Defined by Fear or Trust?

A sermon for Good Friday: Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42

There is so much fear in this Gospel story. Judas is afraid Jesus won’t act and everything they have done everything they have risked in the last three years will all be for nothing. So, he will force Jesus’ hand to call his followers to decisive action by betraying him. The police and soldiers in the garden are afraid. They know how popular Jesus is, just days ago, the whole city welcomed him with shouts of Hosanna as the King of Israel (John 12:13)! They also know what their leads think about Jesus; that he is a rebel rouser a trouble maker. Peter is afraid. In the garden, he is afraid Jesus is going to be arrested perhaps afraid he is going be arrested, so, he attacks the high priest’s servant. Actually –  come to think of it Peter was afraid enough to bring a sword to the Passover feast! They left the Passover and headed to the garden in the Kidron Valley. After Jesus’ arrest, he makes his way into the High Priest’s courtyard; still, he is so afraid of what may happen to him that he famously denies Jesus three times.

You know, I wonder what happened to that sword? Was it confiscated in the garden? Did Peter drop it in some secluded place? Did he keep it with him, carefully concealed? What tales could that sword tell? Where was I, oh yes.

Annas is afraid, like so many other Jewish leaders who have been chasing Jesus has caught him. Now what! He had been High Priest, and now his son in law is High Priest, so, he has some religious authority but little civil authority beyond persuasion. He does ask Jesus about his teachings. Jesus says he has spoken openly and challenges Annas to ask the people, which earns him a slap in the face. Annas apparently doesn’t know what to do so, he has Jesus tied up and sends him to Caiaphas, the High Priest.

Caiaphas, at a meeting of the council, following the raising of Lazarus, said it was better for one man to die than the whole nation, after which the council planned to put Jesus to death. However, this time Caiaphas is silent. To suggest is one thing, to act is another. So, Jesus is sent off to Pilate, the real civil authority.

Pilate is not at all pleased to see Jesus. As Jesus was entering Jerusalem from one end of the city Pilate was entering from the other side of the city, for his annual stay to make sure celebrations do not turn to insurrection. Jesus’ presence raises the possibility of insurrection, which, beyond collecting taxes, is the only thing Rome cares about. So, Pilate is cautious about Jesus. and He is also afraid of the crowd, that joyfully welcomed Jesus not long ago. He is also concerned about the Jewish leadership knowing full well how manipulative they can be. Pilate’s conversation with Jesus does not make things any easier for him. There is enough innuendo of kingship and kingdom to be of concern; the Emperor does not take implied threats to the throne any less lightly than real threats. When he tells the crowd now clamoring for Jesus crucifixion to crucify him themselves, they reply he claims to be the Son of God which frightens Pilate because “son of god” is one of the Emperor’s titles. Jesus is now in direct confrontation with the Emperor.

At Golgotha, the chief priest expresses some concern about Pilate’s sign naming Jesus king of the Jews, and asks for it to be changed, just a little, still, a change, that reveals some deep fear.

The disciples, the people, the chief priests, High Priest, the Pharisees, the police and soldiers, even Pilate want Jesus to behave as they think he should. He hasn’t; he did not, he will not. Everyone wants Jesus to take their fear, and turn it into some sort of justifying stance or action. If Jesus does not act as they want him to everyone will have to rethink who they are, who God is, and their connection (Thompson).

Not much has changed in 2000 years. There is lots of fear, and everyone is angry. Some people are angry at liberals; others are angry at conservatives. Many people are angry at Russian election interference. Gun safety advocates are angry at guns toting believers, and guns toting believers are angry at gun safety advocates. Urban folks are angry at rural folks, and rural folks are angry at urban folks. It seems as if everyone is angry with someone else; that everyone is afraid of someone maybe everyone else. That means everyone one wants Jesus or God to act as they think God/Jesus should act. And when we take the time and make the effort to calm down, we see very clearly that divine action does not align to our wishes, nor to the wishes of those whom we are so angry with, of whom we are so afraid. The divine ~ is not behaving according to our wills.

So, we are facing the daunting reality of having to rethink who we are, who God is, and what our relationship is, or more correctly ought to be.

Naw, let’s go dye Easter eggs, that is a lot easier.

It is. But, the cross still cast its long dark shadow. And even with Jesus freshly buried the morrow is a dreadful unknown. There is still lots to fear. All of chapters 18 and 19 of John’s gospel leave us in our fear and anger. Our concerns are not unfounded. However, the preacher of Hebrews wrote:

 we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, … Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:21-23).

The preacher challenges us will we allow the fear and anger, that arises from ebbs and flows life, define who we are; or; will we trust God/Jesus? as we live, in the shadow of the cross? in the darkness of the tomb?


References

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.

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

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

Thompson, Barkley. “If you really are the Son of God….” God in the Midst of the City. Houston, 9 4 2017. WordPress.

 

Distrust, Fear, Disaster

A Sermon for Proper 20: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, Psalm 79:1-9, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13

 

The earliest election campaign I can remember is the 1960 Kennedy – Nixon campaign. I recall the phrase “Nixon for President, Kennedy for King.” Fifty-six year later I / we are in the midst of another presidential campaign. Only I am paying less attention than I did all though years ago. I do my due diligence, but other than that I try not to participate. The effort is most apparent in how I deal with related Facebook postings, which is just to flip right on by anything that has the vaguest look of Trump-ish or Hillary-ish. Quite frankly I’m tired of all the vitriol. And in truth, I am very concerned about what is being revealed about the state and nature of our society. Last week David Brooks’ column titled The Avalanche of Distrust explores this morass.

He begins with the high degree of distrust both Clinton and Trump express in their campaign behaviors. He mentions their zero sum view of life. However, they are not alone; they were nominated by similarly distrustful people in convention. He writes: A generation ago about half of all Americans felt they could trust the people around them, but now less than a third think, other people are trustworthy. That distrust, in politics and in life generally, is … self-destructive. Distrustful people end up isolating themselves, alienating others and corroding their inner natures. Brooks continues, that in 1985 10% of people reported having no close friends, and in 2004 25% of people reported having no close friends. The lack of friends corrupts community bonds, and that corrodes intimacy. He believes the intimacy of social media is an illusion and does not build the friendships that lead to deep trust. The lack of friends and intimacy leads to a general loss of trust that leads to fear. In fearful societies, families are less likely to teach their children tolerance and respect. Moreover, the loss of trust that leads to fear leads to isolation and isolation leads to fear; and it becomes a vicious, destructive spiral (Brooks). It all sounds way to close to Jeremiah’s warnings when Babylon is already crossing Israel’s borders.

The people are fleeing from the advancing Babylonian forces, and they are trusting Jerusalem will provide safety It is a false sense of security (Gaventa and Petersen). In spite of her persistent sinfulness Israel expects God will have her back, and they are surprised when it is not so. There is a similar sense of surprise in the US today. We expect either a divine or some moral or legislative force to have our back and are surprised and outraged when we experience that it is not so. An example is the rampant greed in Mylan’s five hundred percent increase for EpiPen that has people demonstrating in the streets (Lipton and Abrams). About a year an ago, after Turing’s acquisition of Daraprim, CEO Martin Shkreli raised the price from $13.50 to $750; a 5,000% price increase (BBC). Everyone was outraged then. Like Israel, we want to know what to do about the threats to our security, be it physical as it is for Israel, or economic and social as it is for us. Jeremiah has a suggestion.

Woven into his prophecies Jeremiahs says Israel must stop pretending that nothing is wrong and acknowledge the wounds that she has caused. They must stop claiming they have the magic words or the special liturgies that will take care of everything. To begin restoring their security they have to listen to everyone’s stories; stories from all the various geographies, and ideologies, and politics, and cultures, and histories. They really have to listen to learn what separates them and us. They have to begin to see what makes “them, the others, so angry.” And maybe then they can begin to understand what makes us so angry (PortierYoung). Only then can they, can we, admit that there is no quick fix; that no king, prophet or physician or politician is going to fix this (Bratt). We are going to need help.

1st Timothy has a suggestion for a first step; that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity (1Tim 2:1-2). It was not unusual for Jews and Christians to pray for public authorities. The difference here is, the inclusiveness is grounded in the belief that God is sovereign and the savior of all people (Harrelson). Praying for the Emperor does not imply or promote loyalty or accommodation to the Empire. The suggested prayers declare God’s authority over all the world (Gaventa and Petersen).

I think this is a good start; however, I’m cautious that it is not enough. I recall the story of Israel asking Samuel to appoint a King for them, who will govern us, and fight our battles for us, just like other nations’ Kings do (1 Samuel 8:5, 19-20). We know how that turned out; a wayward Saul, an adulterous David, and a wise Solomon; who split God’s Kingdom in two setting up the bickering that sets up the pending catastrophe Jeremiah is in the middle of. By the way, this story ends with 10 tribes being obliterated forever, and two tribes exiled in Babylon. Yes, they later return to Jerusalem; but, this chapter of the story ends with the Romans destruction of Jerusalem to the ground. More is necessary and the only place left is Luke with this week’s story of a hero thief (Hoezee, Luke).

You know the story, a rich man’s steward has been a bit greedy and is about to be fired. To secure his future he has all his boss’s debtors write down their debts. We are surprised when the rich man congratulates the steward for his shrewd action. The story unsettles us because it just doesn’t sound like Jesus. Some details may help us understand.

Frist, Jesus parable is not an allegory, so don’t go trying to figure out who is who, it won’t help (Harrelson). The rich man is much closer to today’s Pay Day Lenders than anything else; which as you know are now illegal in AR. Although we don’t know, the steward may have gotten debtors to write the debt down to the original amount; or have them write off his over the top commission (Rossing). The rich man’s hands are tied by the steward’s actions. He does not dare reinstate the forgiven debts, because to do so he would forfeit his honor in the community, and that he would never do (Gaventa and Petersen). Still, what is it that Jesus sees in the dishonest steward’s behavior that is worthy of following?

I invite us to think back to last week and the parable of the tower builder and the King; both stories are about planning ahead. One commentator suggests that what Jesus sees as useful is the steward’s thoughtfulness that leads to his actions that shape his current future (Hoezee, Luke). This is a move in the right direction; however, it also raises the question; “Plan for what from what?”

Let’s begin with a more specific prayer for our leaders, and pray that they “might have wisdom and compassion and follow their ‘better angels.’” If you don’t recall the phrase “better angels” comes from the title of Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature in which he argues that violence has been diminishing for millennia and that we may be living in the most peaceful time in our existence (Goodreads). So, yes, things are difficult, but they not as dire as politicians want us to think, so perhaps we should pray that they quit trying to scare us to death or make us believing that only they can fix this or that problem.

 While we are praying for our politicians, perhaps we should pray for ourselves. Perhaps we should pray that we use our faith to shape the values we use in our daily lives as we run our households and peruse our work and our play (Epperly). In addition to prayer, we can go back to the beginning, back to Genesis and remember that we are placed on this earth to love and care for each other, not to separate ourselves from each other with wealth, status, or privilege, or whatever else (Lose).

After such prayers and such biblical reflection maybe we can see through the murkiness of Jesus’ parable and can come to understand that Jesus is calling us to use the talents and resources we have to build up the kingdom of God. Bankers should manage funds for the up-building of the Kingdom of God. Lawyers should practice law for the up-building of the Kingdom of God. That doctors and nurses should heal for the up-building of the Kingdom of God. That cashiers should engage customers for the up-building of the Kingdom of God. That teachers should teach for the up-building of the Kingdom of God. That students should study for the up-building of the Kingdom of God. That no matter what gifts and talents we have, they should be put to use with shrewdness, prudence and wisdom (Hoezee, Luke) for the up-building of the Kingdom of God (Pankey).

I rather suspect the first effect of our prayers that we will see is how our behaviors begin to change. I know it will be difficult, but God is strong. I know we will wander away from time to time, but God is merciful. I know it will take time, a long time, but God is eternal. Amen


References

Barreto, Eric. Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:17. 18 9 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

BBC. “US Pharmaceutical company defends 5000% price increase.” 22 9 2015. bbc.com. 16 9 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-34320413&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 20CCenter for Excellence in Preaching Jeremiah. 18 9 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, David. “The Avalanche of Distrust.” 13 9 2016. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2016/09/13/opinion/the-avalanche-of-distrust.html>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 18 9 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 9 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.

Goodreads. “The Better Angels of our Nature.” n.d. Goodreads.com. 18 9 2016. <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11107244-the-better-angels-of-our-nature&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 20C Center for Excellence in Preaching Luke. 18 9 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-20c/>.

—. Proper 20CCenter for Excellence in Preaching 1 Timothy 2:1-7. 18 9 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Johnson, Deon. “God is Good, All the Time, Proper 20(C).” 18 9 2016. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Being Faithful In Much. 18 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Lipton, Eric and Rachel Abrams. “EpiPen Maker Lobbies to Shift High Cost to Others.” 16 9 2016. nytimes.com. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/16/business/epipen-maker-mylan-preventative-drug-campaign.html&gt;.

Lose, David. Pentecost 18 C: Wealth and Relationships. 18 9 2019. <davidlose.net/2016/09/pentecost-18-c-wealth-and-relationships/>.

Pankey, Steve. “A Parable About Talents?” 18 9 2016. Draughting Theology.

PortierYoung, Anathea. Commentary on Jeremiah 8:189:. 18 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Rossing, Barbara. Commentary on Luke 16:113. 18 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org&gt;.

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

 

 

 

A Time to Turn

 

A Sermon for 2nd Sunday after Christmas

Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 84, Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a, Luke 2:41-52

All parents know the stealth of children, not when one day there are such a cute 2-year-old and next thing we know an admirable adult. No, I’m referring to their ability to be right by you one moment, and the next, having tapped into to some cosmic warp, are suddenly nowhere to be seen; and then you hear the store page for a miss-placed parent and your name. One of our siblings, left one of their multitudinous brood at a picnic table at a rest stop, but not for very long. Some parents know the sheer terror of a missing child.

Once in my working life, I have apologized to a client, stood up and left, leaving work cases and references where they lay. Angie called, our daughter’s daycare had called to confirm she was sick because she had not gotten on the bus at her school. No, she was not; Angie had dropped her off at school as usual. They sent their driver back to the school. Angie stayed put as a contact point. As I had a car phone, I headed to the school.

The miss-adventure comes to an end with me in the principal’s office seeking an explanation. How had the school, I may have said ‘he, ‘allowed an uninformed substitute teacher to place my daughter in the wrong place at the Daycare pick up so that she was not visible, and therefore left? How was she left to her own devices to tell another teacher, the last one leaving the area, that she had been left by her bus?

We do not hear the story of adolescent Jesus every year; its appearance depends on the vagaries of the calendar the lectionary cycle, and the preacher’s inspiration. It is the only story in the Bible of Jesus as an adolescent (Allen). Luke gets the adolescent rebellion right: “Why were you searching for me? … I must be in my Father’s house?” (Epperly). There is also an element of the ordinary in the story. Cecil Francis Alexander notes how it relates to our everyday lives in the fourth verse of Once in David’s Royal City:

For He is our life long pattern,
daily when on earth He grew,
he was tempted, scorned rejected,
Tears and smiles like us He knew,
Thus He feels for all our sadness,
And He shares in all our gladness (Hymnal 1982) (Allen).

The high anxiety of a missing child aside, we can relate to the ordinary, though challenging time, of raising twelve-year-old kids. All of us, well most of us, can remember being twelve-years-old and the beginning of discovering who we are. This story is more than a transition to Jesus’ ministry (Allen). It is a hook by which we can relate to the very human aspect of the Gospel story.

There is another bit of this story. Luke states that Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival every year. I’ve heard that Jesus at twelve was going to begin his training for the Law or bar mitzvah. Bar Mitzvah cannot be traced to this time in Jewish history, so Jesus’ journey, as is his parents reflects the family’s piety(Harrelson) (Epperly). By the time Luke is writing his Gospel, there is a very real tension between Judaism and the nascent Christian community (Allen). This story moves beyond the typical ancient traditions of remarkable births and childhood exploits to reveal that Jesus grew up in a faithfully Jewish home. It makes known that Jesus, and, therefore, Jesus’ followers are genuinely Jewish, and should be accepted as followers of God(Allen). One commentator notes show the story also infers the reverse. In times of anti-Semitism, Christians should draw from this story that Jews are genuine followers of God. In less continuous times, Christians should acknowledge our misguided persecution of Jews.

Today, we are called to remember that Islam historically is a historically accepted as an Abrahamic faith. Muslims are descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s first child, whose descendants are blessed by God (Gen 16:10, 21:18). And as Christians are different in form and theology from Jews, Muslims are also different in form, and theology from both Jews and Christian and all three are authentically followers of God. Luke builds the case there is no Torah nor Prophetic basis for persecuting or excluding Christians. Likewise, there is no Scriptural basis for persecuting or excluding Muslims. This does not negate the truth that from time to time, including today, that a minority of Jews, Christians, and Muslims have perverted selected segments of divinely inspired teachings as a justification for brutal behavior towards others. This reality does not overcome the first and is not a moral basis for the mistreatment or exclusion of any group of people as a whole, for the misdeeds of some.

And yes, I am very aware of how this stance runs smack up against the utter terror of radical violence experienced in the US, Europe, and other nations. But this terror brings us right back to Joseph and Mary when Jesus goes missing. They do what they should; with reason and determination they go actively looking for their son. And we should follow their example. We should act with reason and determination to protect ourselves and others, and to eliminate the causes that allow perverted teaching such influence. We should also note how this segment of Luke’s Gospel story comes to an end.

In the beginning, Jesus is following his parents to Jerusalem. In the end, Jesus’ wisdom and stature, which describes Jesus’ growing attunement with God’s vision for his life, has captured everyone’s, including his parents’ attention (Epperly). So, while he continues to obey his parents, the truth is Jesus leads the way out of Jerusalem. Jesus is leading the way into the future (Allen).

In the beginning, Jesus is following his parents to Jerusalem. In the end, Jesus’ wisdom and stature, which describes Jesus’ growing attunement with God’s vision for his life, has captured everyone’s, including his parents’ attention (Epperly). So, while he continues to obey his parents, the truth is Jesus leads the way out of Jerusalem. Jesus is leading the way into the future (Allen).

Thursday night, Angie and I watched the New Year’s arrival in Time Square. The host began asking celebrities about their hopes for the new year. The triteness of the answers caused me to turn it off. But they raise an important question for us at the dawn of a new year. When the trials and tribulations, arise, and they will, what path will we seek to follow? Will we follow our ancestors in:

  • Herding Native Americans onto reservations and then violate the associated treaties?
  • Will we continue to disparage the descendants of those unwillingly brought to this country as slaves?
  • Will we denigrate those related to national enemies, as we did many of German origins in WWI?
  • Will we hang signs in shop windows saying “No Irish need apply”?
  • Will we intern citizens whose heritage is from a nation we are at war with as we did the Japanese in WWII?
  • Will we bar entry to those from a nation revolting from leadership we supported,
  • as we did Iranians in the ‘70s?

Or will we turn and follow Jesus, seeking to grow in stature and wisdom of life attuned to God’s eternal presence?

The new year will bring its times to turn. It has been written:

To everything –
There is a season –
And a time to every purpose under heaven (The Byrds).

May you be enlightened in your choosing.
May you be strengthened in your turning.
May you grow in stature of your purpose.

May your New Year be blessed.


 

References

Allen, Ron. Commentary on Luke 2:41-52. 3 1 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.
Church, Episcopal. Hymnal 1982. 1982.
Ellingsen, Mark. Christmas 1, Cycle C (2015). 27 12 2015. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary– The First Sunday after Christmas. 27 12 2015. <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 2:41-52. 27 12 2015.
The Byrds. Turn Turn Turn. 3 1 2016. <http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/byrds/turnturnturn.html&gt;.

 

A prophetic voice in an active Advent

A sermon for Advent 2

Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

Today we are surrounded by prophets. We hear Isaiah the prophet proclaiming freedom is coming. We hear John the Baptist, proclaiming redemption in baptism, and also the coming of the long awaited Messiah. Psalm 85 has a prophetic ring to it. And when we remember prophets explain the future based on current behaviors (Lewis) even 2nd Peter has a prophetic ring to it.

So, I’m in a bit of a pickle, because I’ve always held that I’m not a prophet, and cannot be prophet because I am of the institution. And prophets always come from the outside, and have to, because they have to see the present differently in order to see and proclaim the future God is offering, the future we are all ignoring. However, Karoline Lewis offers a different vision of prophets. She says they are truth tellers. By implication brutal truth tellers. She quotes Gloria Steinem: “The truth will set you free, but first it will really [tick] you off” She continues that when the truth gets suppressed crucifixion happens. She includes Ferguson as a manifestation of suppressed truth; (Lewis) I’d include New York and Ohio both in the news this week for revelation of questionable police actions. And nothing suppresses the truth more than fear.

In his column last week Thomas Friedman wrote about the continuing effects of September 11. He writes from David Rothkopf’s National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear in which Rothkopf names this as the age of fear. In response to Friedman’s inquiry he wrote:

Largely, this is because 9/11 was such an emotional blow to the U.S. that it, in an instant, changed our worldview, creating a heightened sense of vulnerability.” In response, “not only did we overstate the threat, we reordered our thinking to make it the central organizing principle in shaping our foreign policy.

Friedman writes: “the focus on terrorism, combined with our gotcha politics, has ‘killed creative thinking’” (Friedman)

In his column in the Gazette this week John Brummett notes how remarkably effective the political use of fear is.  (Brummett) I believe they both correct, in fact I believe the gotcha politics itself is a response to fear. The scriptural use of wilderness is a good metaphor for us as we find the way to face our fear, and our fear driven destructive behaviors.

There’s another emotion / belief that contributes to destructive behavior, and that is that there is no second coming. That is a concern addressed in 2nd Peter. Folks are of tired of waiting, (Hogan) and they have crafted some bizarre beliefs allowing them to get on with life in some rather risqué ways. If 100 years is a long time to wait 20 time 100 is really a long time. The loss of belief in Jesus’ return and fear are combining to create the deeply troubled times in which we live. And that brings us back to the prophetic voice.

Isaiah’s prophetic voice we heard this morning always rings with today’s opening hymn, and I always want to wrap up in a warm blanket, or go get some warm blankets for others to wrap up in. Not bad, but just perhaps, it’s a bit shallow. Scott Hoezee notes ‘comfort’ comes from the Latin cum and fortis or with strength. (Hoezee) The people don’t need warm blankets, they need strength. They need strength to follow the prophet’s map to Jerusalem, because it is not the water laden normal route; nope, it’s straight through the desert wilderness. Harsh? Perhaps, but it’s so very similar their origins in the wilderness journey through Saini on their Exodus journey to freedom. (Wendland) Mark’s Gospel has John quote Isaiah, and Malachi and Exodus. But the point we often miss is that neither the prophet nor the people are on their own. God’s servant is preparing the way. (Powell) The word here is singular, and it’s clearly a reference to John. However, in the broader context of scripture and of our times, it’s God many servants who will make the preparations who will give strength to the people. ~ Just who are these servants?

Karoline Lewis, David Lose and Lucy Hogan all have the same observation … us. Lewis suggest that we join the prophetic ranks by radical truth telling. (Lewis) Lose suggest that we quit waiting for Christmas and get in the game, (Lose) that we join the prophetic ranks. Hogan suggests we hear 2nd Peter as if it were written to us and live into the new creation, the new heaven and earth [we] find right here and right now. (Hogan) But what about all that I can’t be a prophet stuff because I’m part of the institution.

I’m beginning to believe all bets are off, because the church institutional and Church – body of Christ is outside our political and secular institutions. And in so much as the shepherds, as Isaiah referred to in the latter verses of today’s reading, is always a political metaphor everything we’ve heard is a call to us to be a part of the prophetic voice that challenges all our political and power brokering intuitions by speaking the hard truth.

And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about policy truth, thought there is room for that, I referring to the truth Advent lays before us. We believe in the incarnate presence of God, that’s looking back. We believe in the resurrected presence of Jesus, that’s looking to the future. We believe in the continuing presence of the Spirit, that’s looking at the here and now. Therefore we are not afraid not even of death! And as we come to believe and as we come to trust we will lose our fear, and we can make faith based loving good news bearing decisions about everything. They will be seen as counter cultural, because they will be; they will be seen as courageous because they will be; they will be seen as a manifestation of the Kingdom of God right here, right now because they will be.

Afraid? I am. And every prophet in scripture was afraid, and tried to wiggle out. But every time God’s presence prevailed. God always has been God is and will be with us as we begin to see and speak the truth. Join in an active advent, (Lose) and a fearless future.

Amen


References

Brummett, John. “Down Texarkana way.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 3 12 2014. web.

Friedman, Thomas L. “The Gift That Keeps Giving.” New York Times 3 12 2014. web.

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Isaiah 40:1-11. 7 12 2014.

Hogan, Lucy Lind. Commentary on 2 Peter 3:815a. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher – A Truth Telling. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 2 B: Active Waiting. 7 12 2014. <davidlose.net>.

METZ, THE REV. DR. SUSANNA. Sermons that Work – Finding comfort vs. being comfortable. 7 12 2014. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/&gt;.

Powell, Mark Allen. Commentary on Mark, Mark 1:18. 7 12 2014.

Wendland, Kristin J. Commentary on Isaiah 40:111. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

I Just Want My Life Back

A Sermon for 2nd Sunday after Pentecost Proper 7,

Track 1: Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

I want to think I’ve heard it hundreds of times, some character in a maleficent mess says: All I want is to get my life back. I went looking for a good story setting within which to put the quote. My initial Google search produced 1.3 million hits, from movies, to AA teen, to self-help books, but not one good story. Oh well.

We are all familiar with Jesus hard saying

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

There is no question that Jesus is speaking literally, he knows his teaching are revolutionary, and that is life threatening under Roman rule; he knows his teachings are counter cultural and that it will disrupt tradition and cause descent within tribes and clans, between friends, among families, between parents and children. Today we are rather lucky in that following Jesus is not revolutionary engendering death sentences from authorities. (Harrelson Matthew 21:20) However, truly following Jesus can disrupt what we believe to be the closest most intimate relationships. Following Jesus can lead folks in to circumstances where they’d just may say: All I want is to get my life back.

The story of Hagar and Ishmael is the intertwined stories of Hagar and Sarah both of whom want their life back. It all goes back to impatience. God has promised Abraham an heir, it’s been decades, no heir. At Sarah’s urging he conceives a son with a surrogate mother Hagar. All is well, for a few months, until Sarah notices the attention Hagar is getting, and has Abraham drive her from the camp. God tells Hagar to go back and humble herself toward Sarah. She does. Some years later Sarah conceives and bears Isaac. Three years after that, at Isaac’s weaning ceremony, Sarah sees Isaac and Ishmael playing together, and for an unstated reason she determines Ishmael is a threat to her son, and once again has Abraham throw Hagar and Ishmael out of the camp, driving them into the wilderness to die. Again God hears the cry of the distressed, he shows Hagar where water is to be found, and promises her that Ishmael will also grow into a great nation. She believes him, gets the water, raises her son in the wilderness, gets him a wife from her native Egypt, and he becomes the father of Ishmaelites, the forbearers of Islam. (Schifferdecker)

Sarah, wants her life, and the life of her son, Abraham’s second son back. Actually she wants the life she imagines they should have, but don’t because she and Abraham got anxious about God’s sense of timing. She takes action. She persuades Abraham to drive them into the wilderness, and certain death. He is not thrilled about the idea, none the less is unable to stand up to Sarah’s rage and acquiesces. It appears as if Sarah gets her life and Isaac’s life back. At least she thinks she does, it’s just two stories later, the beginning of the very next chapter when Abraham takes Isaac into the wilderness for a sacrifice with no animal.

Hagar’s and Ishmael’s journey back to life is very different. Their lives are lost, Hagar is so sure they will die, and she distances herself from Ishmael so she won’t have to witness it. The text reads as if he is a child, though the timing of the story indicates he is a teenager, perhaps 16 or so. (Petersen and Beverly Roberts Gaventa Genesis 21:10) Either way, their lives are over. We hear how God hears “the boy” speaks to Hagar, Do not be afraid. leads her to water, and assures her Ishmael will live; which assures her of life also. 

What I find so intriguing is that it is the foreigner, the Egyptian salve, who seems to hear and obey God while the chosen family, Abraham and Sarah, follow the devices and desires of their own creation. A twist that bears some additional reflection, perhaps another time.

There is no doubt about the real threat of losing life, of death, especially for Hagar and Ishmael. However, there is also a secondary thread about the threat of loss of life style, to both Hagar and Ishmael, and to Sarah and Isaac. Ishmael is Abraham’s legitimate oldest son, remember he is born to surrogate mother, he is not the results of an illicit relationship. Sarah’s ferocious desire to ensure Isaac’s divinely proclaimed place threatens Hagar and Ishmael. Conversely, Ishmael’s very existence is a threat to Isaac’s life style, as the chosen son, Sarah’s fear is not missed placed. (Harrelson Genesis 21:8)

Both those threads are in woven into the background of Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus’ sending the disciples into the mission field. I believe it is the threat to life style that is the greatest threat to Christian life here and now.

Stanley Saunders writes:

From the moment we are born, we learn to fear the world around us.  … Jesus recognizes that fear will also cause the failure of discipleship.

He continues:

The threat of death may be the most powerful form of fear. …

just before getting to

… the call to discipleship renders secondary all other claims upon one’s identity … (Saunders)

In short our life and life style are secondary to following Jesus. It’s a bothersome realization, because so much of our life style is deserved, we’ve all worked hard for what we have, for the most part we love our families. It’s bothersome because we are deeply committed to our life style choices, ever been in political debate? It’s bothersome because it puts the Gospel imperatives ahead of the Constitution, our political allegiance our economic ideology, our sports loyalties our school allegiances every aspect of every relationship or value we hold, even those we hold unawares.

In Friday New York Times Jessica Zitter blogs of an encounter with a patient who is dying. In spite of following the carefully crafted medical protocols the medical team almost made the wrong decision. It was not a medical error, it was not knowing all the family circumstances.

She writes:

I realized then that I needed another checklist, one that puts patients, and not just their organs, in the center. It would account for the human needs that we weren’t always taught to prioritize, ones that didn’t seem fatal if overlooked — clearly identifying the patient’s next of kin, communicating with the family and identifying the goals of care, asking about symptoms like pain, delirium, shortness of breath. My critical oversight would not have happened had I sought out the social worker on the first day to confirm the true next of kin. He thought I knew. I thought I knew. We both were wrong. (Zitter)

What gabbed me was the realization that technology, science, and medicine are all life style choices that are secondary to the Gospel, secondary to our relationship with God, with Jesus, with the Spirit. It a reminder that everything should begin in our relationship with God. It’s hard to do when we are aware. It’s harder to do when we are unaware. But, it does not mean we are stuck.

Hagar believed her life, her son’s life were lost. She discovered God listens. When we learn our lives are lost, when we choose to give up life style choices we too will discover God listens. The journey to change is never easy, but we never go it alone.

I believe Dr. Zitter believes she will practice better medicine with a second protocol, that’s perhaps the primary protocol, that pays attention to patients’ family relationships. I believe we will find better life styles choices we will live better lives with a another life style choice that’s perhaps the primary life style choice that pays attention to our divine relationships.

 


Works Cited

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

Petersen, David and Beverly Roberts Gaventa. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abbingdon Press, 2010. ebook.

Saunders, Stanley. Working Preacher Commentary on Matthew 10:24-39. 16 June 2014. web. 16 June 2014.

Schifferdecker, Kathryn. Working Preacher Commentary on Genesis 21:8-21. 16 June 2014. PDF. 18 june 2014.

Zitter, Jessia Nutik. “Who Can Speak for the Patient?” New York Time (2014). <http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/who-can-speak-for-the-patient/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.&gt;.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 

One wonders about the rest of the story …

A blogger and colleague of mine quoted a scholar, I believe David Lose, who says there are two parts of the church year: the story of Jesus (Advent to Pentecost) and the story of the churches living into Jesus’ ministry (after Pentecost), at least that’s what I recall. Anyhow we are slap in the middle of the living into Jesus’ ministry time. And as tempting as it is to hear this week’s readings as an individual I am certain there are enormous lessons for the Church (the body of Christ) and the church (the institution, what ever variation you are affiliated with).

 Jeremiah hears God’s call, hears God tell him: go where I send you, say what I tell you to say, do not be afraid. And yes, you will have to pluck up, pull down, destroy and overthrow; you will also build and plant.

 Hebrews Paul is very clearly saying, as hard as it is to hear, the choice is oh so very one sided, Jesus is the way over the top superior choice. But there is a choice, and there are consequences for your choice.

 My undergraduate degree is in Sociology, and though many years ago, I remember enough about statistics to prudently trust numbers. The numbers (declining metrics of all sorts) tell me, that for a long time, (and according to Diane Butler Bass, longer than we acknowledge) we have not listened to God, not gone where God is sending us, are not saying what God is telling us to say. We are holding onto what we hold dear, while we should be, if not plucking them up, or destroying them, at the very least, letting them go. The sad reality is the harder we hold on, the less able we are to plant and build awareness of the Kingdom of God on earth.

 Hebrews Paul would tell us “You are choosing poorly.” I would add that the consequences are weighing us down. We are now so bent over, we can not see the truth of the world around us; we can not even see the truth about ourselves.

 My greatest fear is that as congregations and congregational leaders continue to act out of a perception of scarcity, continue to act out of fear, we can not hear God in Jesus calling us. One wonders about the rest of the story …