Asking, Answering, Believing

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Easter; Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31

Terry is a friend of mine from my home parish. We share 3 things in common: Holy Trinity at one time we were both in the computer business, and a love of good jokes. I’m lucky in this respect, he is the source of all kinds of great jokes and stories. Thursday he shared this:

 No English dictionary has been able to adequately explain the difference between these two words – “Complete” or “Finished”. In a recent linguistic competition held in London and attended by, supposedly, the best in the world, Samdar Balgobin, a Guyanese man, was the clear winner with a standing ovation which lasted over 5 minutes.

The final question was: ‘How do you explain the difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED in a way that is easy to understand? Some people say there is no difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED.’ Here is his astute answer:

“When you marry the right woman, you are COMPLETE. When you marry the wrong woman, you are FINISHED. And when the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are COMPLETELY FINISHED!”

It is amazing the truth we can learn when we ask the right question.

We all know the story of Thomas. We all know the story was wrongly named “Doubting Thomas” centuries ago. No matter what we just heard the word ‘doubt’ is now where in the passage (O’Day). The trouble is we get all caught up in Thomas’ reaction to the disciples telling him “Jesus is risen.” But think back to last week; the women come racing back from Jesus’ tomb and share their story, including that Jesus is risen. What is the disciples’ reaction?

But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

This verse is from Luke’s Gospel story, the equivalent verse in John Gospel story is unless I see … I will not believe (John 20:25). Thomas not believing the disciples’ story is just like the disciples not believing Mary’s story (O’Day).

To be honest, I simply wasn’t drawn to parsing the subtleties of all this again. I had decided to explore the glory of Psalm 150, the closing psalm of the Book of Psalms. the Psalm cajoles us

  • to praise God
  • where to praise God
  • why to praise God and
  • how to praise God, which is with everything we have, instruments, dance, and voice, literally breath, which is a sort of returning to God, the gift of life given to us as God breathed the breath of life into us (deClaissé-Walford) (Genesis 2:7).

My divine Muse had another idea.

On the road, between two events, and I have no idea which ones, or when, it occurred to me, I realized Thomas is just asking a question. It’s a hard question, and it is a risky question. Just as the disciples rebuffed Mary and her companions for a stance the disciples did not hold, the disciples may well have rebuffed Thomas for not accepting a stance they did hold. What matters is I was drawn back to John’s Gospel and Thomas.

So, I went digging. From the Greek – English New Testament Interlinear we hear Jesus say, “not do be unbelieving but believing.” The authors clean it up a bit: “Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (Olive Tree). Another resource for this kind of digging around is Young’s Literal Translation; which reads: “and become not unbelieving, but believing.” And that is the end of my search, the beginning of learning (Young).

I was troubled by the dichotomy, the stark choice between “be unbelieving”, and “be believing.” The key is ‘become’ which indicates there is movement from one position to another, thus, there is a gleaning; a choice to be made. The important thing in Thomas’ response to the disciples’ proclamation about seeing Jesus is not the parameters, fingers, hands, and wounds, etc., but the underlying question about Jesus and resurrection, and his desire to discover the answer, to discover the truth. While it is unusual to ask a question of one person or group and get an answer from another, sometime later, with no discernable connection between the two, it does happen. Thomas asks the disciples and Jesus answers. No matter how strange the path between question and answer, the glory in the story is Thomas’ confession “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). It is every bit as powerful as

  • Nathanael’s “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49),
  • or Peter’s “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:69),
  • or Martha’s “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:27).

The last verse of this chapter is:

But these (signs) are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31).

Here we find the purpose for asking questions and responding to questions. We should dare to ask questions so we may become believing and have life in Jesus. We should dare to answer questions so that another may become believing and have life in Jesus. I am beginning to see that in both the asking, and the answering we should take a queue from Psalm 150; we should both ask and answer with everything we have, instruments, dance, and breath, so that all may know the breath of renewed life in Jesus; know shalom, wholeness in the presence of God.

In our asking and in our answering, we are never finished, certainly, we are never completely finished. Nor are we ever complete, yes, we have begun to become believing and begun to have life in Jesus’ name. Still, the world we live in is dynamic, ever-changing, therefore our believing is always facing new things, and so we face new opportune times to become unbelieving and struggle with lesser life or continue to become, to grow in our believing, living an ever-evolving life in Jesus.

So      me                        Alleluia Christ is risen

congregation        The Lord is risen indeed Alleluia!

May your becoming believing bring you to be a blessing to all (Genesis 12:2-3) (Thompson).


References

Crouch, Frank L. “Commentary on John 20:19-31.” 28 4 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy. Commentary on Psalm 150. 28 4 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 4 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 John 20:19-31. 28 4 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters>.

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

Lewis, Karoline. Linger A Little. 28 4 2019. <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.

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

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

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;.

Woods, Joshua. “Among His Disciples, Easter 2.” 28 4 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon>.

Young, Robert. Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. 1892: Public Domain, n.d.

 

 

 

Surprise!

A Sermon for Easter; Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12

Last Sunday a fire broke out at St. John’s the Divine, in the undercroft forcing 100 people to evacuate. There was little damage, but St. John’s had to quickly find and set up a place to hold their 11 am observance of Palm Sunday, which they did (Ferré-Sadurní). Last Monday fire destroyed the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral. There was great damage, but not as much as could have been. Not long before the Fire Department had rehearsed a plan to remove the Cathedrals treasures and relics in case of fire. It worked. Later Monday a fire broke out in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, in a guard’s room near the roof of the Marwani Prayer Room. The firefighters contained the blaze before it could spread (Solly). We now know all these fires were accidental. At the time, the news of the fires was a surprise that made me wonder “What up?”; and I still wonder.

Jaylesya walks every day from her home in a Trailer Park to work at Bojangles. No matter the weather, hot, cold, rain or shine, she walks 6 miles work, spends her 8-hour shift on her feet, and then walks 6 miles home. One day she notices a Sheriff’s Deputy car is following her. She is worried she has done something wrong. The deputy pulls up beside her and asks her to stop. She is afraid to stop but more afraid to keep walking, so she stops. The deputy asks her a few questions and asks if he can give her a ride to work, warily, but gratefully she accepts. From time to time the deputy would stop and give her ride. One day he pulls up alongside and asks her to stop. She does, curious, but no longer concerned. He walks to the back of his car, opens the trunk, and takes out a bicycle, a Schwinn Fairhaven women’s cruiser, donated by a local Wal-Mart. A surprise that began with worrisome caution, ends with joyful thanks (Wilson Times Staff).

On April 6, Mark Edington was consecrated as Bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. I expect the congregation was surprised by the title of the sermon, which begins “Go Away ….” The preacher, Andrew McGowan, is a long-time friend of Bp. Edington, so there is more to this than it first sounds. McGowan shares from frank information, that is not exactly new: a 2016 survey reveals that 39.6% of the French claimed no religion, and is at the forefront of western secularism, probably a trend-setter, not an outlier (McGowan). He goes on to say

Christendom is over in some places, and on its deathbed in others … [and that] elements of Christian faith [appearing as] part and parcel of the life of the West – is over. But the Jesus Movement is not over, the Way of Love is not over – the Church is far from done.

A bit later he notes that Jesus has a way of saying, “go,” or even “go away.” It is not a dismissal, so much as marching orders, for disciples to “go away” and make disciples of all nations. McGowen began his closing

so Mark, welcome, and “go away.” Go away, not because we are pessimistic but because we are hopeful, not because we think God has abandoned us, but because we know God will lead us.

This morning Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, and other women, who had come with Jesus from Galilee, leave to go do their duty to properly bury their friend, their hope, their future. The last two days have been horrific. Jesus was betrayed, arrested, beaten; subject to a sham of two trials; one a Jewish religious trial, the other a Roman judicial trial; both are replete, full, of fake news, and fake testimonies, so many Pilate doesn’t believe them; nonetheless Jesus was crucified; wrapped in linen cloth and put in a tomb. Then there is the long Saturday as the shadow of death covers a Passover celebration. Their morning begins with expectations of deep sorrow, and hopelessness.

Then they are surprised. The stone in front of the tomb has been rolled away. What can this mean? They go inside, and Jesus’ body is gone, ~ nothing good can come from this. Suddenly two men are with them, they remind the women of what Jesus had taught them, and they do remember ~ everything!

They all go away to share with the disciples what they have experienced. All but one shrug it off as idle chatter. But Peter, in an act of renewed commitment, runs to the tomb to see for himself. He is surprised, all there is in the tomb is the linen burial shroud. Then he returns home amazed by, wondering about, what has happened.

Surprise is the theme of the day. It has come to me that Gospel surprises come in many forms and ways, but generally, fall into a few broad categories. There is the surprise we experience when we realize that Jesus’ wounded hands have grasped ours and is pulling [us] away from whatever coffins [we] are in, from whatever deaths [we] know and fight and fear (STW).

There is the surprise of go away which requires our attention to be fixed on Jesus; If we look for life and direction and meaning anywhere but at the risen Lord—then our hearts will be divided, and our energy will be scattered, and our rising will be slow (STW).

There is the surprise of receiving a simple gift, that transforms your life, something as simple as a bicycle that revolutionizes your daily journey to work.

There is the surprise that leaves us pondering what it means, like a string of seemingly unrelated fires.

There is the surprise when pondering all this we realize we are free;

  • free to simply be free,
  • free focus on Jesus,
  • free to go,
  • free to give away a simple gift,
  • free to be a gift,
  • free to live on a new earth under a new heaven (Isa 65:17),
  • free to ponder the fullness of life alive in Christ (1 Corin. 15:22)

all with glorious the chant proclaiming

Alleluia Christ is risen

          [the congregation joins]

The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

for all the world to hear.

Amen


References

Ferré-Sadurní, Luis. “Fire in Basement Crypt at St. John the Divine Forces Palm Sunday Worshipers Outside.” The New York Times (2019). https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/14/nyregion/st-john-the-divine-fire.html.

Liggett, James. Outstretched Arms, Easter Day. 21 4 2019. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

McGowan, Andrew. “GO AWAY: APOSTOLIC MINISTRY, INCLUSION, AND THE FUTURE OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH.” 6 4 2019. http://abmcg.blogspot.com. <http://abmcg.blogspot.com/2019/04/go-away-apostolic-ministry-inclusion.html&gt;.

Solly, Meilan. “A Small Fire Broke Out at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque as Flames Ravaged Notre-Dame.” 17 4 2019. SMITHSONIAN.COM. <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/small-fire-broke-out-jerusalems-al-aqsa-mosque-flames-ravaged-notre-dame-180971983/&gt;.

Wilson Times Staff. “Deputy donates bike to woman who walked 12 miles to and from.” 28 8 2018. wilsontimes.com. 17 4 2019. <wilsontimes.com/stories/deputy-donates-bike-to-woman-who-walked-12-miles-to-and-from-work-pqq14,139562>.

 

 

 

Kintsugi Lives

A sermon for Good Friday; Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9, John 18:1-19:42

My first thoughts for today’s reflections on John’s account of Jesus’ Passion was to build on Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of the Christ. I have done so in the past; however, I have so carefully put those notes away, I can’t find where in 15 years of folders those notes are. What’s a preacher to do? Listen, be still and know that God is God and provides.

The first thing that was given to me was reading about Makato putting a 400-year-old Kintsugi bowl in David’s hands. As old as it is, its most special feature is that somewhere along the way the bowl was broken into shards and glued back together using an ancient technique involving gold dust and lacquer. The golden veins add mystic beauty so that the bowl exceeds its original grandeur. The golden veins add a depth of dimension; ~ you intuit the bowls original form and life; ~ you sense the rupture that shattered its life and form; ~ you are drawn to how it is so beautifully healed, brought to a wholeness that exceeds its original beauty and life (Brooks).

It wasn’t much longer when I read a commentary by Whitney Rice which presented a vision I’ve never explored before. She notes that in the Passion story we see both the desire to follow Jesus, and the fear that leads followers to deny Jesus (Rice). My character set is different, but the revelation is hers.

Let’s begin with Peter. We are familiar with his denial of Jesus. We all have heard, and I have preached, to explore our inner selves in search of our ways that lead us to similar denials. However, we should not overlook Peter’s commitment. Earlier he says

Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you (John 13:37).

Peter’s pledge varies in intensity in each Gospel account, but we should not discount his sincerity, he means it. Rice ponders if Peter is trying to stand out in the crowd. It is possible, even probable, Peter is known for making impetuous statements, not carefully thought out, in which he stands out in the crowd. In the garden, Peter’s sincerity is evident, when the police and soldier approach he draws his sword and attacks one of the servants, or the high priest’s the servant gets in his way (John 18:10). Either way, Peter’s action is a sign of his commitment, Romans are not known for their patience with armed insurrection. It is the slave’s presence at this event that leads to Peter’s third denial (John 18:23). There is no question Peter is a mixture of commitment and denial. He relationship with Jesus is complex. Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Holy One of God (John 6:69), he swears he will give his life for Jesus’ life, and he means it. That is the completeness of Peter’s life. But as we know, in the courtyard of the High Priest Peter denies Jesus 3 times. The wholeness of his life lies in broken shards on the courtyard paving-stones.

The other examples of complex relationships with Jesus are Joseph of Arrhythmia and Nicodemus. Both men are powerful, members of the Sanhedrin, Israel’s religious and political ruling body. Once, Nicodemus takes a stand for Jesus in a debate saying,

Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it? (John 7:51).

Joseph is courageous in approaching Pilate to get Jesus body for burial. In doing so he reveals his allegiance to this innocent troublesome rabbi. In these ways, both men show their commitment to Jesus. However, neither man speaks in Jesus defense or makes an effort to constrain the abuse of political and religious power by the High Priest or the Sanhedrin. Like Peter, both are committed to Jesus; and both deny Jesus. Their thundering silence breaks the wholeness of their lives, the shards lay scattered across the Temple grounds.

The golden dust of the Spirit inspires Joseph and Nicodemus to risk asking Pilate for Jesus’ body so he can be buried properly. Unknowingly they set the Easter stage by laying his body in the tomb. The golden dust of the Spirit inspires Peter, a story to be revealed in the weeks to come. Just as gold dust and lacquer restore the whole of a broken bowl into glory beyond its original form, so gold and lacquer, of the Spirit restore the broken lives of Peter, Nicodemus, and Joseph into glory beyond their original forms.

Typically, on Good Friday I am encouraging myself and you to take an honest look at our lives and acknowledge at least one way we have denied Jesus. The story of Kintsugi bowls and Rice’s observation of the complex commitment and denials of Jesus in the lives of his followers weave a complex artistry that takes some lengthy pondering (Brooks). In time, and in varying ways, how our lives are similar to Kintsugi bowls will be revealed. And yes, this is an Easterish gleaning. However, it is also a Lenten, a Good Friday reminder, to commit the time to seek the Kintsugi in everyone one we meet. We are all broken, that is easy to see. It is a failure to be like Jesus not to seek the divine gold-dust and lacquer that remakes all of God’s people, more glorious than either we or they can perceive.

It is Good Friday. The shards of your lives lay scattered across the sands of times. The darkness hovers, it is an opportune time. Can you, will you, believe in healing Spirit’s gold dust and lacquer? Will you trust the potter’s hands of the healing Spirit in the remaking of Kintsugi lives? Yours? And others?


References

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

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Brooks, David. Longing for an Internet Cleanse. 27 3 2019. <nytimes.com/2019/03/28/opinion/internet-cleanse.html>.

Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Betweenness.” 23 4 2017. Working Preacher.

Rice, Whitney. “The Rock and the Handmaiden, Good Friday.” 19 4 2019. Sermons that Work.

Trozzo, Lindsey. Commentary on John 18:1-19:42. 19 4/ 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

Signs

A Sermon for Palm Sunday; The Liturgy of the Palms: Luke 19:28-40, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, The Liturgy of the Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 23:1-49, Psalm 31:9-16

Today we have returned to the traditional Palm Sunday format. For the last several years we have not read the Passion, today we return to that tradition, sort of. I will continue to focus on the reading preceding the procession of Palms, our reenactment of Jesus triumphal entry. I choose to do this because this is a pivotal moment in our Lenten life, a time to reflect upon our reflections. We will have time to reflect on Jesus’ Passion, ~ ~ on Good Friday. Between today and then, you are invited to attend Blytheville’s Holy Week services, schedules are on the hall table. If you cannot you are invited to find ways you can observe this most holy of weeks; there are prayers for every day in Holy Week beginning on pg. 220 (BCP).

The week before last, as I was pondering these next 8 days Les Emmerson’s song Sign Sign Everywhere A Sign played on the radio sparking a thread of thoughts (Emmerson). Emmerson writes about all the rules that surround us. Rules that tell us

  • how to wear our hair;
  • that trespassers will be shot;
  • what we have to wear;
  • where we can and cannot watch, or sit, or eat;
  • that tell us we ain’t supposed to be here; and
  • that we don’t have the right membership.

All those signs remind me of Paul’s list of sins, the things we aren’t supposed to do. If you go looking you will find a list of Paul’s lists. There are lists of

  • sins,
  • sufferings,
  • trials,
  • credentials,
  • spiritual gifts,
  • outcomes of sin,
  • his sins,
  • his accomplishments, and

Given Paul’s background as a Pharisee, the origins of their teaching rules to help the Jewish people keep God’s law, his lists make sense, they could be helpful. Unfortunately, the rules of the Law became the ends in themselves for the Pharisees. I’m concerned Paul’s lists, especially of sins and vices, in our hands, have become ends in themselves. The focus is so much on do this don’t do that, where we can be and that we aren’t supposed to be there, that God’s everlasting, always, everywhere present forgiveness, grace, and love gets lost.

Since Christmas, actually, since Advent, we have been hearing stories of signs. Some stories are full of signs. Some stories are signs. Taken together it is clear God is up to something. This morning a crowd of fishermen, tax collectors, Samaritans, harlots, blind men, demoniacs, and cripples, a ragtag bunch of, pathetically unfit, long sick women, lepers, more cripples, and blind (Culpepper) and everyday people ignore the signs of their long history of occupation and oppression, the signs that tell them they cannot gather, that welcoming this itinerate rabbi, whose birth was announced by angels, and proclaimed by shepherds, who welcomes them, cleans them, raises their dead, and arrives on a colt, to chants of Hosanna, is a highly subversive act of treason (Tew). This morning we witness Jesus’ continuing resistance to the temptation to act in his own self-interest and choosing to follow the path given by divine vision, choosing to challenge religious and political power (Epperly).

Our world is as full of signs as Jesus’ world, and Emmerson’s worlds were. There are signs that tell us,

  • where to go,
  • what to do,
  • where we are welcome, and
  • to stay out.

We have our own signs, that tells others,

  • where to go,
  • what to do,
  • where they are welcome, and
  • to stay out.

There all sorts of signs, all sorts of expectations, all sorts of temptations to act for our own behalf. Like so many things acting our own behalf is a mix of decisions. Sometimes such a decision is a faithful thing, sometimes it is falling to temptation.

This week Joan Chittister wrote about the sixth step of Benedict of Nursia’s sixth-century program of spiritual development. It is “Be content with the lowest and most menial treatment,” meaning that life without expectations is a much happier place to be. More importantly, being content with the least allows you to be who you are, where you are — nothing more, and most importantly nothing less, (Chittister). Because as Jesus’ life and ministry, from Christmas to today, reveals, you are beloved children of God, who every day witness the signs of the peace of heaven right here on earth.

The last verse of the sign song is:

And the sign said, “Everybody welcome.
Come in, kneel down and pray”
But when they passed around the plate
at the end of it all
I didn’t have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper
and I made up my own little sign
I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me.
I’m alive and doin’ fine.”

It is a curiously Lenten verse. You know Lent is a season of repentance. Our tendency is to think in terms of saying “sorry” or giving up some evil passion (like chocolate) or taking on some good act (like sending a bag of canned food to the food pantry) to make up for the sinful ones. All that misses the core meaning of the word which is to change direction. In the end, the sign ranter finds his contentment at the least, he discovers who he is, where he is, and he is thankful for it.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign; this is a week to ignore all the signs, the ones that exclude you and especially the ones that include you. This is a week to seek contentment; to be who you are, where you are. As the times of our lives are getting darker, this week will get darker and darker; today’s cries of “Halleluiahs” will become shouts of “Crucify him!” We will need all of who we are because as the darkness grows, we will be tempted to believe that the light is faltering. It is an opportune sign (Luke 4:13).


References

Chittister, Joan. “From Where I Stand – step-6-it-possible-be-contented-even-disappointments.” National Catholic Reporter. 10 4 2019. <ncronline.org/news/opinion/where-i-stand/step-6-it-possible-be-contented-even-disappointments>.

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

Emmerson, Les. “Sign Sign Everywhere A Sign.” Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, n.d. 10 4 2019. <google.com/search>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 4 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Tew, Anna. “Protesters, Palm Sunday (C).” 14 4 2018. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/protesters-palm-sunday-c-april-14-2019>.

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

 

 

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>.

 

 

 

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/>.