Make the Difference 

A sermon for Proper 8 and Independence Day; 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43

I have all kinds of 4th of July memories

  • family friends coming over to swim and eat abundant hamburgers and hot dogs
  • community picnics at the park pavilion going to parades on Peachtree St. my brother in a wheelchair, and  seeing the crowds part  giving us a front-row view, then after my brother was well  us kids wanting to keep the wheelchair  so we could keep getting the good places
  • at seminary the Sewanee 4th of July parade that always invited all kids to decorate their bikes and ride along.  One year our youngest wanted to ride so we helped her, then somewhere along the way one nut that held the back wheel tight got loose:  we struggled to tighten it, but I did not have enough hand strength:  suddenly the owner of the house we were in front of showed up with a wrench and in a minute, our daughter was back in the parade.

I think that is my favorite of all because it is a small, but such a powerful example of what freedom means. It is a simple but powerful example of how we are interrelated. I’m convinced it is not the big efforts that make the difference, but the rather the accumulation of the small efforts, beyond counting, that makes the difference in who we are.

You know my focus on faith and healthcare and I expect you expect me to say something about the two healing stories from Mark. They are good stories, with lots to share. But, the divine muse leads me to Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians.

Corinth was a particularly prosperous city and so was the church there (Keener and Walton). Paul notes that they are rich in knowledge, giftedness, faith, earnestness, and love. He continues that it be a shame if the only area where they did not excel was in their charitable giving. He refers to God’s gift of manna where no one had too much, and no one had too little (Ex `6:18) (Hoezee). The phrase giving “according to what one has” is a reference to the making of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 35:21-29). In this effort, everyone brought from what they had. Some brought precious metals or gems, some yarn or linen, some wood, some spices or oils, and other skills:  weaving, metalworking, carpentry and so on (Gaventa and Petersen). Both are foundational stories for Jews and us, are similar to our country’s foundational stories, George Washington and the Cherry Tree, or Paul Revere’s ride. These stories subtly define who we seek to be.

Paul is saying that our abundance is not solely personal and should be used with consideration to the needs of others (Epperly).  Grounding the call to generosity in Jesus making others rich …  by [being] a beggar, by being one of the disgusting have-nots, and by giving out of his nothingness (Fredrickson)  makes it clear that giving to help meet the needs of the poor is a theological, spiritual concern, not a mere economic calculation (Hoezee).

I was drawn to the verse

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. (NRSV Luke 12:48).

 It sounds like Luke is saying the same thing Paul is. Close. It comes from the end of the parable of The Faithful and the Unfaithful Steward (Luke 12:41). It shines the Gospel light on our daily practices and our consideration of God and divine plans. The foolish steward did not consider God or divine plans (Harrelson). The parable reveals that God’s reign is opposite to our cultural values of allegiance and economics, that reject concerns for those on social or economic margins  (Gaventa and Petersen). While this parable is not concerned with charity it does enlighten Jesus teachings about making charitable decisions.

All this comes together with my 4th of July memories in how we relate to each other. In the last couple of weeks, there has been a lot in the news about international trade and tariffs. One thing I keep hearing is that the economy is deeply interrelated. Many US companies buy products from overseas to make products they sell here and overseas. In an article, I read this week, and I cannot remember the source, but the phrase won’t go away, the author wrote the world economy is no longer interrelated; it is interdependent. Both Paul and Luke speak to how we are more than related to each other we are dependent on each other. A principle in the Anglican world is the that of mutual respect (responsibility) and interdependence. Each national church within the communion respects all other national churches and each acknowledges that we are all interdependent on each other. It emerged after WWII as part of the effort to eliminate power down relationships between the Church of England, and the Episcopal Church with emerging third world national Churches. In the last few decades we have struggled, especially over issues of gender and sexuality, however, the processes are still in existence, and it has made, it is making a difference.

Both liberal and conservative thinking has wandered far away from the truth that we are interdependent on each other. Both overemphasize their preferred ideologies of individualism, sometimes on personal expression, sometimes on personal possessions. Both of those are important, but neither of them is a defining principle of who we are, as God’s children, or as the continuing presence of Christ’s ministry as the church.  We are made ’âḏâm, humankind, male and female (Genesis 1:26-27) and all other differences we perceive in the image of God.  We are not complete without each other.

And here I do come to a principle of faith and health care. In both the miracle stories we heard this morning Jesus does heal. He heals the woman and heals Jairus’ daughter. But there is much more than physical restoration. He calls the woman daughter.  Because of here bleeding she has been unclean, and therefore, forbidden to be in her community, she could not even go to the Temple to offer a sacrifice to bring about healing. Calling her daughter restores her to her community, her healing is complete. The woman does not seek to follow Jesus.  There are lots of possible implications here, one of which is her community needs her.

After healing Jairus’ daughter, Jesus gives her back to her parents by telling them to give her something to eat. This is often interpreted as proof she is not a ghost. I think he is restoring the parent-child relationship by reestablishing the parent-child responsibility of care by having the parents feed her.  Jairus seeking out Jesus to heal his daughter, and remember in his culture daughters are not highly valued, shows how he is dependent on her to be complete.

In both stories, the continuing relationship will be challenging. The daughter is 12, and I don’t think teen – parent relationships are all that different today than they were in Jesus day. The woman has suffered much and been subject to social exclusion. It will be difficult for both her and the community to reestablish a normal relationship. However, both stories have already introduced the necessary ability. Jesus tells the woman her faith has made her well. Jesus tells Jairus “do not fear, only believe.” ‘Faith’ and ‘believe’ are the same word in Hebrew. Both indicate, relying on, trusting in the presence of God to provide what is necessary to know shalom, wholeness, in the challenges that the woman, that Jairus, that you that we face.

The world needs healing, we need shalom. Each person, every community, small or large, hamlet or nation, has an abundance of traits or possessions that another lack. Therefore, every person, every community has the opportunity to share “according to [their] means” (2 Cor 8:11). And that is not easy to do, because it requires everyone to know everyone one else as a child of God and therefore worthy of our shared abundance. It also requires everyone to acknowledge that we are lacking some vital means or another, often it is one that someone or some community deemed undesirable or worthy, has to share with us. Such mutual respect, such mutual interdependence requires faith, and belief. Mark shares with us stories of such faith and belief. Paul shares with us the truth of abundance and charity in our lives. The psalmist shares with us that “with the Lord there is mercy” (Ps.130:6). The need is here. The abundance is here. I’m convinced it is not the big efforts that make the defining difference, but rather it is the accumulation of the small efforts beyond counting that makes the difference in who we are, as individuals, and as a community.

Our challenge is  to believe that we can act,  within our means,  by faith,  trusting in the grace of God,  known in Jesus,  by the Spirit  often by the accumulation  of the small efforts,  beyond counting,  that makes the difference  so that all the people  of this and every land  may have liberties  in righteousness and peace  right here, right now  (The Episcopal Church 242).


References

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

Fredrickson, David E. Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. 6 9 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

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. Lectionary Epistle – 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. 1 7 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

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

Logue, Frank. “A Beloved Child of God, Pentecost 6 (B).” 1 7 2018. Sermons that Work.

Olive Tree. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

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

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

 

 

 

A spurious drop of ink and the wooing of Rebekah

A Sermon for Proper 9 – A, 4th after Pentecost

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Psalm 45: 11-18, Romans 7:15-25a,
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

The wooing of Rebekah (Fretheim) seems to be a story about signs, Abraham’s servant is always looking for one sign or another. That’s not always a good idea.
There was a person who wanted to know God’s will and so he flipped open the Bible, blindly jabbed his finger at the text, and then read the verse, “And Judas went out and hanged himself.” Since that didn’t seem to provide quite the direction he was looking for, he tried again, this time plunking down on the verse, “Go and do likewise”! (Hozee)

And while there is plenty to be learned about preparing for, praying for and waiting (Schifferdecker) for divine guidance, it’s the interplay of hesed (kindness)and ʾemet (faithfulness) (Strong’s) where we will begin our journey this morning.

The unnamed servant makes a very intimate pledge to Abraham to get a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s home country. The servant goes to Abrahams’ home town, and settles in by the well. There he asks God to show hesed, steadfast love, for Abraham, describes the sign he will look for, and waits. Rebekah shows up and offers him and his camels water. That’s the sign. The servant immediately gives thanks God has shown hesed. As the servant recounts his mission from Abraham, to Rebekah’s family he mentions God’s hesed again.
He is always giving The Lord credit. We have also developed a habit of giving God all the credit in bible stories, such as this.

And while the author of this tale makes it clear that without God’s steadfast love there would be no success (Fretheim), the ’emet faithfulness of the servant also plays an important role. Although success may well depend on God, the activity of human beings may bring about the failure or success of God’s intention. Fretheim) The servant’s faithfulness is apparent in two ways: one – his insistence on offering prayers for guidance and thanksgiving; and that he does not take the easy out Abraham’s gives him, if he cannot find a willing bride among his people. (Genesis 24:8) Without divine hesed Abraham’s vision is thwarted. Without the servant’s ʾemet Abraham’s vision is thwarted. It’s the interaction between the two by which Rebekah follow Abraham and leaves her family for unknown lands that bears fruit, ensuring the covenant continues for future generations. So when we set about mission and ministry let’s prepare for, pray for and wait for divine guidance, a form of hesed; and be prepared to act or not as we perceive a sign, or not.

All of this has curiously relevant timing. Friday we celebrated July 4th, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We all know the phrase:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

There are many who fear for these rights. So, it may be coincidence or divine guidance that Thursday’s New York Times ran an article about the question of a period. (Schuessler) Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. believes there is an error in the typical punctuation, of the Declaration, caused by an errant ink spot, that’s been interpreted as a period.
Allen, cites many sources that do not include the period. Unfortunately the original Document is so faded to make an exact determination isn’t possible. (Schifferdecker) What’s the big deal? The phrase that follows is:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Allen says:
The logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights … You lose that connection when the period gets added. (Schuessler)

At this point the ancient wisdom of Genesis sheds light on the implementation of the divine insight given our fore fathers in the Declaration of Independence. Yes, we have been endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among [them] … Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (no period) … However, we also have a divine sign to secure these rights by governments [that] are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, … Just as it took hesed and ʾemet for Abraham’s vision to bear fruit; it takes unalienable Rights and Governments … instituted among Men for the vision of The Declaration of Independence to bear fruit. Without both hesed and ʾemet we cannot glean the fullness of divine revelation in the story Rebekah’s wooing. Without both unalienable rights and governments we cannot glean the fullness of independence revealed in our Declaration.

I fully recognize the difficulty of holding both unalienable rights and governments in dynamic tension. That is one reason I pray for all our elected leaders, by name in my daily prayers. I fervently believe if those elected and charged with the responsibility of governance begin every day with prayer, not for their position to win out but for:
thy Kingdom come,
thy will [to be] done
on earth as it is in heaven.
and waiting for hesed and ʾemet, then relationships among them will change and governance of the people for the people will be a vision fulfilled.
The results is the same as in the story of Rebekah’s wooing the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for generations to come will be secured.
Amen


Works Cited
Fretheim, Terence. The New Interpreters’ Bible. Vol. Volume 1 General Articles on the Bible; General Articles on the Old Testament; Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus. Abingdon, 1995. 12 vols. CD.
Hozee, Scott. Genesis 24:34-67. 6 July 2014. .
Schifferdecker, Kathryn. Commentary on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67. 6 7 2012. .
Schuessler, Jennifer. “A Period Is Questioned in the Declaration of Independence.” New York Times 3 7 2014. web. .
Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. n.d.