And

A Sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-12, 21c, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39

 Like many Bible stories, this morning’s Gospel story has a central character, whose name we do not know. Reading the story isn’t often a problem, pronouns do just fine. However, preaching or teaching can be a challenge because pronouns don’t work as well, the distance between the pronoun and its associated noun phrase is too great. So, we are left with a long cumbersome descriptor; this morning it is “Simon’s mother-in-law.” That is a lot to say repeatedly. I wondered if it might be appropriate to imagine a name. I took the first letter of each word ‘s,’ ‘m,’ ‘i,’ and ‘l’ and googled it using a find a name web site. I got an answer ‘Smiljana’ (pronounced Smil’ ja na). Does the name fit the character? I googled the name and learned it is of Indo-European origins likely Serbian. It means dear or beloved; which is a good meaning for a biblical name; so, maybe it makes sense to use it. On the other hand, why did Mark not give her a name? To know someone’s name is to have power over them. I don’t think Mark is protecting her, nor do I think he is concerned about anyone having power over their mother-in-law. Power over is not the concern; but, a name does make a character specific, and I wonder if Mark isn’t providing us with a casting for everyone. Therefore, “Simon’s mother-in-law” it will be; and I’ll have to say it 85 times to have saved any words.

There are two stories in this morning’s reading from Mark’s Gospel narrative. The first one is the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. The other is Jesus’ decision to leave Capernaum to proclaim the message in neighboring towns. Both have the common feature – the revealing power of ‘and.’

You know the story of Simon’s mother in law. They leave the synagogue, where Jesus taught and cast out a demon, and returned to Simon and Andrew’s house. They tell Jesus Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever. He lifted her up, the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

The phrase lifted her up has been translated he raised her up (Hart; Kittredge) which is clear resurrection language. Here is the first occurrence of ‘and’ that caught my attention. This time connecting us to the phrase she began to serve them, which has an unfortunate history. The phrase has been improperly used to put women back in the kitchen or in their place. However, the verb diakonein is the verb used when the angels serve Jesus in the wilderness. It is used to define Jesus’ ministry who came to serve (Mark 10:45). Karen Lewis writes

She serves because this is what discipleship looks like. She serves, showing us what following Jesus will really means.

Lewis sees this as Simon’s mother in-law’s calling to discipleship (Kittredge; Lewis; Harrelson).

Illness is more than the physical issues. There are also emotional, social, and spiritual effects. When Jesus raises her up she is freed of her fever and she is no longer emotionally isolated (Perkins); she is restored to the honored social position of being a hostess, and her spiritual life grows as she serves Jesus as a disciple. Simon’s mother-in-law is healed, she is restored to wholeness of life; she knows shalom.

After dark, when Sabbath is over, all Capernaum, can bring their sick or possessed family to Jesus, and all of them do (Keener and Walton). He heals many and casts out many demons. Early the next morning, Jesus has gone off to a quiet place to pray. The disciples aggressively hunt him down (Harrelson), rudely telling him “Everyone is waiting on you!” Jesus did not come here to be a local healer or holy man. Jesus’ calling is to share the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near throughout the region (Perkins). So, he tells them Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is why I’ve come. (Mark 1:38, The Message) They follow Jesus and he proclaims the message and casts out demons. Here is that word ‘and’ again. This time it connects Jesus’ preaching with Jesus’ healing. In Mark’s Gospel story preaching and healing are connected; to do one, is to do the other (Perkins).

Today’s Gospel reading is full of connections. There is the connection between healing, serving, and calling; and the connection between healing, and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near. Connections like these are and will be important for us.

Today is our first Sunday together when I am not your full-time vicar. As I have said and written I will continue to lead Sunday worship and as a pastoral presence. We will have to learn to go our separate ways together. For me not being a full-time vicar/rector/missioner will be a challenge. I don’t know how not to do what I have been trying to do for 23 or so years. You have some experience without a fulltime vicar or rector. It has been awhile and many, actually, most of those who were here then are no longer here. St. Stephen’s resources are not what they were, and it will be a challenge. You have a challenge, and I have a challenge. However, that we share this trait is not the ‘and’ I see that we share with this morning’s Gospel. Actually, I think we share the ‘and from both stories.

As you become a church without a full-time vicar or rector and as I become a priest who is not a vicar or rector we will continue to proclaim the message in how we become this particular reflection of the image of the Kingdom which is right here, right now. As Jesus’ healing and proclaiming the message are one so our living into our new callings is the same thing as our proclaiming the message. As Simon’s mother-in-law is healed she is restored to shalom fullness of life, physiologically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually; in our living into our new callings we are being restored to shalom fullness of life physiologically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. A lesson from these two stories in Mark’s Gospel narrative is that life with God is not a series of independent events that have to be carefully balanced by some secret knowledge in order to gain access to God’s Kingdom sometime in the future, someplace else. This morning we witness how life with God has many facets and all of them are interconnected to all the others, just as the lives of all people, are interconnected images of God. None of the facets and none of the images is complete on their own. Each of them is dependent on all the others, and all the others are dependent on you as the emerging lay lead St. Stephen’s and me as the emerging well I’m not even sure what I will call myself and that is okay, I’ve always wanted to be an enigma.

Even as I see darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12) at this moment. I am sure of the future because even as we are less connected to each other in a formal way we remain interconnected, along with all of creation to God/Jesus/Spirit who makes us whole and who loves us forever.

References

Avalos, Hector. Health Care and the Rise of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999.

David, W. Peters. “Touch, Epiphany 5 (B).” 4 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 4 2 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.

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

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 1:29-39. 4 2 2018.

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

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:29-39. 4 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. A Call Story. 4 2 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

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.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message. 2002. WORDsearch Database – 2008.

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

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

 

 

 

Judge Judy

 A sermon for Epiphany 4: Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

 You all know the Judge Judy show where Judge Judy acts as both Judge and Jury to settle disputes. Well, this morning we have a dispute. It is in the 8th century (BCE), and it seems Israel has forgotten everything that God has ever done for them. So, God, as plaintiff, calls them to court. Only God, not Judy is also the Judge, and the prosecutor (Harrelson). As Judge, God calls on the mountains and hills to be the jury; after all, they have been around for a really long time and have seen everything that all the nations of the earth, including Israel, have ever done (Simundson).

The trial begins with God’s testimony a short history of what God has done:

  • freeing them from slavery in Egypt
  • inspiring Balaam to reverse Balak’s curse into a blessing
  • enabling them to move from Shittim across the Jordan to Gilgal and into the promised land (Harrelson; Simundson).

God wants to know what has been done that caused them for forget all that has been done.

Israel is speechless; I would be; wouldn’t you be? So, as do so many folks with extravagant liturgical traditions Israel turns to their traditions. They discuss their options. What would please God the most? Now, remember they aren’t from our deep Anglican background. Their liturgical traditions are centered around the sacrificial rites of the Temple. So, the options they discuss are:

  • what about a burnt offering of a year-old calf?
    • that is a prescribed sacrifice (Lev 9:3)
  • maybe a thousand rams would be better?
  • although it seems excessive,
    this is the only mention of a thousand anything as a sacrifice
  • or better yet, ten thousand rivers of oil!
    • we really have reached the heights of absurdity at this point
  • but maybe ~ just maybe the life of my first born will atone for the sin of my soul ~
    • and this is a drastic change; a sacrifice that God has rejected over and over and over and over again (Deut 12:31; 18:10; Jer 19:5; Ezek 16:20) (Harrelson; Simundson).

The entire conversation reveals just how shallow Israel’s understanding of God has become. As Doug Bratt notes God doesn’t want anything from Israel, God wants Israel (Bratt). Israel is so far off base the prophet Micha step in and says:

God has told you
      do justice,
      love mercy,
     and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

 

Now, all that is left is for us is to figure out
what is justice?
what does mercy look like? and
how do we walk humbly?

When I read the suggestion that ‘walk’ is actually the key word in all this, and then suggest that we walk with God as our constant companion, I saw how reversing the order brings a kind of clarity (Simundson). Walking in intimate relationship with God enables us to love mercy or kindness, and that encourages mutual interdependent relationships across all social boundaries; and that enable us to do justice working through churches, communities and whole societies reflecting the image of God (Bratt).

Walking with God is just a little bit more complex than a journey through the valley of shadows and darkness (Psalm 23). Paul is oh so right; the message of the cross is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). Think for a minute, back through this last week, back through this last month, have you heard anything that holds up: the poor, those in mourning, the meek, those who are hungry or thirsty, those who are merciful, or kind or pure of heart, or who make peace, or who are persecuted because they stand up against the elite and powerful, or who those name evil as evil, even when evil parades around in glory, laud and honorific trappings.

Jesus has been traveling all around Galilee. He has seen how the people react to him. He knows people are coming from all around, as far away even as Jerusalem. He realizes the crowd’s growing expectations. There are those who see Jesus becoming a “bold and brash political leader.” There are others who believe he will draw powerful, assertive allies to his side. Nearly everyone expects “swift liberation from Roman” and the end of centuries of oppression by foreign peoples (Hoezee).

Jesus takes his disciples up the mountain, which is a place of theophany, a place of the presence of God, and basically, gives them, and us, a definition of discipleship, that we hear in the beatitudes. All the surrounding nations and for the last several centuries with a distorted emphasis on the exactness of the Law, the Jewish religious leaders focus on attitudes and declarations of doctrine. God desires righteous behaviors, and remember that for Matthew ‘righteous is all about relationship, or always journeying, with God. Jesus’ 9 little sayings turn the world upside down and hint at a future reversal of imperialistic values, that, in fact, is already in process in Jesus ministry way back then and right now (Harrelson).

I have a dream. I dream of Judge Judy perched high on the bench. I dream of WormWood challenging that St. Stephen’s is devoid of the presence of God at anywhere and at any time. I dream that without reference to doctrine or liturgy that by story after story after story of one journey after another where we’ve faithfully held God’s hand as we traversed the darkness sharing kindness and doing justice for all right here right now.

 

References

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

Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 4 A Micah 6:1-8 . 29 1 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Butterworth, Susan. “Becoming Peacemakers, Epiphany 4(A).” 29 1 2017. Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, Mark. Epiphany 4 | Ordinary Time 4, Cycle A. 29 1 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – Fourth Sunday after the. 29 1 2017. <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 4A l Matthew 5:1-12 . 29 1 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12. 29 1 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

—. Righteous Living. 29 1 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Pankey, Steve. Draughting Theology. 29 1 2017. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1312346053>.

—. The Basics 102. 29 1 2017. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1310831034>.

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

Simundson, Daniel J. New Interpreter’s Bible The Book of Micah. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015`. X!! vols. App Olivetree.

 

 

 

Onesimus Labor

A sermon for Proper 18: Jeremiah 18:1-11, Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25-33

Tomorrow is Labor Day which is set aside to honor those who literally build America. Among the builders, I include teachers, secretaries, house and grounds keepers, maintenance worker, and all those folks who get stuff done. They are not always who we think they are. Way back I remember Richard Dreyfuss in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Duddy was working as a waiter at a summer resort trying to make contact with important people. He wasn’t getting his orders out like he wanted to. He spoke to the maître d’, nothing changed. He spoke to the executive chef, nothing changed. He spoke to the resort manager, nothing changed. One day he noticed the cook had a bottle on a shelf just above the stove, which he drank from frequently. The day Duddy walked by and left a new bottle on the counter in front of the cook, and his orders came quickly. It is not always the people at the top who get things done.

The last 40 years have been a challenge for American labor, trade, and working folks; many are not doing so well. Income has been flat at best; many people have experienced a real decline in spending ability. The children of Baby Boomers and GenXers are the first to do less well than parents. To say why is difficult. There are complex economics factors. There are interweaving social issues that confuse explanations. International relationships and trade deals are problematic. Election season rhetoric doesn’t make things any clearer. All these and more are parts of a vague understanding, or non-understanding, of the state of American Labor.

As I see it, one of the biggest factors is the results of commoditization of everything; food is a commodity, heath care is a commodity, education is a commodity, and now labor is a commodity. Employers relationships with the people who work for them are more and more determined by what profit they generate. The commoditization of everything is a great loss to our society. It a major change from how Jesus, Paul and the Prophets understood faith.

Today we segregate our faith from the rest of our world. There is Church and our relationship with God. People talk about how “I love Jesus” or how “Jesus in my heart” and so forth. Then over there somewhere is the relationship with the rest of the world; customers, suppliers, employees, are all commodities we use to bring profit to us and the cost to them irrelevant. This is what Jesus is speaking to the crowd about.

These and related verses are often referred to as defining the cost of discipleship, and they are hard to hear. Who wants to sell everything you have to be a Christian? Who wants to ‘hate’ their parents, or siblings, or best friend? A language point; the word translated ‘hate’ means something more like “make a lesser priority” so you can make God’s purpose the greatest priority (Ellingsen) (Hoezee, Luke). If ‘hate’ means something slightly different, perhaps the rest of Jesus’ teaching is a little different.

Jesus is prodding the people to consider if their relationships are based on their relationship with God and Jesus or based on something else. He is clear that change needs to be made, and these changes will require sacrifices (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). However, not all sacrifices are the same; some lead to death, and some lead to life (Lose). Gary Gunderson in Leading Causes of Life notes that we are good at seeing threats and responding to eliminate them, but we are not so good at seeing the causes of life and supporting them (Gunderson and Page). Jesus calls us to make sacrifices that lead to life. And yes, even these sacrifices are difficult (Lose). And the ethical decisions that emerge from these sacrifices, as full of grace as they may be, are not cheap (Epperly). To carry the cross is to carry the burdens of a life that is committed to bringing the Kingdom right here right now (Lewis). To carry the cross is making choices that require some wisdom, and being careful to be sure we don’t confuse family’ values with Kingdom values (Hoezee, Luke) (Jacobsen). Such wisdom requires that we realize, as Jeremiah is telling Israel, the choices are ours; the enemy doesn’t control this, God doesn’t control this, these are our decisions.

The treatment of trades, labor, working folk, customers, suppliers, and anyone else is what Paul is addressing in Philemon. Even though Onesimus may not have been a runaway slave, we must still acknowledge Philemon was, and at times still is, misused to justify slavery. After our confession and apologies, then we heed Paul’s words (Barreto). We must confront the same question Paul confronts Philemon with; how are we treating people? Do we treat everyone as a brother or sister in Christ? After deep reflection and honesty, we must deal with whatever we discover separates us from others. Carrying the Cross is a commitment to the radical reorientation of the community’s understanding of the Onesimuses of the world; employees, customers, suppliers, neighbors near and far, whoever we may commoditize as individuals or as a nation. These people are no longer merely a cog in the machine of “it’s just business”; they are now a beloved kin (Barreto). This means all of us in this room, in the parish, our community, our county, state, country, and in the world; who are so good at finding ways to put down, oppress, take advantage of, or commoditize Onesimuses to our advantage irrespective of the cost to them, are called to undermine whatever demeaning ways Onesimuses are viewed and treated as less than our friend in Christ (Hoezee, Philemon). Everyone struggles to build a Jesus like relationships and to receive everyone as a beloved relative. In Jeremiah’s words, by the work of our own hands we are all miss-shaped pots.

It is a foreboding thought. However, Jeremiah’s message is clear, Israel’s life is not fixed, Philemon’s and Onesimus’ lives are not fixed, our lives are not fixed. Our lives are like pots of unfired clay (Portier-Young). Nothing has been predetermined. When Israel turned from good to evil, disaster and destruction came. When Israel turned from evil too good, disaster and destruction are averted. When we turn from evil to righteous behavior disaster, and destruction will fade away (Portier-Young). Turning from evil to righteousness includes changing our relationships with the Onesimuses of the word.

There are competing forces that shape us as individuals and communities. We are formed through righteous beliefs and virtuous actions. We are malformed by greed, abuse, and raw ambition. We are persuaded by suggestion and temptations. Yet we are resilient, we do remarkable good, and are open to deep conversion (Portier-Young). Jeremiah tells Israel, the choice is theirs, walk in God’s ways disaster is averted; continue to reject her moral responsibilities and disaster is assured (Bratt).

Even though Jeremiah is speaking to individuals, his message is to the nation (Bowron). His message is also for us, as individuals and as the communities we are a part of. Therefore, we have a two-prong challenge seeing and changing our own behavior, and seeing and insisting the leaders of our governments, businesses, churches, whatever, change our communities’ and organizations’ ethics and behavior. And as much as I have fussed about it, this is the season to make that voice known, at the ballot box. So in the next 8 weeks or less, with conscious, prayerful discernment, glean God’s calling and then vote your conscious (Episcopal News Service).

It is easy to see doom and gloom on the horizon; there are enough talking heads spouting one form or another of the end of times. But, as I said, Jeremiah is clear, when we change our behavior the disaster we face will fade away. We should also remember that we are not alone. The 23rd Psalm walks us through the valley of the shadow of death, walks us through any darkness that threatens us, assuring us that God is always with us. Even as our strength wanes, we can trust in God’s strength … as we look forward to the resurrection and the life of the world to come (The Episcopal Church 357).


References

Barreto, Eric. Commentary on Philemon 1:121. 4 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.
Bowron, Josh. “What is God Calling You to Love? Proper 18 (C).” 4 9 2016. Sermons that Work.
Bratt, Doug. Proper 18C Jeremiah. 4 9 2016.
Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 18 | Ordinary Time 23 | Pentecost 16, Cycle C (2016). 4 9 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – September 4, 2016 –. 4 9 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.
Gunderson, Gary and Larry Page. Leading Causes of Life. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009.
Hoezee, Scott. Proper 18 C Philemon 1:1-1:21. 4 9 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.
—. Proper 18C Luke. 4 9 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.
Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 14:2533. 4 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 4 9 2016.
Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Carrying The Cross. 4 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.
Lose, David. Pentecost 16 C: Life-giving Sacrifice. 30 8 2016.
Portier-Young, Anathea. Commentary on Jeremiah 18:111. 4 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.
The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

Discipleship Transitions

A sermon for Proper 8: 2 Kings 2:12, 6-14, Psalm 77:12, 11-20, Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62

We live in highly contentious times. Daily we hear about Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ disruptive ways. Friday morning, we learned the surprising results of the Brit-ex vote for Britain to leave EU. It makes one wonder if Donald or Bernie followers have renewed hope? Locally times are contentious. We have strong industry; at the same time, we know the impact of cheaper gas as several hundred perhaps as many as a thousand jobs are gone, temporarily, we all believe – hope. The City of Blytheville has budgetary concerns. We need to do something about the county’s Court physical facilities. Violence is increasing across the Delta. There are continuing changes in our schools at the state level. Local changes hold great potential, but they are still change on top of change. There is continuing change in health care as Arkansas moves from Private Pay to AR Works. Times are changing, and it is contentious.

But the world has been here before. In his column, Another Age of Discovery Thomas Friedman draws on Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna’s book Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance. The years from 1450 – 1550 are known as the Age of Discovery. The changes, propelled by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Copernicus, and Columbus, that produced the Renaissance and reshaped science, education, manufacturing, communications, politics, and geopolitics, were highly disruptive. Today the technological change is the web and smartphones. Then Gutenberg’s printing press was the technological driver of change. In the Renaissance, as today, key anchors in people’s lives; like the workplace and community; were being fundamentally dislocated. Then as now, the pace of technological change was outstripping the average person’s ability to adapt (Friedman).

Actually, we have been here even before then. Chapter nine in Luke is a story of transition. It is the beginning of the travel narrative when Jesus resolutely heads towards Jerusalem (Parsons). We are so used to scripture, and so unused to the traditions of 1st century Palestine we don’t see the radical social change Jesus is creating. Any other Jew would have gone around Samaria. Was Jesus saving time? Not really, he goes through Samaria because his purpose includes those folks (Hoezee). Insulted by the Samaritans’ rejection James and John want to follow in Elijah’s tradition and call down divine fire to consume them (2 Kings 1:9) (Parsons). Jesus rebuffs reprisals for rejection.

If we take his encounter with would-be followers the other way around, we hear Jesus overturn expected family behavior to say goodbye, discard the social obligation to bury your family member, tell a would-be follower expect to be homeless. These are not the expectations of a faithful Jew or a want-to-be wandering rabbi. Everything in this story is highly disruptive.

It is important to hear clearly that this is not a story of worshipping Jesus, rather it is a story about following Jesus. Two thousand years later, we habitually worship Jesus and talk about belonging to Jesus and believing in Jesus. We are not so used to following Jesus and being transformed along the way. It has been a while since the norm for following Jesus, was to walk humbly, love mercy, and do justice (Bates).

Following Jesus is hard. It requires change and none of us like change. All my working life I’ve been something of a change agent. You don’t install a new computer system and not change things. And all my ministry has been in the midst of congregations in change; and truth be told, the whole of the church has been in the midst of change for the last half century – depending on how you count. And even I don’t like change; ~ well I don’t like the change I don’t like.

In order to change, to be vulnerable to transition, we have to be honest with ourselves as we ponder two simple questions:

  1. Are we looking beyond our own self or family interest?
  2. Do we see God’s way of life in our way of life (Epperly)?

 

An example: Years ago the churches where we lived had a Christmas party for the kids who lived in the projects. One year someone noticed that as Santa walked in the front door, the parents walked out the back. One of the volunteers, not a minister, a volunteer, realized that we are doing this for us. The next year the churches still collected toys; however, they opened a Christmas Shop where parents could buy toys at .25 on the dollar, and if needed, they could work to earn what they needed. The moment of revelation was realized as kids started sharing their excitement that their parents were “going to get Christmas for us.”

Paul provides additional clarity in the letter to the Galatians. He writes do not use your freedom for self-indulgence; love one another (Gal. 5:13) For Paul Christian freedom, is freedom from the confines of legalistic traditions, guilt, and shame, ego and individualism and freedom for life transforming behaviors, that inspire us to bring greater unity and create a healthier community here and throughout the world (Epperly). Jesus and Paul point us to a freedom that reveals the Kingdom

which really does contain the cosmic power for salvation [for] all people and all creatures (Hoezee).

 

Karoline Lewis writes

What are you waiting for? For someone else to speak justice? To call for righteousness? Or will you embrace the moment and proclaim the promise of God’s favor (Lewis)?

Embracing the moment is risk on risk. Friedman cites Goldin:

More risk taking is required when things change more rapidly, both for workers who have to change jobs and for businesses who have to constantly innovate to stay ahead.

He concludes:

when the world gets this tightly woven, America “needs to be more, not less, engaged, with the rest of the world,” because “the threats posed by climate change, pandemics, cyber attacks or terror will not be reduced by America withdrawing.” … [from 1450 to 1550] as now, walls stop working … make you poorer, dumber, [and] more insecure (Friedman).

In our own way, Blytheville and Mississippi County have known this for – well, a long time. In the last 14 years, including the projects in process, economic development investment has added some 1750 to 2500 jobs and something like $110 million in annual payroll. Still, all is not as it should be. Nearly 6,000 of our neighbors are neither employed or on any type of government assistance. That is a lot of people. That is a lot of unused human potential. That is a lot of despair that could be transformed into a mountain of hope and renewal (Chitwood).

We could, as some do, simply say it’s the result of some sinful things they have done, it’s a form of divine punishment. This has a ring of tradition, and some see scripture behind such thinking. It’s not following the way Jesus walks, it’s not the love of neighbor Paul proclaims, and it is not ~ what is happening here.

The cooperative arrangement between ANC, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Mississippi County Economic Development called WORK, is helping all the people it can reach, walk the path from no job, no hope – to a good job with life expectations. It’s a journey that is as simple, and as difficult, as showing up (Chitwood).

This effort has great potential; to the extent, we have been honest with ourselves. Are we looking beyond our own self-interest? Are we walking God’s way of life in our way of life? I know some of the folks involved and believe many are choosing to walk the disruptive road through Samaria towards Jerusalem. I know that just as life begets life, so transitions beget transitions. Jesus’ desire is to invite the Samaritans to journey with him into the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ desire is for them and all his followers to be transformed and know the freedom of God’s Kingdom. I believe I see our desire to invite everyone in Mississippi county to be transformed together as jointly we journey to the Kingdom of God that is right here, right now.

 

 

References

Bates, J. Barrington. “Enigmatic Jesus, Sermon Proper 8 (C) – 2016.” 26 6 2016. Sermons that Work.

Chitwood, Clif. “Opinion Column: Where are we, and what’s next?” Blytheville Courier (2016). <www.blythevillecourier.com>.

Ellingsen, Mark. 26 6 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 26 6 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Friedman, Thomas L. “Another Age of Discovery.” The New York Times (2016).

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 9:51-62. 26 6 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Every Moment Counts. 26 6 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Parsons, Mikeal C. Commentary on Luke 9:5162. 26 6 20016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

 

 

Showing Up In Odd Places

A sermon for Easter 3: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20), Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19, Psalm 30

 

50 years ago Time Magazine’s cover posed the question: Is God Dead? (White). Episcopal Café’s – The Lead coverage included a philosophical summary beginning with leftovers of Nietzsche’s thesis that striving, self-centered man had killed God, and that settled that. It moves to the current death-of-God group that believes that God is indeed absolutely dead, but proposes to carry on and write a theology without God. Then continues with those who believe that God in the image of man, God sitting in heaven, is dead. And concludes that our society frequently faces the questions: “What is in question is God himself?” and “What is in the reality of God?” The article recaps information from The Pew Research Center. In the last decade or so

  • belief in God dropped from 92% to 88%
  • church attendance has dropped from 39% to 36%
  • those religiously unaffiliated has jumped from about 16% to almost 23%
  • but interestingly, a majority of the above “nones,” 61%, still say they believe in God or a universal spirit (White).

This morning we heard the third story of an appearance of the resurrected Jesus. The Bible tells us that once before humanity killed God, manifest in the person of Jesus. The result is The Resurrection. So if humanity kills God again, this time via philosophical or ideological means, the result will be ~ the continuance of The Resurrection. The remaining question seems to be how long will it be before we recognize or see the resurrected Divine presence? Bible stories indicate it will take some time. It seems that the risen Christ is not easily recognized until he says or does something familiar (Gavenat and Petersen). The risen Jesus also appears to have developed a habit of showing up in odd, yet usual places (Cox).

We read about Jesus showing up in cemeteries in all the Gospels. In John Jesus appears in homes, and at work. Luke writes of him appearing on the road and, along with Mark, at the breaking of bread with lesser-known followers or believers. Matthew writes about the risen Jesus appearing on a mountain top, and where the disciples had been told to be. Mark also writes of appearances in that which frightens and amazes us, or at table. There are stories of Jesus even showing up when folks have gone fishing.

This morning we heard that Peter and some of the other disciples have gone fishing. They seem to be a bit unsettled; like they are still a little on edge, or perhaps somewhat dispirited (Gavenat and Petersen). The story begins “after these things” but we are not sure what things or how much time has passed since then (Cox). Maybe Peter is just trying to get back to life as it had been before all this Jesus stuff popped up. Whatever their motivation it not very successful night fishing.

On their way back, when they are about 100 yards from shore, someone shouts “Put the net down on the other side.” Have you ever been on a lake or seashore and tried to call to someone 100 yards away? I don’t get how they even saw each other never mind communicated. Nor do I understand how John recognized Jesus, except maybe the net is full of 153 large fish, an overly abundant catch eerily like the 1ooo bottles of wine at the wedding in Canna (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) (Lewis). Their experience is familiar in other ways; it is just like being with Jesus when they were on or near the sea. When they get to shore there is a charcoal fire, just like in the High Priest’s courtyard; one more familiar thing. The bread and fish are just like the Mountain top when Jesus feeds that large crowd (Harrelson). Another familiar thing. Jesus invites them to breakfast, which might be like the last supper; only Jesus offers them offers them bread and fish instead of bread and wine; this sounds and feels familiar.

Now the story shifts to a conversation between Jesus and Peter.

Peter, do you love me?
Yes ~ you know I am you BFF.
Feed my lambs.
Peter, do you love me?
Jesus, I just told you I’m your BFF!
Tend my sheep.
Peter, are you my BFF?
How many times do I have to tell you, you really are my BFF?

Only this time Peter’s voice tinged with hurt as he recognizes his inability to return the love Jesus is speaking of (Cox). Remember Peter by a charcoal fire in the courtyard where he denies Jesus 3 times, here is yet another familiar thing (Erlangen). The three references to sheep and lambs also draw our hearts, and Peter’s, back to the images of Jesus as the good shepherd (John 10) (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). Next, Jesus’ fatefully speaks about Peter’s future, and then invites him to “Follow me.” This is a final familiar moment; it is reminiscent of Jesus calling Nathan and Philip to “Follow me.” way back in chapter 1 (John 1:43) (Gavenat and Petersen).

 

One gleaning from his conversation with Peter is that Jesus meets us where we are physically and spiritually (Cox). Another gleaning is that the half dozen or more references to previous incidents in John’s Gospel reveal the collective presence and power of grace upon grace (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). It just keeps on building up.

 

Today’s appearance story is also a story of discipleship (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). It points explicitly to the future life of Jesus’ disciples(Harrelson). It also points to our discipleship and our responses to the continuing questions of “Is God dead?” and the cognate questions of God being indifferent or irrelevant.

 

I see a few applicable gleanings.

  • Jesus meets Peter where he was, and he meets us where we are; perhaps we should meet those who struggle with the question of God’s existence where they are?
  • Rather than meet an existential challenge with an equally pugnacious reply, perhaps acts of radical hospitality, like breakfast by the seaside, will reveal the way to living lives of kindness, compassion, sharing, generosity, justice, and peace(Cox) (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner).
  • The struggle with existential meaning reveals the need for Jesus in everyday life … like when we are fishing, or on the beach, or about our daily work (Hoezee).
  • As we discover our responses are as ineffective as the disciples’, even in the simple, well-known stuff like fishing, in Jesus’ absence, let’s also remember their astonishing power and effectiveness in his presence (Gaventa and Petersen).
  • Let’s also remember our need for Jesus in meeting the everyday challenges of discipleship.
  • Just because others cannot perceive it, and we can’t explain it does not mean God’s presence and grace are bound. The Resurrection stories reveal that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, (Romans 8:38-39) can contain grace upon grace (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner).
  • And finally, when we are befuddled by some particularly complex, or simple, existential question perhaps it is time to invite our challenger to go fishing with us, or jointly engage in some other mutually enjoyable routine, perhaps mundane activity.

 

To this point, my probably unrealized goal was to bring some sensible understanding to the last chapter of John’s Gospel. And it’s unrealized because I’m not sure I’ve necessarily don’t that, and unrealized because I’m not I was aware that is what I was trying to do when I did it. Later in the day, I saw a Facebook posting from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry:

We need Christians crazy enough:

to love like Jesus

to give like Jesus

to forgive like Jesus.

So, rather than making sense of John’s last chapter, perhaps we should follow the example and like Jesus, just keep showing up in all sorts of odd places to love, to give and to forgive.

 

 

 

References

Cox, Jason. “Jesus Will Meet Us, Easter 3 (C) – 2016.” 10 4 2016. Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, Mark. 10 4 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 10 4 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. The Lectionary Gospel John 21:1-19. 10 4 2016.

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

Lewis, Karoline. Resurrection is Abundance. 10 4 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

White, John. The Lead: Fifty years since Time magazine asked: “Is God dead?”. 8 4 2016. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/fifty-years-since-time-magazine-asked-is-god-dead/&gt;.

 

 

Really, who is God? – what are divine expectations?

A sermon for  Proper 19

Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 19, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38

David Brooks’ column Friday is titled The Russia I Miss. He notes how debates that raged in the public square in the west, raged within individuals in Russia. That internal debate produced great intellectual and artistic expression. Brooks writes that as America brought a vision of happiness into the world, Russia brought a vision of spiritual commitment. Building on Isaiah Berlin’s thought  “That man is one and cannot be divided.” He wrote:

You can’t divide your life into compartments, hedge your bets and live with prudent half-measures. If you are a musician, writer, soldier or priest, integrity means throwing your whole personality into your calling in its purest form. The Russian ethos … saw problems as primarily spiritual rather  than practical, and put matters of the soul at center stage.
Brooks laments that it is now all gone. (Brooks) And while he does not say so, I believe he longs for such a depth of spiritual commitment to return.

Such lament and such longing is a way of understanding scripture. When God learns that Adam and Eve have fallen to the temptation to be like God the initial response is: What have you done! (Gen 3:13) It sounds of surprise and dismay. From this moment through the end of Revelation there is a sense of longing for the relationship that has been lost, and a longing, a hope, an active effort to restore it.

This morning’s reading from Proverbs presents wisdom as a woman. The are numerous explanations. One tradition understands feminine wisdom to be one expression of the reality of God. (Sakenfeld) The feminine wisdom reveals God who always seeks relationship, and is always multi gender. Proverbs presents a God self revealing in vastly counter cultural ways. (Jacobson) On the surface this reading come across as a bit of a rant. However, when we realize city squares and city gates are locations for courts and the market place we begin to understand the underlying concern is for social and economic justice (Jacobson).  Here Woman Wisdom express lament for Israel’s behavior to God and toward each other, especially the least of these. Here Woman Wisdom longs for a return to relationships between all people as all humanity was created.

In the last few weeks Jesus has traveled from Tyre, through Sidon to Decapolis, through the wilderness, and Bethsaida to Caesarea Philippi. Here Peter gets it right, recognizing that Jesus is God’s Messiah. Then he gets all wrong when Jesus starts talking about betrayal, death and so on. Beyond the fact that none of the disciples ever get it right when Jesus starts telling the truth about what it means to be his disciples, the location makes a difference (Lewis). They are in Caesarea Philippi, which is at the furthest edges of ancient Israel. More significantly, it is the home of multiple temples to multiple gods. One temple was built by Herod in honor of Caesar; which was later enlarged by Philip. Who then renames the town after Caesar and himself – Caesarea Philippi (Easton). In short, they are in the heart of Roman territory. Think ISIS, only with no possibility of drone attacks, or friendly forces rescue. And here ~ is where Jesus chooses to begin revealing who he is, and what following him will mean. Of course Peter tells him to hush. Jesus is challenging Rome in a center of Roman power. In much the same way as the wilderness experience reveals who Jesus is, we are sharing, with the disciples, a further unveiling of Jesus’ identity, which evokes the question: “Who is God?” (Jacobson) Beneath the details, one more time, we see a God who is not expected. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter is a lament of the lack of understanding and the lack of trust. His continued explanation of discipleship, is a longing for what was created.

How often  have you heard “If you don’t want everyone to see it, watch it, hear it, or read it, do not post it on the internet!” In midst of an ugly seminary kerfuffle one of our professors said: “Unlike other injuries, what has been said can never be unsaid.” James is battling similar troubles. It is likely he is expressing concern about false or misleading teachings when he writes about the tongue. James writes that we can not curse those made in the image of God with the same tongue that blesses God (Jacobson). James laments this egresses behavior. Yet the fact that he wrote the letter is an expression of a longing for right teaching, but more importantly for right relationships, between each other and between our selves and God, to be restored.

Scripture reveals God laments the loss of the created relationship between the divine self and humanity and longs for, hopes for, continually works for the created order to be restored. Those whose faith life comes from the Judeo – Christian traditions lament what was lost in the garden and we also long for, hope for the created order to be restored. Those who follow Jesus believe Jesus has started that process. In the millennia that have followed, the revelation of God’s self has been difficult to perceive. We have trouble agreeing on who God is. We have trouble agreeing on what God would have us do. So, do we really know God? Do we really know what the divine expectations are? The answer is sort of, but not completely. I have and I expect you have, seen God in unexpected places. I have and I expect you have, unexpectedly been a blessing in the life of another. We know and cherish those moments.

One of the gleanings from all today’s readings is that God and Jesus never conform to cultural expectations. One of the continual threads in the bible is God is always showing up in the midst of adversity. Insomuch as we look for God in the glitz and glamour, and so rarely encounter the divine there perhaps lets us know we’ve got it wrong. What would we find if we look for, listen for, ask for God in the wilderness and the broken places and people. We expect God and Jesus in particular places, at particular times, in particular ways. Curious how it so rarely works out that way (Epperly). We harbor secrete doubts about the Jesus story, about the cross; may be because we fear or dislike the self denial implicit in the cross (Ashley, Lose). What we misconstrue is that the self denial of the cross is not about less happiness, it is about discovering real and abundant life, an abiding spiritual commitment. In giving up the traditional and the expected  particulars we probably won’t find the life or God we want, we will find the God we need (Lose).

——————-
Brooks David, New York Times, The Russia I Miss 9/11/15
Sakenfeld,  Katharine  Doob.  New Interpreter’s Dictionary  of the  Bible.  Nashville: Abingdon,  2009.
Jacobson,  Rolf,  Karoline  Lewis  and  Matt Skinner.  Sermon  Brain  Wave.  9 13  2015.  
Lewis Karoline. Location Matters. 9 13 2015
Easton, Matthew George, Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary
Epperly,  Bruce.  The  Adventurous  Lectionary.  9 13 2015. .
Ashley, Danae, God’s Story, Our Story  –  Proper  18(B).”  9 13  2015.  Sermons  that Work;
Lose, David, Intriguing, Elusive, Captivating, and Crucial, 9 13 2015 In The Mean Time

The hour is ripe

A sermon for Lent 5

Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:1-13, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33

Jesus has gotten everyone’s attention. That happens when you raise someone from the dead, as he did Lazarus. In Jerusalem, brimming with people gathering to celebrate Passover, the crowds are following Jesus. It gets the Pharisees fatal attention; they observe that the whole world is going after Jesus.

Among those in the crowd are some Greeks, not unheard of, but unusual. They also want to see Jesus. Some suggest they don’t speak Hebrew, so they make contact with Greek speaking Philip. (Hoezee, 2015) Their request is simple:  “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Their request reminds me of Philip’s first encounter with Jesus. Perhaps he is the second of John’s disciples Jesus invites to “Come and see.” for when Nathanial hears the messiah is from Nazareth, and asks “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Phillip answers “Come and see.” In both chapter 1, and here in chapter 12, the verb ‘see’ expresses not a just a visual sensation, but the desire to be in relationship. What they seek is beyond a casual introduction. They seek the covenantal relationship Jeremiah describes, one that is written on the hearts of God’s people. Through Jesus they seek to know the LORD God. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) The Greek seekers would not use the word, nonetheless they seek shalom, the peace, the wholeness of life, lived in the presence of God. The Greeks desire to see Jesus denotes that they recognize Jesus as God’s son. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) The Pharisees are right, the whole world is seeking Jesus.

I want to continue exploring the idea of the Greeks among us, but first we need to explore

Jesus’ strange reply. Philip tell him some Greeks want to see him. Jesus answers: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified….” Jesus is not looking at a clock, nor at the position of the sun in the sky. The term “The hour,” or ‘the time’ denotes the decisive moment to act; it’s that moment “when people are challenged to decide how they are to prepare for God’s imminent intervention.” (Sakenfeld, p. time) The Greeks’ visit is a clue to the Pharisees the whole world is following Jesus. (Harrelson, 2003) Their presence is also a clue to Jesus, his time is now. (Petersen & Bevery, 2010)His wandering answer, and much of the next five chapters is to prepare his disciples is to prepare us, for what’s come. In John’s Gospel, this is the last public appearance of Jesus, until Friday. (Lewis, 2015)

The Pew Research Center “is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.” (Pew Research, 2013) I’ve known their work for years. Their Religion and Public Life Project, Religious Landscape Survey provides a wealth of information. Among which are maps that show the percent of religious traditions by state. You’ll not be surprised to know in Arkansas 53% identify as Evangelical. You may know 16% identify as Mainline Protestant, which includes us. I expect you do not know the third largest religious group in Arkansas are the 13% who identify as unaffiliated. (Pew Research, 2013) Note, they believe in God, they are unaffiliated with any religious tradition, for a variety of reason. In terms of this morning’s Gospel, they are the Greeks among us. They want to see Jesus. If my math is right there are about 2000 neighbors in our near parish boundaries religiously unaffiliated, who want to see Jesus. We have the opportunity to go beyond these open doors and just by being who we are make ourselves known. And as this morning’s Gospel story reveals, when they are ready seekers will ask, in one way or another to see Jesus.

In the Gospel, the question is a sign that it was Jesus’ time. Today, the request to see Jesus is a sign it’s a seekers time, their hour to discern how to grow in faith community into the fullness of God’s presence right here, right now. It is also a sign to us, it is our time to be disciples, to be an evangelist, to warmly, honestly, with their apprehensions, excitements, misgivings, and anticipations as guiding beacons, welcome them into the house of the Lord, which may or may not be within these walls, but is within this community. And yes, we are among the smallest of many faith communities here. And it’s true, our collection of traditional ways of being present are less than others. But I am coming to believe this not a deterrent, but an advantage, because the unaffiliated seekers are not attracted to the usual and customary trappings of faith. And with less to sustain, we are perhaps less likely to be restrained, perhaps we are more likely to simply welcome those who, even if they don’t know it, know the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:34) As we approach Psalm Sunday and Holy Week may we be at peace, the time is ripe for a stranger, friend, or neighbor to seek Jesus the hour is now to journey with them to see Jesus, from the foot of the cross, from the door of the empty tomb, at the right hand of God.


References

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Hoezee, S. (2015, 3 22). The Lectionary Gospel. Retrieved from Center for Excellence in Preaching: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/

Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 3 22). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from workingpreacher.org: http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=604

Lewis, K. (2015, 3 22). Commentary on John 12:2033. Retrieved from Working preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/

Petersen, D., & Bevery, R. G. (2010). New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press.

Pew Research. (2013). Religion and Public Life, Religious Landscape Survey, Religious Groups, Maps. Retrieved 3 2015, from Pew Research Center: http://religions.pewforum.org/maps

Sakenfeld, K. D. (2009). New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon.

Why are we here?

A sermon for Epiphany 5

Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:112, 21c, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39

We pick up this morning right where we left off last week. Jesus and his disciples leave the synagogue go to Peter’s house, where they discover his mother in law is ill. Jesus heals her and she begins to serve them. By sun set the whole city was outside the front door seeking Jesus’ help; with all these new friends you think he’d won the lottery. Jesus heals the sick, and silences the demons. At some point he goes to sleep, because the story tells us he gets up early in the morning to go pray. We’d all be better off praying after a long’s night work and/or before starting a long day’s work. The disciples find him, perhaps interrupt him, ‘cause the people are already lining up. Jesus tells them:

Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.

There are two points I’d like to explore. The first is Peter’s mother in law immediately getting up and begin serving people. Many find this offensive, among the defenses is seeing her serving as a sign of her complete healing. Others point out Lazarus doesn’t go about serving  after he is raised from the dead, he sits down, well lays down, as they did in the day, for dinner. Another defense is her serving shows she has been fully restored to her family, tribe and Israel, like we explored last week. But still, it rubs raw a woman serves it’s the same ole same ole subjection of women. However, Mark Skinner looks all the way to the end of Mark, at Golgotha, positing that among the women who witness Jesus’ crucifixion and death, who had served him while he was in Galilee; (Mark 15:41) is Peter’s mother in law. Thus, early on Mark is identifying her as one of Jesus disciples. (Skinner)

The second bit is “that is what I came to do.” This story is broadly understood as a healing story, and lots of people are healed. However, Jesus himself tells us, that is not why he is there. Jesus is there to proclaim the message. But, what message? Marks references it in the first verse “The beginning of the good news….” so perhaps it’s the whole story. Isaiah 61 includes ideals like: liberty, release, comfort, provision, and gladness. (Isaiah 61:1) Jesus continually silencing demons, who know who he is, points us to the message as the reveling of the presence of God’s messiah, the anointed one, Jesus self, as the way of redemption for all creation. The message is good news is the Gospel.

The reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians addresses his preaching the Gospel. His saying “I become all things to all people” is more nuanced than most think. Its best understood as Paul pointing out he doesn’t call people to come over here and be like me. Rather he goes to them, lives with them, respecting their ways, within limits, to be a glimpse of the presence of Christ to them. All for the purpose of sharing the Gospel, so that he may share in its blessings, that he may experience the unity of God’s people. (Mast)

We know Jesus knows why he was in Galilee. We know Paul knows why he was in Corinth. I wonder; do we know why we are here? I know you know I’m going to give you two reasons: to proclaim the message, and for the sake of the Gospel. Well three answers: to proclaim the Kingdom of God right here, right now. And you won’t be surprised when I recall last week’s gleanings this is much more a how than what task. But this week’s readings invite us to continue to seek understanding proclaiming the Kingdom as we seek the depths of our own belief, as we seek the behavioral imperatives of our own faith. And as Jonah taught us it’s our attention to the everyday stuff not the grand cosmic schemes to which we are most likely called.

Let me share some examples. On my trip to Atlanta I left the cross given to me at my graduation from seminary, which I have worn nearly every day since then, in the security bin. When I got back to Memphis, I asked about lost and found. At every step along the way the TSA people listened carefully, answered respectfully and were very helpful. I sensed they shared in my joy when I picked it up last Wednesday.

Recently Angie took a phone call from a stranger, referred by a known individual, and shared her experiences with Nuggett as a service dog, including the places where she struggles.

Recently some colleagues and I listened to another share challenges of changing life and church status which included hopes, concerns and fears. Once again I’ve witnessed the staff at Great River Medical Center offer loving care to a patient and to the patient’s family and loved ones. My favorite Super Bowl commercial is Nationwide’s controversial ad that shows a child lamenting he will never ride a bike, or have a first kiss, or fly, or know a best friend, or get married “because I died in an accident. The ad closes with scenes of an over flowing tub, open kitchen sink cabinet doors a flat screen TV pulled off a dresser shattered on the floor, and then invites us in: “We can make safe happen.” (Nationwide)

Other examples are those standing with the marginalized. Many Episcopal clergy stood with protesters in Missouri, New York, Ohio and elsewhere and by their physical presence forcing us to look at our culpability behind inappropriate lethal police responses.

You may or may not have heard of Elizabeth Cook, suffragan bishop of Maryland. She was driving under the influence and struck and killed a bicyclist. There has been lots of press. I’m most impressed by an open letter blogged by Anna Howell, who, while not excusing Bp. Cook’s behavior, distinguishes between her behavior and her person.  Howell reminds us all Bp. Cook, as do we, continues to be baptized, and beloved of God. She quotes Julian of Norwich

[who] saw no wrath in God, even in response to human sin. … Because God is so much bigger than us. (Howell)

There are those who stand with Muslims seeking to peacefully live into their faith, so related to Judaism and Christianity all of whom share origins in Abraham and though very differently, place our faith in the same God.

There are those who stand with people of different sexual orientation who continue to be the object of virulent exclusion. As the legal battle for the right to marriage works its way through the courts Sons have been denied burial, and partners have been denied presence with dying partners. I know of pastors denied churches and or access to pulpits because of their sexual orientation or their stance on issues of sexual orientation. I’ll also mention that women ministers are routinely denied access to the pulpit because of their straight gender. And I know those who stand in solidarity with them.

To stand with those on society’s margins is risky. There is the risk of losing social standings, and exclusion. It’s also difficult to do because of our tendency to strike back. David Brooks posits the key to taking such a stance is to get our self-worth out of the way, To step out of the nihilistic taunting terrorist, misogynist, anarchist, bullies, exclusionist seek to draw us in to.  (Brooks, Conflict and Ego) It’s difficult for us to live into our Christian faith because it’s not a position of power, nor influence it’s a position of trusting others to make a good decision.  (Brooks, Being Who We Are) It’s difficult for us because we can come right up against our belief our faith our trust that God is with us.

Why are we here? We are here, I pray, so we may be a healing presence, so we can speak from within ourselves of the presence of God; so we can be present to another as God is present to us; so we can stand with the those belligerently denied their birthright as a child of God, so we can trust that God stands with us as we stand for the Gospel amongst the marginalized, as we stand with Peter’s mother in law as a disciple of Christ.


References

Brooks, David. “Being Who We Are.” New York Times 30 1 2015. nytimes.com. <http://nyti.ms/1BxJy9I&gt;.

—. “Conflict and Ego.” New York Times 6 2 2015. nytimes.com. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/06/opinion/davidbrooksconflictandego.&gt;.

Howell, Anna Marion. An Open Letter to the Right Reverend Heather Elizabeth Cook. 4 2 2015. <https://sulfurfreejesus.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/dear-bishop-heather/&gt;.

Lose, David. Epiphany 5 B: Freedom For. 08 2 2015. <davidlose.net>.

Mast, Stan. 1 Corinthians 9:1623. 8 2 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Nationwide. Super Bowl Commercials 2015. 1 2 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKUy-tfrIHY&list=PL7_vzLILpPXjApytIgRJGKo2__BiPGenS&gt;.

Skinner, Matt. Commentary on Mark 1:2939. 8 2 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2344&gt;.

Answering the call, it’s all good news.

A sermon for Epiphany 3

Jonah 3:15, 10, Psalm 62: 6-14, 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31, Mark 1:1420

Nineveh is the capital city of Assyria, and in times past Assyria had conquered and harshly oppressed Israel under Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser V, Sargon, and Sennacherib. (Holman Bible Dictionary) The story is told in 2nd Kings, 2nd Chronicles and throughout Isaiah. So when Jonah is told to go there, we can understand why he runs away. For him Nineveh is unclean a place to be avoided at all cost. More over there is no place for Israel’s enemies in God’s presence. (Epperly) In that adventure he learns depth of Psalm 139 “If I go to the highest mountain, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I go to Joppa, you are there. If I set out to sea, you are there. Where can I go to escape my God!?” (Hoezee, Jonah) He learns you can’t.

This morning we hear round 2. (Hoezee, Jonah)  Jonah goes to Nineveh, as instructed. And he prophesies; sort of. I mean five words “In forty days Nineveh overthrown” (Schifferdecker) without naming God, without saying why, without saying what to do; it’s an uninspiring prophecy 101 yada, yada, yada effort.

It’s almost as if he is afraid of success. (Hoezee, Jonah) And perhaps he should have been, ‘cause exactly what he thought would happen did happen. Nineveh repented, in a big way, and God changed God’s mind and that isn’t supposed to happen; at least not for non-Israelites. It’s all a rather strange reaction to the only really successful prophecy in the whole bible. (Schifferdecker)

Jonah’s story stands in stark contrast to Simon, Andrew, James and John. On separate occasions Jesus sees them going about their usual and customary daily routine. He calls for them to follow him and both pairs do; immediately. All four leave their vocation – fishing. James and John also leave a family obligation. (Hegedus) These biblical vignettes are as different as they can be. And yet, there are remarkable similarities.

Both stories are about being called by God or Jesus. Both callings are about good news. Jonah, albeit in a strange way, pronounces God’s calling to repentance. Jesus is going around literally proclaiming the good news, announcing it’s time to “repent and believe.” Both stories reveal God’s universal love; you know about Nineveh, and Galilee isn’t much better, it’s not the best city, town, village or neighborhood, and it’s in the rather unclean (Hoezee, Mark) northern territory,  whereas Jerusalem, home of the Temple, is in the true Kingdom,  to the south. (Rogness) God is present in unclean Nineveh God is present in tainted Galilee.

In neither story does the divine call come to those who are prepared, or willing. Jonah is unwilling yet his imperfect, halfhearted, distracted, all of five word prophecy is powerfully effective, not because of Jonah, but because God uses him, as God uses everyone: flaws and all. It turn out it’s not about us, it’s about God. (Hoezee, Jonah)

Simon, Andrew, James and John are ordinary folk, whom Jesus calls to use fishing like skills, to cast the story, and draw people toward God, through Jesus. (Hoezee, Mark) Both stories are full of uncertainty. Jonah isn’t certain what will happen to him; how often can you blow God off? The disciples give no indication they have any clue as to what’s up. Following God’s call is always an uncertainty. (Rogness) There is no doubt answering a divine call pulls you out of your comfort zone. (Epperly) Finally both stories reveal the timelessness of God. In Jonah it’s implicit; however, in Mark the verbs ‘fulfilled’ and ‘has come near’ indicate an action that began in the past and is continuing into the present. (Harrelson) God’s love begins with creation and continues to Nineveh, the disciples, and to you, and will continue, forever.

It turns out, ready or not, willing or not we are all called into service in Jesus’ ministry proclaiming “The Kingdom of God is near.” In truth we’ll discover we do this in specific local ways, not some grand cosmic scheme. Our response may be teaching, or volunteer activity, or tending to a family member, or any relationship where we serve the other. (Lose) In a very real way it’s how we participate in fulfilling what we so frequently pray “thy will be done on earth ~ as it is in heaven.” You are use to hearing me say “Proclaiming the Kingdom of God right here, right now.”

After we share in Eucharist, we will recess to the parish hall where we will see where we’ve been, and where we might go.

AMEN


Works Cited

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 25 1 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hegedus, Rev. Dr. Frank. Sermons that Work. 25 1 2015.

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Jonah 3:1-5, 10. 25 1 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

—. “The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Mark 1:14-20.” 25 1 2015. Center for Excellence in Preaching.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse, n.d.

Lose, David. Epiphany 3 B: Following Jesus Today. 25 1 2015. <davidlose.net>.

Rogness, Michael. Commentary on Mark 1:1420. 25 1 2015.

Schifferdecker, Kathryn. “Working Preacher.” 25 1 2015. Commentary on Jonah 3:15,.

Here I am. Make it so. Amen.

A sermon for Advent 4

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Canticle 3 or Canticle 15 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Romans 16: 25-27, Luke 1: 26-38

The Star-Ship Enterprise –D warps through the galaxy exploring new worlds all at the command of Jean-Luc Picard’s “Make it so.” It’s almost like ‘Amen.’ A crew member hands him a Kindle he reads whatever is there, sometimes signs it, and sometimes says “Make it so.”

‘Amen’ comes from the Hebrew meaning to be firm, or truth, or faithfulness; and in some instances “so let it be.” (Orr) Jesus’ often used introductory phrase “I say to you…” is the same Hebrew etymology as ‘amen’ (Holman) so we can see the impetus of “make it so” is similar to the impetus of ‘amen.’ And before you get all excited, no I don’t think the Angel Gabriel is a starship captain out to influence the direction of human development. However, there is a connection with Mary.

The Angel Gabriel brings a message to Mary from God. The short form of the story goes:

Gabriel: Greetings!

No ~ don’t be afraid, God has chosen you, and you will have baby to be named Jesus.

Mary: How can this be – I’m not married yet?

Gabriel: It’s the Holy Spirit!

Mary: “What?”

Gabriel: Nothing is impossible with God, your aunt Elizabeth is pregnant.

Mary: Here I am. Make it so. Amen.

This story is one of my favorite, for more than its Star Trek parallel. It resonates with Isaiah:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

the Old Testament reading for my ordination to the priesthood. Mary answers as Isaiah does “Amen.”

In fact the conversations parallel each other: God calls, either directly or through a messenger, the person objects, God gives assurances, sometimes there are multiple rounds of objections and assurances, the one called  finally sees what God sees in them, (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner) and accepts the calling a form of “let it be,” or “make it so,” or “Amen.” Academics have various names but essentially is a call narrative. Through it Luke associates Mary with biblically significant people like: Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.

There is another list of significant biblical characters Mary is associated with, at least in part, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Elizabeth. Though she is not barren, Mary’s pregnancy is mystical, clearly God is present with her.

It’s important to note Mary hasn’t done anything special, she is simply favored (Lewis) simply blessed. Like all who serve God, God calls first, what some call election; our response to the call has the potential for divine service. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner) You’ve heard me say it before, most often related to life’s tragedies and troubles; however, it applies to God’s call: life happens, calls come, how we chose to respond, whether we trust God, or not, makes all the difference. Mary’s chooses to trust God.

According to Christian belief, no one will ever again be theotokos, mother of God; which raises the question how else is does Mary serve as an archetypical character for us. Karoline Lewis wants Mary’s witness to take Advent beyond its short season so that God coming to us becomes a way of life, a way of faith. (Lewis) So how is one like Mary and allow the here I am – make it so – Amen to come alive?

Julie Gibeau has limited means. Nonetheless, she sees children who have less, and believes that, especially at Christmas, they need to see and know happiness. So for six months she has been baking banana bread. So far, the 1000 loaves she’s sold, has yielded nearly $3000 she uses to buy toys for kids who otherwise would see little or nothing on Christmas morning. (Noel) And then there is Jarrett who won a tablet at his schools fund raiser. He surprised everyone, when he sold the tablet, and with judicious use of coupons and sales, bought nearly $300 worth of toys for other kids: a blanket to a little girl to stay warm, books for another kid to read, and toy trucks for “someone special.” Jarrett said:

Giving is the right thing to do…because you know that another kid might really, really need it … (Ready)

I expect all of us know similar stories, or folks who have and continue to be quietly kind and generous to others, at Christmas, and throughout the year. In their own way they’ve responded: let it be, make it so, Amen.

Steve’s parish is celebrating their 91st anniversary this week. In one of his blogs he wrote:

We can learn a lot from Mary’s example, but as important as it is to show up and say “here I am,” it is even more important for a community of the faithful to join together in saying “Here we are,”

He is right; as important as it is for individuals to say “here I am” there are some things that only the community can convey as together we “here we are.” Sixty First Ave United Methodist Church is a humble congregation, whose members are generally low income, give of their time and selves. For the last 18 years they have run the Last Minute Toy Store, providing toys to neighborhood kids, 90% of whom qualify for free lunch at school. Last year $200,000 in contributions bought 20,000 toys that were distributed to 4,600 children in 1,400 families. The store draws volunteers from all over town, and many receive toys for their family. It’s exemplary of Rev. Paul Slentz teaching of “ministry with the poor instead of for the poor.” (Fiona)

Some times “here I am” is not associated with Christmas. We all know that last week Australia was victimized by a Muslim terrorist. You may not know the incident increased already heightened anti-Muslim sentiment. Rachel was sitting next to a woman on a train; as it came to a stop she quietly began removing her Hijab, head scarf. Rachel told the woman, “Put it back on, I’ll walk with you.” Michael James heard the story, posted it online which rapidly spread with the hashtag #I’llride withyou. (COHEN)

[pause]

There are many examples of local folks and community actions that tell similar stories. Still, everyday God’s message “You, yes you, my favored one, don’t be afraid, here’s what I’m asking, don’t worry, nothing is impossible.” dances through our lives. Everyday individually and as a community we have the opportunity to stop, to question, to express doubt, to choose to believe, to choose to trust, to choose to say: “Here I am.” “Make it so.” “Amen.”

[pause]

Amen!


Bibliography

Bates, Rev. Dr. J Barrington. Sermons that Work – 4 ADvent. 21 12 2014. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/&gt;.

COHEN, NOAM. “Turning #IllRideWithYou Into Real-World Action.” New York Times (2014). web.

Fiona. The greatest gift. 21 12 2014. <http://www.faithandleadership.com/features/articles/the-greatest-gift&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Luke 1:26-38. 21 12 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse, n.d.

Jaconson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 21 12 2014.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher: Advent as a Way of Life. 21 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 2 B: Blessed Like Mary. 21 12 2014. <davidlose.net>.

Noel, Christine C. “Mom who had nothing bakes for month straight to pay it forward.” USA Today (2014). web. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/12/16/inspiration-nation-mom-loaves-bread/20461849/&gt;.

Orr, Jame, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WORDsearch, 2004.

Pankey, Rev. Steve. “Here I am. Here we are.” 21 12 2014. Word Press: Draughting Theology. <http://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/hereiamhereweare/&gt;.

Powell, Mark Allen. Commentary on Luke 1:2638. 21 12 2014.

Ready, Lauren. “Boy turns winning prize into gifts for needy children.” USA TODAY (2014). web. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/12/15/inspiration-nation-boy-wins-prize-needy-kids/20318809/&gt;.