Our Journey Begins

A Sermon for 1st Sunday in Lent; Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13

 

Last Sunday we heard the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Wednesday we started our Lenten count down, a forty-day journey that brings us to Good Friday. This morning the journey follows Jesus’ Baptism, where his identity as the God’s Beloved Son is revealed. Following a short history of his ancestry, we hear how Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, is lead into the wilderness. The wilderness is unstructured space and time a chaotic primal state of waste and void, the very antithesis, exact opposite, of the divinely created cosmic order. On the ground, it is the haunt of wild predatory animals, a place of demons and angels. In our souls, it is a place of existential limits, a journey to knowing our deepest, innermost selves; a time of transformation (Sakenfeld).

In this wilderness, Jesus is tempted by the devil. This temptation is difficult for us, not because we are not capable of resisting temptation, we are; however, we live in a time when many people reject the notion of the devil (Tew). I have my concerns that belief in such a being, as the personification of evil, allows us to escape responsibility for our own decisions and actions, both as individuals and collectively, as businesses or governments or other organizations. I also have concerns, that the rejection of any notion of the devil or tempter, or some sort of divine tester leads us to reject the notion of evil. In the last 8 weeks or so we have seen that evil exists, what is it 7 killings, including one over a hamburger. That a human life is less valuable than a hamburger is a sign that evil is present, somewhere, somehow. Evil exists and is the source of Jesus’ temptation, and ours as well.

The word ‘devil’ here is a cognate word, or a similar word to ‘Satan’ in Hebrew; think of the Satan in Job, who is the accuser, the tester, and a member of God’s court. This can help us to slightly shift the emphasis of Jesus’ wilderness experience from a contest between Jesus and Satan, to a time of experiential learning, in which Jesus, fully human, fully susceptible, fully at risk to all the faults we are, as Job did, discerns something not only about God but about himself.

There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo and Sam are wondering if Strider is a friend or evil? Sam notices his dirty, scrubby looks, and abrupt behavior. Fordo replies something like If he were evil, I suspect he would look fairer and smell worse. In short evil, and or temptation present themselves cleverly. We are seldom tempted by evil things, much more often we are tempted by good things that divert us from our relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit (Epperly). The devil doesn’t challenge Jesus’ identity as the Son of God; in fact, the devil uses his identity; the temptation challenges how Jesus lives into his identity (Jacobsen). Will Jesus choose to fully embrace his mission, and fulfill his divine mission (Harrelson), or will he use his divine gifts for his own self-interest (Gaventa and Petersen)? Yes, we witness Jesus resist this round of testing. Because we know the rest of the journey to come, we also know Jesus continually resists similar temptations throughout his ministry, even the final opportune time (Culpepper).

I mentioned that Jesus is fully human, fully susceptible, fully at risk to temptation as we are. This excludes any notion that Jesus’ equally full divinity, is some sort of failsafe that keeps Jesus from falling to the temptations he faces in the wilderness, and throughout his ministry (Hoezee). Given this truth, what is the source of Jesus power to resist? This morning’s story begins with Jesus full of the Holy Spirit. Throughout his ministry, we witness the power of the Spirit in Jesus’ life. He frequently prays, often retreating to a quiet place to pray, and most always before any big decision. The presence of the Spirit is revealed in the company Jesus keeps, a compassionate presence to outcasts, lepers, sinners, those who are sick, blind, dying, those who are marginalized: sinners, tax collectors, women and children (Culpepper). Allan Culpepper notes that Jesus’ life and ministry follows the Shema, Israel’s confession of faith:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Culpepper).

We are more familiar with it as the first and second law (Luke 10:27). In the temptations and his life and ministry, Jesus follows the Psalmist’s advice, keeps his focus on God, discovering and drawing on God/Spirit’s loving presence and power (Psalm 91) (Epperly).

For the next five weeks, we will follow Jesus’ journey to Good Friday. While we explore his journey, we have the opportunity to explore our own journey. Jesus has a vocation revealed in his baptism; we also have a baptismal vocation. Jesus time in the wilderness is not limited to these forty days, elements of the wilderness are present throughout his life and ministry. Life today, with all its distractions, social media gathering likeminded people, rejecting any thought that differs, the lure of beauty, wealth and prosperity as the singular signs of success, the rush to judge of people who are different than we are (Romans 10:8-13), the willful failure to till and tend the land, given us as a divine responsibility (Genesis 2:15) are all signs of the wilderness in which we live, move, and have our being; are all sources temptation. For the next five weeks, indeed for the rest of our lives we will face the decision to be who we are, beloved children of God, made in the image of God, to follow our calling to love God and to love each other, or to reject our baptismal vows and act in our self-interest. For the next five weeks and more we have the chance to trust the divine promise revealed in the Psalmist’s verse:

Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him,
because he knows my Name (Psalm 91:14).

For the next five weeks and more we have the opportunity, to begin our journey, to stop, pray and seek the presence of the Spirit, we have the opportunity to trust that the Spirit, present for Jesus, through his wilderness and ministry journey, is present for us right here, right now. Our journey will be long, it will be challenging, it will be dark, and through it, we can, as Jesus did, discern something of God’s love, and something about ourselves as God’s beloved.


References

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 – The First Sunday in Lent. 10 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 4:1-13. 10 3 2019.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 4:1-13. 10 3 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

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

Tew, Anna. “Jesus, Daniel, and Johnny, Lent 1 (C).” 10 3 2019. Sermons that Work.

 

 

 

Avoidance

A Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent; Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15

Ash Wednesday, we explored the story of Esau selling his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of “red stuff” or lentil stew. We asked how lentil stew is present in our lives? We asked what have we sold our Christian birth-right for? We will continue exploring these questions throughout Lent, by looking at three things in each gospel reading: What is Jesus doing in the Gospel? How do the disciples, the people, and/or the authorities react? How do we ~ you react?

This morning we go back to the verses the follow Jesus baptism. We heard Mark’s version of Jesus being driven into the wilderness. There is none of the familiar back and forth between Satan and Jesus, there is just Jesus, 40 days of temptation, the wild animals, and the angels. After that Jesus comes to Galilee preaching ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ Mark 1:15 (Olive Tree).

Beyond his words, it doesn’t appear that Jesus has or is doing anything. However, Jesus’ ministry is closely connected to John’s ministry. And John was very good at his job of pointing to Jesus. People were coming from all over the place to hear him. And John is always clear he is not the messiah. And then Jesus shows up (Johnson). And anyone could see, everyone could see, that Jesus is different, Jesus ~ is the one John has been talking about.

John’s arrest is not caused by Jesus’ appearance. However, from a story telling standpoint, it is an effective way for John to leave the stage to Jesus.

There are also the details of Jesus’ language. The word for time is not clock time, it means the right time, i.e. now is the right time. It references the Hebrew prophecies of God’s kingdom. The word ‘kingdom’ means ‘reign’ (Keener and Walton). Jesus is announcing the arrival of God as the undisputed King over all people and all creation (Harrelson). Another clue is that the verbs indicate that his action is continuing in Mark’s time and into the present time (Harrelson). There is no doubt Jesus is intruding, bringing God’s judgement into the present both then and now (Black). To prepare for such judgement, people are called to make a radical turn and trust only in God, and no longer rely on worldly insurance policies of social, political or religious institutions (Perkins). All together it is a challenge to both existing ruling parties in Israel, the Jewish Temple, and religious authorities and the Roman Empire.

Now we have a glimpse of what Jesus is doing. What about the responses? Although the timing is before Jesus wilderness adventure and preaching, John’s arrest reveals the response of the authorities. If John is arrested simply for pointing out the messiah, we can imagine their response to the one who is the messiah. At least Herod Antipas, the local representative of Roman authorities, is a threat to Jesus.

So far, we have explored how Jesus preaching the Gospel of the presence of the Kingdom of God and we see how that attracts the active ire of the Roman authorities in John’s arrest. What about our response to the intrusive presence of God.

Last Monday David Brook’s column explored the world of the early 90s. Then it was all very good news. There was the reunification of Germany, the liberation of Central Europe, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the Oslo peace process. It was a time of abundance. But, there was outlier event, the breakup of Yugoslavia along simmering nationalist loyalties. Brooks see this as an indicator of our times in which we experience the financial crisis, a shrinking middle class, the unending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – spreading to Syria, Yemen, and beyond and how limited resources lead to conflict (Brooks). The shooting in Florida on Wednesday brings the violent nature of American society once again into the lime light. The Senate’s failure to pass any of the 4 immigration bills on Thursday indicates our political and social inability to make hard decisions. Both are a response of a culture of scarcity, whatever it is, there isn’t enough of it, so I/we will do whatever it takes to keep what is mine, and deny whoever, whatever is in the way.

And the lentil soup? Well, I am wondering if there are two bowls of lentil soup. In the 90s we came to believe we could overcome evil on our own (Lewis). Bruce Epperly wrote

Mysticism alone cannot guide our vocational path. Jesus needs to ground his mystical encounters in prayer, meditation, and fasting (Epperly).

Even though the world was moving in a direction we, the US, and the western world, favored, the powers at be still wanted to stay in the reality they knew and (believed they) controlled. The 90s form of lentil soup was the illusion of earthly power and control. We neglected the necessity of the Gospel of the reign of God. The current form of lentil soup is whatever the current the populist talisman against sacristy happens to be, nationalism, white power, gun control, universal healthcare, election maps, and the power of wealth. In all these movements, if you will, we continue to neglect the necessity for the Gospel of the reign of God.

Upon deeper reflection I began to see how these are simply different servings of the same bowl of lentil soup. We have a deep seeded fear of the wilderness, so we rely on the soup of avoidance, we just refuse to go there. And that is understandable, the fear is rational, the wilderness is a sign, if not a place of grave spiritual danger; and we avoid it because we do not trust anyone, not even God to be there with us.

We are wrong.

In Mark’s version of Jesus’ temptation, Jesus is forced, ~ driven by the Spirit ~ into the wilderness. But she does not abandon him. The Spirit is present in the wild animals. She is present in the angels who serve Jesus, as Simon’s mother in law will serve Jesus. This is a story that calls us to trust that the Spirit will be there ~ no ~ already is, with us, as we dally around on the edge of the wilderness, that feels a whole lot like the shadowed valley of death. The story also shows us that where ever Jesus goes, even into the depths of places of spiritual danger and evil shalom, the divine wholeness of life, follows (Hoezee).

In our time of deep divisions driven by deceptions of scarcity I pray we turn to our birthright that divine love which endures all the approval driven, silly, wrongheaded, selfishness, hateful, violent, evil, that has ever resided in our hearts, or the hearts of others.

I pray we walk on by the illusion of lentil soup and trust the strength the peace of God that pass all understanding.

 


References

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 1:9-15. 18 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Brooks, David. “The End of the Two-Party System.” 12 2 2018. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/02/12/opinion/trump-republicans-scarcity.html>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 2 2018. <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. Lent 1 B Mark 1:9-15 . 18 2 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Johnson, Deon. “Wilderness, Lent 1.” 18 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

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

Lewis, Karoline. A Tempting Silence. 18 2 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Lent 1 B: Lenten Courage. 18 2 2018.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

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

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

 

Desert Remembrances

A sermon for The 1st Sunday in Lent 1; Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Psalm 32,
Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

 I first met George a couple of decades ago. On several occasions, we had been a part of energetic conversations with several priests. We had also had many one on one conversations that ranged from trivial to spirited debate. One day we got to sharing more personal stories. He asked me “Where are you from?” I told him just what you would expect, suburban DeKalb, County outside Atlanta Ga. Our chatter continued. A bit later he asked me, “Where are your people from?” And I shared some of my parents’ ancestral stories. George shared some of his ancestral stories. That evening our relationship grew, and a deeper bond trust formed.

When people ask “Where are you from?” they are not always interested in your geographic history. When they ask you “Where are your people from?” they are not always interested in your ancestral pedigree. What they may well be most interested in is what kind of person you are. And a way of learning who you are is to listen to you share the stories of your origins, and the stories of your roots. It works because who we are is shaped by our communities, and is deeply formed by the community of our origins (Johnson).

On Ash Wednesday, we explored the meanings of dust and ash the two principle images of the day. We heard from the creation story:

 [that] the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being (Gen 2:7)

We also learned that dust is associated with the desert wilderness, its chaos and its danger (Gaventa and Petersen). In a very profound way an answer to “Where are you from?” and “Who are your people?” is “The wilderness.”

Just before this morning’s Gospel story is the story of Jesus’ baptism. It ends: This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17) God’s words are heard by Jesus, and no one else. Jesus’ hears the affirmation of who he is. The very next verse tells us that the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, which has an implication of to search (NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament). I believe Jesus being lead into the wilderness right after he is told he is God’s son, is all about Jesus being in the place of his origins, the origins of all human life, the wilderness, so that he can reconnect to his origins, reconnect to his roots, and come to know who he is, and whose he is. David Lose writes that we cannot know who we are until we remember whose we are, and all of us are God’s because we are created by God. The temptation in Eden, has its origins in the snake, coaxing Adam and Eve into forgetting whose they are (Lose). The same principle is underneath all the temptations Satan challenges Jesus with.

Satan tempts Jesus to satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread. Notice that ‘stones’ is plural, there will be bread for many people. To do so, Jesus would put himself in God’s place reacting the story of manna in the wilderness (Boring). Jesus, remember he is God’s beloved son, and God will continue to care for him.

From the Temple pinnacle, Satan taunts Jesus to prove who he is by throwing himself off the because quoting psalms 91:11,

God will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’ (Matthew 4:6).

Jesus recognizes of Satan’s attempt to twist scripture to his purposes and away from God’s purposes. Jesus rebuffs the temptation, saying “you should not test God,” a reference to Israel’s testing God at Massah, when they were thirsty (Deuteronomy 6:16) (Olive Tree).

Next Satan takes Jesus to a mountaintop, a place where gods live, and a place where Moses meets God and offers him dominion over all the Kingdoms of the world. The temptation is for him to step into the role of The Emperor of Rome, rejecting his identity as the Son of God, and thus take on a rebellious role. Jesus remembers who he is; he remembers whose he is, he rejects worshiping anything, or anyone else other than God, his loving Father (Boring).

To hear all this as Jesus simply defeating Satan is to miss a larger picture. Audrey West writes:

  • Jesus refuses in the desert to turn stones into bread to assuage his own hunger, but before long he will feed thousands in the wilderness with just a few loaves and some fish (Matt 14:17-21; 15:33-38),
  • [Jesus] refuses to take advantage of his relationship to God by hurling himself down from the heights of the Temple, but at the end of his earthly ministry he endures the taunts of others (Matt 27:38- 44) while trusting God’s power to the end upon the heights of a Roman cross (Matt 27:46).
  • [And Jesus] turns down the devil’s offer of political leadership over the kingdoms of the world, and instead offers the kingdom of the heavens to all those who follow him in the way of righteousness (West).

Jesus doesn’t merely resist or defeat Satan. Jesus is connecting to who he is and whose he is so that he is prepared to go into the world and follow the ministry God has given him to do.

On Ash Wednesday I invited you to choose a Lenten discipline. And an aspect of that discipline might include a kind of wilderness experience. It is a time and place that leads you back to your origins; Where are you from? Who are your people? Whose, are you? All of us have different origins. We are all from different parents and different places. Even if these are the same, we are born at different times, with different physical makeups, and we have developed different friends. No matter the similarities or differences of where we are from, or who our people are we all share two common traits. We are all made from the dust of the earth (Gen 2); and we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26). We are God’s, more than that; we are beloved by God. May your Lenten journey renew your identity of who you are and whose you are. And in coming to know yourself may you come to know the ministry God/Jesus/Spirt is calling you to live.


References

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

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 5 3 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 5 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 Matthew 4:1-11 . 5 3 2017.

Johnson, Edwin. “Engaging Lent, Lent 1(A).” 5 3 2017. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Choice Temptations. 5 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Lent 1 A: Identity as Gift and Promise. 5 3 2017.

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.

West, Audrey. Commentary on Matthew 4:111. 5 3 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

 

 

 

Ashes, Dust, Life, and repentance

A sermon for Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1-2,12-17, Psalm 103 or 103:8-14, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

 

 

We have heard the readings for today. In just a minute I will recite the invitation to participate in the ancient rite of repentance and restoration to the life in the Church. The structure of the service comes from the fist BPC in 1549, with several revisions (Hatchett). Ove the years I have preached on the readings. I have used the time to teach about repentance which is more than giving up, some semi-desired good for 6 weeks; or taking on some temporary good. One thing I have never thought about is the central image of this evening – ashes: The prayer over the ashes includes the phrase you have created us out of the dust of the earth: The imposition of ashes includes the words: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. So, what are the biblical images of dust and ash that might help us in the observance of a holy Lent?

Well the first is obvious, Genesis 2:7

 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

God formed us from the dust of the ground. In this creation, story dust is associated with the desert wilderness, and its chaos and danger (Gaventa and Petersen) A bit later we read that all living creatures are created from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:19). As often as dust is associated with life or abundance, we never seem to be rid of the dust in our house, dust is also frequently used to represent judgment, humiliation, grief, or mourning (Sakenfeld). The writer of Ecclesiastes notes (Cross References Gen 2:7):

 all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 12:5-8)

Paul wrote to the Corinthians  (Cross References Gen 2:7)

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:47-49)

You can hear the long complex use of ‘dust’ as it related to our lives, created, lived, and, died.

A similar word for dust is ‘ash’ In the bible ash is commonly associated with a personal or national crisis that provokes some ritual of fasting, indicating penitence. ‘Ashes’ designates a person or thing worthless, and symbolizes our mortality (Sakenfeld).

Some of the powerful uses of ‘dust’ and ‘ash’ in the church setting are at burials. In the Commendation, we hear:

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. (BCP 499)

And a bit later, by the grave we hear:

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our [beloved] N; and we commit [their] body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. (BCP 501)

 

In all this, we hear the deeply complex relationship between ourselves, made in the image of God, our lives, for better or for worse, and our dying.

So, let’s see if we can connect all this. Out of the chaos of barren wilderness, God brings life out of dust, and not just human life, all living animals. Throughout scripture when God’s people get themselves in a mess, which is a common story, dust and or ashes is a symbol of repentance, or the intention to change their lives. As we heard in Joel, whenever there is a prophetic voice pronouncing doom and calling for repentance, there also a voice that announces God’s desire for divine restoration. In the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, we hear the teacher proclaim all is vanity because in the end everything and everyone returns to the dust from whence it came. However, woven into the emphasis on vanity is the belief that really good can come from engaging in routines of life, for they are a gift from God (Sakenfeld). Paul tell the Corinthians

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:49).

The burial rite acknowledges that at death we all return to the earth, dust, and ashes. However, the rite is grounded in Easter, which is why we proclaim

yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

and

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ

The linkage of dust and ashes to life is, from dust and ash to life; in dust and ash we repent of broken bonds with the assurance of divine grace; at death, we return to dust and ashes trusting that we will know eternal life in God’s glorious presence. It is this circle of dust and ashes and life to life that gives Lent a purpose and our faith meaning.

Charles Hoffacker’s thoughts on Ash Wednesday focused on giving alms. He writes:

… alms releases us from a poisonous focus on ourselves, … [as we] recognize the need of our sisters and brothers, people made in God’s image, … we are humbled because we realize that what we can do is but little. [But in doing what we can] … we recognize how, in the face of human need, we are poor yet privileged (Hoffacker) (emphasis mine).

So, I’m not going to worry about doing Lent right. I can’t. Nobody can. Therefore, I invite you to join me to choose a discipline because as Hoffacker notes doing what we can will be valuable. And then let’s do our best to do justice; love kindness and mercy, trusting that as we fall short God continues to walk along side by side in our humble journey.


 

References

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

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.

Hatchett, Marion J. Commentary on the American Prayer Book. New York: HarperCollins, 1980. book.

Hoffacker, Charles. “Give Alms! Ash Wednesday – March 1, 2017.” 1 3 2017. Sermons that Work.

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.

 

 

Journey From Doubt to Belief.

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent; Genesis 15:1-12,17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35

 

When this morning’s story from Genesis opens, it has been a long time since God promised Abram an heir and land. Actually, God has made the promise the second time (Gen 12:2 and Gen 13:16). It has been a long time, and there is still no heir. So, Abram has made arrangements to ensure that his belongings and his memory will be secure. So, when God shows ups again, making the same promise, only this time actually increasing it, Abram’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. It is reasonable for Abram to have a hard time believing God’s promise; after all this time of seeing nothing done (Bratt) (Yarchin). So when Abram asks “How am I to believe?” we understand, we get it.

Some commentators note that trust in God always comes through God’s self-revelation. This time, that revelation is in the midst of that strange sacrifice we read about. The fire pot and torch, which is in Abram’s dream, are opposite of darkness, reveal the presence of God (Sakenfeld) (Harrelson) (Gaventa and Petersen) (Ashley). We did not read a couple of verses, that detail the five-hundred-year journey of the Hebrews through Egypt (Walton). Perhaps the details provide some assurance to Abram. All this happens when Abram is asleep, making the covenant completely God’s responsibility. Another thing we know is that when he awakes, Abram believes. Now, just in case you are not completely familiar with the time sequences in Genesis, Abram’s trust does not last. Some years later, in the midst of year another long time of divine silence, Abram and Sarah scheme again. Doug Bratt notes that it may have been a thousand years for Abram’s descendants to number as the stars in the night sky (Bratt).

Some seventeen hundred years later Jesus is headed to Jerusalem (Walton 25). On his way, he is revealing the presence of the divine kingdom through exorcising demons and healing the sick. We are so used to thinking of the Pharisees as opponents, even the enemies, of Jesus, that we might be a little taken aback when they warn Jesus Herod is out to kill. Some commentators note that Luke has a different view of Pharisees, and they may actually be allies, at least at this point (Harrelson) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Other think this is a ruse, the Pharisees want to get rid of Jesus; because they see that he is a threat to their power and privilege, and what better way, that to blame it on Herod. But trying to scare Jesus off shows us that they have already decided they are not interested in the Kingdom Jesus is offering (Bratt). Jesus is headed straight for the seat of Jewish and Roman power, which has always been a dangerous place for prophets. Jesus doesn’t care; he knows the power of God’s promise and presence. And remember from last week, that knowledge is not from his divine nature, he knows about divine power because he grew up knowing the story of God and Israel.

The Pharisees’ warning does give Jesus an opening to expose Herod for what he is, a fox, a sly, cunning, calculating, brutal hunter.

Even though the picture on the cover of this morning’s order appears all warm and cuddly, when a fox is present, the hen broods her chicks and then bears her breast to the fox who must kill her to get to the chicks (Ashley). Jesus knows what he is walking into.

The bit about today, tomorrow and the third day, does have resurrection implications. It also tells the Pharisees, Luke’s audience and us, that Jesus controls timeline of his ministry. Together with the image of the hen, we know Jesus ministry will not be stopped, even by death (Reese).

Jesus’ proclamation that a prophet cannot be killed except in Jerusalem does not pass scriptural muster; there are several accounts of just that. There are some books, from the time between Micah and the Gospels, that are not in the canon, that tend to give credence to what Jesus is saying; but, they are more subtle and complex than what we want to get into here. Suffice it to say, Jesus is referring to himself. (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Jesus’ journey to the capital of the powers and principalities, his refusal to be cowed by Herod, his longing for the people of God, and identification with a brooding hen, is Jesus projecting strength in vulnerability (Ashley).

So, now it has been right a two thousand years, way longer than Abram waited to see Isaac, twice as long as it took for Abram’s descendants to be as numerous as the stars and we are still waiting. God hasn’t been totally silent; but, in whatever form you may believe it is coming, the rapture is not here yet. I don’t think it is when we will, so much as it is how we will share Abram’s doubt. The Lenten question is how can we share in Abram’s journey from doubt to belief, from doubt to faith (Bratt). For Abram, the journey involved a really strange sacrifice. Jesus’ belief, in part, emerges from the story of God’s self-revelation, that he learned from his family and community. We have the same story, plus Jesus’ story. They are both old, very old. And it is currently waning in its influence. In spite of the opining of Steven Pinker, Leif Wenar and others about our increasing humanity toward each other it is easy for us to get seduced by the harshness of the world. Abram asks “How do I know?” We may ask “How are we to know our religious faith has any meaning?” (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). We may want to know “How do we overcome the fear response the principalities and powers intentionally cannily evoke?”

I do not have any answers. But, what I passionately, believe discerning what it means to be in covenant with a vulnerable God, and how we can suffer rejection, and face death as we provide healing even to our enemies is a worthy Lenten discipline (Reese) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Ten days ago in the Ash Wednesday Liturgy invites us to the observance of a holy Lent by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word (BCP). Fasting is my least favorite option, which likely has something to do with my face first encounter with the sanctuary floor, as an acolyte. Nonetheless, there is value in fasting; it does invite us into silence and into contemplation of the divine. Fasting reminds us our real hunger, whether we know it or not, is for God (Winner 102). It turns out fasting has far greater implications than the ability to go without bread and water. It is one way, as are all those disciplines we can learn to trust God.

These are hard questions. And I don’t ask them to cast doubt anyone’s faith. We should not be afraid to explore serious questions by fasting or any discipline listed in the Ash Wednesday invitation. And I ask them because it is okay if we do not get it quite right. Remember Abram didn’t; as of today’s Genesis story Ishmael has yet to be conceived. It is okay if we don’t get it quite right, God has it covered. In addition, to Abram’s story we heard today, we have today’s story of Jesus encounter with the Pharisees. Through that story we know Jesus is in charge; and that no one, not even as brutal as Herod, will get in his way, that tells is that our salvation is in good hands. We also have the image of brooding Jesus’ desire to safeguard us, from the world, and from ourselves. Moreover, it matters that you are here, which demonstrates that you are willing, to at least start.

And now, as you continue your Lenten discipline:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world so that you can do what others claim cannot be done (Ashley).


 

References

Ashley, Dannae. “Loving Like a Mother Hen, Lent 2(C) – 2016.” 21 2 2016. Sermons that Work.

Bratt, Doug. Lent 2C Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. 21 2 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. 21 2 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 21 2 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.

Hoezee, Scott. Lent 2 C Luke 13:31-15. 21 2 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 21 2 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Love and Belonging. 21 2 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Pinker, Steven. Better Angels of Our Nature. Viking, 2011.

Reese, Ruth Anne. Commentary on Luke 13:31-35. 21 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

The Episcopal Church. Book of Common Prayer. 1979.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1978.

Wenar, Leif. “Is Humanity Getting Better?” New York Times (2016). <http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/24/science/what-is-einsteins-general-relativity.html?&gt;.

Winner, Lauren. Mudhouse Sabbath. Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2003.

Yarchin, William. Commentary on Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. 21 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lead Us Not To Temptation

A sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent; Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13, Psalm 91:12, 9-16

GS’s family has had a very hard time lately. Some three weeks ago, a grandmother had by-pass surgery. The surgery went well; the by-passes are fine; her heart is fine. However, her lungs have almost quit working, she is still incubated, was recently moved to special bed that flips over so the patient is suspended, which may take some stress off the lungs. And this past week ~ an adult child was killed in an ATV accident.

The specifics are unique; however, the circumstances are not. I know families of St. Stephen’s who face significant challenges, sometimes from multiple sources. I expect it may feel as if they have been led into the wilderness. In my experience, I know there is a temptation. In my experience, I know people ask “Why?” I believe that Jesus’ encounter with the devil has something to share with all of us as we find ourselves in the wilderness, or tempted from a time to time. So off we go into the wilderness.

It has been 40 days, and Jesus is famished from fasting. He has already faced the devil twice. From the top of the Temple, the center of Jewish religious life, in the City of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish political and economic life, the devil taunts Jesus (Jones). He says:

If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you, up so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’

I’m certain the taunt sounds familiar; after all, we just heard it; the devil is citing Psalm 91 verses 11 and 12. It is possible to get into a debate about using scripture to fight scripture or how important knowing scripture is to face temptation (Rice, Jones). But, I want us to take a look at verse 2 of Psalm 91:

 “You are my refuge and my stronghold,
my God in whom I put my trust.”

How interesting it is to see, that the same Psalm the devil uses to tempt Jesus is one source of Jesus’ defense; which is Jesus’ trust in God. This is one of those places where we ought to be careful. We know Jesus is fully human, and also fully divine. It is tempting to think there is some sort of divine fail-safe that prevents Jesus from human frailty. Historically the church says no. Jesus’ humanity does not influence his divinity, and importantly for our story this morning, his divinity does not influence his humanity. What Jesus has, and so do we, is the presence of the Holy Spirit (Hoezee). What Jesus has, that we can develop, with the help of the Holy Spirit and each other, is trust in God. The Spirit does not give trust to Jesus though she may whisper reminders from time to time. Jesus’ trust grows from his life’s experience, how he witnesses his family’s and community’s worship discipline. Jesus trust is affirmed in his baptism, which comes just before this morning’s story.

We now see Jesus withstands the devil’s temptations because he trusts God. We also know his trust grows from his knowing the story of God, which is nurtured by his family and faith community and the presence of the Holy Spirit. So now let’s take a look at temptation.

We tend to think that temptation is the enticement of something to do, or to have, that is morally offensive, or those things the world loves and values, that the world defines as power, as opposed to a behavior or position that is morally righteous (Lewis). Temptation can be things that are normally good for us but become the singular focus of our lives (Expertly). Richard Rohr writes that temptations are those things that fling us away from the center of ourselves luring us into chasing stuff on the circumference of being (Rohr). And while this is what temptation is often made of, it is not what temptation is. What temptation is, is a diversion of whose we are and what we are. Temptation seeks to tell us:

 we are not God’s,
we are not made in God’s image,
that God does not really love us,
that we can be like God,
and that we can be independent of God (Jones).

Temptation entices us to change our identity. Jesus resist the temptation to give up his identity for an illusion or false promise, by trusting in God’s eternal love, by remembering that he is God’s and God’s alone (Rice, Jones, Rohr).

So, now we have some inkling of what temptation really is. We have some idea that Jesus’ trust enables him to resist temptation. We have a notion of how that trust develops, and we know that everything that Jesus had is available to us. There is one more concern, and it also arises from Psalm 91; verse 10 begins “There shall no evil happen to you.”

What about GS? What about all the tragedy that has befallen families in St. Stephen’s, and around the world? I know, you know that they are people of faith, even if it different from how we express ours, they are people of faith. So WHY? What have they done to bring such wretched calamity into their lives? Matthew writes that Jesus says for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). In John’s story of the man born blind the disciples ask him “Who sinned?” Jesus answers “No one.” (John 9). In Luke Jesus says the folks, who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell, were no less righteous than those not killed (Luke 13:4). This reminds us that the events of life are not a measure of righteousness. There are no guarantees in life. When we pray our external reality may not change as we ask (Expertly). Somewhere along the line, Angie and I realized that life happens. The question is: will you let the vagaries of life define who you are, or will you reach back to eternal power to garner the strength to respond to the vagaries of life? In the language of today’s lessons: Will you let the vagaries of life tempt you away from God or will you trust God to help you discern and empower your response to the vagaries of life?

Luke’s wilderness temptation tale ends with the devil waiting for “an opportune time.” So, when the illusions, false promises or the vagaries of life are threating to fling you off into circumferential existence, trust the remembrance that you are created by God, in God’s image, who always has and always will love you. Know that you have everything Jesus had in the wilderness, you are marked as God’s own in your Baptism, and you are full of the Holy Spirit. And when temptation persists, seek out the faithful who will journey with you as you rediscover meaning, wholeness, and the shalom of life God wishes you to live.

 


 

References

Ellingsen, Mark. Lent 1, Cycle C (2016). 14 2 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 2 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.

Hoezee, Scott. Lent 1. 14 2 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jones, Judith. Commentary on Luke 4:113. 14 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Filled With the Holy Spirit. 14 2 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Rice, Whitney. “Driven by the Spirit, Lent 1(C) – 2016.” 14 2 2016. Sermons that Work.

Rohr, Richard. Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer. New York: The Crosssbook Publishing Company, 1999.

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

 

 

 

Into the unknown

The Lord tells Abram, leave your family, and county and go away to this place I will tell you … Abram went.

 When I was ordained my bishop said: You know you have hitched yourself to an itinerant star and the Spirit can be very precious. I had no idea; my family had even less of an idea. In twenty years I have been in several places; none of them were anywhere on my sphere of interest.  All that gets to God’s statement I will tell you. Abram heads off into who knows where, and he did so, knowing he did not know where he would go. I give him all the credit for righteousness. Yes, I’ve been to places unimagined; but I always thought I knew where I was headed. Wrong.

In one respects this reading reflects last week’s, obedience. Like Jesus, Abram obeyed, where Adam and Eve did not. He didn’t obey to the full degree Jesus did, but he did obey.

In our Lenten discipline, maybe venturing into the unknown is a call to obey God?