Sacramental Illumination

A Sermon for Epiphany2; Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

In Mission Impossible Fallout a terrorist organization steals plutonium cores and plans to use them to wreak havoc. The hunt (pardon the pun) is on; agents are searching major cities all over the world. They are surprised when the terrorists are located high in the Himalayas. Julia, Hunt’s partner, realizes nuclear explosions here would contaminate water for as much as half of the world’s population. It’s an interesting thought that the loss of water, after all, we have so much of it, could be a major crisis. And then I read an article in the New York Times about the Tuyuksu glacier which supplies water to 2 million people. It has shrunk by miles, and a water shortage likely in the next 20 years. When you look at all Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau, Himalayan, and Karakoram shrinking glaciers are the source of water for millions. It may not be a nuclear blast. but changing weather patterns are threatening the lives of millions and millions (Ruby and O’Neil).

In our Gospel readings for the last two weeks, water is significant. Last week Jesus is baptized (Luke3:15) in the waters of the Jordan River (Matthew 3:11). This morning Jesus turns water, reserved for rites of purification, into excellent wine. One aspect of this miracle is its Eucharistic, and sacramental, overtones (O’Day). By an act of the divine muse, this connected to a phrase from today’s collect illumined by your Word and Sacraments. I got to thinking about sacrament as illumination.

You recall that a sacrament

 is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace (BCP 857).

Pondering all Jesus’ miracles, you might notice a common trait, they all involve something extraordinary happening, something that is unbelievably beyond human possibility, something spiritual. Grace is defined as

God’s favor, undeserved, unearned, by which our sins are forgiven, our hearts stirred, and wills strengthened (BCP 858).

Grace, in part, is a sort of spiritual mitochondria. Mitochondria are the parts of cells that produce the energy they use, sort of little power plants. Grace is, in part, a spiritual power plant, that enables us to do those things that are beyond our human abilities.

Certainly, the transformation of water into wine is beyond human ability, so, by grace empowered spiritual action Jesus transforms water into wine. However, we get to easily distracted by the transformation; much more is going on here. The water was set aside for purification. In the Bible, purification rites are how an unclean person is restored to the enjoyment of religious privileges, and daily life. (Easton). It can be as simple as washing hands and goes from there. Our practice of baptism in part is developed from this concept (Sakenfeld). It is what John is referring to last week when he tells the crowd I baptize you with water (Luke 3:17). Another connection in this morning’s story is the revelation of Jesus as a presence of divine glory (Gaventa and Petersen).

When Jesus’s mother tells him about the wine crisis his response is What concern is that to me? It’s a good question, he isn’t the host (The Living Church). Jesus is a guest, and guests are supposed to bring food and wine as a sign of their support for the marriage, a shortage could be a sign of a lack of community support for the groom and bride (Trozzo). It was also customary to invite as many as people as possible to a wedding feast. To run short of wine would be a major hospitality blunder, shaming the whole family (Keener and Walton). In Jesus’ day water was not safe to drink, wine was the usual and customary drink, so, the lack of wine could be a public health issue (Trozzo). Beyond all these kinds of reasons there is scripture; Psalm 104:14 reads

You make grass grow for flock and herds and plants to serve mankind; that they may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden our hearts (The Living Church).

One of God’s attributes is bringing wine to gladden our hearts. In Proverbs and Hosea, the abundance of wine is an eschatological (end of time) image, of restoration (Trozzo). Biblical marriage ceremonies are also symbolic of the last days and the celebration of God’s future reign (Gaventa and Petersen). One final bit, when needs are met even commonplace needs like the one in Cana that day somehow joy follows, and that joy flows from the revelation of the glory of God (Hoezee). Which may be the point, the wine problem is a concern for Jesus, because in meeting the need of an everyday event, like the wedding feast, God’s Glory is revealed.

So, how does all this connect to sacraments? You know there are two great sacraments; Baptism and Eucharist, and several other sacraments: confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation of a penitent (better known as confession) and unction (anointing of the sick) (BCP 860). The Catechism goes on to say

God is not limited to our rites, they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us (BCP 861).

So, any time we are confronted with someone else’s problem, there is the opportunity for us to follow Jesus example and meet a common need, and in doing so reveal the presence and glory of God. And when the challenge is beyond our human abilities we can rely on the mitochondrial energy of grace, to empower such a spiritual sign. Any time the presence and glory of God are revealed is a time of illumination, spiritual illumination.

Last week I read of a bus driver being called a hero because she saw a 2-year-old in a diaper and onesie walking into the street, she stopped her bus, got out, picked up the child and carried it to safety. This is a moment as full of grace as Jesus’ transformation of water to wine, it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, it is a spiritual illumination, revealing the presence of God. I believe such moments are present to us all the time; we just don’t see them as such, because we have limited our understanding of ‘the ever-present’ to time excluding geography; yes, grace is present all the time, and ~ grace is also anywhere and everywhere.

May this season of Epiphany, this season of light, this season of illumination, reveal the opportunities for it to be your concern, to draw on the power of grace, meeting a common need, revealing the glory and presence of God, in a sacramental illumination moment.


References

Easton, Matthew George. Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. WORDsearch Corp., 2008.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 1 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 2:1-11. 20 1 2019.

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

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

Richter, Amy. “The Frist Sign Epiphany 2.” 20 1 2019. Sermons that Work.

Ruby, Matt and Claire O’Neil. “Glaciers Are Retreating. Millions Rely on Their Water.” New York Times (2019). <https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/01/15/climate/melting-glaciers-globally.html&gt;.

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.

The Living Church. “Many Gifts and the One Gift of Joy.” 20 1 2019. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

Trozzo, Lindsey. Commentary on John 2:1-11. 20 1 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

Beloved

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

When I was 11 years old, I joined Scout Troop 175, of the Atlanta Area Council, of the Boy Scouts of America. It was a grand ritual, the room was light only by candlelight, the entire Troop stood in patrol, those of us being inducted stood facing them. As asked, we recited from memory

 the Scout Motto – Be Prepared

 the Scout Code –

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. and

 the Scout Law –

 On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Then I was pinned with the Tenderfoot badge and became a Scout. At every successive awarding of rank the Scout motto, code and law were repeated.

I stayed active in Scouting till I was 16 or 17 when other teenage interests distracted me. In my last two years of college, I joined Troop 6 as an assistant Scout Master. My first Job after graduation was as an Assistant Scout Executive for the Atlanta Area Council. Here too the motto, law, and code played a perhaps less obvious, but none the less powerful part of who I was. All those years ago I became a part of the Scouting community. Though not formally, I am still a part of that community because that community continues to be a part of me, although 54 years has added some callouses and experiences, and I am not longer a Tenderfoot, in many ways ~ I am still a Scout.

This morning we read Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism. It is remarkably short, all of two verses. It has only three elements: prayers, the Spirit, and the heavenly voice. This morning I’d like to explore the heavenly voice’s pronouncement: “You are my Son, my Beloved; with you, I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

James Ligette points out the heavenly voice does not tell Jesus what to do, does not tell Jesus where to go, does not require reciting any law, or oath or pledge. What the heavenly voice does ~ is to tell Jesus who he ~ is my son and names the divine’s affection for him … my beloved (Liggett). Karoline Lewis writes about the power of “you” especially the second person singular in particular “You are …” (Lewis). That two-word phrase “you are” is definitive, it powerfully defines who the hearer is; it powerfully defines who Jesus is. In our Baptismal rite, after extensive presentation and examination, the sacramental splashing of water, and offering of prayers, once again we hear the heavenly voice, this time intoned by the priest,

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever” (The Episcopal Church 308).

These are not magic words that mystically remake the candidate. They make audible, they make clear ~ who the candidate is, who you are, just as the heavenly voice did for Jesus.

It is significant that the emphasis is not on the sacramental act, but on God’s affirmation of Jesus’ identity as God’s son, and Jesus’ anointing into God’s service (Harrelson). There is an element of empowering Jesus for the ministry to come (Culpepper). None of that ministry is predefined or predetermined (Epperly). It all flows from Jesus’ understanding of who he is, which flows from the divine proclamation of God’s love for him. All this is revealed as Luke’s gospel story unfolds, and we see how Jesus rejects all the ancient expectations of purity, restoration Kingship, and national glory; as we see how Jesus continues to reject all the current expectations of entrenched morality, burgeoning social reform, personal prosperity, and a return of national greatness (Liggett). As did Jesus’ life, our lives reflect how well we understand who we are, and God’s affection for us. Jesu’s baptism did not happen in a vacuum, he is surrounded by a variety of political and religious traditions and expectations, from John the Baptist to the Hight Priests, to Herod, Pilate, and Rome, from Old Testament to the moment (Liggett). Our baptism is also in a variety of political and religious traditions and expectations.

Jesus’ life and ministry confront the brokenness of the world and expresses his trust that God is actively present, empowering the world to move towards the coming of the Kingdom. The same is true for us. Baptism calls us away from today’s radicalism, such as extreme individualism, racism, sexism, and all our other isms, and brings us into that heavenly community commissioned to seek justice and righteousness for all. Through Baptism we become part of a covenant community called to confess the brokenness of our world, and trust that God is actively present, empowering the world to be the Kingdom on earth as it is heaven right here right now (R. J. Allen).

 

References

Allen, David. “Way.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 11 1 2019. <ssje.org/word/>.

Allen, Ronald J. “Commentary on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.” 13 1 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. The Gospel of Luke, Introduction, Commentary and Reflections. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Mark 16. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. OliveTree.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 13 1 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. 13 1 2019.

Lewis, Karoline. The Power of ‘You’. 13 1 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Liggett, James. “How to be Beloved – Epiphany 1.” 13 1 2019. Sermons that Work.

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.

 

 

 

Purpose, Light, and Life

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


References

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

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

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

See and Hear Differently

A sermon for 1st Sunday of Epiphany 1, Jesus’ Baptism; Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17

On Monday, our oldest was born. On Tuesday, our youngest was born. On Wednesday, they were driving. By Thursday they had graduated High School. And Friday both graduated College Today they are married with children! How did that happen?

Last week Jesus was circumcised and named. Today, a week later, the fully-grown Jesus shows up at the Jordan River, where John is baptizing folks, and Jesus says “Me too!” John hesitates, but Jesus persuades him, and it is done. But what is done?

We met John the Baptist at the beginning of chapter 3. He wears funny clothes, cries out “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2.) He baptizes people for repentance of their sins. He challenges Pharisees and Sadducees calling them a “sons of snakes” perhaps a reference to Genesis 3 and the snake in the garden (Boring) and John challenges them, and everyone, to bear fruit worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8).

John is not the first person to baptize. There are directions in Leviticus that tells the Israelites how to clean themselves up before entering the Temple. It is not about a bath; it is about washing away the impurities of:

  • moral failures
  • violations of rules like not touching anything dead
  • some natural occurrences, and
  • some illnesses.

This and other ritual cleanings are part of Jewish life. There were special pools for such cleansings; however, immersions in natural pools or flowing water were also used (Butterworth). John’s baptism does seem to have a different emphasis, he was calling on people to change how they were living, repentance, or change of course, and adopt a life that is a commitment to God, a new direction. (Carter) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). John’s practices are similar to the ascetic community of the Essenes who lived way out in the wilderness in Qumran as a protest to what they believed were the corrupt practices of leaders in Jerusalem and the Temple. Some scholars believe that John belonged to this community (Butterworth).

I am sure you notice that John hesitates to grant Jesus’ request to be baptized. Some people think this is because Jesus is sinless. He is, but that is not a concern when Matthew wrote his Gospel and is not the cause of John’s hesitation (Carter). John hesitates until he realizes that this baptism is Jesus’ commitment to God (Butterworth).

It is interesting to visualize Matthew’s scene carefully. John is Baptizing in the Jordan river. Nothing unusual about this, it happens all the time. There are many people there. Several have already been baptized. It is a day full of usual activity. No one expects anything unusual to happen (Hoezee). There is nothing out of the ordinary for a solitary man to approach John. John’s hesitation is not typical, but it is not dramatic either. There is nothing different about immersing Jesus. And none of the Gospels are very clear about what happens next. At least for the crowd, nothing is different. For us, Matthew’s readers, may before John, and certainly, for Jesus everything is different.

As Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens open up, and the Spirit descends. These are signs of revelation and divine gifts that happened in biblical times (Old Testament times for us) but had not happened in a long time, but are expected to come again in the last days (Boring), and the arrival of the Messiah. The dove is frequently associated with the Spirit that hovers the chaotic waters of creation (Genesis 1:2). However, there is no reference to a dove-like form in Genesis. It is interesting to note that for the Romans birds are a sign of divine actions establishing the destinies of imperial officials (Carter). So, the image of the dove may be an indirect challenge to Roman oppression and a commitment to restoring justice (Ellingsen). The arrival of the spirit is a sign that God is equipping Jesus for his ministry, and links Jesus to Old Testament leaders of Judges (Judges 6:34), the Davidic Kings (Isaiah 11:1), and God’s suffering servant (Isaiah 42:1; 61:1) (Carter). Jesus, John, and we hear God’s voice “This is so awesome!” (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). I wonder if Jesus and John react the way Mary and the Shepherds did when the Angel unexpectedly appeared to them. God “declares Jesus’ identity and destiny” (Butterworth) in a way, it is very similar to last week when Jesus becomes a member of Abraham’s descendants and is given his name, which implies his destiny. The pronouncement “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” combines Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1, we heard this morning. You recognize Isaiah 42:1 as one of the suffering servant passages. Psalm 2 is one of the royal psalms; which is a bit curious because it has been 550 or more years since Israel had a King. That they still included these psalms is in their scripture a testament to Israel’s continuing belief that, God is faithful and the Davidic line of kings will be restored (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner).

This story about baptism tells us more about Jesus than it does about the baptism. We hear Jesus’ identity and ministry, as God’s son, affirmed (Butterworth). We hear how Jesus is the agent of the new creation (Isaiah 42:9) because oppression and injustice are not God’s will (Harrelson). We see, in the sign of a descending dove, that Jesus’ mission is divinely empowered (Sakenfeld). We glean how Jesus’ commitment to God is bearing the fruit John is referring to in his rant against the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:8) (Butterworth). And we may just catch a glimpse of the inner life of God as Jesus is named twice in his circumcision and baptism, revealing both his fully human and fully divine nature (Scoopmire).

All that brings us to the “So what?” question. What do we learn about us in all this? I suspect the first thing is that this story reminds us to open our eyes and look at the world differently. John knew Jesus because he saw the world differently than the Romans and their collaborators. God’s tells us to “Look at him!” but also to “Look for him!” (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). And it is important for us to look because there are those who proclaim another way.

In Jesus’ day, Roman Civil Religion threatened the world. Today an emerging American Civil Religion threatens the world. Its proponents disregard foundational doctrines like Trinity. Perhaps because belief in the Trinity requires belief in a fully human and fully divine Jesus that requires divinity and humanity to co-exist. In other words, Jesus has fully free human will within a divine framework (Mitchican). American Civil Religion rejects the Trinity because it cannot see how truly free enterprise can exist within any regulatory system. It teaches that Jesus went to the cross not to bring forgiveness of our sins but to get us out of financial debt, to give us the power to claim our prosperity, and to give us our best life right now. American Civil Religion teaches that Jesus is “not the only begotten Son of God,” just the first; and that we’re all divine and have the power to speak worlds into existence (Hughes). If that doesn’t evoke the memory of the original temptation to be like God Gen.3:5) then I don’t know what does.

And once we see the world differently, what are we to do? You know the answer: we follow the shepherds, we boldly proclaim Jesus as Lord and savior, and we preach and teach and witnesses to Jesus’ presence in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Is it hard? no, all you do is share your stories. Is it scary? yes, but it gets easier with time. How do we know when to speak? Well, you have already learned to look differently, and now is the time to listen differently, and then we will encounter the unexpected opportunity to share. And oh yes, you can relax because just as God was there when Jesus started his ministry God is here for you when you start or continue yours.


References

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

Butterworth, Susan. “The Baptism of Our Lord, Epiphany 1(A).” 8 1 2017. Sermons that Work.

Carter, Warren. Commentary on Matthew 3:1317. 8 1 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 8 1 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 8 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 1A Matthew 3:13-17 . 8 1 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Hughes, Rosalind. An evangelical warns of “mainstream heresy.” n.d. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/an-evangelical-warns-of-mainstream-heresy/&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. You Are All My Beloved. 8 1 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Scoopmire, Leslie. Speaking to the Soul: Named and claimed. 8 1 2017. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speaking-to-the-soul-named-and-claimed-2/&gt;.

 

 

We are Nazarite

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Works Cited

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

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

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 2 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 22C | Lamentations 1:1-6. 2 10 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lead Us Not To Temptation

A sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent; Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13, Psalm 91:12, 9-16

GS’s family has had a very hard time lately. Some three weeks ago, a grandmother had by-pass surgery. The surgery went well; the by-passes are fine; her heart is fine. However, her lungs have almost quit working, she is still incubated, was recently moved to special bed that flips over so the patient is suspended, which may take some stress off the lungs. And this past week ~ an adult child was killed in an ATV accident.

The specifics are unique; however, the circumstances are not. I know families of St. Stephen’s who face significant challenges, sometimes from multiple sources. I expect it may feel as if they have been led into the wilderness. In my experience, I know there is a temptation. In my experience, I know people ask “Why?” I believe that Jesus’ encounter with the devil has something to share with all of us as we find ourselves in the wilderness, or tempted from a time to time. So off we go into the wilderness.

It has been 40 days, and Jesus is famished from fasting. He has already faced the devil twice. From the top of the Temple, the center of Jewish religious life, in the City of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish political and economic life, the devil taunts Jesus (Jones). He says:

If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you, up so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’

I’m certain the taunt sounds familiar; after all, we just heard it; the devil is citing Psalm 91 verses 11 and 12. It is possible to get into a debate about using scripture to fight scripture or how important knowing scripture is to face temptation (Rice, Jones). But, I want us to take a look at verse 2 of Psalm 91:

 “You are my refuge and my stronghold,
my God in whom I put my trust.”

How interesting it is to see, that the same Psalm the devil uses to tempt Jesus is one source of Jesus’ defense; which is Jesus’ trust in God. This is one of those places where we ought to be careful. We know Jesus is fully human, and also fully divine. It is tempting to think there is some sort of divine fail-safe that prevents Jesus from human frailty. Historically the church says no. Jesus’ humanity does not influence his divinity, and importantly for our story this morning, his divinity does not influence his humanity. What Jesus has, and so do we, is the presence of the Holy Spirit (Hoezee). What Jesus has, that we can develop, with the help of the Holy Spirit and each other, is trust in God. The Spirit does not give trust to Jesus though she may whisper reminders from time to time. Jesus’ trust grows from his life’s experience, how he witnesses his family’s and community’s worship discipline. Jesus trust is affirmed in his baptism, which comes just before this morning’s story.

We now see Jesus withstands the devil’s temptations because he trusts God. We also know his trust grows from his knowing the story of God, which is nurtured by his family and faith community and the presence of the Holy Spirit. So now let’s take a look at temptation.

We tend to think that temptation is the enticement of something to do, or to have, that is morally offensive, or those things the world loves and values, that the world defines as power, as opposed to a behavior or position that is morally righteous (Lewis). Temptation can be things that are normally good for us but become the singular focus of our lives (Expertly). Richard Rohr writes that temptations are those things that fling us away from the center of ourselves luring us into chasing stuff on the circumference of being (Rohr). And while this is what temptation is often made of, it is not what temptation is. What temptation is, is a diversion of whose we are and what we are. Temptation seeks to tell us:

 we are not God’s,
we are not made in God’s image,
that God does not really love us,
that we can be like God,
and that we can be independent of God (Jones).

Temptation entices us to change our identity. Jesus resist the temptation to give up his identity for an illusion or false promise, by trusting in God’s eternal love, by remembering that he is God’s and God’s alone (Rice, Jones, Rohr).

So, now we have some inkling of what temptation really is. We have some idea that Jesus’ trust enables him to resist temptation. We have a notion of how that trust develops, and we know that everything that Jesus had is available to us. There is one more concern, and it also arises from Psalm 91; verse 10 begins “There shall no evil happen to you.”

What about GS? What about all the tragedy that has befallen families in St. Stephen’s, and around the world? I know, you know that they are people of faith, even if it different from how we express ours, they are people of faith. So WHY? What have they done to bring such wretched calamity into their lives? Matthew writes that Jesus says for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). In John’s story of the man born blind the disciples ask him “Who sinned?” Jesus answers “No one.” (John 9). In Luke Jesus says the folks, who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell, were no less righteous than those not killed (Luke 13:4). This reminds us that the events of life are not a measure of righteousness. There are no guarantees in life. When we pray our external reality may not change as we ask (Expertly). Somewhere along the line, Angie and I realized that life happens. The question is: will you let the vagaries of life define who you are, or will you reach back to eternal power to garner the strength to respond to the vagaries of life? In the language of today’s lessons: Will you let the vagaries of life tempt you away from God or will you trust God to help you discern and empower your response to the vagaries of life?

Luke’s wilderness temptation tale ends with the devil waiting for “an opportune time.” So, when the illusions, false promises or the vagaries of life are threating to fling you off into circumferential existence, trust the remembrance that you are created by God, in God’s image, who always has and always will love you. Know that you have everything Jesus had in the wilderness, you are marked as God’s own in your Baptism, and you are full of the Holy Spirit. And when temptation persists, seek out the faithful who will journey with you as you rediscover meaning, wholeness, and the shalom of life God wishes you to live.

 


 

References

Ellingsen, Mark. Lent 1, Cycle C (2016). 14 2 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 2 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

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

Hoezee, Scott. Lent 1. 14 2 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jones, Judith. Commentary on Luke 4:113. 14 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Filled With the Holy Spirit. 14 2 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Rice, Whitney. “Driven by the Spirit, Lent 1(C) – 2016.” 14 2 2016. Sermons that Work.

Rohr, Richard. Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer. New York: The Crosssbook Publishing Company, 1999.

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

 

 

 

Without Hesitation, Without Discrimination.

A Sermon for Easter 6

Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17

Seventy years ago the allied armies declared victory in Europe. Some veterans informally began to gather. Those gatherings became formal commemorations that were observed last Friday. They were not without controversy. For example, because of political conflict, there was no official American presence at the Russian remembrance. There were other noticeable changes. At the annual gathering of an American unit, which in previous years had filled convention centers, met in a single hotel conference room. Of the 70 guest, only 10 were veterans, the others were family or friends. A women, a sister of one former vet, and husband to another lamented how such strong straight up men have become so feeble. She said: “I didn’t want it to come to this.” But it has, and life goes on, even as things change, often in unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable ways; ways we didn’t, ways that we don’t want. (NPR)

This morning’s reading from Acts barely rises above sloganeering; so I’ve imposed my homiletical prerogative and we’ll begin at the beginning of chapter 10.

But first, I want us to take a peek over to Matthew where we learn Peter’s full name is Simon bar Jonah. (Matthew 16:17) This is only important when it leads us to remember another biblical character – Jonah. You remember Jonah, the reluctant prophet who didn’t want to go to Nineveh so he runs away.  That leads to him spending three night in the belly of a great fish. There he sees the light, agrees to follow God’s call, goes to Nineveh, pronounces God’s prophecy, and behold, to everyone’s surprise, except possibly his, the city repents and comes to know God. (WALL, 2003) Back to Acts 10.

This is a tale of simultaneous serpentine revelations. An angel tells Cornelius to send for Simon known as Peter, who is staying with Simon in Joppa (where Jonah’s miss-adventures begins). He does. At the same time Peter (bar Jonah) in prayer on his roof, has a vision. A picnic blanket is lowered revealing of all kinds of animals. Peter is instructed to kill and eat. He rejects the command because to do so would violate the Law; some of the animals are unclean, and there is no way to keep Kosher, the rules to prepare food. The voice tells him “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (Acts 10:15) This back and forth goes on three times; (remember the three days in the belly of the fish) when the men Cornelius sent arrive. The Spirit tells Peter to “go to them without hesitation,” which may be better understood as “without discrimination.” (Baker, 2015)

Peter senses a bit of the vision and invites the emissaries in. Since they are gentiles he crosses a boundary. He then shares a meal with them, remember the vision, crossing another boundary, because observant Jewish Christians wanted to maintain the distinctions, the discrimination, between Jews and others. (Baker) The next day they travel from Joppa to Cornelius house. There Peter begins to preach, crossing a third boundary. Remember Cornelius is a Roman soldier, an officer of modest rank from an Italian, not some mercenary, Cohort. He’s not Jewish, he is a leader from an elite Army unit whose job is to keep the peace, which pretty much means suppressing any disturbances, and Jewish Christians were a disturbance. There are all kinds of boundary violations.

Nonetheless, Peter begins to preach. In his preaching he says:

I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. (10:34 ff)

If you ever wonder what right is, today’s reading from John’s Gospel account and the first letter from John, that speak so eloquently of loving Jesus and each other as Jesus loves us, provides a clear answer: love each other. But I’m wandering.

In the middle of Peter’s preaching everyone in Cornelius’ house begins speaking in tongues. This is a clear sign of the presence of the Spirit. Peter’s Jewish companions are astonished. The ever impetuous Peter cries out:

How can we deny baptism to anyone who has the Holy Spirt? and orders them all to be baptized.

and orders them all to be baptized.

This is a classic example of Apostles’ predisposition to baptism no matter what. If there is no existing faith community – they baptized. If they aren’t likely to see them again – they baptized. If there is no way to follow up – they baptized. Remember Philip from last week, water by a dessert highway and Philip baptizes the eunuch. Whenever the opportunity presents itself the Apostles just baptize. Scott Hoezee posits that they had much higher expectations that the Holy Spirit was on the move. (Hoezee, 2015)

A final observation. Both Peter and Cornelius obey God’s commandment, an act “… that presupposes obedience.” Obedience is not a trait that Americans admire. (Whitley, 2015)

In July 2013, returning from our daughter’s wedding I had a vision for Stephen’s house. A downtown location for worship, and an incubator for faith based community outreach. I’ve recently come to understand, that for many complex reasons, its time has passed. However, we still have a calling to discern. You’ve heard it before. How are we to proclaim the Gospel in Blytheville, in the 21th century, in the Episcopal tradition? Today’s reading from Acts doesn’t give us any answers. It does give us some clues as to how we might discern the answer.

Robert Wall notes “Peter’s understanding of his Gentile mission unfolds over several days of visions.” (WALL, 2003) So let’s give ourselves time.

He further posits that obedience to God’s bidding, admired or not, is a quality for receiving God’s grace. (WALL) So let’s obey, let’s just trust in the Lord and go.

We read how Peter crossed several boundaries to following his calling. Let’s name the barriers that constrain our proclaiming the Gospel right here, right now. Are there issues of sexuality, or race, or religion or ideology? Let’s name them.

I mentioned how the Apostles had higher expectations of the Spirit. Let’s explore“[h]ow open we are to seeing the Spirit on the move … and how open and willing we [will] quickly and gladly … respond to new [vision].” (Hoezee)

None of us wanted our church to come to this. But it has, and life goes on, even as things change, often in unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable ways; ways we didn’t, ways that we don’t want. Nevertheless we are being called, and I’d rather avoid three days in the fish of belly … or whatever. I’d rather have a reasonably clear vision emerge over the course of days, weeks, or even months. From today until July Sunday school will study A People called Episcopalians in preparation for the Bishop’s visit. Buried in our exploration of Episcopal identity, authority, including scriptural authority, spirituality, how we think about the world including God, and how we are structured and govern ourselves (Westerhoff & Pearson, 2014) will be additional clues as from where we might discern a clear vision. It is my intention that beginning in August we’ll begin to specifically look: for barriers, for what astounds us, to listen and seek the gentle tug of the Spirit’s presence, pointing to our clear vision. And in following it  we can get on baptizing without hesitation, without discrimination so that all may come to know God, and through God’s love, love each other. Amen


References

Baker, C. (2015, 5 10). Commentary on Acts 10:4448. Retrieved from working preacher.

Ellingsen, M. (2015, 5 10). Easter 6 Year B. Retrieved from Lectionary Scripture Notes: http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/

Epperly, B. (2015, 5 10). The Adventurous Lectionary. Retrieved from Pathos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly

Hoezee, S. (2015, 5 10). Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Acts 10:44-48. Retrieved from Center for Excellence in Preaching: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php

Lewis, K. (20015, 5 10). Dear Working Preacher: Choose Joy. Retrieved from Working Preacher: workingpreacher.org

Lose, D. (2015, 5 10). Easter 6 B: On Being Chosen. Retrieved from David Lose: http://www.davidlose.net

Unknown. (2015, 5 8). NPR. (Unknown, Interviewer) NPR. KUAR, Jonesboro. Retrieved 5 8, 2015

WALL, R. W. (2003). New Interpreter’s Bible: THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES (Vol. 10).

Westerhoff, J. H., & Pearson, S. E. (2014). A People Called Episcopalians. New York: Morehouse.

Whitley, K. K. (2015, 5 10). 6 Easter (B) – 2015. Retrieved from Sermons that Work.

Willimon, W. H. (n.d.). Interpretation, Acts. (J. L. Mays, P. D. Miller, & P. J. Achtemeier, Eds.) Atlanta Georgia: John Knox Press.