A Season of Choice

A Sermon for Proper 4: 1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39, Psalm 96, Galatians 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10

This is Memorial Day weekend. It is full of opportunities for families and friends to gather and share a meal and good times; to enjoy the plentiful sales merchants have been offering for a week or so. It is time to remember.

My uncle flew B 24s over the south pacific in WWII. My dad served in post-WWII Germany. Larry, customer of mine flew DC 3s over the Himalayas in WWII. The challenge was not just flying over the highest mountains in the world; there were the winds. At times, the throttle would be all back with the nose pointed down, and the plane would be rising. The next minute the throttle would be full on with the nose pointed up, and the plane would be falling. Col. Rogers, one of my acolyte masters was on the first team into Hiroshima. Pat Durkee, Sgt. Major USMC (Retired) was my Field Director when I was working with the Boy Scouts, my first real job after college. Bob Atkins, Sgt. Major US Army (Retired) was a mentor when I was first ordained. David Stout, USMC was my first sales manager. Mark Lemon, a high school classmate, was a swift boat captain in Viet Nam. All these are folks I know, who have in one way or another journeyed with me to this point in my life and made some contribution to who I am.

But on his Memorial Day weekend, there are two others who stand out Mike Michelli, Angie’s father, who was killed in action in Viet Nam. I did not have the honor of asking him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. 1990 his 4-year-old granddaughter cried when we found his name on the Memorial Wall. She cried when she realized she had never known, and would never know her grandfather.

The other, Jimmy Kinsey was wounded in Iraq and lost a leg below the knee. He adjusted well to the prosthetic, often playing pranks with it. Jimmy would carefully place his prosthetic by the door so that you would step on it and go sit across the room. When someone did step on he’d shout “ouch!” Not all adjustment to life went so well. Jimmy struggled and was sent to the Wounded Warriors program. There he fell; he hit his head on and iron bed post and died. His parents, related to a parishioner of mine, were not churched, asked me to preside at his funeral. It is one of the greatest honors ever extended to me. I went to meet his parents, and ended up meeting the Marine honor guard; there were five Marines, I think. I listened as they shared their stories of serving with Jimmy. At some point, one pointed to another of the group said, “He was blown up first, then me, them him and him and him.” All of those marines had been injured by an IED explosion. All of them were the same age as my daughters. I thought to myself “What are we doing for $2 a gallon gas?” Later, as I realized our IRAs and 403b likely had investments in companies that profited from the war in Iraq, or from our armed forces in harm’s way across the world, I thought, “What I am doing?” My thoughts this morning are not about the political legitimacy of war. My thoughts this morning are about choice, our choices as individuals and our choices as a society.

Elijah speaks to all Israel “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” No one spoke a word. Still he insists that they make a choice; believe and follow God or follow Baal; one way or another you have to make a choice. As has been their tendency, most of Israel tried to avoid making a choice. They preferred to hedge their bets; proclaim one god but just in case honor others. Elijah says “Nope – you got to choose.” He does go on to make a rather dramatic argument for God. Nonetheless, the people as individuals and as a society must choose. The effect of divine consuming fire is that Israel chooses to follow God. However, they have made that choice before; at Saini, and crossing into the promised land and here they are choosing again.

Luke’s story of Jesus’ encounter with the Roman Centurion is about choice. Centurion is an outsider and official of the oppressing Roman Empire. It would be a close race between Centurions or tax collectors for the most despised. The story reveals several choices the Centurion makes:

  • He chooses to work with the Jews under his watch, in fact, he built a synagogue for them.
  • He chooses to help a sick slave / servant; revealing that his choice to see the servant /slave as more than an expendable commodity.
  • He knows about Jesus, though we don’t know how, and he chooses to invite Jesus to help (Wong).
  • He chooses to recognize the Jewish tradition that coming into a Gentile property would defile Jesus, so he does not demand or even ask him to (Hogan).
  • He chooses to believe that physical proximity is not a necessary ingredient for healing.

Finally, as Jesus notes

  • he chooses to believe,
  • he chooses faith.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians reveals

  • his choice,
  • the choices of competing teachers, and
  • the choices of the members of the church which is where he starts.

Paul’s chooses to launch into a diatribe, there is little of the customary accolades and greetings. The central question is: Do you have to follow Jewish laws and customs to be Christian? We know Paul’s position is “No.” All you have to do is accept Jesus as God’s anointed Christ. In Paul’s absence, some Jews who follow Jesus are teaching “a different gospel.” Note that ‘gospel’ here is not capitalized; it is not the collection of books in scripture we call “The Gospels.” Here ‘gospel’ is the good news about Jesus as our Lord, and provider of salvation. These other teachers are teaching a different gospel, not so much about who Jesus is, but about how you have to behave to be a true believer, which includes following the Jewish traditions and Laws. Like Elijah, Paul is saying you have to make a choice. While not as dramatic as Elijah, he is no less vehement about his beliefs. He is no less ardent in his demand that the church in Galatia choose.

Having to choose is common in the bible. Generally, they can be understood as “Will you choose life or death (Epperly).” One type of choice is simple obedience. The first bad choice was to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). A good early choice was Noah’s choice to build the Ark (Genesis 7).

Another type is which god to follow or pledge allegiance to. In scripture, the choice is God or some other deity. Today the choice is what comes first, God or some other political / economic agenda or ideal (Epperly). What will it mean to choose God in this November’s or any election (Epperly)? Who is Baal today? a political party, a sports team, a social cause, pursuit wealth or power; or simply sleeping in (Ellingsen).

Another choice is who belongs and is included. The Galatians and many early Christians struggled with who is in and who is out. We face the same struggle today. Who can be baptized, who can be confirmed, who can receive communion, who can be ordained? Who belongs is at the core of our struggle with sexuality, race, and who can immigrate. One way to see our choice about who belongs is: Will we choose to accept that God has already chosen, through the birth, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, to welcome everyone into God’s presence (West)?

Another choice is how we understand ministry. Abraham’s offers gracious hospitality to three strangers at his camp at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18). There is a Jewish notion that hospitality is the basis of all ministry. What do we choose to be the basis of our ministry?

Jesus heals the slave / servant of the centurion because of his owner’s faith. Are we willing to choose to approach Jesus, for ourselves, for our friends, for our enemies (Hogan)?

In many traditions, the season after Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time. One commentator believes it should be Extraordinary Time. Another would prefer we call it the Season of Pentecost because every day holds potential for an encounter with the Spirit (Lewis).

I am pondering this as a season of choice. We can choose the devices and desire of our own hearts. Or, we can choose the Spirit, who, in revealing the divine truth, will guide all our choices as we are learning how to choose Jesus’ teachings in our ministries and all of our daily lives (Wong).


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 4C Center for Excellence in Preaching . 29 5 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Chan, Michael J. Commentary on 1 Kings 18:20-21[22-29] 30-39. 29 5 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. 29 5 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 29 5 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. “Proper 4C Center for Excellence in Preaching.” 29 5 2016. Working Preacher.

Hogan, Lucy Lind. Commentary on Luke 7:110. 29 5 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Back to Reality. 29 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

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

West, Audrey. Commentary on Galatians 1:112. 29 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Wong, Ada. “God is Much Bigger, Proper 4 (C) – 2016.” 29 5 2016. Sermons that Work.

 

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Divine, Humanity, All the Rest

I have been absent for some time, mostly enjoying the beauty of the South Carolina beach. Today I return to the discipline of sharing thoughts about the coming Sunday’s lections, or other spurious contemplations. It seems unfair to be saddled with the Trinity as a reset point; on the other hand Genesis and creation coupled with Matthew’s great commission is full of relevant provocations. (12 + pages of notes so far.)

Perhaps it’s because just before I left for the shore I finished this session of Family Systems Conferences I’ve been seeing triangles all over the place. Yes, sometime the symbol (apparently I need to yield a lot), but far more often in relationships. It is important to know that triangles are not bad by definition but descriptive; the trouble comes with imbalance and meshing of self with other; but I wander. The same is true for Sunday’s readings (not the wandering, the presence of relationship triangles).

In Genesis we glean a relationship triangle between God, creation, and humanity – empowered to dominate creation as God created, i.e with inestimable love, which we better hear a tending to.

In Matthew we glean a relationship triangle between Jesus, the newly commissioned disciples, and all nations.

I’m noting that when we distance God and or Jesus in either relationship domination becomes exploitation and discipling becomes making. The focus shifts from the intricate  balance between God/Jesus, humanity/disciples, and creation/others to us. In short we try to be like God. Oh wait that comes later in Genesis 3; and oh what a mess that story reveals.

Continue the Journey

It was blog by a colleague [i] who pointed me to water and sailing and a story I should never forget. I had just met AFM who would become my wife. We went camping with a group of friends. Someone brought a sunfish sail boat. I invited her to go sailing with me. As we set out I told her about tacking with the wind, and to be careful of the boom. We were having a good time. When the wind began picking up it was time to turn around and head back to shore.

Image

The turn went fine. On the next tack, the boom moved quite quickly, hit me on the shoulder and knocked me off the boat.  When she saw I was okay, AFM almost rolled off the boat in laughter. I couldn’t decide to swim after the boat, now drifting away, or swim off into the middle of lake and obscurity. 34 or so years later, I’m glad I swam after the boat.

The wind, the Spirit, does choose where it blows, and when we choose to follow God’s call … to the land that I will show you. [ii] it is very much like sailing. And occasionally you will find yourself if not off course, perhaps off the boat. And in such cases there is always the choice, to swim away into obscurity, or get back onto the boat, back on course. Abram’s and Nicodemus’ stories both show us folks who choose to get back on course; perhaps not as fully as one could imagine, and perhaps to face another decision the leads on off course, but never to final obscurity. We are always welcome to continue the journey.

 

Ashes and the Storm

Ash Wednesday’s orders of service – done.

Ash Wednesday’s sermon – done.

Ashes on Main – location secured.

Ashes on Main – handout – done.

Ashes on Main – paper article, front page!

Ice, sleet, snow, and frozen stuff all over the place.

Thousands still without power.

I55 south bound traffic at a  s-l-o-w crawl.

Police Chief tells people without four-wheel drive to stay off the roads! If you find yourself in a ditch, towing and impound fees will be assessed.

And so for the second time since December and only the second time in twenty years services are being canceled and rescheduled. Tonight’s Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper has been postponed. Tomorrow’s 7 am Ash Wednesday service is canceled, conditions will worsen overnight. We do plan to offer Ashes on Main, though conditions are still a concern, and so we will offer imposition of ashes just prior to Sunday’s Eucharist, for those whose desire to begin Lent so be-smudged.

All of which is very disappointing. However, Sunday’s reading from Genesis causes me to ask Why? The great challenge in the garden is to trust God, or not. Eve and Adam chose not. We can allow our customs, traditions and liturgies to grow to such magnitude they are no longer iconic, but either idol or something akin to occult. So, we are ensnared in a winter storm that has trapped thousands in their homes and cars and our treasured traditions and liturgies will not happen, but if we trust God then all is well. If we trust God, we will not presume we are so important we can ignore request of officials who are doing their best to look after everyone; we will have inquired how we can help those in need.

In it’s own way this winter storm is an interesting way to begin Lent. The disruptions it causes should cause us to first ask: Do we trust God? and then decide what actions to take. That is a good Lenten exercise.

 

OH! Oh! oh …

I cannot imagine how Peter, James and John feel coming down the mountain. First they witness Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. That’s got to be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln speaking to … a pick the least likely presidential candidate. Then they actually  hear the voice of God, it speaks to them! and they live!!  And now Jesus tells them they can’t tell anyone; at least not until … can’t tell anyone.

A couple of times I’ve been the bearer of great news that I had to keep to myself. Both involved a family member, neither wanted to go to the particular event, and it was my assignment to get them there. With help I did, and they were over whelmed by the events of the evening. But neither of times comes close to the conflicted sense of exuberant joy and utter frustration the disciples must have coming down the mountain .God is on our side, and we can’t tell anyone! Wow.

Well of course, we know why, we know they don’t yet understand, they don’t even comprehend that Jesus will die. That being so, they don’t know what they think they know, which is more dangerous the Donald Rumsfeld’s observation that what you don’t know that you don’t know is the most dangerous.  It is reminiscent of John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand when Jesus perceives they are about o come and make him king, and Jesus withdraws to the mountain by himself.

There is a time for seasons, there is a time to wait, a time trust, because we may not know what we think we have witnessed.

The sound of

Yesterday on one of various journeys I listened to Terry Gross interview Trevor cox author of  The Sound Book. (Here’s the link: http://www.npr.org/2014/02/19/279628642/o ne-mans-quest-to -find-the-sonic-wonders-o f-the-world).  It begins with the sound of a starter pistol fired in an old oil tank; it was loud, reverberating for 30 seconds. That was followed by the same pistol fired in an anechoic chamber (which absorbs sounds prevents echoes) and it is literally a quite lip “put.”

Later Cox’s speaks about the acoustics of cathedrals. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a whispering gallery; you can whisper into the wall and it travels around the dome to a person on the other side who hears it coming out of the wall. In other’s the structure echoes so well we are inclined to whisper, which he think contribute to our felling of reverence in them. What came to me is how the environment changes the way we perceive what is going on around us.

Paul refers to us as God’s temple a dwelling place of God. So I wonder what kind of temple are we, whispering like St Paul’s, echoing like many, reverberating like the oil tank, or absorbing like the anechoic chamber. I wonder how we, as individuals and a faith community, effect the way those around us perceive the presence of God?

 

It’s my center.

I love gifts, especially unexpected gifts from unexpected places. I received one last night. I joined our Friday Families group for pizza as we watched Rise of the Guardians a clever tale weaving many children’s characters together into one story. It’s cute, with Hugh Jackman doing Bunny’s voice,[i] it has to be; and as with many of these movies within the story line are many great lessons.  One that stuck out is North speaking to Jack We are very busy bringing joy to children, we don’t have time for children. [ii]

My gift however is the conversation between Jack and North where North is trying to explain to Jack about his center. He hands Jack a Matryoshka Doll, one of the Russian stackable dolls painted like North. Handing it to Jack he says This is how you see me, very big and intimidating… Jack opens the dolls and seeing the next one says: You are downright jolly, and the next layer: and serious, then the next: and fearless, and the last Jack says: There’s a tiny wooden baby. North: Look closer. What do you see?  Jack: You have big eyes… North: Yes! Big eyes, very big, because they are full of wonder. That is my center. It is what I was born with, eyes that have only seen the wonder in everything! Eyes that see lights in the trees and magic in the air. This wonder is what I put into the world, and what I protect in children. It is what makes me a guardian. It is my center, what is yours? Jack: I don’t know. [iii]

‘Center’ is another way of saying identity, who you are. Isaiah, John and Paul are all speaking to identity, the servant’s, Israel’s, Jesus’, and ours. It raises a question: Are we more like North, knowing and living who we are, or more like Jack and not knowing?