Prophetic Peace

A Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Epiphany; Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111,
1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

 

The first unusual thing I can remember in a worship service was a sermon that was preached from behind the altar. Near the beginning, our priest pulled a big the dollhouse out from beneath the altar and used it as a prop. It was a long time ago a really, long time ago, and I don’t know what he said, but I remember the prop.

The second one was after a Mother’s Day service when the priest pretty much blamed mothers for all things wrong in the universe. As we stood up after the service to leave, the lady behind my mother tapped her on the shoulder and quietly said: “Well, we know who got cold grits for breakfast.”

My little brother developed a habit of using his finger to shoot the choir members as they processed. She worked for weeks to get him to stop. And one Sunday he did; of course, that was the Sunday our Rector used his finger to shoot my little brother as he went by.

There were a couple of worship disruptions that were obvious to the whole congregation. One Sunday an older lady passed out as communion started. A couple of parish doctors went to her side, the priest came down the aisle and blessed her. Some young men carried her to the lobby and the local ambulance, this was before the days of EMSs, came and took her to the local emergency room. She was back in church the next Sunday, and all things were mostly forgotten.

Perhaps the most exciting liturgical disturbance happened during the reading of the Gospel. The crucifer was facing me I was reading the Gospel when I saw his eyes roll back in his head. He was passing out with the heavy cast iron processional cross, with lovely but very pointed ivy leaf ends. I recall him going one way; me just missing grabbing him as he fell backward the cross going the other way; and the people in the pews going every which a way to get to the acolyte and dodge the cross. His parent got the acolyte to the office and called the EMTs. The congregation dusted themselves off, shook the wrinkles out of their clothes. Next week all was back to normal.

None of these misadventures rises quite to the level of having a daemon possessed member W A I L out at the end of the sermon. More importantly none of them reveal a prophetic voice, which is one of the things that happens in this morning’s Gospel. But before we get there, let’s explore what Deuteronomy is leading us to understand about prophets.

We heard Moses say

 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; (Deuteronomy 18:15).

What kind of prophet is Moses? Is he

  • a prophet from the royal prince of Pharaoh’s house?
  • or the newly arrived older brother who breaks up the fight between two Hebrews and then flees when challenged “Who are you, ~ will you kill us like you killed the overseer?”
  • or perhaps the shepherd who hears voices from a flaming, but not burning bush off the side of the sheep path?
  • or maybe the chosen one who constantly tries to avoid the assigned task?
  • or the brave one who challenges God on behalf of the Hebrews?
  • or the committed one who calls the Hebrews to account for their miss deeds?

When we look at Moses’ story we see that he is a complex figure. He is often a dynamic, brave, inspiring leader, and we can see his prophetic character. He is also a spoiled, privileged, timid, uncertain man we cannot imagine leading anyone anywhere. The learning here is that since as complex and flawed a person as Moses is a prophet, actually, one of the model prophets, then there is no reason for us to relax, because any of us may be called to give voice to God’s words, any of us may be called to be a prophet for God’s people (Bridgeman; Bratt). While this may raise our expectations, or our anxiety, it does not help us understand who a prophet is? Just who is a prophet? What is a prophet?

Our word ‘prophet’ comes from the Greek interpretation of the Hebrew navi which means “someone who is called” or “someone who calls upon the gods.” A prophet may also be called seer, or a man of God, (Sakenfeld; Hatchett; Easton) Those who shared a message from God are generally referred to as a prophet; those with a divine vision are often called a seer (Easton). Women could be prophets; Deborah, one of the Israel’s early Judges is also a prophet. Prophets spoke predictions, judgement, they also

  • spoke to God,
  • they critiqued and gave advice to the kings,
  • they called Israel to honor God,
  • they wrote,
  • they tested Israel as a people and as individuals,
  • and they served as ‘watchmen’ for moral compromise again for individual and the nation, as ministers, and intercessors for Israel and sometimes for her enemies.

God realizes that Israel would be, and that we are, tempted to adopt the practices of her neighbors’ competing value systems (Bratt). God knew the inherited offices of priests and kings were vulnerable to being unresponsive to the changing religious and social circumstances (Clements). Divine awareness of Israel’s and our failures includes times of crisis, and other pivotal dynamic moments, in their and our, social history (Clements). This includes the collapse of both kingdoms that fell apart in the face of unstoppable external and internal pressures. Some sought to retrieve many of their fundamental values (Clements). Nonetheless it was necessary that qualified people be available to mediate between the people and God (Clements). It still is.

Who these divine moderators are is difficult to determine. Just who is a prophet? And who is a false prophet? Prophets are often rejected, so a prophet has to be prepared to be called a heretic, be rejected by Kings, priests, and scorned by the people, including family, friends, and neighbors (Lewis). True prophets serve only God, they cannot be discovered by divining, soothsaying, hydromancy, sorcery, astrology, spellcasting, or necromancy because this kind of magic corrupts the proper relationship between God and creation (Gaventa and Petersen – Deuteronomy). I expect modern algorithms are equally ineffective for similar reason. Magic and math aside, the supernatural is not. Many prophets are associated with miracles – including healing (Hatchett). A true prophet stands up to the authorities, challenges established and assumed powers, is committed to law, and justice, that is equitably administered, crosses into spaces where no one has dared to go, and rips apart the barriers, boundaries, and borders that separate God’s people from God or each other (Lewis; Clements). A true prophet bears witness, their life is an example of phileos those deep personal bonds of affection (The Living Curch; Clements). Perhaps the truest way of identifying a prophet is their deep awareness of God’s agency within the human-divine relationship; the way in which God had guided Israel in the past and guides us today and how they acknowledge the invaluable divine gift they have (Harrelson Psalm 111; Gaventa and Petersen – Psalm 111).

Jesus is often referred to as a prophet. The people’s amazement at his teaching in the synagogue, that is something new with authority is one sign of his prophetic calling. That his presence in the synagogue disturbs Pharisees, and Scribes who are distressed by his teaching that challenge their traditions and expertise is another sign of his prophetic calling (Perkins). The conflict between Jesus and the daemon is a conflict between powers of good and evil (Kittredge). The question What have we to do with you? is an effort to control the encounter by distancing Jesus; and it emphasizes the hostility of the encounter (Thomas Nelson – Mark). Casting the Daemon out demonstrates Jesus’ divine authority and identifies him as a miracle worker (Perkins); which is a continuing theme in Mark’s Gospel story and sign his prophetic calling (Keener and Walton – Mark) The daemon’s defeat reveals that Satan’s power is failing, because Jesus is here to redeem God’s people, which indicates the Kingdom of God is drawing near (Perkins). Jesus silencing the daemon overcomes the threat of gaining a reputation of being an exorcist (Perkins). All of these are part of reveling that Jesus is a prophet in Moses’ tradition.

The problem in Corinth beneath the question about eating meat offered as a sacrifice is the nature of the social classes in the Christian community in Corinth (Gaventa and Petersen – 1 Corinthians). Paul’s basic argument is that

Christian community is founded on the one fact: Christ died for each person. That, and nothing else, is the common basis of Christian community. Therefore, to cause harm or even stumbling for someone for whom Christ died is [a slander] against Christ (Sampley).

The Corinthians, as should we, should be making all their decisions not based on power, privilege or right, but on love and on building up everyone in the community (Harrelson – 1 Corinthians). Scott Hoezee asks What is the loving thing to do here in Christ? Borrowing an old phrase, I foresee and new wrist band WLTWJD – what loving thing would Jesus do (Hoezee, 1 Corinthians).

I mentioned earlier that Moses’ complex flawed personality raises the possibility that at some completely unexpected time we may be called to speak a prophetic message or share a prophetic vision. Yes, ~ I know the feeling. And in today’s world in which we are experiencing so many cultural, social, political, and moral traditions and rules fading away we struggle not only to keep our bearing and stand strong, we also struggle to see the relevance of God/Jesus/Spirit.

So soon after Christmas, there are no halleluiahs in the air. In such a time when halleluiahs stick in our throats Psalm 111 offers renewal. It is one of the Psalms of “Orientation” … a reminder that the world is ruled by our gracious and compassionate God. Yes, everything looks like it is all wrong; but appearances are deceiving; God is righteous, God knows and loves each and every one of you (Mast). The psalmist or the psalm itself is a prophetic voice; sharing with us that the knowledge and wisdom to navigate these seemingly unhinged times lies not in ourselves, though we will be instruments, but in God’s eternal commitment to you, and God’s eternal love for you (McCann Jr).

 I would just as not experience another memorable disruption in a worship service. And I expect you’d just as soon that today’s turbulent times quickly become calm waters. I cannot see through the shadows of this valley. However, I do trust God; I trust God to continue to govern all things on earth. I do trust divine peace is yours to receive,

 so that you need not fear the changes of life,
but that you can look to them full of hope as they arise.
God, whose you are, will deliver you from them.
He has kept you safe this far,
and he will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it any longer
God will hold you deep in his arms.
Do not be afraid of what may happen tomorrow;
the same ever-loving Father who cares for you today
will take care of you then and every day.
He will shield you from suffering
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
So, let’s put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations
and be at peace (adapted from St. Francis DeSalles benediction).

Amen.


References

Biasdell, Machrina. What’s the Question?, Epiphany 4 (B). 28 1 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 4B Deuteronomy 18:15-20 . 28 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Bridgeman, Valerie. Commentary on Deuteronomy 18:15-20. 28 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Clements, Ronald E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Book of Deuteronomy. Vol. I. Nashville: Abingdon, 20151. XII vols. OliveTree App.

Easton, Matthew George. “Prophet.” Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. WORDsearch Corp. n.d.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hannan, Shauna. Commentary on Psalm 111. 28 1 2018.

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

Hatchett, Randy. “PROPHECY, PROPHETS.” Holman Bible Dictionary. Ed. Trent C. Butler. Prod. Holman Bible Publishers. n.d.

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 4B Mark 1:21-28. 28 1 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Epiphany 4B 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. 28 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Kamudzandu, Israel. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.” 28 1 2017. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:21-28. 28 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Lewis, Karoline. “What Is This?”. 28 1 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Mast, Stan. Epiphany 4 B Psalm 111. 28 1 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

McCann Jr, J Clinton. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

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

Sampley, J. Paul. New Interpreter’s Bible Commemtary The First Letter to The Corinthians. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols.

The Living Curch. 1/28: Witness to the Word. 28 1 2018. <livingchurch.org/1/28: Witness to the Word>.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of teh Old Testament. GrandRapids: Academie Books, 1978.

 

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It’s Time

A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Epiphany: Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Psalm 62:6-14,
1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20,

 

In my computer systems career, I was once the operations manager for JACC, so I got to deal with all the unhappy customers. I dealt with just a few, most were happy. But I will always remember one. They weren’t a bad customer, they just were hard to work with. They were very particular about what the programs would do but were never willing to pay for any changes. They were specific about when and who did routine maintenance, which made it difficult to schedule because there was a staff of one. The day their system would not start. I dispatched our technician. The tech worked through all the prescribed checks with no results. The next diagnostics were more complex, involved removing some parts to have access to others that need testing. The owner got irate, called me to say he was telling our technician to leave. I asked “Who do you expect to come finish the diagnostics and repairs? The reply was, “I don’t care, you!” I told him I was not qualified to do the required testing or reassembling. I’ll never forget the tenor of “I don’t care, I don’t want Anonymous Tech here, you figure it out!” followed by a dial tone. When I went to my owner, I was more than a little put off. I was told “Call and tell Anonymous Tech to leave; you go put the computer back together, as best you can, and bring it back here.” Bringing it back to the office was not like putting a PC in the back seat, the cabinet involved was about the size of a legal size two drawer file cabinet. In the end, the same tech found and fixed the problem in-house, and one of our programmers, who drove a pickup truck, took it back to the customer and connected the terminals and printers. After which nothing changed, I had a high maintenance low producing customer; who was now more difficult to serve; oh, there was one change, now I had an upset tech.

The story is memorable because my owner was right, you do what is necessary to take of your customers. And also, because you never know who will reveal life important lessons. I never dreamed this customer would teach me anything.

Today’s bible readings involve unenthusiastic prophecy, abandoning one’s family and an incorrect prediction. This morning we see that for well more than 2 thousand years we have heard unenthusiastic voices calling to pairs of folks willing to desert their better than average prosperous families to follow the Kingdom which they in silence have been waiting for, that now will be here any day.

Jonah is called to go proclaim to Nineveh, capital of Assyria – the arch enemy of Israel, that God is about to destroy them. Jonah’s knows God’s tendency to forgive so he flees by sailing far away. Or at least trying to until a gigantic storm overwhelms the ship. The sailors cast lots so they can learn whose fault this is. It falls on Jonah. They ask “Why?” He tells them, “I am a Hebrew, I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the sailors are even more afraid, and asked him, “What is this that you have done! What should we do?” (Jonah 1:9-10) Jonah tells them

Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12-13)

The sailors still try to save the ship, but they cannot, so they throw Jonah overboard and he is swallowed by a great big fish. In the belly of that fish he has significant time to reflect. Jonah acknowledges that he fled because he cannot trust God’s vision that is different from the faith he was taught that there is no place for mercy for Israel’s opponents. (Epperly). Eventually he comes to his senses and offers a long prayer. A bit later the big fish belches him up on the beach. And, here we are this morning.

It may be surprise to Jonah, it is a surprise to us that God calls Jonah a second time to go tell Nineveh what’s about to happen. This time he does so, albeit reluctantly (Bratt). Jonah’s behavior looks like he submits, but inwardly he continues to resist (Trible). His prophecy is less than inspiring. His unenthusiastic 5-word prophecy (Gaventa and Petersen – Jonah) includes nothing about why Nineveh will be overthrown; and he says nothing about what they should do (Harrelson – Jonah). The word ‘overthrown’ is actually ‘overturned’ and is the same word used to depict the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah Gen 18) (Gaventa and Petersen -Jonah). Jonah is the story of a reluctant, unenthusiastic, prophet of few words, which are shallow in their content.

Jesus is as opposite as you can get from Jonah. Nonetheless there are interesting questions; you wonder about his methodology, his choice of disciples or followers, and his timing. By tradition, teachers wait for followers to choose them. Jesus does not, he calls them. (Keener and Walton – Mark). And I wonder about his choice. They are not from the elite, or educated, or religious authority. Neither are they from the marginalized outcast. Fishing was a major occupation on the Sea of Galilee. Commercial fishing, although not elite, was lucrative and their families were economically better off than many Galileans who lived in peasant servitude (Keener and Walton – Mark; Gaventa and Petersen – Mark) A family business, like Zebedee’s, that employed hired servants would have had a sizeable income. To drop their nets is to abandon their family business, which has dramatic implications for the whole family. (Keener and Walton – Mark) It is pairs of brothers who quit their commitments to follow of Jesus, so the family burdens are doubled. (Perkins) Jesus’ timing also seems to be wrong. He is teaching that the Kingdom has come near. But no, it is not here, it is not fulfilled, it is not crashing in, it is not replacing the grim realities of life (Hoezee). Come to think of it Jesus, is a little bit like Jonah, is a bit content light. Jesus’ call does not tell the disciples where they are going, or what they might expect (Hoezee). Being fishers of people; what does that tell you?

And just what are Simon, Andrew, James, and John waiting for? Sure, the Romans are there complicating life, but even they have to eat, and the lake is a rich resource of food. What crisis, that the psalmist refers to, do they face? Why would they be seeking asylum? (Hannan). What leads them to denounce their faith in the powers and protections of the Temple, the state, the Empire, and their modest wealth? (Gaventa and Petersen – Mark).

And what is Paul thinking? It has been 450 plus years since the last prophetic word was heard; but it has been over 2,000 since God sent Abraham off to seek the land and 1,500 since the beginning of the Exodus (Bible-Hub). In this context 24 years, since Jesus’ resurrection, isn’t a long time at all. Why is Paul so convinced time has been made short (Hart). Why is he so sure it is just before the end of time (Keener and Walton – 1 Corin).

Looking at these stories in their historical and contextual background leaves one baffled. Each story leaves us full of questions. Nothing is what a reader expects. And yet there are life’s curiosities. Just after I left JACC the customer, in my opening story, made the largest purchase in JACC’s history. No one would have ever thought it.

We are so far removed from Jonah’s days and so unused to the presence of a wide variety of gods we miss how Nineveh sees Jonah as the prophet of a foreign god, who has traveled all this way, and is doing them a favor by giving them a warning (Keener and Walton – Jonah). It never occurs to us, as it never occurred to Jonah, that Nineveh hears his warning as an opportunity to repent, and through ritual actions express that they believe the warning (Trible). And so rather than being overthrown, they turn themselves over, they turn around, they repent (Gaventa and Petersen – Jonah).

We know the Gospel so well; the sense of anxiety has faded away. The Gospel story is in a time of crisis. The peoples’ faith, Israel’s faith, is turning more and more away from God, whose robe’s hem is in the Temple, to the exacting regulations of sacrificial tradition, and to the wealth, power, and prestige of the Roman co-opting policies. It is time to turn away from corrupt governance, foreign powers, and the lure of wealth and prosperity (Hoezee). It is time to trust God and God alone. It is time to ponder where is our heart? where is our ultimate loyalty? who do I trust my life, and my family to? where or in whom does security really come from (J. Clinton McCann)?

We are so used to hearing the Gospel story that the mystery has worn away. It is hard to be surprised by an often-read favorite mystery, even if Agatha Christie wrote it. But still, the Gospel is a mystery. We know nothing about why Jesus calls these disciples, or any of the disciples. We know nothing of why they leave their lives and their families. Jesus calling is a mystery. The disciples following is a mystery. How or why the Gospel continues to be found in the gaping holes of life, in the disappointments, in the blows and losses, in the sadness and grief is a mystery (Peters).

We live in a world that follows chronos, the time of the clock. Our clocks are so precise I’m not sure we can really understand its largest or smallest segments. Our sense of chronos defines so much because its structure makes all things digital work, and today all things are digital. That being said, Paul may well have been using kairos, simply put “the right time.” You know the experience of hearing someone say, “It’s time.” For Paul, for the Corinthians, for us ~ it’s time.

  • It’s time to let go, so what we cherish can flourish and bear fruit (Epperly).
  • It’s time for the divine perspective it’s time to honor and preserve everyone’s and all of creation’s holiness (Sampley)
  • it’s time to live life in unhindered devotion to our creator God, through the resurrected Lord, via the ever-present Spirit (Gaventa and Petersen 1 Corin.)
  • it’s time to let go of all the standards of this world, even those the church would impose (Gaventa and Petersen – 1 Corin.)
  • it’s time to believe, ~ to trust God is making all this right (Mast).
  • it’s time to receive that all things are being made anew, and
  • it’s time to understand that God refusing to let Nineveh go, is the sign that God will not let us, not let you go.

It’s time to follow Jesus. What is that like? I don’t know everything; I don’t know if I know anything. So, come on and let’s see.


References

Bible-Hub. New Testamenet Bible Timeline. n.d. 8 12 2017. <http://biblehub.com/timeline/#nt&gt;.

—. Old Testament Bible Timeline. n.d. 8 12 2017. <http://biblehub.com/timeline/#ot&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 3 B – Jonah 3:1-5,. 21 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Bridgeman, Valerie. Commentary on Jonah 3:1-5, 10. 18 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 21 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hannan, Shauna. “Commentary on Psalm 62:5-12.” 21 1 2018. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Hart, David Brently. The Mew Testament: A Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. e-boook.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 1:14-20. 21 1 2018.

  1. Clinton McCann, Jr. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:14-20. 21 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Mast, Stan. Epiphany 3 B Psalm 62. 21 1 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Peters, David W. “Arrested, Epiphany 3 (B).” 21 1 2018. Sermons that Work. <episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2018/01/02/arrested-epiphany-3-b-january-21-2018/>.

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

Sampley, J. Paul. New Interpreter’s Bible Commemtary The First Letter to The Corinthians. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols.

The Living Curch. 1/21: Enclosure and Service. n.d. <livingchurch.org/2018/01/15/1-21-enclosure-and-service/>.

Trible, Phylils. New Interpreters’ Bible, The Book of Jonah. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. Olivetree App.

 

We Need Each Other …

A sermon for: The Second Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20), Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, John 1:43-51

 

Verna Dozier was respected Episcopal Educator. I once had the pleasure to heard her teach on reading the bible. She teaches that the psalms are a reflection on Old Testament stories, and Acts and letters are reflections on the Gospel stories. Today we will follow that sequence to glean a bit of wisdom from scripture.

Our readings this morning have the common theme of listening for the voice and presence of God, in our lives (Epperly). We will see how Samuel is a model for sharing and hearing and how Psalm 139 is a reflection on that. We will see how Jesus invites would be disciples to come and see is a part of Nathaniel’s story. Finally, we will peek at Paul’s thoughts about intimacy and Spiritual life. Well after finally, we will explore what it means for us.

Samuel is conceived after his mother, Hannah, accused by Eli, the temple priest, of being a drunken spectacle, explains she is praying out of her great anxiety because she is barren (1 Samuel 1:12-18). Eli, crudely and off handily, says “let it be so.” After their son is weaned, Hanna and her husband, Elkanah, take him back to the temple where they offer him as a servant to God, under Eli’s guidance.

Eli’s sons are scoundrels, who abuse their office by disregarding God’s word and taking advantage of the people who came to offer their sacrifices. Their behavior is so bad, the people’s dedication to God diminishes and the word of God is rarely heard.

Samuel is no longer a child, at this point but probably a young man (Birch). Samuel’s calling is a primary element; Eli is also a primary element. Despite his contentious relationship with God, Eli recognizes that God is calling Samuel, and faithfully instructs him how to respond. God calls, and Samuel replies Speak, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:10). God’s first assignment is for Samuel is to tell Eli that time is up, and the judgment on his family, and priestly lineage, is to be forever, that there will be no survivors; there will be no succors, and there is nothing to do to stop the judgement (Bridgeman; Birch).

Eli recognizes Samuel’s hesitation and encourages him to tell him everything God told Samuel, and he does. Eli’s response is It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him. He holds no grudge against Samuel nor God. This story presents Samuel as a model for accepting God and following God’s instructions (Epperly). But, we should not overlook Eli, who helps Samuel hear and respond to God in faith.

Psalm 139 is a meditation on God’s nearness and intimacy we see in the previous story. The first reflection is that that in spite of our sin, we are accepted by God (Epperly). Eli’s and his son’s lives show us: that there is nothing about us

  • that God does not know
  • that there is no place where God will not be with us, and
  • that the relationship between ourselves and the creator is beyond our understanding (Gaventa and Petersen Psalm).

The palm also reveals an uncertain uncomfortableness about God knowing our deepest secrets. Our intimate relationship with God is wonderful, but it is also a bit unsettling (Harrelson Pslam).

Today’s Gospel story is one of my favorites. I think the phrase “come and see” is the most valuable evangelical tools we have. Only that is not where the Spirit lead me today. Today I am lead to a chain, a fig tree, and Jacob that draw wisdom from this Gospel.

The chain begins with John pointing to Jesus saying “Here is the Lamb of God (John 1:29) to his disciples. The next day it thing happens again only Andrew, and Philip follow Jesus which leads to Jesus invitation to those disciples to “Come and see.” The next link in the chain is that Andrew finds Simon. Then Jesus finds Philip who finds Nathaniel and shares the good news, only Nathaniel wonders aloud “Oh really, from Nazareth? Come on!” Philip replies “Come and see.” Jesus sees Nathaniel and remarks Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Nathaniel wants to know just how Jesus knows this and Jesus answers I saw you under the fig tree which leads to Nathaniel’s confession that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel. The chain of invitations to come and see Jesus continues to this day. And it starts not with this story, but the one before as John the Baptist is the witness who reveals the incarnate Jesus (Harrelson – John; O’Day).

Jesus tells Nathaniel he saw him under the fig tree immediately before he makes his confession. Why? What does the fig tree reveal to Nathaniel, that we don’t get? The other times a fig tree appears in the Gospels it is unfruitful, once it is fertilized, the other time Jesus curses it. Fig trees are a little different because they produce figs when they produce leaves, so when you see one with leaves, it has figs. If there are leaves and no figs something has gone wrong with the pollination process (Farr). Also, it is not uncommon people often sit under trees for the shade as they study Torah. Jesus says Nathaniel is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Nathaniel realizes Jesus knows his knowledge of scripture. He understands the reference to Jacob, who is among the most deceitful of all the characters in the bible (Hoezee; Keener and Walton – John). Nathaniel connects the dots and he realizes that the teachings of Israel need to be pruned, because they are bearing any fruit, and Jesus is here to help (Farr).

Jesus goes on to say that Nathaniel will see angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. This is a reference to Jacob’s dream of the ladder with angels going up and down, signifying the unexpected presence of God (Gaventa and Petersen – John). In that dream, God is assuring Jacob that God will stay with him (Hoezee). Jesus is assuring Nathaniel that he will stay with him. The connection between Nathaniel and Jacob raises the possibility of a chain of witnesses, passed down through generations in sacred story, being a stimulus to faith.

The letters to the Corinthians were written responses to the letters from the Corinthians seeking advice and guidance. These verses let us know the church has always struggled with questions of personal intimacy. Paul begins All things are lawful for me but not all things are beneficial. Lawful is better understood as permissible and beneficial is a reference to the common good, not to an individual benefit (Harrelson – 1 Corinthians; Sampley). Paul is teaching that our faith puts Spiritual and theological boundaries on how we behave (Kamudzandu). By their baptism, all the Corinthians are a part of Jesus so everything they do effects, Jesus. Since everyone in their community is baptized, they are also part of Jesus, so what anyone does effects everyone because it first effects Jesus. All that is a long way of saying that our personal conduct impacts the whole community (Gaventa and Petersen – 1 Corinthians). Living within spiritual boundaries is how Paul explains the difference between erotic pleasure, which is beyond the realm of the Spirit, and passionate intimacy, which is within the boundaries of the Spirit (Kamudzandu).

All of this relates to our relationship with each other, our relationship with God, both of which impacts our relationship to the other and with each other. Despite his broken relationship with God, Eli is able to hear God calling Samuel and point him in the right direction. This shows that none of us is so separated from God that we cannot point someone else in the right direction. None of us is so far from God that we cannot hear the divine voice, even if we are simply overhearing it. Samuel’s story also teaches that to do what God asks us to do calls us to speak the truth and speaking the truth can be hard. The Psalmist assures us God knows us, and that is a good thing even if it leaves us a bit uncomfortable. John’s story of Jesus calling his first disciples teaches that our accepting the Jesus story is not complete until we invite someone else to come and see (Harrelson John). It also presents the possibility that someone might believe you (Lewis). In a roundabout way, Paul teaches us that all of us are connected to everyone else. Everything you do effects, someone, you aren’t thinking about. And anything someone else does touches your life Which is why disciplining ourselves to behave within the boundaries of the Spirit matters.

In summary, we need each other.

We need each other’s fragile hearing.

We need each other’s timid truth-telling.

We need each other’s uncomfortable intimate knowledge of ourselves.

We need each other to be links in our intertwined chains of faith.

We need each other because each of us is connected to everyone else in all creation.

We need each other to help each other behave for our common good.

We need each other to share our stories of Word and Sacrament so that each of us will shine in the presence of God/Jesus/Spirits’ Kingdom that is right here, right now.


References

Birch, Bruce C. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Frist and Second Books of Samuel. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. OliveTree App.

Bridgeman, Valerie. Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]. 14 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Farr, Curtis. Draw Me a Sheep, Epiphany 2 (B). 14 1 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&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. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. 14 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

—. The Lectionary Gospel John 1:43-51. 14 1 2017.

Kamudzandu, Israel. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. 14 1 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. An Epiphany Way of Life. 14 1 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sampley, J. Paul. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The First Letter to The Corinthians. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols.

 

 

Purpose, Light, and Life

A sermon for 1st Sunday in Epiphany; Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

 

As I was driving home from a meeting in Osceola Friday afternoon, I heard a story on NPR about a granddaughter tracing her grandmother’s experience as a Jewish refugee in Norway and then Sweden in WWII. Her grandmother was smuggled from the threat of Nazi prison camp, where she would have most likely met the same fate as her parents and younger brother, to safety with strangers who welcomed her into their family, twice.

Though more dramatic, it touches the same moral chords as David Brook’s Thursday column How would Jesus Drive? Brooks begins with Pope Francis’ New Year’s Eve homily in which he states that the most influential people, the true artisans of the common good are everyday folks. Brook’s notes

  • how speeding up so I can’t merge into your lane, reveals a society that is basically competitive, not cooperative
  • a friendly wave after I let you in reveals a place where a kindness is recognized, and gratitude is expressed.
  • getting over to the right lane and waiting your turn in a crowded highway exit lane, rather than cutting in at the last moment, reveals a sense of fairness and equality.

He is wise and accurate in the observation that driving requires us to make thousands of small moral decisions. He ponders “How would Jesus drive?” (Brooks).

The granddaughter’s story is centered around large, perhaps dramatic, moral decisions. Brooks’ column is centered around moral decision so small most of us don’t recognize their moral importance. Both connected with Mark’s 59-word story of Jesus’ baptism; and its themes of water, torn apart, and a dove. Let’s Explore.

The dove, as a symbol of the Spirit appearing as Jesus emerges from Jordan’s waters, reminds us of the chaotic waters of creation. Their time in Egypt would have exposed Israel to the idea of water as a place without role or function (Genesis 1:2) The ‘deep’ is a watery abyss God pushes to edge of the cosmos and holds there, as a part of God’s creating order out of chaos, has similarities with Babylon’s creation epic Enuma Elish (Keener and Walton; Harrelson). Genesis’ imagery of darkness contributes to the sense of the water’s threat. From Genesis we imagine the water as the useless formless void of chaos, in which nothing can exist, from which the Word, the light and life of creation, the incarnate Jesus, the Son of God, emerges (Pankey). It looks a very different than the safe, still surface of the water in baptismal fonts.

Jesus sees the heaven being torn apart. The is not a careful tearing easily restored. The image reminds us of the gigantic power of creation separating day from night, and form, and use from void (Pankey). It is an apocalyptic vision suggesting that a divine revelation is at hand (Keener and Walton; Gaventa and Petersen) It is not like God is tearing it all down to begin again; it suggests that God is acting to set the cosmos back on its intended track (Hoezee). Its purpose, form, and order is as powerfully disturbing as the water’s useless formless void of chaos. We are not at all sure that the shredding of the barrier between heaven and earth is a good thing, because we know it is going to disrupt how our thousands of daily moral decisions are made and seen.

It is clear that Jesus’ baptism is not a purification ceremony. Ancient biographical writings expect the hero to prepared for his mission (Perkins). Barrie Bates writes It’s as if the waters of his baptism have washed away what was hiding the true Jesus (Bates). The revelation of the divine mission, the preparation for the mission, the clearing away of anything hiding the divine appointee’s identity directs our attention to the phrase “like a dove” which is sounding more and more like Jesus coming to know who he is, and what his calling is (Perkins).

All of this helps us to understand who Mark understands Jesus to be. But, we do not get off untouched. God calls Jesus “Son of God.” In Psalm 2 (vs 7) and Isaiah 44(2) the title refers to the whole people of Israel (Perkins). So, we find ourselves challenged; what do we need to do to wash away the buildup of life’s troubles and discover who we really are, and what God’s call for us is. We are baptized in Jesus and “marked as Christ’s own forever.” So, each and every one of us is the beloved, with whom God is well pleased; each and every one of us was forever transformed in our baptism each; and every one of us continues to be transformed, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small changes (Bates).

We all know that there is still darkness, chaos, disfunction, and purposelessness in the world (Pankey). When I left the story of the granddaughter’s pursuit of her grandmother’s story I was wondering “Why do some people fade away in the face of chaos or evil? Why do some people take a courageous stand, and / or take courageous action?” The answer is clear. God’s love brings all things into purpose, light, and life. It is as Brooks shares, Pope Francis saying, the most influential people, the true artisans of the common good are everyday folks (Brooks). That influence, our influence is the strength that comes from the presence of God/Jesus/Spirit given us at Baptism. It is the same strength with which God chased off and holds back the chaos of darkness and water creating the space in which the cosmos, including us, can be, and prosper. It is the same strength that tore open the heavens revealing divine love for Jesus, enabling Jesus to thrive in the chaos of the wilderness – which is the very next story in Mark’s Gospel. It is the same strength that it is available to all who know and accept God/Jesus/Spirit. It is the influence of everyday folks making thousands of moral decisions every day guided by their divine calling to bring purpose, light, and life into every situation.

In this story the dove personifies the Spirit. In the flood story (Genesis 8:6-12) the dove is a symbol for a new creation and a new hope (Harrelson). Jesus drives to fulfill that hope by bringing purpose, light, and life to all people. We can too, as we drive around to all the everyday purposes of a full life.


References

Bates, Barrie. “Christ’s Own for Ever, Epiphany 1 (B).” 7 1 2018. Sermons that Work.

Brooks, David. How Would Jesus Drive? 4 1 2018. <http://nyti.ms/28KGh5f&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 1 2018. <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. Epiphany 1B Mark 1:4-11. 7 1 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:4-11. 7 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “The chaos of baptism.” 3 1 2017. Draughting Theology.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

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

The Living Curch. 1/7: Risk and Trust. 7 1 2018. <livingchurch.org/2018/1/7/1/7 Risk and Trust>.