A Decision to Make

A Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent; Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Decades ago Angie and I, well I, became intrigued with the BBC deceive story, Morse. We were, I was, disappointed when it ended in 2000, after thirteen years. I was excited to recently discover a prequel series Endeavour which is the beginning of Inspector Morse’s story.

Endeavor is a brand new Deceive Constable with the Oxford City Police CID. He is different than all other officers. He is an Oxford graduate. He sees the world differently, thinks differently, which helps him find clues and solutions that elude others. He loves classical music, he sings in an Oxford Choir. That and his struggles with basic police work complicates his relationship with other officers ~ and his Chief Superintendent. Only his boss Detective Inspector Fred Thursday believes in his potential.

In the second episode Fugue the Oxford police are seeking a serial killer Tom Gull, who is now masquerading as a police physiatrist, Dr. Daniel Cronyn. Gull has been seeking revenge on all the people involved in his conviction for murder. He was found guilty, but mentally ill. Having been declared cured and released he began his revenge killing spree. The last victim is intended to be Endeavor’s boss Inspector Thursday. Thursday faces down Gull on a rooftop while Endeavour makes his way around the roof behind him. After Thursday and Endeavour subdue Gull and he is taken away by assisting officers, Endeavour asks Thursday

How do you do it? Leave it at the front door?

Thursday replies:

Cause I have to. A case like this will tear the heart right out of a man. Find something worth defending.

 Endeavor mumbles:

I thought I had… found something.

Thursday answers:

Music? I suppose music is as good as anything. Go home, put your best record on… loud as it’ll play… and with every note, you remember… that is something that the darkness couldn’t take from you (IMDB).

We all know the parables about loss and celebration Jesus tells the Pharisees and the scribes. We know about the younger son’s bad decisions, the father’s over the top welcoming home and the older son’s anger at it all. We may not remember that it is the last of three parables, following the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus shares when the Pharisees and the scribes after their grumbling and saying,

This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Their grumbling recalls the Israelites “murmuring” against Moses in the desert (Exod. 16:7-12) (Culpepper). Though scripture warned against intimate fellowship with sinners (Keener and Walton), because what one eats and whom one eats with are key issues in socioreligious boundaries (Harrelson), their grumbling reveals their anger and judgment (Epperly).

You know the younger son resents his older brother (Lewis). He disrespects both his father and tradition, by asking for his share of the family inheritance early. He rejects Rabbinic judgments that protect the rights of parents (Culpepper) by selling it before his parents are dead, depriving them of food and shelter (Keener and Walton), think of the commandment to honor your father and mother (Ex 20:12). There is no doubt he is an outrageous, undesirable jerk (Hoezee).

The older son bears the burden of goodness (Epperly). Nonetheless, he is as judgmental as the Pharisees and the scribes (Hoezee). He resents his younger brother’s welcome home celebration. He rejects his relationship with his younger brother (Lewis) in answering his father this son of yours (Keener and Walton; Culpepper). He disrespects father in his reply to his father’s explanation for the celebration of his brother’s return by answering Listen and not a respectful “Father” or “Sir” (Keener and Walton; Culpepper).

The father stands opposed to the judgmental stance of the Pharisees and scribes (vs 2). He is always loving, always ready to welcome both his sons home. He also ignores tradition, it was regarded as unbecoming, a loss of dignity for a grown man to run (Culpepper) yet full of joy he runs to greet his lost son. His love is more important than tradition. This loving father crosses the threshold of his home twice. He crosses the threshold to run and welcome the younger son home. He crosses the threshold, a second time, to invite the elder son to the celebration  (Brobst-Renaud). In the father’s action, we catch glimpse of God/Jesus/Spirit who reaches into hell to rescue the lost, and who no one can defeat not even hell or death (Epperly).

It is significant that the parable is open-ended, the elder son has a decision to make. Will he join the celebration (Harrelson)? It is a stark reminder, that like both sons, we have decisions to make.

Speaking of decisions; Robert Muller’s report of his investigation has been given to Attorney General William Barr, as the Special Council law requires. For the last two years, pundits on all sides have been predicting what the report would say about this or that or another concern. All sides have excoriated the others in loudest most extreme ways possible. No-one side is listening to anyone else.

Now that the report has been given to William Barr, he has his lawful responsibilities to fulfill. In many ways it is the same song, 2nd verse, same as the first; and all sides continue to excoriate all the others in loudest most extreme ways possible. Few are bothering to wait and see what Attorney General Barr will include in his report on the report, or release to Congress and/or the public. No one is listening to anyone else.

I find this disappointing, mostly because what I have not heard or read is anyone pointing out that no matter one’s stance on the conclusions and/or recommendations of the report(s), it is the results of a justice system that is working. Yes, there were early morning raids, but they were conducted following defined legal processes with court-approved warrants. And no one has been dragged out of their homes in the dark of night to disappear forever, and no one has been locked away in a luxury hotel until they sign away wealth and power. Like the younger brother, we are rejecting traditional respect for our own self-interest. Like the older brother, we are dismissing any relationship with others who views differ from ours. Unlike the father, no one shows any respect, never mind love, for the other, or for all.

So, I wonder why so few people see or speak about what is going right? My fear is that they, that all of us – okay – most of us, are acting out the role of either the younger or the older son. All in all, the whole Muller Report story, from cause, through investigation, to the giving and receiving of the report and the continuing quote making for political advantage is enough to tear the heart right out of a nation. And so, ~ I wonder how we avoid tearing the heart right out of our nation and then Fred Thursday’s wisdom returns to mind

Find something worth defending. … put your best record on… loud as it’ll play… and with every note, you remember… that is something that the darkness couldn’t take from you.

What is worth defending will vary, and perhaps widely from person to person. Something that the darkness can’t take from you ~ well that brings us back to Jesus’ parable. In a world replete, full, of screaming voices, disregarding traditions, that have made us strong, rejecting relationships, with anyone who is somewhat different than we are we have our father, who stands in the vineyard where there is no past or future (Whitley), eagerly waiting to run welcome us home, because, by sheer grace (Culpepper), there is nothing, there is no darkness, that can take that love, in which everything has become new (2 Cor 5:21), away from you, or anybody else.

As is this parable, our political saga is open-ended; you, each and every one of us, has a decision to make about recognizing and accepting expansive fatherly love.


References

Bouzard, Walter. Commentary on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. 6 9 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Brobst-Renaud, Amanda. Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32. 31 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 31 3 2019. <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. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. 31 3 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-4c-2>.

IMDB. “Endeavor.” n.d. IMDB.com. 31 3 2019. <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2716798/characters/nm1140345?ref_=tt_cl_t1)>.

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

Lewis, Karoline. A Resentful Story. 31 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Whitley, Katerina Katsarka. “A Ministry of Reconciliation, Lent 4 (C).” 31 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/ministry-reconciliation-lent-4-c-march-31-2019>.

 

 

 

Advertisements

We will arrive

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent: Exodus 3:1-15, , Psalm 63:1-8. 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9

A score and more years ago, I was on some trip or another southbound on some highway. It was one of those trips where you don’t pay much attention to anything except the driving. Suddenly the sign said I was northbound; it also said I was heading to the right location. This is where we are today, last week our reading began with Luke chapter 13 verse 31, today our reading begins with Luke chapter 13 verse 1, [pause] same highway, different direction. On my trip, all those years ago I did get to where I was going as expected. We will arrive where we are going, we will get to Good Friday no matter what we expect.

The story of Pilate slaughtering worshipers in Galilee is not so different than a gunman slaughtering faithful Muslims at worship, in two Mosques in Christchurch New Zeeland; nor is the recent murders in Blytheville. The people dying when the tower at Siloam fell is not so different than more than 300 people dying in two Boeing 737 max 8 plane crashes. Or responses are not so different than those around Jesus. We ask questions:

  • Why is there so much suffering in the world?
  • Is suffering inextricably linked to behavior?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Why did this tragedy happen to these people?
  • God does cause us to suffer because of our sin (Jolly)?

We rush

  • to explain,
  • to make sense of it,
  • to minimize our pain,
  • to reveal the hidden divine logic,
  • to avoid allowing our hearts to break with tears (Barreto)
  • to decide who is good and who is bad (Hoezee).

We continue

  • to make excuses
  • to ignore the inconvenient truths
  • to cling to our convenient explanations and enabling
  • to refuse to connect the dots
  • to refuse to confess our complicity and complacency (Lewis),
  • to refuse to be a blessing the world we are called to be (Thompson).

More than ever, enable by unlimited access to social media we rush to make our judgment public, to the whole world.

In his column, The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture David Brooks writes about Emily who called out her best friend over an (unproven) accusation. He ended up being forced out of his band and the music he loved. He lost his apartment and job, and unwillingly moved. Later she is called out over a decade old posting of an emoji on someone else’s inappropriate photo. She became the object of nationwide group hate and she had to leave her band, her music, her friends. The guy who called out Emily … said in an interview

that calling her out gave him a rush of pleasure, like an orgasm. … asked if he cared about the pain Emily endured. “No, I don’t care,” … “I don’t care because it’s obviously something you deserve, and it’s something that’s been coming. … I literally do not care about what happens to you after the situation. I don’t care if she’s dead, alive, whatever.”

Brooks observes that once you adopt a binary tribal mentality us vs them thinking, everything is immediately depersonalized. Complex human beings are reduced to simple good versus evil, eliminating any sense of proportion. He and I are old enough to remember that this is not new; we remember how students denounced and effectively murdered their elders for incorrect thought during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and in Stalin’s Russia. We remember the McCarthy, anti-communist hunt hearings in the US. We know the sad history within the Christian church, of Protestant vs Catholic wars, military, civil, and familial. We remember the Rwandan genocide. As it was in Jesus’ day today’s call-out culture, amplified by social media, is naïve, immature. With the adoption of binary thinking when people are categorized as good or evil when random people have the power to destroy lives without any process due or otherwise, you have stepped today’s gospel (Brooks).

Here is the emerging challenge: “How do we respond to the Call Out Culture, without calling them out?” One step we all know and most of us hide from, ~ acknowledging that death is coming for all of us (Barreto). But that is not all there is, ~ death is not all-powerful; there is repentance, which is not some trade we make with God, it is the leap of the faith that God will redeem us, that God will set things right, that God will bring shalom (Barreto).

What makes this hard is that we never know when we will step in front of a bus, or when those implications will turn up again. This week a niece of a friend registered her two-year-old son for pre-school. It was joyful because at birth they were told he would not live to his 1st birthday; it was very hard because she had to register him as special needs child, just one more reminder of the randomness of life. It is hard to do what we know we should do; hard to live as we know we should live; hard to be who we know we are. The good news is we are not on our own.

The Spirit, the gardener, is nurturing us all the time. The Spirit will nudge us to be less concerned with the failures of others, and more concerned with who we are called to be. In Genesis 12 God promises Abraham

 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great. (Genesis 12:2)

At least that is what Abraham remembers. But there is more, God continues

so that you will be a blessing … so that you will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2-3).

 We are the heirs of this blessing, of this responsibility, of this calling. We are the conduit of God’s blessing to others, ~ all others ~ in all of God’s world (Thompson).

Brooks warns that our unfettered, unconstrained, quest for justice can turn into barbarism. Our repentance is the conduit of the divine blessing, the mercy by which justice continues to flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream, (Amos 5:24). The reports to Jesus focus on leading causes of death, barbarism, unconstrained power, and the vagaries, the chances of life. The parable of fig tree focusses on the leading causes of life, following the highway of life, not worrying about the direction, you travel, trusting God/Jesus/Spirit leads you to live each day as a gift, a blessing shared with any and all who choose to see.


References

Allen, Ronald J. “Commentary on Luke 13:1-9.” 24 3 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

Barreto, Eric D. “Living by The Word.” 24 3 2019. christiancentury.org. <christiancentury.org/article/living-word/march-24-lent-3c-luke-131-9>.

Brooks, David. The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture. 14 1 2019. <newyorktimess.com>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – The Third Sunday in Lent. 12 3 2019. <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. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 13:1-9. 24 3 2019.

Jolly, Marshall A. “Suffering and Punishment, Lent 3 (C) -.” 24 3 2018. Sermons that Work.

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

Lewis, Karoline. Fig Trees and Repentance. 19 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Thompson, Barkley. “To be a blessing.” 17 3 2019. God in the Midst of the City. <https://rectorspage.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/to-be-a-blessing/&gt;.

 

 

 

 

 

Brooding Hen – Spirit

A Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent; Genesis 15:1-12,17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35

 When preparing for Ash Wednesday, I had the idea that this Lent I’d preach Jesus’ journey. Last week, the story of Jesus’ temptation, following his baptism, was a great starting place. That was chapter 4, today we are in chapter 13, between then and now Jesus has meet rejection at home, called Peter & disciples, had multiple conflicts with Jewish authorities, preached on the plain, healed the sick, taught in parables, done many works of power like miracles and exorcisms, and told his disciples what’s to come. If where we are measuring progress by the verses, we are almost half way there. But there is more to this journey than the distance traveled, or verses pondered.

This morning the journey continues as we hear the story of some Pharisees warning Jesus that Herod, the Roman ruler of Palestine, is out to get him. It’s not a surprise Herod is worried about Jesus. Mary’s Magnificat sets up a conflict,

51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;

            (that will get a king’s attention)

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

            (this too will get a king’s attention)

54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy (Luke 1:51-54).

Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth, adds to it;

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-19, 21b).

It provokes a near riot, (Lewis; Culpepper) which generally gets the Romans’ attention. They don’t like disturbances; not so much because they want peace, but because they want control. We know Jesus has rebuffed the Pharisees. Luke characterizes them as those who use God’s commandments for their own interest (Culpepper). Remember the wilderness temptations include using power for self-interest. So, it is a bit of a surprise to hear them warn Jesus. Now it could be, that some Pharisees respect Jesus, even though they are not quite sure of his teaching. It might be that the Pharisees mean well, but simply don’t understand Jesus’ ministry; which is not a surprise his disciples don’t (Harrelson). It could also be they are just trying to get him out of their way, they want to scare him into stopping his preaching, and works of power (Hoezee).

More important is Jesus’ response

Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ (Luke 13:32-33).

A couple of points. Calling Herod a fox, who are considered cunning, shrewd, and often treacherous and deceitful, destructive and a threat, lets us know Jesus already knows all about Herod; he is under no illusion, he knows the journey to Jerusalem is dangerous (Keener and Walton). His saying it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem reveals that Jesus knows he is walking to his death. Jesus recommits to his work casting out demons and performing cures, which evokes his sending his disciples out

  • to feed the hungry,
  • give drink to the thirsty,
  • welcome the stranger,
  • clothe the naked,
  • visit those in prison,
  • comfort the sick (Matt 25:33) and
  • shelter the homeless (Isaiah 58:7).

Jesus’ sense of purpose, his vocational sense, enables him to face his fear of suffering and abandonment, trusting that his life has meaning and that God’s purposes for him are more enduring than anything, or anyone (Epperly). Thus, he stands his ground. He knows it more urgent to go to Jerusalem because of God’s will than to heed warnings about Herod (Jacobsen). He has already set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) and no warning, real nor fake, will deter him (Lewis). Jesus knows his journey to Jerusalem and his death there will be controlled by his faithfulness to God, not by Pharisees, other Jewish authorities, or Herod (Culpepper).

[pause]

The last week’s Gospel reading ends

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13).

The Pharisee’s warning is an opportune time. The warning could easily lead to a decision to wait till things settle down a bit so as not to provoke a dangerous conflict with a dangerous ruler. Jesus’ decision to continue to teach, and follow his vocation stands out because it is so unusual (Culpepper; Lewis). Many, most folks including me, have and do let similar challenges change their direction. Many, most of us including me, believe the satanic delusion that we can, by our own initiative and strength, have the gifts of God, that we can seize the day, seize our immediate “right” instead of receiving it graciously, gradually as God’s continuing gift (Almquist).

Many of these delusions are not challenges that look like obstacles they are challenges that seek to redefine God’s revealed fundamental values

 to love God, and
 to love your neighbor (Luke 10:27)

to love profits, wealth, power, and prestige. Our delusion is to understand sin as some sort of transaction ledger of sin and good deeds we think, we hope we can, balance out. We reject the truth that sin is relational; we replace the values of relationships with God and with each other, with the values of profits, wealth, power, and prestige. When we see sin as transactional and only look at single events only look at what a person does, like the New Zealand shooter, or the recent Blytheville shooters, then we can’t see so don’t look at things like racism, and generational economic, educational and social repression, or growing organized threats against the life, liberty and happiness, of those who are different,

  • who are from a different country,
  • who are a different color,
  • who have different
    • political,
    • economic, or
    • religious beliefs.

When we only see sin as transactional or only look at the technical cause(s) of the recent 737 max 8 crashes we do not see the consequences of the decisions behind the decision not to require the full testing regimen of a new aircraft, so we don’t see how corporations have for decades, if not forever, valued profit more than human life; we don’t see how cultural values lead to a killing over a hamburger; and we don’t see how the first lead to the second (Jenkins).

Next Sunday at 2 pm in the Prayer Garden at 1st Christian Blytheville churches are joining for Prayers over Blytheville vigil. These prayers will be transformative as we use our GRIT, our determination, hardiness, flexibility, determination, and carefulness. These prayers will be transformative as we hold fast to the unchangeable truth of the Word (BCP 218). These prayers will be transformative, as we recommit to following Jesus, as we recommit to proclaiming Jesus/God/Spirit, as we recommit to following our divine vocation (Epperly) as we return to working the work God has given us work; as we return to the journey God has given us to walk. These prayers will be transformative as we journey into God and into God’s kingdom by allowing ourselves to confess the darkness that surrounds us to put our hands into God’s hand to take those first steps of trust (Tristram).

As it was then, it is now; this world is full of foxes; they hunt us, they will kill us, they will take advantage of us, and they will tempt us to replace God’s love of the other, with self-interest.

[pause]

But we are not alone as we work the work and walk the journey God has given us to work and walk. We can stand firm in the Lord (Philippians 4:1); the divine mother hen will protect us as we gather under her wings. And by the way, our phrase “pecking order”, comes from ranking which hen pecks the strongest and defeats the fox invading the hen house. The protection of Spirit, Jesus relies on in the wilderness, is the protection of the brooding hen’s wings. By Jesus’ wish, the brooding hen/Spirit is present for us; she is present to us through penitent hearts and steadfast faith; she is present to us as God/Jesus/Spirit who guides our journey, and who reveals the divine foundational values of life. By Jesus’ wish the brooding hen, the light life of Christ is present and neither that fox nor the darkness shall overcome it (John 1:5).


References

Almquist, Br. Curtis. “Delusion.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 11 3 2019. <ssje.org/word/>.

Bratcher, Dennis. Gospel of Luke: A Brief Outline. n.d. 11 3 2019. <crivoice.org/books/luke.html>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 17 3 2019. <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. The Lectionary Gospel Lent 2C Luke 13:31-35. 6 9 2015.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 13:31-35. 17 3 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Jenkins, Jack. Why Rev. Amy Butler is talking politics, sin and loss this Lent. 15 3 2019. <https://religionnews.com/2019/03/12/why-rev-amy-butler-is-talking-politics-sin-and-loss-this-lent/&gt;.

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

Lewis, Karoline. Determination. 11 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Metz, Susanna. “God’s Hidden Work in the World, Lent 2 (C).” 17 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/gods-hidden-work-world-lent-2-c-march-17-2019>.

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

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

Tristram, Br.Geoffrey. Darkness. Cambridge, 12 3 2019. <ssje.org/word/>.

 

 

Our Journey Begins

A Sermon for 1st Sunday in Lent; Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13

 

Last Sunday we heard the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Wednesday we started our Lenten count down, a forty-day journey that brings us to Good Friday. This morning the journey follows Jesus’ Baptism, where his identity as the God’s Beloved Son is revealed. Following a short history of his ancestry, we hear how Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, is lead into the wilderness. The wilderness is unstructured space and time a chaotic primal state of waste and void, the very antithesis, exact opposite, of the divinely created cosmic order. On the ground, it is the haunt of wild predatory animals, a place of demons and angels. In our souls, it is a place of existential limits, a journey to knowing our deepest, innermost selves; a time of transformation (Sakenfeld).

In this wilderness, Jesus is tempted by the devil. This temptation is difficult for us, not because we are not capable of resisting temptation, we are; however, we live in a time when many people reject the notion of the devil (Tew). I have my concerns that belief in such a being, as the personification of evil, allows us to escape responsibility for our own decisions and actions, both as individuals and collectively, as businesses or governments or other organizations. I also have concerns, that the rejection of any notion of the devil or tempter, or some sort of divine tester leads us to reject the notion of evil. In the last 8 weeks or so we have seen that evil exists, what is it 7 killings, including one over a hamburger. That a human life is less valuable than a hamburger is a sign that evil is present, somewhere, somehow. Evil exists and is the source of Jesus’ temptation, and ours as well.

The word ‘devil’ here is a cognate word, or a similar word to ‘Satan’ in Hebrew; think of the Satan in Job, who is the accuser, the tester, and a member of God’s court. This can help us to slightly shift the emphasis of Jesus’ wilderness experience from a contest between Jesus and Satan, to a time of experiential learning, in which Jesus, fully human, fully susceptible, fully at risk to all the faults we are, as Job did, discerns something not only about God but about himself.

There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo and Sam are wondering if Strider is a friend or evil? Sam notices his dirty, scrubby looks, and abrupt behavior. Fordo replies something like If he were evil, I suspect he would look fairer and smell worse. In short evil, and or temptation present themselves cleverly. We are seldom tempted by evil things, much more often we are tempted by good things that divert us from our relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit (Epperly). The devil doesn’t challenge Jesus’ identity as the Son of God; in fact, the devil uses his identity; the temptation challenges how Jesus lives into his identity (Jacobsen). Will Jesus choose to fully embrace his mission, and fulfill his divine mission (Harrelson), or will he use his divine gifts for his own self-interest (Gaventa and Petersen)? Yes, we witness Jesus resist this round of testing. Because we know the rest of the journey to come, we also know Jesus continually resists similar temptations throughout his ministry, even the final opportune time (Culpepper).

I mentioned that Jesus is fully human, fully susceptible, fully at risk to temptation as we are. This excludes any notion that Jesus’ equally full divinity, is some sort of failsafe that keeps Jesus from falling to the temptations he faces in the wilderness, and throughout his ministry (Hoezee). Given this truth, what is the source of Jesus power to resist? This morning’s story begins with Jesus full of the Holy Spirit. Throughout his ministry, we witness the power of the Spirit in Jesus’ life. He frequently prays, often retreating to a quiet place to pray, and most always before any big decision. The presence of the Spirit is revealed in the company Jesus keeps, a compassionate presence to outcasts, lepers, sinners, those who are sick, blind, dying, those who are marginalized: sinners, tax collectors, women and children (Culpepper). Allan Culpepper notes that Jesus’ life and ministry follows the Shema, Israel’s confession of faith:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Culpepper).

We are more familiar with it as the first and second law (Luke 10:27). In the temptations and his life and ministry, Jesus follows the Psalmist’s advice, keeps his focus on God, discovering and drawing on God/Spirit’s loving presence and power (Psalm 91) (Epperly).

For the next five weeks, we will follow Jesus’ journey to Good Friday. While we explore his journey, we have the opportunity to explore our own journey. Jesus has a vocation revealed in his baptism; we also have a baptismal vocation. Jesus time in the wilderness is not limited to these forty days, elements of the wilderness are present throughout his life and ministry. Life today, with all its distractions, social media gathering likeminded people, rejecting any thought that differs, the lure of beauty, wealth and prosperity as the singular signs of success, the rush to judge of people who are different than we are (Romans 10:8-13), the willful failure to till and tend the land, given us as a divine responsibility (Genesis 2:15) are all signs of the wilderness in which we live, move, and have our being; are all sources temptation. For the next five weeks, indeed for the rest of our lives we will face the decision to be who we are, beloved children of God, made in the image of God, to follow our calling to love God and to love each other, or to reject our baptismal vows and act in our self-interest. For the next five weeks and more we have the chance to trust the divine promise revealed in the Psalmist’s verse:

Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him,
because he knows my Name (Psalm 91:14).

For the next five weeks and more we have the opportunity, to begin our journey, to stop, pray and seek the presence of the Spirit, we have the opportunity to trust that the Spirit, present for Jesus, through his wilderness and ministry journey, is present for us right here, right now. Our journey will be long, it will be challenging, it will be dark, and through it, we can, as Jesus did, discern something of God’s love, and something about ourselves as God’s beloved.


References

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – The First Sunday in Lent. 10 3 2019. <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. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 4:1-13. 10 3 2019.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 4:1-13. 10 3 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

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

Tew, Anna. “Jesus, Daniel, and Johnny, Lent 1 (C).” 10 3 2019. Sermons that Work.

 

 

 

Creation-Life-Light

Creation-Life-Light

A Sermon for The Last Sunday after the Epiphany; Exodus 34: 29-35, Psalm 99,
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

If you ever go to Rome, to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli to visit Pope Julius II tomb and take in Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, be ready. Michelangelo uses today’s reading from Exodus as a model for Moses. No, you will not be blinded by the light, but ~ you will see two horns protruding from either side of Moses’ head. No, Michelangelo did not make an error. In fact, there are several paintings of Moses from the Renaissance that show Moses with horns (Wikipedia). The Hebrew word actually means both horn and shine. Translations of the Old Testament made around 200 BCE use ‘horns’, which may imply some touch of divinity. In ancient languages of surrounding cultures, the kindred word is used to combine horn and light, so we get a phrase like horns of light. Imagine Moses’ head back-lit creating a halo-like effect, and the artist uses lines to represent the vision (Keener and Walton). It is also interesting to note the word also implies power (Epperly).

Chasing the point much further will just distract us from the lesson of the reading. Moses goes up the mountain to talk with God. Moses comes down the mountain changed, whether its horns, or a shining, or some other expression of divine power doesn’t matter, Moses is now different than he was before. God changed Moses, and that is what has the Israelites frightened (Epperly). Frightened enough to ask him to cover his face, who knows, this divine presence thing could be contagious. They whisper to each other “Do you to be changed by God like that?”

The Gospel story for today also involves a shining, Jesus’ transfiguration. His face is changed (notice we are not told how) and his clothes become dazzling white. We have another word note here. Jesus is with Moses and Elijah and they are speaking of his departure (Luke 9:31). A commentary points out they are literally speaking about his exodus (Lewis). ‘Exodus’ sounds so different in our ears. It just may remind us of Israel’s Exodus, a transformative event, the divine revelation that forges the Hebrew tribes into the nation of Israel (Carey). Moses and Elijah (the personification of the continuing divine revelation in the Law and the Prophets) know something of exodus journeys. We are not privy to their conversation; one commentator postulates Jesus may be just a bit apprehensive and they are providing him a little encouragement to continue down the path that leads to salvation for all creation (Hoezee). Broadly speaking we can see that: like Moses, Jesus is changed in the presence of God, like Moses, Jesus comes down the mountain, and like Moses Jesus immediately faces a challenge.

At the bottom of the mountain, there is a crowd, in the midst of whom is a father who begs him to look at his son. Immediately a demonic spirit takes hold of the boy and causes him to convulse. Quickly Jesus rebukes the spirit, heals the boy and returns him to his father. Everyone is astounded. This not the first time in Luke Jesus has faced a demon, nor the first time he has healed. However, when reading such a story with Jesus’ transfiguration, along with horned/shinning face Moses coming down the mountain fresh in our memories it is easier to notice how everything is being changed by the presence of God, just as Moses and Jesus were. Not only are Moses, Jesus, the boy physically changed, the way they interact with others changes; and, the way others interact with them changes. Everything changes.

The vastness of the change is seen when we notice that it is not just the boy’s father who is amazed, but everyone is amazed. In all the stories about Jesus, some are amazed, some are angered, some find hope, but one way or another everyone is forever changed (Woods).

There is one more phrase to look at. After rebuking the spirit, and healing the boy, Jesus gave him back to his father. (Luke 9:42). It is easy to overlook because it is such a natural next thing to do. However, it is not the next thing. Giving the boy back to his father is continuing the act of healing begun in rebuking the demon. The boy is not the only one harmed by the demon-spirit; the father is harmed, the family is harmed, their home village is harmed, everyone in that family’s social circle is harmed. Returning the boy to his father continues the healing, by extending healing to the father, and through the father the family, and through the family the village and through the village on until everyone is healed; until shalom is restored for all creation.

Here at the end of Epiphany, a season of Light, with the horned shinning face of Moses, the brilliant transfiguration of Jesus, all this light reminds me of John 1

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:3-4).

The brilliant light of Jesus is the fullest expression of the life-light God has given each and every one of you. That initial creation light immediately is in darkness, and it shines, and most significantly ~ the darkness does not overcome the light. Moses comes down the mountain to face darkness, Jesus comes down the mountains to face the darkness and the darkness did not overcome the light.

We live in troublesome times, in a time of darkness. Last Sunday the preacher said our society is tearing itself apart. He is correct enough I would not be surprised if more than one person does not attempt to cover that bit of enlightened divine truth with a vale. There are many stresses all around us. Some are international like Pakistan and India, both of whom have nuclear weapons, escalating towards direct armed conflict. The escalating war of intolerant words over abortion, Trump, Brexit, Palestine and Israel, race relations, gun control, medical care, drug prices, climate change, school lunches and so on creates such a well of darkness I wish all social media would fail in the hope that if we slowed down maybe we would calm down, and being a bit calmer, we might just hear the truth the other is sharing. In the fear-driven vitriol, the hate, in all these varied disagreements we are losing our ability to talk about those things we disagree about; even with our loved ones. Information that is crystal clear to one side is fake to the other; find another issue and it is the other way around. Take for example climate change and the southern border emergency. It is a dangerous time; a dark time, a time one might wonder if creation light may flicker from time to time. I am sure there were similar disagreements among the Hebrews in Exodus, for example, will God find water, and meat for us in the wilderness. I am sure there were similar disagreements among Jesus’ earlier followers, I don’t know, maybe the question of what is the right thing to do with an alabaster jar of perfumed ointment. I am sure there were similar disagreements in the early church, we would not have any letters from Paul if there had not been such disagreements. That we are here at all is a testament to the eternal power of creation light.

We stand at the edge of Epiphany, and though this season is closing the time of light is not over. Yes, beginning next Wednesday we will follow Jesus on his exodus to Jerusalem, and those tragic events. It was a dark journey. No one took time to slow down or time to listen; it was them or us. Following the journey will be dark. It is a part of season’s function to be a time to raise the hiding-vale and take a look at our darkness, said, or unsaid, done, or undone. But it gives me some courage to begin that exodus remembrance journey to know there is light. There is the life-light of creation in each of us. There is the horned light of Moses in each of us. There is the transfigured light of Jesus in each of us. There is light in you. There is light in me. There is light in the other. And that light will go with you and with me as you and I, together and on our own, work the work God has given each to work (John 9:4), each lighting way for the other. That that light has not yet been overcome is a testament that it never will be overcome. By that light we are being healed and so and bring healing to the family, to the village, to the tribe, to the nation, to the world God made us to be a part of until everyone is healed; until shalom is restored for all creation.


 

References

Carey, Greg. Commentary on Luke 9:28-36, (37-43). 3 3 2019.

Epperly, Bruce. Transfiguration Sunday, March 3, 2019, Exodus 34:29-35. 3 3 2019. <patheos.com/blogs/theperipateticpreacher/2019/02/transfiguration-sunday-march-3-2019-exodus->.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel – Luke 9:28-36. 3 3 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/last-epiphany-c-2>.

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

Lewis, Karoline. Liberating Glory. 3 3 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Wikipedia. Moses (Michelangelo). n.d. 3 3 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_(Michelangelo)&gt;.

Woods, Joshua. “Forever Changed, Last Sunday in Epiphany (C).” 3 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/forever-changed-last-sunday-epiphany-c-march-3-2019>.