So you think you are a god

A sermon for Proper 4: 1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24), Psalm 146, Galatians 1:11-24, Luke 7:11-17

If you watch any TV at all, you know about reality TV. There seems to be a contest for almost everything. There is a “So you think you are a …” contest for singers dancers, cooks, stage and movie makeup artists, and home makeovers. This morning we seem to have a “So you think you are a god” contest.

Elijah is in the northern Kingdom Israel. Israel’s’ kings have gotten progressively more sinful and Ahab worst of the worst. He is married to Jezebel and actively worships Baal; he builds an altar to Baal. God tells Elijah to announce there will be a drought. This is a direct challenge to Baal, who is the Canaanite god of rain and fertility (Hoezee, Harrelson, Sakenfeld). By a roundabout way, Elijah ends up at the gates of Zarephath, a Phoenician city and center of Baal worship (Harrelson). And although Baal must periodically submit to Mot, the Canaanite god death, which causes drought, it is clear the God of Israel is the cause of this drought in the very heartland of Baal home territory (Gaventa and Petersen).

Remember last week we heard the story of Elijah versus the prophets of Baal in which Elijah’s sacrifice is accepted in the blazing all-consuming fire after Baal’s prophets were unable to get a response to their appeals. I don’t think we got to the verses that immediately follow where God brings the drought to an end. The “So you think you are a god” contest is leaning in God’s favor. However, there is more to the story than drought.

Elijah meets a widow at the gates of Zarephath and offers her a source of unending bread and oil, an amazing abundance in the face of dire scarcity (Chan). She shares with him the last of her and her son’s food, and sure enough, there is grain and oil to last. We don’t know how long it takes, but the widow’s son gets sick and dies. She blames Elijah because he brought her, and her sins, to God’s attention. Elijah takes the child to his room, enacts some ritual, and asks God to restore his life. In the heart of Baal’s territory; in the heart of Mot’s territory, once again God brings life from despair and death revealing that God is sovereign (Harrelson).

The widow’s son is brought to life. The widow professes belief in Elijah as a man of God, and in that belief, faith in God. At this point, the contest is over, neither Baal nor Mot prevails; the Lord, the God of Israel, is God of all (Gaventa and Petersen).

Widow Zarephath’s story is not new; she is in the same crisis Naomi is in in the Book of Ruth. Despite the many laws and statutes designed to give widows extra consideration, in reality, widows continued to be an exploited group, invisible to most (Hoezee).

As Jesus approaches the Gate of Nain, he sees a funeral procession of a widow’s only son. The mother’s grief is deep and bitter. It’s less than a day since his death, and she has no idea what the evening will bring, never mind what will become of her from here on. She is shrouded in despair (Hogan). Uninvited, Jesus goes to the bier and stops the procession and just tells the man to get up. No ritual, no touching the body, just simply “I say to you rise.” And he does. Jesus brings life from despair and death.

A couple of observations about these stories’ context. Elijah could not be in a more hostile place, yet it is here, in the heart of hostile territory, in the heart of another belief system, that God calls him to bear witness to the presence and power of God. I’ll acknowledge a bit of cultural projection; however, uninvited, Jesus intercedes in a profoundly personal time and acts. One commentator asks:

What would be your reaction if a stranger walked in during the funeral of one of your [family] and stopped the proceedings (Hogan)?

The opportunity to be Jesus’ witness “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) is more often than not in unexpected, inhospitable, intrusive circumstances (Chan).

Widow Zarephath and the Widow Nain have been cut off from their communities by the deaths of their husbands and their sons. They have no prospects of providing for themselves. And yes, God and Jesus restore life to the dead sons; but they also restore life to the mothers (Hoezee). It is a common feature of healing miracles, that not only is life restored to the object of the miracle, but also to others, as community connections are also restored to life. A sign that our service in Jesus’ ministry is bearing fruit is that all sorts of things adjacent to the focus of our work begin showing signs of renewed hope, and budding life (Hoezee).

Bible stories like Widow Zarephath and Widow Nain are at one level comforting. At the same time, they can leave us uneasy, because we continue to live in a world that knows all sorts of death; from the death of loved ones, the loss of an opportunity, a job, a dream, or whatever. We are left not knowing how to respond, afraid of creeping doubt, fretful about the lack of our own faith. So how are we to respond? I have just read a book for my upcoming D.Min. class titled Leading Causes of Life. One observation is how much time and energy we tend to put into those things that cause death in an effort to stop death. These efforts are not wrong; however, the author observes how little resources we put into causes of life (Gunderson and Page). Perhaps ministry lies in nurturing life not simply fighting death. What Elijah’s and Jesus’ actions did that we can do is to nurture life. What we can do that is similar to their action is to sustain and nurture the potential that is right next to what is suffering, as the professional healers minister to the suffering. In both stories, it is the widowed grieving mothers who are at risk. In both stories, the act of ministry is not directed at them but at specifically their sons, or more generally some portion of life that is tangential to them which when nourished to flourishing will spill life all over them.

We all know Reality TV is not what it seems. Nonetheless, the reality is that the opportunity for service to Jesus ministry is not right in front of us, but perhaps in one of the surrounding communal relations. The reality is that with a touch of brazen uninvited interruption, or seemingly unrelated action, we can witness to the life-giving presence of God in Jesus by the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth.


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 5CCenter for Excellence in Preaching. 5 6 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Chan, Michael J. “Commentary on 1 Kings 17:816.” 6 9 2015. Working Preacher.

Ferguson, Shannon. “Green and Growing, Proper 5 (C) – 2016.” 5 6 2016. Sermons that Work.

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

Gunderson, Gary and Larry Page. Leading Causes of Life. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009.

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

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 7:11-17. 5 6 2016.

Hogan, Lucy Lind. Commentary on Luke 7:11-17. 5 6 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. When Jesus Shows Up. 5 6 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle. 6 9 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

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

 

 

 

 

To pluck up and to pull down.

A sermon for Epiphany 4; Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

 

I was surprised that the phrase today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down. It is not the missional or love based thought Christians associate with the Bible. It is not about justice and reconciliation you often hear preached. It doesn’t sound like it meshes with the Jesus movement and the preaching of our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, I find so powerful. Perhaps the context of the reading will help.

Jeremiah lives in tumultuous times. The Babylonian Empire is on the rise. Israel splits, some seek to associate with the rising power, others seek to stay loyal to Egypt. In 597 BC Israel revolts against Babylon, triggering three invasions, that result in the deportation and exile of most of her people. The book of Jeremiah is a conversation between communal voices seeking to come to terms with the tragedy that destroyed so much of their life. It is intensely political. It is very focused on rejecting the thought that God abandoned Israel. It is biased towards exiles over those loyal to Egypt and those who were left behind. The first half of the book explains why Israel fell; the second half reveals how Israel can survive, indeed how they can prosper. The verses we heard this morning reveal that Jeremiah is not a self-proclaimed prophet, he is called by God, over his objections, just as Moses was. We hear how he will be a destroyer and a rebuilder (Harrelson).

At some point in my ponderings, I wondered how Jesus would go about pulling down and building up. You are familiar enough with the Gospel story to know he challenges many of the existing Jewish traditions. You know about his tirade in the Temple. You know he predicts that the Temple, the center of Jewish life, will be destroyed. You know this prediction includes it’s being rebuilt in three days. But how does Jesus actually go about tearing down and building up?

Today’s Gospel story and its first half from last week are an example. One trick is to see that the order is reversed, first Jesus builds up first, and then tears down. Last week Jesus read from Isaiah, how he is bringing: good news to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and the year of Jubilee. It’s all heard with welcome ears, at last, God is acting to restore Israel. As one commentator notes, if only Jesus had stopped talking. His didn’t.

Today we hear that at first everyone is excited. We also hear him talk about Elijah being sent to the widow of Zarephath in a time of a great drought. He goes on to say that in Elisha’s day, of all the lepers in Israel, only Naaman is cured. Suddenly the crowd ruthlessly turns against Jesus. It reminds me of the shift in Holy Week from the jubilant welcome on Palm Sunday to the brutal “Crucify him!” on Good Friday. What we may miss, is the divine blessings Jesus names explicitly go to outsiders, by God’s direct action, tearing down Jesus’ hometown expectation of divinely selected privilege, right along with the ruling classes expectation for divine privilege.  So now we see, specifically, how Jesus tears down and builds up, in a particular instance. However, it is important for us to understand the principles Jesus stands on from which his action emerges. It is not motivation nor justification I’m pondering; it is his state of being from which Jesus acts that has my attention. Every now and again you look to the future to understand the past. So it is this morning.

The first remembrance is a training conference. I don’t recall where, or what the training was for. I’m not even sure I was there or if this is a story I heard. It doesn’t matter; it makes it the point. The trainer walks out onto the stage. There is no superlative greeting. There is no introduction of who he is. There is no announcing what the training is all about. The very first words spoken are: “If you not here because you love these people, leave!” There was an uncomfortable profound silence. I don’t recall anyone leaving. And the trainer did have our everyone’s attention.

And the trainer raises a good point. When we go, into the world, to minister to the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the poor, the oppressed, the blind, or the prisoners, why are we there? Are we there to punch our good deed card? Are we there to help someone?  or to meet a need? Are we there to be in a mutual relationship with another of God’s children? Are we there because we love them, as God loves us, a gift unearned and unmerited?

You can hear how all this emerges from Paul’s letter to the quibbling church in Corinth. Last week we heard him argue that all gifts are from the Spirit, that all gifts are intended for the common good, that all gifts are equally important. This morning we heard him proclaim that all gifts are useless ~ unless we use them in love. Paul is not referring to the romantic relationship between spouses, or the paternal love for children, nor the friendship love of fraternity, sorority members, or between fishing, hunting, gaming or other friendships. No, Paul is referring to love written in the scripture as ‘agape.’ It’s Old Testament roots are: “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself (Deut. 6:5 & Lev. 19:18) (Sakenfeld). It’s New Testament roots are:  love of neighbor (Matt. 22:40), love of enemy (Matt 5:44), loving each other as Jesus loves his disciples (John 14:23) and love of God (Sakenfeld). As a familiar hymn says, love how deep, how broad, how high …  that the Son of God should take our mortal form for mortals’ sake (Hymnal 1982, 448). [pause]

Today our challenge is not so much who we welcome. After his visit Bishop Benfield remarked that we are the most diverse congregation in the Diocese. We are welcoming to people of all sorts and in all conditions. I’ve seen rich and poor, folks of all political stripe, folks in varying states of mental and physical health, you name the variation and I expect they have been welcomed by St. Stephen’s. The challenge we face is. How many of you know what I’m going to say? [pause] You are right. The challenge we face is: how are we going to proclaim the Kingdom of God right here right now? That is a building up question. The hard bit is the addition of a preface:  As our financial resources are playing out, how are we going to proclaim the Kingdom of God right here right now? In the context of today’s reading, how do we go about this discerning in love?

Way later in Jeremiah’s story, in the middle of a siege, that will lead to the conquering hoards once again ravaging Jerusalem, Jeremiah has a vision to purchase a piece of property from his cousin. He makes the purchase. And he does so because he knows God sees what he cannot see (Epperly). He does so because he loves God and his love engenders trust. The Greek word translated ‘belief’ also means ‘faith’ and also implies ‘trust.’ To love God is to trust God, especially when we cannot, for the life us, see the future.

In our annual meeting, you will be invited into a conversation the vestry, and I have just begun. For the moment know it will involve some tearing down, and it will include some building up. We may well experience an emotional surge similar to Jesus’ neighbors. My prayer is that what is spoken is spoken in love; that what is heard is heard in love; and that over the time to come, and it will be a fair length of time, our love for God engenders trust of God, that enables us to hear God’s call. It is my prayer that as we have lived through our baptism in our hospitality, that we will live through our baptism in our discernment (Bates). My prayer is we do not fear plucking down and building up, rather that we trust God to lead us into the life to come.

 

 


 

References

Bates, Barrington. “Living Eucharistically, Epiphany 4(C) – 2016.” 31 1 2016. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 31 1 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. Epiphany 4CCenter for Excellence in Preaching. 31 1 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. “Old Testament Lectionary.” 31 1 2016. Working Preacher.

Lectionary Epistle. 31 1 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Love Never Ends. 31 1 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Epiphany 4 C: Moving Beyond Mending Our Walls. 31 1 2016.

Peterson, Brian. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:113. 31 1 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Reese, Ruth Anne. Commentary on Luke 4:2130. 31 1 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

The Episcopal Church, Hymnal 1982. 1982.

Tull, Patricia. Commentary on Jeremiah 1:410. 31 1 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

I am with You

A sermon for 1st Sunday in Epiphany; Isaiah 43:1-7 Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Last week our daughter was a child who got left at school and set off a fearful search. Today she is grown, married, has a child of their own, and is about to set out on an adventure that will define her life’s work; that’s the plan anyway. Last week Jesus was a child who stayed behind and off a fearful search. Today he is grown, though not married and without child he is about to set out on an adventure that will define his life’s work; that is John the Baptist’s proclamation anyway.

It is important to know that the three verses the lectionary skips this morning are about the end of John the Baptist’s ministry, with his arrest by Herod for chastising him for marrying his dead brother’s wife. Luke places these verses between John’s revealing the coming of one more powerful than him and Jesus’ baptism.

So, here we are presumably by the Jordan River, all the people are baptized; Jesus is baptized. But remember, John is in prison, and it is not likely he gets a weekend release to do community service. So ~ who baptizes all those people? Who baptizes Jesus? A question worthy of exploration, perhaps another day. This morning I’m wondering what is Jesus praying for or about?

Attempting to stay just with what Luke has written so far two possibilities arise. We know from Jesus’ adventure in Jerusalem that he has some idea of his identity. He did talk about the Temple as his father’ house. Perhaps his prayer emerges from what it means to be God’s child? We also know that Mary and Elizabeth meet at least once before the births of their children. It seems clear that John knows who Jesus is when he points to his baptism of fire. Our imaginations can lead us to see Jesus and John coming to know each other as they grow up. It sounds reasonable that, Jesus, is concerned about his cousin’s circumstances. Being a political prisoner is never safe, and to held by any of the Herds is to expect the worst; after all, they have no compunction about killing each other, so a bothersome trouble maker like John, well ~ you can see how Jesus might be concerned.

What Luke tells us is, that as Jesus is praying the heaven opened, the Spirit descends upon Jesus, and a voice proclaims: You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. There is a potential connection to Psalm 2, which is a coronation Psalm used in crowning kings. But divine muse is nudging me another way.

The muse is pointing toward the change that is happening in Jesus life, and how God is a part of it. We’ve already explored how Jesus and John knew each other. We know John is in prison. We know Jesus is present where the baptisms were continuing, perhaps coming to an end, Luke does say, “all the people were baptized. “It is perhaps apparent that, Jesus, is stepping into his role, as defined by John. After nearly twenty years, half a lifetime in Jesus day, the time has come. Jesus is praying for the beginning of his ministry. I am hearing in the heavenly voice encouragement, a reminder that God is with Jesus in the ministry to come, no matter where it may go. Jesus now knows he is not alone.

Like Jesus, St. Stephen’s is at the very precipice of change. As financial resources are drawn down St. Stephen’s will have to discern how to continue to be the living proclamation of the kingdom of God on earth right here right now. There are possibilities; but at the moment, as Paul said, we see darkly.

In just a bit we will renew our baptismal vows. We will be with Jesus at the Jordan. Each of our baptisms has been a personal event. We or parents and or sponsors made the vows to believe and to act as the Baptismal Covenant describes. The remembrance of Jesus’ baptism is a fitting time to renew, to reconnect with those vows. This morning I invite us to do so not just as individuals, but as St. Stephen’s, a community of Christian faith. I invite us to stand with Jesus on the precipice of change and pray for the beginning, and the renewal of ministry. I invite us to stay in the silence to hear the voice from heaven:

You are my children,
            I am pleased with you,
            I am with you wherever you may go.

So, [move to Baptismal Font] please join me around the baptismal font as we prepare to renew our vows, and renew our awareness of Emmanuel – God is with us.

Renewal of Baptismal Vows Book of Common Prayer, page 292.

 


 

Bibliography

Allen, Ron. Commentary on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. 10 1 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Baptism Of The Lord, Cycle C (2016). 10 1 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary January 10, 2016 – The Baptism. 10 1 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. 10 1 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Baptismal Epiphanies. 10 1 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Baptism of our Lord C: Expecting the. 10 1 2016.

Warren, Timothy G. “Manifesting God’s Love, Epiphany 1(C) – 2016.” 10 1 2016. Sermons that Work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome and Love Those Who Are Not Our Own.

A sermon for Advent 4

Micah 5:2-5a; Canticle 3 or 15 (Luke 1:46-55); Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

She is a coupon queen. She never heads to the grocery store without them. Then again, she almost has to be; it takes a lot to feed seven kids, four of them nearly grown. So I was not surprised when she decided to accept a challenge this year to feed her family on a dollar a day, per person I think; either way, it is quite a challenge. She was very upfront about the guides she would follow, healthy was number one, and not putting her children at risk was a close second. The whole family participated, changing eating habits, and following the agreed on rules.

I was a bit surprised she managed the feat, it reveals just how fortunate we are when it comes to assumed basics like food. I was not surprised when I heard she would take on such a challenge. She has never shied away from a challenge. For several years they have been foster parents, often welcoming hard to place, and occasionally hard to manage children. Two years ago, they welcomed two children, who were both hard to place, and hard to manage. One motivation was to keep siblings together. A year ago they adopted them. I have always marveled at their capacity to welcome and to love, those who not their own.

I know there is a shortage of foster and adoptive parents. And so it is a wonder that I know three families who, in one fashion or another, are taking on children who are not their own. And I know of three families, who have taken on children who have close family relations. All are welcoming and loving of divine measure.  This morning we hear a middle part of Mary’s story; her visit to her relative Elizabeth, also pregnant with divine involvement. And yes, I know I’ve called them cousins before; however, I was reminded this week, the Bible only says they are ‘relatives’ (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). We presume a close relationship between Elizabeth and Mary; it is possible Elizabeth lovingly welcomes a distant, little-known, perhaps unknown, and perhaps disgraced young woman, overturning social customs (Lewis). We also heard her reply to Elizabeth’s greeting blessing Mary and her child, acknowledging the baby to be “my Lord” before Mary says anything to Elizabeth. Is Elizabeth a prophetic voice?  possibly (Jones, Commentary on Luke 1:39-45). Next we hear Mary’s response, a song of praise, we know as the Magnificat.

It is not an unknown response. Recently we read Hanna’s song, her response to a divinely assisted pregnancy. We may remember   Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Samson’s unnamed mother who all bear children with divine assistance (Scoopmire). But there is a difference for Mary. The other women were barren, and one way or another sought God’s help in having a baby. For Mary, it is a very different story.

Mary though is betrothed; she is unwed. She is not her own person; she literally belongs to her father and is the subject of the contract between him and Joseph (Hoezee). She has not asked to be pregnant. The truth is being pregnant is the last thing she needs. We read the story of Gabriel’s visit, the annunciation, as Mary meekly accepting what is said. We overlook that she is being asked to bear and raise a child, who is not her own. We overlook the social cost. We overlook the courage Mary shows when she accepts. While Gabriel speaks what is to be, it is not yet accomplished. It does not come to be until Mary says let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38)    only then does the Holy Spirit come, only then does the Most High overshadows her. Mary is free to choose (Scoopmire). She chooses to welcome, bear, birth, raise and love one who is not her own.  There is nothing meek or mild in Mary’s action. Her response to Gabriel’s invitation reveals abundant trust and strength. She knows who she is; she knows who is will be (Scoopmire). And that wisdom infuses her song of praise.

The vast majority of the Magnificat is Mary’s praise of God. Yet, the opening five words:   My soul magnifies the Lord are perhaps the definitive words. Mary credits the Lord for overturning the status quo, and restoring justice and righteousness in the land; at the same time, she accepts her part in magnifying, making visible to all the majesty of God’s presence. For Mary being blessed has nothing to do with living a living of honor and ease (Jones, Commentary on Luke 1:46-55). Mary’s blessing is living a life that magnifies, makes visible, makes human, the works of God.

That has me wondering:  How do I; how can I magnify the Lord?  How do we; how can we magnify the Lord?  How do others magnify the Lord?  How do others magnify the Lord for me, for us? To be honest, it is a bit daunting to ponder being a sort of divine light against the bleak midwinter’s darkness (Lose). However, there is encouragement   in realizing Mary’s strength comes not from her prowess, but from her lowliness. It is a reminder that in magnifying the Lord, we are enough, as we are (Burden). It is a prompt that as strangers, friends, or family cry in the darkness we are enough to magnify the Lord (Epperly).

Last Friday, The Society of St John the Evangelist’s AdventWord was ‘Prepare.’  Br. James wrote:

We have just days to get ready for Christmas, and there is a lot to do. But the most important thing is that only you can say ‘yes’ to God. Only you can build that temple in your heart where the one whom the heavens cannot contain may dwell.

The days are short, yet we can still say “yes,” we can magnify the Lord, we can welcome and love those who are not our own.

 

 


References

Bratt, Doug. Advent 4C | Center for Excellence in Preaching. 20 12 2015. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Burden, Richard. “My Soul Magnifies the Lord, Advent 4(C) – 2015.” 20 12 2015. Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, Mark. Advent 4, Cycle C. 20 12 2015. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – Fourth Sunday of Advent. 20 12 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. Advent 4C | Luke. 20 12 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 20 12 2015.

Jones, Judith. Commentary on Luke 1:39-45. 20 12 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

—. Commentary on Luke 1:46-55. 20 12 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Koester, James. “Prepare.” Brother, Give Us AN AdventWord. SSJE, 18 12 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. A Merciful Advent. 20 12 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 4 C: Singing as an Act of Resistance. 20 12 2015.

Pankey, Steve. Advent 4’s Peculiar Collect. 16 12 2015.

Scoopmire, Leslie. Speaking to the Soul: The Rebel Mary. 18 12 2015. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com&gt;.

 

 

 

 

Beome a steward whose life reveals the Kingdom presence?

A sermon for Proper 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


References

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

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