Judge Judy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

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

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

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – Fourth Sunday after the. 29 1 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

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

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 4A l Matthew 5:1-12 . 29 1 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Edmund, Christ, and Us

A sermon for Proper 29 Christ the King; Jeremiah 23:1-6, Canticle 16, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

Today is a three for one; it is 27th Sunday after Pentecost, it is the Sunday we celebrate Christ the King, and it is also the Feast Day of Edmund King of East Anglia.

edmund_east_anglia_statue

 

When facing far superior Danish armies, and against the advice of his advisors and his bishops, he refused an offer to be their figurehead King and renounce Christ. Though his army fought bravely, they were defeated, and Edmund was executed by a variety means.

His tomb became a traditional place of pilgrimage for England’s kings, who came to pray at the grave of a man who remained steadfast in the Christian faith and loyal to the integrity of the English people (Episcopal Church).

We do not have Kings or Queens as rulers. We do, however; elect Presidents to lead us. And I got to wondering what we might see if we put aside our political consternation, and backed up quite a bit. Here is what I saw:

Candidate one

  • is a man
  • white
  • has an established political perspective
  • is a billionaire
  • has distinctive personality characteristics
  • a particular leadership style
  • is a disrupter
  • is politically connected (my connections tell me you can’t be in big time real estate and not be politically connected)
  • does not have a lot of political or government leadership experience, and
  • whose character was challenged 

Candidate number two

  • is a woman
  • white
  • has an established political perspective
  • has distinctive personality characteristics
  • a particular leadership style
  • uses the existing system very well
  • is a millionaire
  • is politically connected
  • has a lot of political and government leadership experience and
  • whose character was challenged 

Both candidates have a regal air about them. Close your eyes and you can imagine them dressed as royalty from a crown, to purple clothing, to a scepter, and to heraldry. As different as these candidates are, from this perspective Clinton and Trump are interestingly similar especially when we compare them to Christ the King.

The title for this day Christ the King is curious. There is nothing in today’s Gospel that shows us Christ as king. In fact, he is executed as a common criminal. Last year, from the Gospel reading, we hear Jesus say “my kingdom is not of this world – I was born to testify to the truth.” (John 18:33-37). It is thoughtful, but not regal. Next year we will hear “the son of man comes in his glory” and the story goes on to say

the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, or thirsty or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison?’ … And the king will answer them just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).

I am not at all sure our images of Christ the King fit the scripture readings. And that has been a reality for a long time. The earliest portraits of Jesus show him dressed in the simple clothes of his day. Over time as the church grew in power and in importance portraits begin to show him in more grandiose regal clothing and setting, (Warren). If you Google “images of Christ the king” (https://goo.gl/P6F8kk )

screencapture-google-search-1479683532934

everything that shows up is grand and glorious regal. IF you Google “earliest images of Christ the king” (https://goo.gl/9tcMZM ) scroll down a little bit to 6 of the Oldest Images of Our Lord Jesus Christ or Three of the Oldest Images of Jesus, and you can see how very different the portraits are. When we think of Christ the King, what images, what characteristics do you see?

I am not at all sure that today the question is about images of Christ the King. I really suspect the question is about ourselves, about our visions of leaders, who we will follow and what we expect. When we think of government as instituted by God for the care of God’s people what images of leaders do we see? When thinking about our elected leaders, from a school board to a representative to the governor or the president, what images do we see (Romans 13, Jeremiah 23:5)? Do we seek a leader who fights our battles for us (1 Samuel 8:20)? Or do we see a leader who

  • washed his disciples’ feet,
  • fed the hungry
  • took pity on those who suffered
  • ate with sinners,
  • forgave sins
  • spoke out against injustice
  • challenged the status quo
  • welcomed the social outcasts, and
  • took on the mantle of poverty and obscurity (Warren).

Do we seek a leader who

  • is crucified
  • forgives the very people who have secured his death
  • and while hanging on his cross, grants salvation to the criminal on the cross next to him
  • and who brings the condemned into paradise (Lewis)(Culpepper)?

Will we follow a leader whose followers are a ragtag group from the lowest classes? Will we follow a leader who is marginalized by the ruling classes (Warren)?

The reading from Jeremiah is about God’s promise to gather the scattered people of Israel and to raise up a new leader, who Christians believe is Jesus. But before that, we hear a judgment against the Kings of Israel who failed to tend to the flock. For Jeremiah kingship and justice are mutually interdependent. And justice is seen in how the weakest, the most vulnerable, the least resourced and capable are treated. This is the measure, the plumb line God gives Amos, and against which Israel fails to measure up (Kennedy). The way Israel’s kings are to be measured is through righteousness, justice, and safety of the people. Is their relationship with God truthful, is everyone treated equally, and are the least of God’s people taken care of?

We are a democracy, we elect our leaders, and so we have to break down this measurement and tweak it just a bit. It is not how our elected leaders are righteous, just or take care of the people. It is how “WE the People …” are righteous, just and take care of each other, both individually and as a community; locally, as a county, as a state as a nation, and as people of the world. And yes, it is a daunting, overwhelming thought. So we can understand why the ancient Hebrews want someone else to take care of all this for them. They knew as we know that the real battles a community faces are not from the outside threats, but from the inside threats of how we treat and mistreat, each other. And yes, it does mean that we will have to be bolder in what we say, challenging each other and holding each other accountable for words and actions, and we will have to be braver in our actions; not only in standing up to injustice but in acting to feed the hungry, sharing a drink with the thirsty, welcoming a stranger, clothing the naked, healing the sick and visiting those in prison (Lewis).

This is a daunting, overwhelming thought. Maybe ~ maybe. Just this morning, in our opening collect we prayed: “whose will it is to restore all things.” God is with us. It is easy to think of God/Jesus/Spirit on a cosmic scale. It really sort of keeps them at a safe distance. But, God/Jesus/Spirit are intimate, available to everybody, to each one of us at any moment. “There are no God Free Zones” (Epperly).

 So, this morning as we bring one church year to a close, as we celebrate Christ as our leader of all leaders we are thankful that Jesus’ reign seeks to serve us (Lose). We also realize that this year, and years to come it not so much the leaders we choose, as it is our own relationships with God, the way we assure justice for all, and provide for all God’s people that will be measured against the plumb line. And perhaps, perhaps this is why Paul prays that

[We may] be made strong with all the strength that comes from Jesus’ glorious power, and … be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light (Colossians 1:11-12).

Amen.


References

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

Episcopal Church. Lesser Feast and Fast. New York: Church Hymnal Corp., 1988.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 11 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

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

Kennedy, James. M. New Interpreter’s Bible Jeremiah. Vol. 4. Abingdon Press, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Lewis, Karoline. Who and What is Your King? 20 11 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Christ the King C: What Kind of King Do You Want? 20 11 2016.

Pankey, Steve. “What kind of King?” 20 11 2016. Draughting Theology.

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

Warren, Timothy G. “Christ the King – Sermon for Last Sunday after Pentecost(C).” 20 11 2016. Sermons that Work.

 

 

Profound Limitations and Depths of Faith

 A sermon for Proper 24: Jeremiah 31:27-34, Psalm 119:97-104, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8

JT’s diagnosis is crushing. Cerebral Palsy evokes images of crippled children; however, when symptoms appear early physical therapy can help retrain the brain, and three days old is about as early as you can get. Weeks go by; life settle into a routine, and something like normalcy begins to set in. And then the symptoms change. JT and his parents go back to the Children’s’ Hospital PICU. Adjusting medications don’t stop the seizures. Changing medications isn’t effective. JT has a different kind of seizure that leads to a high definition MRI which reveals a significant shrinkage of JT’s brain. The diagnosis is a mitochondrial DNA defect, which is not treatable.

These are times when our limitations are profound, and we learn the depths of faith. There is nothing one can do beyond being present as the countenance of God, and even this is limited by the realities of miles upon miles of distance (Almquist). Where is the justice?

This morning’s Gospel story is about justice. We are used to hearing about the tenacity of the widow, and that if we are tenacious in our prayer life, our prayers will be answered. Most, well many, okay some preachers make adjustments to account for unanswered prayers while still holding up the widow’s tenacity as a model trait. And ~ it is a valuable model; ~ however, this past week, tenacity did not draw my attention. This past week I’ve been drawn in by “locker room talk.” And yes, I am going to mix politics and religion in the pulpit, in what, I hope, has been prayerful discernment.

Mr. Trump said what he said, and I’ll leave it to you to decide what you are to decide. However, the excuse that it is just “locker room talk” requires attention, at least in part because October is domestic abuse awareness month, and the alleged abusive behavior parallels domestic abuse. “Locker room talk” is not an excuse for any language that justifies or encourages any kind of abusive behavior. To try and use it as such does great damage to the recent years of hard mentoring work by high school and college coaches across the country as they seek to teach young men how to respect young ladies. It diminishes the efforts professional sports have taken to hold professional athletes accountable for their abusive treatment of women. It is up to you to decide the truth of the allegations. Either way, I strongly believe the excuse of “locker room talk” is a grave injustice to everyone. It diminishes our ability to see ourselves and others as the image of God we all are. It diminishes our ability to live into our baptismal vows as consecrated people, set aside for God’s purposes. It thwarts our efforts to be stewards of justice for all. And by “for all” I mean “for all” I’m not just adding women.

Here is my other concern. In dismissing Mr. Trump, I fear we will also dismiss the depths of the injustice he and Bernie Sanders have touched on. There are many, millions, of people who for forty years or more have not benefited from the economic growth in the world; and many have been harmed by laws and policies that enable the growth. Coal miners in West Virginia, automobile manufacturers in Detroit, air conditioner builders in Indianapolis, Milwaukee Tools workers here in Blytheville, have all lost jobs because of changes in the world trade conditions.

I don’t believe the market changes by themselves are unjust; however, the failure to provide displaced workers and their families with alternative careers is an unjust action by officials, who neither feared God nor respected people (Luke 18:2). The bias has worked its way into the legal system. Last week a Federal court found against two computer techs who were forced to train their replacements who came into the US on H1-b work visas, that are not supposed to “adversely affect the working conditions” (PRESTON). We have also heard over the last few weeks that US Bankers, at least at Wells Fargo, neither feared God nor respected people, as they fired 5,000 people for basically following instructions. Yes, two executives have lost their jobs, but with little financial repercussions, and the stockholders have an $185 million fine to pay. These workers’ anger and fears are just, and they can be dangerous.

You may be aware the new President of the Philippines has started a literal war on drugs. To date, some 14,000 addicts and drug dealers have been killed. President Duterte has compared himself to Hitler, though he later recanted. The link to my concern is that his actions are seen positively as signs of a willingness to act. He remains very popular, 83% of the people trust him. A citizen said

I see something that I have not seen in a long time in the Philippines, which is that he cares. He cares for the small guy, which is very important to me (ALMENDRAL).

Here is the link to Jesus’ parable. With no way to support themselves, widows are the most at risk of all people in Israel (Hoezee, Proper 24 | Luke 18:1-8). By law widows, second, only to orphans, should receive special protection (Lose). The parable is a much about a corrupted judge as it is about the widow’s persistence. Today, we must be concerned not only with judges but with a justice system and perhaps a government that neither fears God nor respects people.

I am reasonably sure that part of the reason we see business and governing decisions that neither fear God nor respect people is that we have bought our own story that the capitalism will cure all ills, and then we have sat by as the commoditization of everything is leading to the diminishing of everyone. We can no longer hear the cry for an end to bigotry and misogyny, and the abuse of women, or workers. We can no longer hear the cry for justice even as we passively allow justice to be leveraged for our own advantage (Lewis). We no longer see our neighbors as the image of God. When will we lose the ability to see ourselves as the image of God? And without that vision how do we live into our baptism and calling as consecrated stewards of all God’s creation?

These are times when our limitations are profound, and we learn the depths of faith. A core theme of scripture is God’s radical love for everyone of any distinction we can imagine, and then some. I know the limits with JT’s illness. I know our calling as consecrated stewards of Jesus’ ministry to share the presence of the Kingdom of God, is to be as relentlessly dedicated to justice as the widow is. I know that with your prayers and support I will find outer limits and deeper faith as I walk with JT’s family in the time to come. I know that together with consecrated stewards of Jesus’ ministry to share the presence of the Kingdom of God, from faith communities of every distinction, we can continue works of mercy and bring justice to all.

References

Almendral, Aurora. Rodrigo Duterte, Scorned Abroad, Remains Popular in the. 13 10 2016. <nytimes.com/2016/10/14/world/asia/philippines-rodrigo-duterte-rating.html>.

Almquist, Br. Curtis. “countenance.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 9 10 2016.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 24 | Jeremiah 31:27-34 . 16 10 2016.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 16 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Frederick, John. Commentary on 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. 16 10 2016. <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. Proper 24 | Luke 18:1-8. 16 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Proper 24 C 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 . 16 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Just Justice. 9 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Lose, David. Commentary on Luke 18:1-8. 16 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Preston, Julia. Judge Says Disney Didn’t Violate Visa Laws in Layoffs. 13 10 2016. <nytimes.com/2016/10/14/us/judge-says-disney-didnt-violate-visa-laws-in-layoffs.html>.

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

TAYLOR, JEMONDE. “Returning to Pray, Proper 24(C).” 16 10 2016. Sermons that Work.

Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Jeremiah 31:2734. 16 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

And The Walls Keep Tumbling Down

A Sermon for Proper 25

Job 42:1-6, 10-17, Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22), Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52

You know the story of Job, it takes less than one chapter to introduce us to a man of piety beyond question; to let us in on the heavenly wager, and for us to witness Job get stripped of all his earthly possessions. For the next thirty-five plus chapters, we hear Job and his three friends argue about sin as the cause of Job’s woes. They insist all he has to do repent; he insists he hasn’t sinned. Next we hear Job challenge God, he simply wants to know why. Somewhere around chapter 38 God answers; it is not exactly as Job expected because God questions him. The inquiry is not about piety or sin, but about the vast majesty and wonder of the cosmos. This morning we hear Job’s reply.

I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. … I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (NRSV Job 42:3, 5-6)

We ought to know that the Hebrew translated ‘despise’ also means ‘recant’ and the Hebrew translated ‘repent’ also means to change ‘one’s mind’ (Suomala). In short, Job changes his mind and recants, retracts his former belief about the workings of the world. He now knows the “world not run by human rules nor moral justice” (Gaventa and Petersen).

This morning’s story ends with the Disney-like restoration of all Job’s lost possessions, including seven sons and three daughters. However, reading closely, we notice that Job receives comforting, all is not what it was. We know those who, like Job, have suffered a great loss, which is no fault of their own, but do not experience a Disney restoration. Perhaps, this not a story about sin and suffering. There is also the very curious detail about Job’s three daughters. We are told their names Jemaah, Keziah, and Keren-haunch; his seven sons are not named. More interesting the daughters are given an inheritance with their brothers, which is unheard of. Perhaps it is his suffering, but I rather think it is his newly reshaped understandings of the ways of God that allow him to see and respond to injustice in the world (Harrelson). Old walls have come down; a new vision is revealed.

We know Jesus can heal the blind, he did a couple of chapter back (Mark 8:22). Yet there are some interesting details. Bartimaeus is the only person healed in Mark, whose name we know. (Hoezee, Mark) Bartimaeus is rebuked for calling out to Jesus; it’s like the crowd thinks they need to protect him. Jesus asks him the same question he asked James and John last week: “What do you want me to do for you?”  (NRSV, Mark 10:51) While James and John sought power and honor Bartimaeus seeks sight; which he seems to have already, after all, he is the first one to call Jesus “Son of David” (Hoffman).

Yet, it is an old story of Jericho’s past; that may be most revealing. You remember way back when Joshua was leading the Hebrews into the promised land. In an absurd military maneuver, they march around the Jericho for six days, and on the seventh after marching around the city all the people shout and the walls come tumbling down. Bartimaeus keeps shouting to Jesus. The crowd tries to build a wall around Jesus, and run Bartimaeus off, but he keeps shouting. And you know what; Jesus hears him, has the crowd call Bartimaeus to him. The wall came crumbling down (Hoezee, Mark).

As with Job, this story ends with a new world vision, where the poor and disenfranchised are people, with names, who also bear the image of God (Hoezee, Mark).

Next Sunday is New Consecration Sunday, when we will offer our commitment to St. Stephen’s stewardship of Jesus’ ministry revealing the Kingdom of God right here, right now. Yes, there is a financial discernment to make. There is also a life vision discernment to make. As we ponder our stewardship of Jesus’ ministry what walls will we allow to crumble, revealing a new vision of divine justice, a new vision of the Kingdom’s present (Almquist).


References

Almquist, Br. Curtis. “Lifeblood.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 23 10 2015.

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. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Job 42:1-6, 10-17.” 25 10 2015. Working Preacher.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 10:4652. 25 10 2015.

Hoffman, Mark G. Vitalis. Commentary on Mark 10:46-52. 25 10 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Richard Meux Benson, SSJE. “Healing.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 20 10 2015. email.

Suomala, Karla. Commentary on Job 42:1-6, 10-17. 25 10 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Proverbial wisdom – Choosing God’s unexpected disruptive path.

A sermon for Proper 18; Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 Psalm 125 James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17 Mark 7:24-37

Do you have a favorite pithy saying from your childhood? I don’t know ~ something like The early bird catches the worm? Please share it with us. A stitch in time saves nine. Early to bed early to rise makes one healthy wealthy and wise.

All of these are something like modern proverbs; they are sayings that teach something about life. As a rule they are descriptive they describe what works and what doesn’t; they tend not to give advice.

The Book of Proverbs is attributed to Solomon. It’s not likely he wrote all of them. Perhaps he collected the wisdom of the ages. It’s thought King Hezekiah collected some and attributed them to Solomon. Scholars know they date from the 10th century to the 6th to the 4th-century BCE. Some are borrowed from the surrounding cultures. The section today’s couplets come from a section that is similar to Egyptian teachings rewritten in Hebrew setting. As a rule Proverbs present wisdom: as from God, mediated by people or institutions, that we have the capacity for justice and wisdom, that respect for God is the beginning of wisdom, that we have the freedom and responsibility to choose the path of righteousness or the path of the wicked, and no the devil did not make you do it (Sakenfeld).

Today’s teachings focus on justice and status. In short everyone is created by God, and our wealth and status are a blessing, like Abraham’s blessing, they are given to us, to be blessing to the world (Bouzard). A classmate of mine wrote that today’s verses should make us think about: how we live in the world and relate to each other, how we understand justice and poverty, how we explore if we trust God to love all of us, good bad or indifferent, and that God’s love is enough (Metz).

Perhaps an example of choosing the path of justice and righteous will help us understand how Proverbs might guide us.

We heard two stories from Mark this morning. Let’s look at the second one first. It takes place in Decapolis, a gentile area. Some friends of a deaf mute bring him to Jesus and implore him to lay hands on their friend. In private Jesus sticks his finger in his ears and after spitting, touching his tongue, and saying “Be opened.” the man is healed. Jesus goes back into public with him and tells them to be quiet. They aren’t. Have you ever noticed how every time Jesus tells people not to talk about his works, all they can talk about ~ is his works. With the story of Jesus restoring a Gentile’s hearing and speaking as a background let’s take a look at Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman.

Jesus is in Tyre, another Gentile region, to get away. It is not going to happen. A woman hears about him. She speaks to him about healing her daughter.

A couple of things about Jesus’ reply. ‘Children’ is a reference to Israel. Some commentators expound on how Jesus could have understood his ministry to be to Israel first. Nonetheless, his reply to the woman is bluntly demeaning; no way around it, he was rude. The woman speaks to him again, noting how even dogs get the crumbs from the children’s table. Jesus heals her daughter, right then, right there.

In the second story, Jesus restores a man’s ability to hear and speak. In the first story, a woman hears about Jesus and speaks. In both stories, God’s breaking into the world cannot be suppressed. Jesus does not want to heal the girl, yet he is compelled to, God breaks in. Jesus wants the deaf mutes healing to stay private, it spread like wildfire, God breaks in (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). God has always and continues to break into the world. What gets to us is that God does so in ways that conflict with our values and desires be they economic, political, social or religious (Kiel).

The woman is passionate about her daughter. But what disrupts Jesus’ understanding of his ministry is that she tells an uncomfortable truth: the presence of God is available to the least of God’s people. It took courage even to approach Jesus. It took courage to speak the truth. And in speaking the truth the woman changes the direction of Jesus’ ministry; his next stop is way out of the way Gentile territory (Lewis).

The encounter with the Syrophoenician woman shows Jesus walking wisdom’s path as he chooses the way of righteousness, which is always to be open and responsive to the disruptive presence of God. In this encounter, Jesus extends the good news of God’s presence, to those Jewish teaching would exclude, through healing (Hoezee, Mark). So yes, these are healing stories; they are also stories of making the choice to follow wisdom’s way in choosing righteousness. And by the way, righteousness is not making a moral decision, it is making the decision to follow God. The difference is morality is defined by human institutions, remember last week’s traditions and rules; choosing to follow God often means going against traditions and rules (Hoezee).

There are some recent news items where Jesus’ choosing to follow Proverbs’ teaching illuminate the events. Kim Davis is choosing to follow her religious tradition and not issue marriage licenses that offend her religious rules. Her oath of office states:

I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth …. (The Associated Press)

While I think her religious stance is biblically incorrect, I admire her taking that stance in her tradition and rules. She clearly has a conflict between her Oath of Office, which end “so help me God.” and her religious tradition and rules. Proverbs’ path of wisdom calls us to be open to God’s disruptive breaking in. I see this as Mrs. Davis’ more difficult struggle.

The news and social media has been full of the photograph of the 3 year old drowned on the beach after the boat he was in capsized. It has captured our hearts. It is generating pressure on governments to do something to care for the influx of refugees. The traditional response is to decide who will take how many refugees and how to pay for their transition into society. Proverbs’ path of wisdom would lead us to take the very risky action necessary to stop the wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Libya, etc. God’s breaking into these disasters is not necessarily upping the military commitment though I fear that may be a necessity. However, the righteous decision does call on all parties involved to stop following the decades-long tradition that has created the current conundrum.

Closer to home. Mississippi County and Blytheville are enmeshed in vast disruptions to local tradition and rules, especially the soft ones, those categorized as “the way we’ve always done it” and those known, but never spoken. There are emerging opportunities to respond righteously to these challenges. All of them mean changing the ways we go about our communal business and the way we relate to each other. To be successful, we need to be attentive to God’s breaking in as Jesus is, and he is already breaking traditions and rules.

Even closer. We need to make some decisions about St. Stephen’s future. I’ve asked before: “How are we going to proclaim the presence of God right here, right now?” What I know is the current tradition and rules, the soft ones, are not getting the job done. I have not encountered a Syrophoenician challenging our fundamental ways; nonetheless, I know God is whispering in our ears. God is breaking in. Our challenge is to be like Jesus: to be open to the Spirit, to be willing to change everything, to trust in God with all our hearts, because we trust that God’s alone is enough  (Hoezee, Mark; Metz).


References

Adam, A. K. M. Commentary on James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17. 6 9 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 6 9 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. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23.” 6 9 2015. Working Preacher.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 7:24-37. 6 9 2015.

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

Kiel, Micah. Commentary on Mark 7:24-37. 6 9 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. God Said Yes to Me. 6 9 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Metz, Susanna. “Learning from Proverbs – Proper 18(B).” 6 9 2015. Sermons that Work.

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

The Associated Press. “Here is the oath of office taken by county clerks in Kentucky.” 3 9 2015. abc news.go.com. web. 6 9 2015. <http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/oath-court-clerk-now-jailed-gay-marriage-33516278&gt;.

Hammurabi, Samuel, and Justice

A sermon for Proper 5

1 Samuel 8:411, (12-15),16-20, (11:1415), Genesis 3:8-15, Psalm 138 Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 4:1-35, Mark 3:20-35

Today begins our long 5 months and 22 days season after Pentecost. The lectionary gives the preacher a choice of Old Testament readings, and we will be following what’s referred to as the semi-continuous track. We will read from the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings, basically the story of the Kings of Israel. We don’t exactly start at the beginning, so let’s set the stage.

The Hebrews have crossed the Jordan into the land God has given them. Joshua has lead the separate tribes of Israel (Sakenfeld) in capturing it all, well mostly all the land. After his rule, the tribes’ become even more distinct (Petersen and Beverly) and we see a developing cycle of peace, Israel wandering off to other gods and getting themselves into all sorts trouble, then crying out God, who raises up a Judge, who leads them back to God, and resolves the  threat. Eli is the last of these Judges. When books of Samuel begin Eli is weak. His sons are taking advantage of their position as judges stealing food offered as a sacrifice, which is a violation Torah. (Brueggemann)

Hanna, as was Sarah, is barren. She goes to Shiloh, a precursor for the Temple, and prays for a son. God grants her prayer. After raising her son, she gives him to God, via Eli, as a Nazirite, one dedicated to God’s service. You know the story of God calling the young Samuel and his coached reply “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Years later Eli’s house dies in one day Eli’s sons die in battle with Philistines while losing Ark. Eli dies when he hears the news. Samuel then becomes the last of Judges and the first of the Prophets” (Orr) He has led Israel with great wisdom, defeating the Philistines, Israel’s constant nemesis, and regained the ark.

This morning we hear Samuel has grown old. His sons are nearly as bad as Eli’s, taking bribes and perverting justice. They’ve managed to be “for profit prophets.” (Hoezee)  In the process, they have struck a blow to the foundation of Israel’s social commitment. (Brueggemann) The elders of the people don’t trust them. They may remember Eli’s sons, they are aware of a threat from the Philistines so they ask for a king to rule over them, “like other nations.” Samuel doesn’t like the idea, and he takes it to God in prayer. God answers “Calm down, they haven’t rejected you. It’s far worse, they’ve rejected me, what’s new.” Then God asks Samuel to instill the fear of politics, conscription and taxes into the people, (Hoezee) by telling them about how kings behave. Samuel does saying “Kings take, take, take, take, take, take; your: sons and daughters, fields, vineyards, and orchards,  1/10 of the produce of your land, your male and females slaves, your cattle, donkeys,  1/10 of your flocks; in essence you will be slaves. And when you will cry out, God will not answer. But it’s to no avail. The elders reply “We don’t care we want a king to govern us and to fight our battles so we will be like other nations.” The people don’t believe that they will once again be slaves. They don’t see how their choice undercuts their very identity of Israel as God’s delivered people. (BIRCH) They are blind to how monarchy generates destructive inequality and stratification and is the undoing of the Exodus.  (Brueggemann) So God gives them what they want.  It’s a cruel irony the warning they cannot hear so closely resembles surrounding Canaanite royal practices. (BIRCH)

All this is deeply disturbing as we come to realize Israel was never supposed to be like the other nations. Israel is Nazirite, they are supposed to be distinct, set apart, holy. They are supposed to be different than other kingdoms because they were the beachhead for cosmic salvation. (Hoezee)(Brueggemann)

You also might think it’s not really that big a deal. Yea Israel didn’t do such a good job, but there are king all over the place, and a king is a king. Well yes, but not exactly. You remember Hammurabi, the king who wrote the first set of laws. The stele that enshrines his coronation depicts Marduk, the god of his people and place, sitting on the throne giving a humble Hammurabi his scepter. It depicts kingship coming from his god; indeed this is the model of kingship everywhere else. Not so for Israel, for Israel kingship rises from below (Nam) from the people, from their distrust, from their greed.

As is my practice I also read the alternative Old Testament appointed for this morning. It is the story of Adam’s and Eve’s encounter the snake, in which they gain knowledge of good and evil, presumably passed on through the generations. One commentator noted that knowing the difference between good and evil does not give you will to choose good. This morning’s reading from Samuel is a great example.  (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner)

Now we might relate with the elders. The old ways are not working now, they weren’t working then. So there is this inclination to sympathize. However, there is the strong possibility the request for a king comes from those who had accumulated surplus wealth, and they wanted a different government, a strong centralized government, to protect and enhance their surplus. (Brueggemann) We could do well to recognize not only the idolatry, (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner) the lack of trust in God (Petersen and Beverly) but how this story reveals that every decision about God brings along with it an implicit decision about sociopolitical-economic power. (Brueggemann)

In the last decade or so there has been lots of disruptions caused by emerging thoughts about sexuality. It has caused splits in the Episcopal Church and threatened internal relationships in the Anglican Communion. In the last few years, there has been lots in the news about sex, especially the legalization of marriage for same-gender loving people. It is a political hot topic. The bible not silent about sex and that may be another topic for another time. We should realize the bible shows far more concern about our relationship with God and justice, i.e. our relationship with each other. And we can’t talk about justice without talking about governance. The bible to this point reveals that governance is hard; ask Moses, ask Joshua. The same is true in Jesus day. The scribes from Jerusalem aren’t just any old scribes. They have the authority to judge and they use it to judge that the son of God is the Satan.  (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) It’s a perverted use of power, it’s a corruption of justice. Governance is hard today. An article on free speech compared the US to France. In France, it is illegal to wear a head scarf. In the US illegal to ban wearing a head scarf. Both countries’ laws seek good intent; French try to keep a sense of equality, and the US protecting free speech, and both have religious entanglement. Governance is hard.

We are entering, no we are already in a Presidential election season. I wish it were a mere 5 months and 22 days; it’s going to be a  l – o – n – g  haul. My prayer is that in discerning who is called to lead the governance  of our country; and yes I believe it should be a calling; not prophetic, but deeply rooted in one’s sense of their own essence as a beloved child of God whose gift is governance, that we’d look and listen for the words, decision and acts that reveal they know they are loved by God; the words, decisions and acts that reveal they know we are beloved by God; the words, decisions and acts that reveal they know everyone on the earth is  beloved by God. This doesn’t mean a grand public display or proclaiming of religious whatevers, this is a time, as Matthew records Jesus saying …. [to] … not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  (Matthew 6:2-4)

Now I know that in Romans Paul says governments are instituted by God, and that we ought to obey. (Romans 13) And I know Jesus says … to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But we should remember both are complex settings and perhaps they too will be a subject for another day. All that is to introduce the idea that perhaps it’s time to look to an extra biblical model for kingship or governance. It’s time to look at Code of Hammurabi where leaders, elected or otherwise humbly receiving the scepter of authority from God, for the good of the people, all the people. Remember God establishes Sabbath for all people, animals, and lands. Remember last week, when Peter quotes Joel about the gift of the Spirit and prophecy, and how radically disruptive, radically inclusive it is by extending closely held powers to the margins of society, i.e. all people.

So yes, I think governance should get back to God, but that it has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with justice of all.


References

Ashley, Danáe. Sermons that Work. 7 6 2015. <episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2012/05/21/2pentecostbjune102012/&gt;.

BIRCH, BRUCE C. New Interpreters’ Bible; THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF SAMUEL. Abingdon Press, 2001. CD.

Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation; FIRST AND SECOND SAMUEL. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990. CD.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 5B | Center for Excellence in Preaching. 7 6 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 7 6 2015.

Nam, Roger. Commentary on 1 Samuel 8:411. 7 6 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Orr, James, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WORD search, 2004.

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

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

The reign of Chris the King is not there, but here; not then but now.

A sermon for Christ the King

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46

If you children are old enough you might remember Fraggle Rock, one of Jim Henson’s many creations. My kids loved it. One of their favorites, and one of mine, is a short little book titled If I Were King of the Universe (Abelson) it tells the tale, of Junior Gorg, whose mom and dad are the Queen and King of the Universe. However, since they are the only Gorgs, Junior gets to all the chores; he polishes the armor, fetches the crowned jewels, stands guard, serves as jester, unless of course he is washing windows and sweeping floors. But is favorite chore is gardening, and chasing the Fraggles who steal the radishes.

Of course Junior dreams of being King, and how the Fraggles would work for him; how he’d eat breakfast in bed, or tickle his toes in the sun, and stay up late. But in the end, he realizes how much he likes doing his chores especially chasing Fraggles. So he’ll just keep on being Junior Gorg, “After all, being Prince of the Universe isn’t all that bad!”

I expect all of us dream of being King or Queen of the Universe, or some such auspicious status. To be honest if I woke up one morning and discovered I was King of the Universe I’d follow Junior’s advice, especially if today’s bible readings were a part of the coronation.

Ezekiel was written in the mid to late 500 BCE when Israel is living in captivity. (Ellingsen) At one level it reads like a divine rescue mission. (Epperly) On the other hand, Ezekiel lays bare the truth that “The disparity between the wealthy, poor, and middle class, destroys the nation, [and] undermines justice …” (Epperly) Margaret Odell points out that the biblical shepherd metaphor is always a political one. (Odell) She reminds us that the oldest recorded legal code Hammurabi’s and notes his belief that “he was appointed by the gods ‘to promote the welfare of the people, to cause justice to prevail’” (Odell) Ezekiel reminds us God’s kingdom is different than kingdoms of our making. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner)

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ apocalyptic tale of separating sheep and goats includes an uncomfortable judging story. I’m always uncomfortable of judgment stories, I like to believe I’m among the blessed sheep; but am ever so aware of my own goat-ness.

Like you I’ve helped to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcomed a stranger, clothed the naked, healed the sick, and visited a prisoner or two. I’m also keenly aware of the times I could not, and the times I did not, help the divine image bearer right in front of me. But Kingdom life is not a balance the scales kind of thing. It’s James Liggett’s observation that sets me on edge. He notes that the goats do not know when they failed to help the Jesus in front of them, and we know that. What’s startling is that he points out that the sheep, the righteous ones invited into the Kingdom, did not know when they had helped the Jesus in front of them. (Liggett) They were just as oblivious to the presence of God, in the least of these, as those who walked on by. Like Ezekiel, Matthew also invites us to recognize the Kingdom of God is different. Moreover, we are also invited to take a peek, because of the Kingdom of God is, in part, already here. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner)

Truth be known, Matthew is doing more than inviting us to take a peek, he, as Jesus does, is inviting us to participate in Kingdom life right here, right now. Karoline Lewis writes “I absolutely … believe that God needs us for the kingdom to be more that it could be without us.”  (Lewis) In short, we are invited to make a difference, not only in helping those who are in need or oppressed but in eliminating the roots causes of injustice and unrighteous disparity. (Lewis) We won’t easily admit it, but there is such an opportunity blistering across the news media today.

If Jesus were to have told this parable today he would likely include a line that’s something like:

I was an illegal immigrant and you welcomed me;

and I was an illegal immigrant and you scorned, or took advantage of, or rebuked me.

But then again Jesus has already said it. Throughout Old Testament Law, beginning with the Tenth Commandment (Ex 20:10) the law applied to everyone in the household including the gēr or the alien, the foreigner.  (Strong’s) In so much that Ezekiel reminds us that the shepherd is all about politics; and that the oldest legal code we have is established for the welfare of the people and for justice to prevail; and that by Jesus’ parable when we welcome the stranger, the alien, we welcome Jesus; the answer to our immigration problem is a political one that provides biblical justice for all, and prevents the powerful from exploiting the vulnerable.

I invite you to join me in my daily prayer discipline and pray, by name, for all our elected officials.

A closing observation or two. It’s important to remember that though we’ve our part to play in the Kingdom’s presence, we cannot speed up nor impede its arrival. Secondly, judgment is not so much about punishment, as it is about bringing into the light the reality that’s already present; the one Paul tells the Ephesians about, the spirit of wisdom and revelation to know Jesus, as hungry, or thirsty, as naked, ill, in prison, or  ~  as an alien in a strange land.

Junior Gorg got it half right, being King of the Universe is best left to the one so designated from first light. The other half, however; is that we can, by the power of the spirit of wisdom and revelation, bring divine justice to all, and glean a bit more of life in the Reign of Christ our King.


References

Abelson, Danny. If I Were King of the Universe. New York: Henry Holt Co., 1984.

Carey, Greg. “Working Preacher.” 23 11 2014. Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46.

Ellingsen, Mark. Christ the King (Proper 29), Cycle A. 23 11 2014. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 11 2014. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fever, Kyle. Commentary on Ephesians 1:15-23. 23 11 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Jaconson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 2 11 2014.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher. 23 11 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Liggett, Rev. James. Sermons that Work. 23 11 2014.

Odell, Margaret. Commentary on Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24. 23 11 2014.

Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.