A Decision to Make

A Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent; Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Decades ago Angie and I, well I, became intrigued with the BBC deceive story, Morse. We were, I was, disappointed when it ended in 2000, after thirteen years. I was excited to recently discover a prequel series Endeavour which is the beginning of Inspector Morse’s story.

Endeavor is a brand new Deceive Constable with the Oxford City Police CID. He is different than all other officers. He is an Oxford graduate. He sees the world differently, thinks differently, which helps him find clues and solutions that elude others. He loves classical music, he sings in an Oxford Choir. That and his struggles with basic police work complicates his relationship with other officers ~ and his Chief Superintendent. Only his boss Detective Inspector Fred Thursday believes in his potential.

In the second episode Fugue the Oxford police are seeking a serial killer Tom Gull, who is now masquerading as a police physiatrist, Dr. Daniel Cronyn. Gull has been seeking revenge on all the people involved in his conviction for murder. He was found guilty, but mentally ill. Having been declared cured and released he began his revenge killing spree. The last victim is intended to be Endeavor’s boss Inspector Thursday. Thursday faces down Gull on a rooftop while Endeavour makes his way around the roof behind him. After Thursday and Endeavour subdue Gull and he is taken away by assisting officers, Endeavour asks Thursday

How do you do it? Leave it at the front door?

Thursday replies:

Cause I have to. A case like this will tear the heart right out of a man. Find something worth defending.

 Endeavor mumbles:

I thought I had… found something.

Thursday answers:

Music? I suppose music is as good as anything. Go home, put your best record on… loud as it’ll play… and with every note, you remember… that is something that the darkness couldn’t take from you (IMDB).

We all know the parables about loss and celebration Jesus tells the Pharisees and the scribes. We know about the younger son’s bad decisions, the father’s over the top welcoming home and the older son’s anger at it all. We may not remember that it is the last of three parables, following the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus shares when the Pharisees and the scribes after their grumbling and saying,

This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Their grumbling recalls the Israelites “murmuring” against Moses in the desert (Exod. 16:7-12) (Culpepper). Though scripture warned against intimate fellowship with sinners (Keener and Walton), because what one eats and whom one eats with are key issues in socioreligious boundaries (Harrelson), their grumbling reveals their anger and judgment (Epperly).

You know the younger son resents his older brother (Lewis). He disrespects both his father and tradition, by asking for his share of the family inheritance early. He rejects Rabbinic judgments that protect the rights of parents (Culpepper) by selling it before his parents are dead, depriving them of food and shelter (Keener and Walton), think of the commandment to honor your father and mother (Ex 20:12). There is no doubt he is an outrageous, undesirable jerk (Hoezee).

The older son bears the burden of goodness (Epperly). Nonetheless, he is as judgmental as the Pharisees and the scribes (Hoezee). He resents his younger brother’s welcome home celebration. He rejects his relationship with his younger brother (Lewis) in answering his father this son of yours (Keener and Walton; Culpepper). He disrespects father in his reply to his father’s explanation for the celebration of his brother’s return by answering Listen and not a respectful “Father” or “Sir” (Keener and Walton; Culpepper).

The father stands opposed to the judgmental stance of the Pharisees and scribes (vs 2). He is always loving, always ready to welcome both his sons home. He also ignores tradition, it was regarded as unbecoming, a loss of dignity for a grown man to run (Culpepper) yet full of joy he runs to greet his lost son. His love is more important than tradition. This loving father crosses the threshold of his home twice. He crosses the threshold to run and welcome the younger son home. He crosses the threshold, a second time, to invite the elder son to the celebration  (Brobst-Renaud). In the father’s action, we catch glimpse of God/Jesus/Spirit who reaches into hell to rescue the lost, and who no one can defeat not even hell or death (Epperly).

It is significant that the parable is open-ended, the elder son has a decision to make. Will he join the celebration (Harrelson)? It is a stark reminder, that like both sons, we have decisions to make.

Speaking of decisions; Robert Muller’s report of his investigation has been given to Attorney General William Barr, as the Special Council law requires. For the last two years, pundits on all sides have been predicting what the report would say about this or that or another concern. All sides have excoriated the others in loudest most extreme ways possible. No-one side is listening to anyone else.

Now that the report has been given to William Barr, he has his lawful responsibilities to fulfill. In many ways it is the same song, 2nd verse, same as the first; and all sides continue to excoriate all the others in loudest most extreme ways possible. Few are bothering to wait and see what Attorney General Barr will include in his report on the report, or release to Congress and/or the public. No one is listening to anyone else.

I find this disappointing, mostly because what I have not heard or read is anyone pointing out that no matter one’s stance on the conclusions and/or recommendations of the report(s), it is the results of a justice system that is working. Yes, there were early morning raids, but they were conducted following defined legal processes with court-approved warrants. And no one has been dragged out of their homes in the dark of night to disappear forever, and no one has been locked away in a luxury hotel until they sign away wealth and power. Like the younger brother, we are rejecting traditional respect for our own self-interest. Like the older brother, we are dismissing any relationship with others who views differ from ours. Unlike the father, no one shows any respect, never mind love, for the other, or for all.

So, I wonder why so few people see or speak about what is going right? My fear is that they, that all of us – okay – most of us, are acting out the role of either the younger or the older son. All in all, the whole Muller Report story, from cause, through investigation, to the giving and receiving of the report and the continuing quote making for political advantage is enough to tear the heart right out of a nation. And so, ~ I wonder how we avoid tearing the heart right out of our nation and then Fred Thursday’s wisdom returns to mind

Find something worth defending. … put your best record on… loud as it’ll play… and with every note, you remember… that is something that the darkness couldn’t take from you.

What is worth defending will vary, and perhaps widely from person to person. Something that the darkness can’t take from you ~ well that brings us back to Jesus’ parable. In a world replete, full, of screaming voices, disregarding traditions, that have made us strong, rejecting relationships, with anyone who is somewhat different than we are we have our father, who stands in the vineyard where there is no past or future (Whitley), eagerly waiting to run welcome us home, because, by sheer grace (Culpepper), there is nothing, there is no darkness, that can take that love, in which everything has become new (2 Cor 5:21), away from you, or anybody else.

As is this parable, our political saga is open-ended; you, each and every one of us, has a decision to make about recognizing and accepting expansive fatherly love.


References

Bouzard, Walter. Commentary on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. 6 9 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Brobst-Renaud, Amanda. Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32. 31 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 31 3 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

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

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. 31 3 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-4c-2>.

IMDB. “Endeavor.” n.d. IMDB.com. 31 3 2019. <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2716798/characters/nm1140345?ref_=tt_cl_t1)>.

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

Lewis, Karoline. A Resentful Story. 31 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Whitley, Katerina Katsarka. “A Ministry of Reconciliation, Lent 4 (C).” 31 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/ministry-reconciliation-lent-4-c-march-31-2019>.

 

 

 

Unexpected Guides, Surprising Directions

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42

The Jewish-Samaritan rivalry dates all the way back to the 7th century under Assyrian occupation. Temple was built at Gerazim and became the center of worship in the 4th century under Persian occupation. The Samaritans worship at this Temple, but the Jews believed that worship must be in the Temple in Jerusalem. Although Gerazim was destroyed in 128 BCE, the schism continued at least to Jesus’ day. (Ellingsen, O’Day, Sakenfeld). It is part of the reason that the Jews avoided Samaria. When Jesus leaves Judea and heads back to Galilee, the typical route would be to go around Samaria. Jesus goes through Samaria. It has long been held it was simply a short cut. But if we listen closely we hear that John writes “[Jesus] had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). In truth, it becomes Jesus’ first venture into the rest of the world (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner).

I hope you have heard the contrast between Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus as you listened to the John’s Gospel story of Jesus meeting a woman at a well. They are many, and they are interesting.

We have been so well (pardon the pun) taught all about the social dynamics between the woman, men, and Jews we overlook the scandal of the well. In the Old Testament, a well is an archetype for marriage  (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Moses meets his wife Zipporah at a well in Midian (Exodus 2:21). And Jacob meets his beloved Rachel at this very well (Genesis 29:1) (O’Day). We all know Jesus does not marry. However, the marital implication hints at the depth of intimacy in the story to come.

The encounter begins with Jesus’ polite request for water. The woman asks him Why are you asking me for water? Jesus answers If you knew me, you would ask me and I would give you living water. The term ‘living water’ has two meanings; it can be flowing water like a stream, or it can mean life-giving water. The woman misunderstands what Jesus is saying; sound familiar.

After their convoluted conversation and she asks for the water, that Jesus is really offering, Jesus, asks her about her husband. She says she doesn’t have one, and Jesus goes on to tell her all about her history with men. But note; there is not a single word of judgment; there is not a single word of forgiveness; because there is no need for one. The woman is likely barren, and her husbands have simply divorced and abandoned her. Jesus reveals that he knows all about the tragic story of her life, which she confesses is true. Jesus also knows she has been abandoned, again, and again and again and again. He knows she is lonely. And perhaps in the greatest gift of all, Jesus sees her; a beloved child of God made from the dust of the earth. Jesus values her (Lewis, O’Day, Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Thus, far their story has progressed from protest to misunderstanding to confession to divine recognition and love (Harrelson).

Now knowing that Jesus is a prophet, the woman risks asking him if the proper place to worship is Gerazim or the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus replies “Gods is seeking those who worship him in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) Revealing more of her theological knowledge and understanding, the woman goes on to say I know the Messiah is coming. Jesus replies I am he. (John 4:26).

“I am” is an intentional referral to the revelation of God’s name to Moses (Exod. 3:14) (O’Day).This is Jesus’ first “I am” statement, the first full revelation of who he is, is to a rejected, abandoned woman, in a foreign land (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). And in doing so, Jesus encourages her role as a witnessing disciple ~ before she even begins to act. As for the rest of the world, in doing so, Jesus crosses boundaries of gender, and race, and religious traditions (Vena).

This morning’s Gospel story opened with a lonely rejected woman coming to the village well to get water at high noon, hoping to meet no one; and she runs into a Jewish rabbi. She leaves the well having abandoned her water jar, her source of life, to go share her story (Hoezee). In her absence, the disciples arrive.

Jesus’ discussion with the disciples is quite cryptic. The language is all agricultural; you plant, and you wait for the harvest. The Messianic implications are that you wait for the Messiah. Jesus message to the disciples is that the waiting is over. Jesus is prompting his disciples to open their eyes and to see who the harvest is, that is already being gathered; in part, this is a reference to the woman who is in the village sharing her story at that very moment. Here we learn from John, the mission to the rest of the world is not after Jesus’ death or any other marker, the mission for the rest of the world beings right now (O’Day).

As this conversation is going on the woman has gone to town and is telling the villagers everything. She invites them to come and see, which is my favorite evangelical invitation. I suspect to everyone’s surprise they believe her, at least enough to follow her back to the well of life. When they get there, the villagers’ experience with Jesus expands their faith and believe because of their own experience (Vena). They invite him to stay, and that invitation has implications that they are seeking a relationship with Jesus (O’Day). What more could a witness ask for?

The story of Jesus meeting a woman at the well is the story of the making of a disciple. It begins with both the witness’ and the audience’s mutual vulnerability. Jesus risks talking to the woman. The woman risks accepting Jesus’ invitation. It grows as the audience lets go of their or our most precious traditions as we realize they do not nurture our relationship with God (Lewis). Discipleship grows as we as we are released from our fear of overcoming old prejudices and are willing to break the social conventions that dehumanize us (Vena). We see traits of being an effective witness. The woman offers her experiences as they are. When she is, tentative or isn’t certain of the answer, she shares them as that; for example, she asks “Jesus really the Messiah?”; she shares that as it is. Curiously enough, it adds to her credibility. The woman brings the villagers to Jesus, and her job is now done, and her witness decreases, as did John the Baptist’s, as the villagers’ have their own personal experience with Jesus. If we can have our personal experience with Jesus, which we share with others, certainly these villagers can. A witness cannot replace an immediate experience with Jesus; a witness leads others to it. An effective witness knows salvation is offered on God’s terms and often is not in the terms a witness may have preconceived (O’Day).

It is a reasonable Lenten discipline to examine our witness of Jesus. It does not matter what our life’s experience is, whether we have been planted in the best soil or on the rocky path, either way, Jesus will nurture us. It does not matter the depth or certainty of our theological knowledge, and if you are here you have some theological knowledge; even if you don’t know what you know, Jesus will lead you into bearing fruit, which is continuing to do the work of God given to Jesus. It does not matter how long it takes, different fruit and crops mature at different rates. It does not matter how magnificent our story is; it only matters that we know our story, in Jesus’ story, well enough to share it.

Last week I invited us to consider Nicodemus, a leader with rank, education, and influence, to be our Lenten guide. Today I invite us to invite a woman, of unknown birth, without rank and without status, to join our team (Gaventa and Petersen). It seems our Lenten journey seems to be led by unexpected guides, showing us surprising directions to living waters.

References

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 19 3 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 19 3 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. The Lectionary Gospel John 4:5-42. 19 3 2017.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 19 3 2017.

Kesselus, Ken. “Trust in God’s Love, Lent 3(A).” 19 3 2017. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Holy Conversations. 19 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Lent 3 A: Living Water, Living Faith. 15 3 2017.

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.

Vena, Osvaldo. Commentary on John 4:542. 19 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

 

 

Blind As We Are, We Can See

A sermon for the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday: Luke 19:28-40; 41-44

There are all these people surrounding Jesus. They are shouting, waving palm branches, throwing cloaks and branches on the ground in front of him. Jesus is riding a donkey; it has never been ridden before. We don’t know if the crowd knows. Luke’s audience knows, and they catch the sacred implications; the quiet reference to the Temple sacrificial cult rites.  (Fretheim). Luke’s audience knows Israel’s history. They know Solomon rode a donkey before he was crowned King. The know the story of Elisha sending a member of the company of prophets to anoint Jehu King.  That the army’s commanders spread their cloaks for him on the bare steps as they proclaim their acceptance of Jehu being anointed King (2 Kings 9:1, 13). Luke’s audience knows how foreign warriors and royals have entered occupied or conquered cities. They have seen, the Romans ride in majesty. (Brueggmann). The people catch the reference to Zechariah’s prophecy that Israel’s “… king comes to you; triumphant and victorious … humble and riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9) (Harrelson).

The crowd’s shouting

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!

is eerily similar to the Angel choir singing at Jesus birth (Luke 2:14) (Gaventa and Petersen). This return of the King is joyous and hope-filled; it is real; it is happening now.

Who cares if the Pharisees object! What else would you expect? That is all they ever do. King Jesus knows God is present; he knows the earth herself knows who he is, and supports his coming. The crowd knows Jesus’ entry recalls the ancient foreboding prophetic oracles of judgment; they know, he knows righteousness.  (Hab. 2:9) (Olive tree). Everything is great; everything is exactly what the people, who have for so long been looking for someone to fight their battles for them, would expect (1 Sam 8:20).

And then Jesus begins to cry, he weeps.  His lament is for Jerusalem, implicitly for all Israel, implicitly for them, the people in the crowd, possibly Luke’s audience.  And us? What is it that Jerusalem is missing? What is it that we are missing? Other memories begin to arise. Jesus’s lament sounds way too familiar to Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem all those years ago (Harrelson). And since Luke is writing after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 7o AD, this story sounds much too close to this calamity (Fretheim).  We should know, we heard it just a few weeks ago; Luke’s readers know, they would have just heard it; it wasn’t all that long ago that Jesus said something similar, how he wished to save Jerusalem, but they weren’t willing (Luke 13:31) (Brueggmann). How can a vision of Jerusalem’s destruction fit with her new king’s victorious entry?

Looking back, Luke knows and shares, how the city, Jerusalem, Israel, the people were blind to Jesus’ true identity, to God’s true presence (Fretheim). Although they could see their world, they were blind to the truth that confronted them. They could see, yet were blind.

So I am wondering, how we see, but don’t? I am wondering, how are we seeking someone to fight our battles, war-like and otherwise, for us? I’m wondering, what else Jesus’ lament, which now includes Shiloh, Flanders Field, Guadalcanal, Selma, Little Rock, Memphis, the Tet Offensive, Oklahoma City, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ferguson MO., Paris, and Flint Michigan, includes? I’m wondering, when I, when we ~ failed to see God’s presence.

The final verses of Blind to the Truth read:

Now there’s laws that we must live by
and they’re not the laws of man
Can’t you see the shadow
Can’t you see the shadow
that moves across this land
The future is upon us
and there’s so much we must do
And you know I can’t ignore it
and my friend neither can you

Unless you’re blind to the truth,
blind to the truth
And you can’t see nothing
You’re so blind to the truth,
blind to the truth
But the judgment day is coming   (Fogelberg).

 

However, we should not be despondent.  Luke’s image is complex, despondent, and hopeful, all at the same time. Times are frightening; but, all is not lost.  Yes, Jesus’ lament expresses grief over past losses and acceptance of losses to come. At the same time, there is also the expression of love for what could have been, and for what can be; what is to be. There is the revelation of divine energy to carry on.  Jesus’ lament includes love that is available to inspire us and energy that is available empower us, for the week to come and all time thereafter. Judgment is always just over the horizon, but the love of God is right here, right now, look and see. And, remember ~ Jesus heals all sorts of blindness (Mark 8:22-26, Mark 10:46-52, Matt. 9:27-31;20:29-34, Luke 18:34-53) (Sakenfeld).  So blind as we are, we can see (John 9:25).

 

References

Bruggemann, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Fretheim, Terence E. INTERPRETATION Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991.

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.

Olivetree. Olivetree Cross Reference. n.d.

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

 

 

 

Where have you seen or heard God’s active presence this week?

There are other readings this week than the Gospel according to John. As compelling as it is these readings also deserve contemplation. As I reviewed my first reading notes, I was drawn to one by verse 9 of psalm 95; actually verses 8 & 9.

8 Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness, *
   at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me.

9 They put me to the test, *
    though they had seen my works.

My note reads: what works have you/we seen / heard? I am sure it comes from a challenge David Lose of Working Preacher issued a couple of weeks ago to invite our congregations to share where they have seen God in the past week.  I passed on the direct method, though I have inserted the question in an intervening sermon or two, and have used it in bible studies prior to committee meetings and so on.  The question is, without a doubt, an underlying dimension in the reading Exodus, which tells the tale the psalm  refers to. After all, the Hebrews have experienced, first-hand, God’s liberating power, an expression of God’s abundant love. And yet only a little time later, the memory of God’s love fades; the memory of God’s power diminishes to the point of non-consideration. Why?

Today, psychologist, nuero-scientist, and others who explore human behavior might well point to how our brain is wired, and how overpowering fear is, in part because of where in the brain, the more primitive parts, fear is processed. But that’s the point isn’t it. To recognize our fear, stop ourselves, our family, friends and neighbors, from reacting out of primitive animalistic perceptions, and make use of the higher functioning parts of our brain (pun intended) to see or heard God’s active presence, and then prayerfully discern what to do. My wife is fond of saying that life happens to everyone; the question is: are you going to allow life’s events to define you, or are you going to turn to God’s presence for the wherewithal to determine how to respond.

Part of being a faith community is to coach each other turn to God. Perhaps part of the psalm’s purpose is to serve as a prayerful or liturgical reminder to turn to God. Part of Lent’s intent is to rehearse turning to God, so as to change the very nature of our bodies’ natural reaction; much like athletes retrain their bodies’ reaction to the challenges of their sport.

It all begins with realizing that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves (collect for the 3rd Sunday in Lent). It continues by looking for and listening for God’s presence and actions. It goes on by helping others to do likewise. And while we can change our response, at least some of the time, we can not all the time, so it all ends in gracious judgment of our savior Jesus Christ.

Where have you seen or heard God’s active presence this week?

A sermon for Christmas 1

Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7, John 1:1-18, Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

Shiloh is where Joshua and the Hebrews setup camp after entering the Promised Land. It was the home of the Tent of Meeting, where the Ark was kept throughout Joshua’s reign, and through the Judges, until they lost the Ark in an effort to use it as a weapon. Shiloh was a seat of governance; a place of meetings for the Tribes; and Eli’s and later Samuel’s home. There is some indication a structure was built to replace the Tent. Shiloh was likely destroyed by the Philistines; archaeological evidence point to something like 1050 BCE. It’s destruction made a lasting impression in the peoples’ minds; so much so that it was used a reference by the Psalmist, Jeremiah, and an occasional prophet. It is clear that Shiloh was once the seat of Israel’s power and their connection to God. It was completely destroyed. [i] Nonetheless, God continued to be present to Israel, and the ministry of faithful prophets, priests and Kings continued after Shiloh’s destruction.

Thursday I blogged about Jehoikim’s court’s response to Jeremiah’s prophecy that God will make his house like Shiloh; suffice it to say they were not happy. My point was that Jeremiah does not back down, doesn’t seek safety, doesn’t try and negotiate his way out. Jeremiah trusts in God. I believe that Jeremiah drew inspiration for his strength from Proverbs (8:22 ff) (appointed for Friday’s Daily Office) which speaks to Wisdom’s part in creation; her delight in humanity; how those who listen to her find life and divine favor, and those who don’t find injury and death. Thursday was Stephen’s day, when we, if it weren’t the day after Christmas, observe his faithfulness, and his martyrdom. I believe he drew strength from Jeremiah’s example, from Wisdom, and from likely conversation with John, who wrote the Gospel whose prologue we heard this morning. John is among the disciples whom anointed Stephen.

The language of John’s prologue is similar to Proverbs 8:22, in its reference to creation, and relationship to God. We all know ‘The Word’ in John comes to be the incarnate Jesus. I believe Wisdom is an older story of the same divine manifestation, in other words Wisdom comes to be the incarnate Jesus. I also believe that the Church is the continuing incarnation of Wisdom and The Word. So while both speak to a particular fully human manifestation in Jesus of Nazareth, they equally refer to his continuing ministry of which we as Church are stewards. Both Jeremiah and Stephen, are exemplars of our calling to be stewards of The Ministry: Wisdom’s The Word’s and Jesus’.

Wisdom and the Bible also referred to as the word, as literary works tell the story of God’s active presence in the midst of creation in the middle of people’s lives. Wisdom and The Word as a manifestation of God are God’s active presence in the midst of creation in the middle of people’s lives. Ministry is the trick of using one to draw people to the other. Ministry is using Wisdom and John, or what-ever applicable part of scripture, to draw people to the presence of  God/Jesus/Holy Spirit. That’s the work Jeremiah and Stephen did so well, not necessarily by the results: Jehoikim’s house is destroyed, and Stephen dies, but how they did their work, in unabated faith and trust, in a promise they could not see but nonetheless believed. That is the road ahead in 2014 and beyond.

Beginning next week our service schedule changes. We will gather to celebrate Eucharist at 9:00 am, and then share fellowship and engage in faith forming discussion, previously known as adult Sunday School. We will do so on the 1st, 2nd, 4th and occasional 5th Sunday. On the 3rd, St. Stephen’s will offer Morning Prayers. Your vestry has worked hard to work out this new arrangement; it is a bold act. And they will be the first to tell you it’s not about an extra 30 minutes sleep Sunday morning. Not at all. This is an opportunity  to follow our Parton, St. Stephen, and not worry about the lurking fear of Shiloh, but to boldly love and share the Word, or Wisdom, or God, or the Holy Spirit, or Jesus , or however you encounter the Divine presence.

I know folks who should be with us. I suspect you know more than I do. So now you have an opportunity to invite them, to be as persistent as the widow seeking justice and as gentle as Jesus reply Come and see. We also have an opportunity to discern how to increase our inviting families of any configuration to Friday Families.

And as any late night, or early morning commercial, there is more. The first is a vision I’ve named Brewing Faith. The vision is to establish a place where two or three times a week, once in the morning, at mid-day and/or in the evening people will be invited to gather over coffee or tea, or other brew and talk about the light the word and everyday life. Everyone of any faith persuasion, including those who are not quite sure, and those who really don’t buy this stuff, is invited. The setting is intended to invite conversation, to shine the light to share the word of Old Testament Wisdom, and the incarnate Jesus.

The 2nd vision I have to share is a longer term calling, I’ve come to call Stephen’s House. As I have shared with your vestry, it honors our patron saint, it builds on the ancient custom of house church, and the ancient custom of cathedral weekday community space; did you know the naves of Cathedrals were community market places, something akin to farmers’ markets, only with more variety. However, as with every good faithful discernment it begins by us faithfully asking: How is God calling us:  to share the light? to share the Word? And then we ask, Does this facility enable or hinder that ministry?

Yes, it is scary stuff, it pushes the recessed fear of Shiloh almost into the foreground. However, Jeremiah’s threat notwithstanding, there is a light-side to Shiloh’s story. Yes, it is completely destroyed. But the ministry of God is not. The people of Israel, at least some of them, remained faithful to God, continued to believe in the divine promise; they trusted in God. Shiloh is gone, God is not. As it is for many, and perhaps all churches, it’s time to set aside the fear of Shiloh; time to trust in the wisdom of the word to trust in the presence of the Word incarnate such that the light of Christ shines forth in your lives as witness to all around you.

It is going to be a different year, my prayer for us is that we allow it to be full of wisdom of the Word and the light of Christ incarnate. AMEN

 


[i] Quick Verse 10; Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary,  Holman Bible Dictionary, Nave’s Topics, International Bible Dictionary