayer of thanksgiving at that time. To judge the Pharisee, which is what we do when we flip the roles, is to make the same mistake the Pharisee is making. There is nothing that tells us the Pharisee is a bad person, quite the opposite; he lives as his spiritual guides tell him to live (Epperly). The error he makes is to believe he has done it all by himself (Lose, Working Preacher). He puts all his trust in his ability.

Today we hear similar ideas expressed when people proudly proclaim “Look what I did!” “See what I built.” “See how successful I am.” What is being overlooked is the interconnectedness of all our lives. The Pharisee’s success, all success, is the product of the efforts of many, many people, as well as the efforts of those who claim success (Epperly). For the last several weeks we have been laying a laminate floor upstairs. Success to date is the results of: the manufacturer, the retailer, the power company, a second retailer, who sells toy often called tools, our son in law, Blytheville Public Works, and how can I forget, the makers of Ibuprofen and ice packs. Success is the collaboration of many people. When we ignore the interconnectedness of life, claiming all the success is because of our work, we get infected by a false sense of independence and moral superiority; and this infection blinds us to the presence of God’s grace. We may say “There but for the grace of God go I.” but the implication that the other lacks God’s grace, based on the lack of trappings of what we call success, or that we have God’s grace, by the presence of trappings of what we call success, is an error in judgment made twice. We judge the other negatively “there go I;” and we judge ourselves positively, “except for the grace of God.” And it is all a bit strange because biologists, psychologists, physiologists, neurologist and sociologists say we are hard-wired for relationship. Scripture says we were created in relationship; God created humanity, male and female in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Theologians teach us that we are created to be in relationship with God, just because God loves us. And we still tend to follow the cultural ideology that we should be self-sufficient and the theological ideology to earn each other’s love and earn God’s love, all the while saying we cannot (Rice).

Two of today’s reading debunk the ideas of rugged individualism and earned love. Joel’s prophecy, which follows some of the most gruesome in the bible, is a democratization of the presence of God. Everyone is to receive God’s spirit, young boys, girls, slaves, all who were previously excluded, will prophecy; (Joel 2:28) everyone is invited to share God’s wisdom with others (Hoezee, Joel; Epperly).

Jesus tells of a Pharisee properly entering the Temple to pray, and offering the correct prayer then contrasts him with a tax collector, who is a traitor to his country by serving the Roman occupiers, and to God by his not following the Law. The story finishes with the least likely person in all Israel, a tax collector, being justified, loved and restored to relationship with God, just because he is. Luke’s Gospel is addressed to Theophilus, which means lover of God. The Tax Collector does go to the Temple exhibiting some love of God; so, Jesus’ reference to “this man” just might extend to everyone who makes any effort to follow God (Ellingsen).

A last bit from scripture about justification. When Jesus dies, the curtain in the Temple, which separates the Holy of Holies, God’s home on earth, from the rest of the world is torn in two. There is no longer anything that divides us from God, and therefore nothing that should divide us from each other (Lose, Working Preacher). There is justification for all.

In the last three weeks, I have spoken about how by our baptism we are consecrated, set aside for God’s service. I have spoken about how we are called to be stewards to the household of God and that we are to cultivate and nurture the relationships between ourselves, our neighbors, strangers, and aliens in the land. I have spoken about how through our prayers and our presence we can help each other expand our limits and deepen our faith.

This morning I hope we can begin to see that our living into our baptism, as consecrated stewards in God’s household is the fruits of justification, God’s just because love for us. The more we recognize that God’s loves us and those other people, the more we are able to live into our baptism, as consecrated stewards in God’s household. It is my prayer that by passing the peace and sharing Eucharist we grow in seeing God’s love in every relationship. It is my prayer that by sharing of God’s abundance in our care for each other and our neighbors, and by going forth in the power of the Spirit, we grow in sharing God’s love in every relationship we have (Rice). It is my prayer that as we walk through life we pray “Thank you God for loving me, just like you love all these other people.”


References

Bouzard, Walter C. Commentary on Joel 2:23-32. 23 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scriture Notes. 23 10 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Frederick, John. Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. 23 10 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

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 25 C Luke 18:9-14. 23 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Proper 25 C 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 . 23 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

—. Proper 25 C Joel 2:23-32. 23 10 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Thank God for the Other. 23 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Lose, David. Commentary on Luke 18:9-14. 23 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

—. Pentecost 25 B: Pretenders to the Throne. 23 10 2016.

Rice, Whitney. “Will We Accept God’s Love? Proper 25.” 23 10 2016. Sermons that Work.

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

 

Profound Limitations and Depths of Faith

 A sermon for Proper 24: Jeremiah 31:27-34, Psalm 119:97-104, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8

JT’s diagnosis is crushing. Cerebral Palsy evokes images of crippled children; however, when symptoms appear early physical therapy can help retrain the brain, and three days old is about as early as you can get. Weeks go by; life settle into a routine, and something like normalcy begins to set in. And then the symptoms change. JT and his parents go back to the Children’s’ Hospital PICU. Adjusting medications don’t stop the seizures. Changing medications isn’t effective. JT has a different kind of seizure that leads to a high definition MRI which reveals a significant shrinkage of JT’s brain. The diagnosis is a mitochondrial DNA defect, which is not treatable.

These are times when our limitations are profound, and we learn the depths of faith. There is nothing one can do beyond being present as the countenance of God, and even this is limited by the realities of miles upon miles of distance (Almquist). Where is the justice?

This morning’s Gospel story is about justice. We are used to hearing about the tenacity of the widow, and that if we are tenacious in our prayer life, our prayers will be answered. Most, well many, okay some preachers make adjustments to account for unanswered prayers while still holding up the widow’s tenacity as a model trait. And ~ it is a valuable model; ~ however, this past week, tenacity did not draw my attention. This past week I’ve been drawn in by “locker room talk.” And yes, I am going to mix politics and religion in the pulpit, in what, I hope, has been prayerful discernment.

Mr. Trump said what he said, and I’ll leave it to you to decide what you are to decide. However, the excuse that it is just “locker room talk” requires attention, at least in part because October is domestic abuse awareness month, and the alleged abusive behavior parallels domestic abuse. “Locker room talk” is not an excuse for any language that justifies or encourages any kind of abusive behavior. To try and use it as such does great damage to the recent years of hard mentoring work by high school and college coaches across the country as they seek to teach young men how to respect young ladies. It diminishes the efforts professional sports have taken to hold professional athletes accountable for their abusive treatment of women. It is up to you to decide the truth of the allegations. Either way, I strongly believe the excuse of “locker room talk” is a grave injustice to everyone. It diminishes our ability to see ourselves and others as the image of God we all are. It diminishes our ability to live into our baptismal vows as consecrated people, set aside for God’s purposes. It thwarts our efforts to be stewards of justice for all. And by “for all” I mean “for all” I’m not just adding women.

Here is my other concern. In dismissing Mr. Trump, I fear we will also dismiss the depths of the injustice he and Bernie Sanders have touched on. There are many, millions, of people who for forty years or more have not benefited from the economic growth in the world; and many have been harmed by laws and policies that enable the growth. Coal miners in West Virginia, automobile manufacturers in Detroit, air conditioner builders in Indianapolis, Milwaukee Tools workers here in Blytheville, have all lost jobs because of changes in the world trade conditions.

I don’t believe the market changes by themselves are unjust; however, the failure to provide displaced workers and their families with alternative careers is an unjust action by officials, who neither feared God nor respected people (Luke 18:2). The bias has worked its way into the legal system. Last week a Federal court found against two computer techs who were forced to train their replacements who came into the US on H1-b work visas, that are not supposed to “adversely affect the working conditions” (PRESTON). We have also heard over the last few weeks that US Bankers, at least at Wells Fargo, neither feared God nor respected people, as they fired 5,000 people for basically following instructions. Yes, two executives have lost their jobs, but with little financial repercussions, and the stockholders have an $185 million fine to pay. These workers’ anger and fears are just, and they can be dangerous.

You may be aware the new President of the Philippines has started a literal war on drugs. To date, some 14,000 addicts and drug dealers have been killed. President Duterte has compared himself to Hitler, though he later recanted. The link to my concern is that his actions are seen positively as signs of a willingness to act. He remains very popular, 83% of the people trust him. A citizen said

I see something that I have not seen in a long time in the Philippines, which is that he cares. He cares for the small guy, which is very important to me (ALMENDRAL).

Here is the link to Jesus’ parable. With no way to support themselves, widows are the most at risk of all people in Israel (Hoezee, Proper 24 | Luke 18:1-8). By law widows, second, only to orphans, should receive special protection (Lose). The parable is a much about a corrupted judge as it is about the widow’s persistence. Today, we must be concerned not only with judges but with a justice system and perhaps a government that neither fears God nor respects people.

I am reasonably sure that part of the reason we see business and governing decisions that neither fear God nor respect people is that we have bought our own story that the capitalism will cure all ills, and then we have sat by as the commoditization of everything is leading to the diminishing of everyone. We can no longer hear the cry for an end to bigotry and misogyny, and the abuse of women, or workers. We can no longer hear the cry for justice even as we passively allow justice to be leveraged for our own advantage (Lewis). We no longer see our neighbors as the image of God. When will we lose the ability to see ourselves as the image of God? And without that vision how do we live into our baptism and calling as consecrated stewards of all God’s creation?

These are times when our limitations are profound, and we learn the depths of faith. A core theme of scripture is God’s radical love for everyone of any distinction we can imagine, and then some. I know the limits with JT’s illness. I know our calling as consecrated stewards of Jesus’ ministry to share the presence of the Kingdom of God, is to be as relentlessly dedicated to justice as the widow is. I know that with your prayers and support I will find outer limits and deeper faith as I walk with JT’s family in the time to come. I know that together with consecrated stewards of Jesus’ ministry to share the presence of the Kingdom of God, from faith communities of every distinction, we can continue works of mercy and bring justice to all.

References

Almendral, Aurora. Rodrigo Duterte, Scorned Abroad, Remains Popular in the. 13 10 2016. <nytimes.com/2016/10/14/world/asia/philippines-rodrigo-duterte-rating.html>.

Almquist, Br. Curtis. “countenance.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 9 10 2016.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 24 | Jeremiah 31:27-34 . 16 10 2016.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 16 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Frederick, John. Commentary on 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. 16 10 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

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 24 | Luke 18:1-8. 16 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Proper 24 C 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 . 16 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Just Justice. 9 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Lose, David. Commentary on Luke 18:1-8. 16 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Preston, Julia. Judge Says Disney Didn’t Violate Visa Laws in Layoffs. 13 10 2016. <nytimes.com/2016/10/14/us/judge-says-disney-didnt-violate-visa-laws-in-layoffs.html>.

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

TAYLOR, JEMONDE. “Returning to Pray, Proper 24(C).” 16 10 2016. Sermons that Work.

Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Jeremiah 31:2734. 16 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

Tending the Connections of Life

A sermon for Proper 23: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, Psalm 66:1-11, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19

 

Last week we explored how we are consecrated or set aside for God’s service, in our baptism. The first story in the bible of being set aside is in Genesis 1. Actually, there are two versions of the same event; the other begins in Genesis 2. You recognize that they are the creation stories, prior to the encounter with the “most crafty” of all the wild animals God made.

In the first creation story after God has made human, in God’s image, God gives human

dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth (NRSV Genesis 1:28)

 In the second account, God made human and then “put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (NRSV Genesis 2:15). Some have used our dominion over creation as rational to use creation however we see fit. Only, we don’t have dominion over creation, just fish, birds and the living things that move. Secondly, while dominion does mean rule, it does not imply how; one can rule benevolently, and since we are created in God’s image, we are expected to rule in God’s image (Harrelson Gen 1:26). In the second story, we are to tend or cultivate which literally means to serve (Harrelson Gen 2:15). So we can see from the very beginning we are created to be stewards of creation. That calling continues after the fall.

In the Old Testament, a steward manages the household for someone. The same is true in the New Testament, with an additional word meaning guardian. Paul refers to himself as “servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries” (NRSV 1 Corinthians 4:1). In the letters we read that stewardship includes time, talents, possessions, and self (Eph. 3:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet 4:10). Alms specifically refers to benevolence, compassionate support for the poor and needy (Sakenfeld).

This rather broad brush approach leads us to understand stewardship as the calling to tend to the household of God, including the divine mysteries, through the sensible use of   our time, our possessions, our talents, and ourselves, including care for those   who live on the margins of life. But what that might look like?

In Jeremiah’s day, it is a rather unexpected calling. Israel is in exile in Babylon. Hananiah, a rival prophet, is proclaiming God will return them to Israel in a couple of years (Bratt). Jeremiah says no! If they submit to their captivity, they can live. In fact, God wants them to bloom where they are; do all those things you have been doing: building, planting, living usual family life cycles. God doesn’t want them to live in secluded corners, but be public about your lives, and while they are at it, look after the welfare of their captors. They are to live life as their ancestors did in Egypt and flourish (Bratt; Nysse).

At times being a good steward requires that you are aware of what God has given you (Ellingsen). On his way through Samaria Jesus encounter ten lepers, who are as excluded from the Samaritan community as are they are in Israel, and pretty much everywhere. They are not considered really human; they are treated as if they don’t exist. Lepers are supposed to cry out a warning if the encounter anyone on the road. When they see Jesus, they cry to him “Have mercy on us!” Jesus tells them to go show themselves to a priest, which is what the law requires before a leper can be declared clean. And they do. That is all we know, except that on the way, one, the Samaritan, an outsider among outcast, notices he is clean and turns around to go tell Jesus “thank you.”

A couple of commentators wrote about the gratitude of the Samaritan Leper. However, for this morning I’d like us to explore how his turning around is an act of stewardship. First, he notices he has been cured. His first act of returning and thanking Jesus demonstrates how he intends to be a steward of this gift of renewed life. Also, Jesus crosses multiple social boundaries to heal the lepers; the Samaritan crosses social boundaries to approach a Jew and to recognize the relationship between them (Pagano). He cultivates his cure, and the harvest is a healing that blossoms as shalom between himself and Jesus (Epperly). And let’s not forget to notice, it is the Samaritan’s choice, to return to Jesus. Part of being a steward is being aware of what God has given into our care. Part of being a good steward is saying thank you, as a first step in cultivating what is your responsibility to manage for the glory of God.

The stewardship gleaning from 2nd Timothy is just a little subtler. Paul does not separate Jesus from the Gospel. To preach to Gospel is to preach Christ. To preach Christ is to preach the Gospel.

There is a unity here we should pay attention to. Over the millennia, the centuries, the decades and the years we have separated God and creation. It may be the result of the development our cosmology, which is a whole new way of understanding how creation developed. However, it happened, we tend to think there is God; God acts; and now there is God plus something else, creation. First, there was one, now there are two. Only creation is not autonomous from God any more than Jesus is separate from the Gospel. So when we are stewards of creation we are stewards of creations and God.

An easier way to think of this is not to think of what portion of my stuff do I tithe from, but how am I going to cultivate God’s stuff? And since money is meaningless to God, we begin to seek what is meaningful to God. It doesn’t take long to see it is the relationships between ourselves; between ourselves and others; and between ourselves, others and God.

I have mentioned before how quarks, the most basic particles of creation, exist only in relationship. Creation is fundamentally a web where everything is connected to, related to everything else. As stewards of creation, our calling is to cultivate all those relationships. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationships between ourselves and our neighbors. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves and strangers. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves and the foreigners, the aliens in the land. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves our neighbors, strangers, and aliens in the land. And all it takes is awareness, gratitude, and benevolence. All that takes is the grace of God that precedes and follows us in our work through Jesus.


 

References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 23 3C | Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7. 9 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Doyle, C. Andrew. “The Future of Stewardship.” n.d. 7 10 2016.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 9 10 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 9 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Frederick, John. Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:815. 9 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

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 23 3C | Luke 17:11-19. 9 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Proper 23 C 2 Timothy 2:8-15. 9 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Lewis, Karoline. The Rhythms of Faith. 9 10 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Pentecost 21 C: Gratitude and Grace. 15 11 2015.

Nysse, Richard W. Commentary on Jeremiah 29:1, 47. 10 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Pagano, Joseph S. “The Test of all Happiness is Gratitude, Proper 23(C).” 9 10 2016. Sermons that Work.

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

West, Audrey. Commentary on Luke 17:1119. 9 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

We are Nazarite

 

A sermon for Proper 22: Lamentations 1:1-6, Psalm 137, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10

Everyone should have received an invitation to our Consecration Sunday Celebration Breakfast on October 23rd. And yes, this means it is stewardship time again. And we all know that there is financial aspect of stewardship; it does take money to do the work we are called to do. However, the context of our financial participation in the life and ministry of St. Stephen’s is far more important than the dollars themselves. At some point in preparing for the coming month, I realized that I had not shared any thoughts about why “Consecration Sunday.” So today we are going to explore what consecration means and how it helps to define our stewardship of Christ’s ministry.

I expect you remember the story of Samson, who was consecrated by his parents to be a Nazirite before God. (Judges 13:2-5) He was not very good at keeping the vows made for him; none the less he was among the Judges that saved Israel from the Philistines. Samuel’s mother is barren, and she prays for a son, whom she will give to God as a Nazarite (1 Samuel 1:11; 1:27-28). Samuel serves as God’s agent to identify and anoint Saul and David to be Kings over Israel. Nazarites are consecrated, or set apart for God’s use. These examples show how those set apart can vary in righteousness. An entire group of people can be consecrated, priests, who call come from one tribe, Levites, Aaronites and Zadokites are all consecrated in service to God. In addition to people, times and places can be consecrated. Sabbath is a day set apart for God is consecrated time. Holy Days and seasons, like Passover, are consecrated time. The Temple and all the setting are consecrated for service to God. Events can be consecrated; the Exodus is consecrated, as are all the first-born of Israel from then on (Exod 13:2; Deut 15:19). In the New testament, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is an event consecrated to the service of God. Clearly, the human manifestation of Jesus is consecrated to God, set aside, and is holy (Sakenfeld). Others in the New Testament are also consecrated.

One person is Timothy. He receives a strong Christian tradition from his mother and grandmother. Paul acknowledges the risks of proclaiming the gospel and at the same time assures Timothy of the Spiritual resources that are available (Harrelson 2 Timothy). Timothy is set aside to subvert the present world order rooted in the will to use whatever brute force [to] make your way in the world no matter how many people you have to step on—or even squash—along the way. (Adam; Hoezee, 2 Timothy). There is the implication that Timothy’s consecration, to some degree depends on, on his acceptance of the life and discipline required. The disciples face a similar challenge.

subvert the present world order rooted in the will to use whatever brute force [to] make your way in the world no matter how many people you have to step on—or even squash—along the way. (Adam; Hoezee, 2 Timothy).

There is the implication that Timothy’s consecration, to some degree depends on, on his acceptance of the life and discipline required. The disciples face a similar challenge.

Today’s reading opens with Jesus’ disciples asking him to “increase our faith.” It is interesting to note their request is for our faith, not my faith, to be increased (Lewis). It may be an indication of their growing sense of being a community consecrated to Jesus. But why do they make this request? Well, back up a few verses and you read that Jesus tells the disciples to be sure they don’t cause anyone to stumble, and adds a warning about a millstone around their neck and going for a swim in the sea. Then he tells them that if anyone repents of a sin, they must forgive them, even if that person sins against them seven times a day, or 70 times 7 times (Matthew 18:22). This discipleship stuff is hard. The disciples realize they are going to need help. At first reading, Jesus’ answer is a tad harsh. However, he may be telling them it doesn’t take a lot of faith. They don’t have to have much confidence because the grace and power of God has it covered. And in truth, even if they don’t their scripture tradition points the way forward.

Lamentation is a series of poems expressing regret for Israel’s behavior that has led to her drastic downfall; lead to her death. The primary purpose of her lament is “to enable her to give voice to the extreme suffering she and others endure” (Gaventa and Petersen). It is an intervention that stops Israel’s descent, and at the same time compels her to renew her hope in God; as faint as the glimmer may be. In expressing her emotions, Israel releases the energy necessary for her to do the work that needs to be done (Hoezee, Lamentations 1:1-6).

 Now, the gleaning about our consecration. As did Timothy, we have also received a great faith tradition. We too have to make or renew our choice to boldly proclaim the Gospel,  in increasingly challenging circumstances. Nationally, proclaiming the Gospel in falling out of favor. The particular tradition we follow is vigorously challenged by other Christian traditions. Like the disciples, we may begin to see just how big our calling is. We may begin to doubt our abilities. We may even begin to get overly focused on possible miss steps that seem to be leading us into an uncomfortable future. Like Israel, our existence may be doubtful. And yet today we hear how expressing our concerns, and our fears, and confessing our missteps will free the divine energies necessary for us to continue to be consecrated, to be set aside, to serve God’s purposes as faintly as they may appear.

One other observation. By our baptism, we are consecrated into Jesus’ ministry. We are Nazirites in service to Christ’s ministry all our lives. We may, no ~ we will fail on occasion. God forgives, seventy times seven times a day. Our trust, our faith may, no ~ will falter. The Spirit is always there gently pointing to the way. And when our days are up, we will give thanks for the resurrection of Jesus through which we come into the gracious presence of God.

In the days between now and October 23rd, our Consecration Sunday I invite you to prayerfully explore how you are consecrated to service in Christ’s ministry; trusting in our God, who is always: more ready to hear than we to pray, more ready to answer than we are to ask, more ready to welcome than we are to seek (Pankey).

 


Works Cited

Adam, A. K. M. Commentary on 2 Timothy 1:114. 2 10 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 2 10 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 2 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&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 22C | Lamentations 1:1-6. 2 10 2016.

—. Proper 22C | Luke 17:5-10. 2 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Proper 22C 2 Timothy 1:1-14. 2 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher The Increments of Faith. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Logue, Frank. “An Act of Love, Proper 22(C).” 2 10 2016. Sermons that Work.

Lose, David. Pentecost 20 C: Every Day Acts of Faith. 2 10 2016.

Pankey, Steve. “Is that you Jesus?” 2 10 2016. Draughting Theology.

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

West, Audrey. Commentary on Luke 17:510. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Lamentations 1:16. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.