Walk on By

A Sermon for Lent 3; Exodus 20:1-1, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

 A few years back in a busy Washington D.C. Metro station, a man played his fiddle for the passersby. Some children stopped and stared but were quickly hustled off by their parents. A few people stayed for a minute or two before rushing on to catch their train. A few people threw money into the open violin case. The violinist collected a total of $32.17. The fiddler was Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated violinists. Just weeks earlier he played to a packed house, where tickets sold for $100. Bell was playing one of the most difficult and intricate pieces ever composed for the violin. He played it with world-class skill, and on a world class Stradivarius violin worth million. The whole stunt had been set up to see if anyone would notice. No one truly did, except perhaps a few children who sensed something was up (Hoezee).

This morning Jesus is at the Temple during the Passover festival. There is a money exchange. The local regions where pilgrims came from each had its own currency. Temple tax could only be paid in the temple currency (Harrelson) in part because Greek and Roman coins had the image of a human on one side which made the coins an idol (O’Day). The exchange swapped the pilgrims’ money into the local currency (Keener and Walton). The cattle, sheep, and doves were required for burnt offerings in the Temple were designated in Leviticus. Many of the pilgrims coming to offer sacrifice in the Temple journeyed a great distance and would not have been able to bring the specified animals. They needed to buy animals in Jerusalem. The animal market was needed so they could (O’Day). Both the exchange and marketplace are necessary. Both are provided for in Deuteronomy and Leviticus (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). But something is not right. Why else ~ would Jesus disrupt the whole thing?

It is entirely reasonable that the Temple priests and others would want to know what authority Jesus has to disrupt the Passover Festival. It is a reasonable question after all Passover is the defining Jewish Festival. His answer Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19). isn’t really an answer to their question. So of course, everyone misinterprets him. Ask a question about a temple and get an answer with ‘temple’ in it, and the second is the same as the first. Unless of course, you have been to political spokesman school, or you are the Messiah.

John wants to be sure the readers understand, so he tells them, tells us, that Jesus is talking about himself. No one knows about Jesus life to come. There are no great reveals in John’s Gospel story. The story of Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension is revealed in his actions.

Part of understanding what is going on at the Temple is to understand how God has been present to us, specifically Israel, up to this point. Here is a Cliff Note, well a Fr Scott Note version. The Garden is where God met us. However, we listened to the Tempter, in the form of a snake, and messed that all up. After the Exodus in the wilderness journey God met us on mountain tops; well ~ at least he met our representative, Moses, there; we were afraid to meet God in person. After the wilderness journey is over God meets Israel through the wisdom and saving actions of the Judges. But the number of Judges stories and the repeating cycle of those stories tell us that that didn’t go so well either. At Israel’s request, God establishes a King to “fight our battles for us.” That doesn’t help the divine-human relationship; now Israel is now relying on the strength of Kings and not trusting the strength of God. God has the smartest man in the world, Solomon, build a Temple to be God’s home on earth (it is far grander than Herod’s). Before long Solomon is married to wives from Egypt, the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonian, and Hittites. They turn his heart away from God and towards the gods of his many wives (1 Kings 11:4.) The Temple has become the home of all sorts of gods. Throughout the many intra and inter kingdom wars God calls prophets to speak the truth and restore the divine-human relationship. We have the stories of 23 or so prophets in the bible who do speak the hard truth. However, there we a whole lot more, hundreds more, in the royal court who tell the king what the king wants to hear. So much for the divine-human relationship.

We have seen that the animal market and money exchange served a purpose. Because of Jesus’ actions, we can discern that once again, the place and how God is present on earth has turned into something else. But there is still more else going on here. The previous story in John is about that wedding in Cana that Jesus saves by turning 180 gallons of water into extraordinary wine. This reveals something of his identity, and the abundance of God’s love (Harrelson; O’Day). So, if Cana is about the revelation of God in Jesus, what does this story reveal about who he is?

The temple is the meeting place between Israel and God. It is a holy place. It is the place where human life and divine blessing meet. It is a thin place. It seems that it is following in the steps of its predecessors. The Temple can no longer be God’s presence on earth. If not the Temple in Jerusalem, then where? John tells us Jesus’ answer to the authorities is not about the Temple, but about him. What we are witnessing through holy story is Jesus is proclaiming that his body is the home of God on earth (Shore; Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner; Harrelson; O’Day; Gaventa and Petersen).

Continuing with our model of Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup, what might lentil soup look like in this story? Jesus challenges the Temple, which like it religious predecessors, is so convinced of the divinity of its rules and practices that it is no longer open to a new revelation from God (Harrelson). It is no longer a thin place. From a church institution perspective, we are called to actively be aware of the trap of equating the authority of our own structures and traditions with the presence of God that we close ourselves off to the possibility of reformation, change, and renewal (O’Day).

The personal perspective it unwinds like this. Many of us have known a thin place, like Camp Mitchell, or church retreat weekend, where we deeply feel God’s mysterious presence. Jesus invites us into a personal relationship. Jesus is the presence of God on earth, therefore, Jesus is a thin place. So, Jesus is inviting us into a thin personal relationship. When we encounter this invitation do we explain away its presence? do we explain away its impact? do we explain away God who knows us and insist we know God? do we explain away I AM in our I AM God? Or ~~ do we risk experiencing the fullness of the presence of God/Jesus/Spirit? (Lewis). Do we risk experiencing Jesus as our thin relationship?

We have been asking “What do we sell our Christian birthright for?” We can miss out on our birthright not only by selling it but by ignoring it, walking on by. Who knows how many people walked on by, rushed on by Joshua Bell? Who knows how often we walk, rush on by a thin relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit? Perhaps we are not being called to give up, or to take on, but to slow down so that we can see, so that we can hear the abundance of divine gifts that are simply all around us all the time. Perhaps we are being called to slow down so we can experience and live in the thin relationship between ourselves and the abundance of divine love.

Amen


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 4 3 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. The Lectionary Gospel John 2:13-22. 4 3 2018.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 4 3 2018.

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

Lewis, Karoline. Body Zeal. 4 3 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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

Shore, Mary Hinkle. Commentary on John 2:13-22. 4 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

Whitley, Katerina. “Resisting the Idolatry of the Age, Lent 3 (B).” 4 3 2018. Sermons that Work.

Woodrum, -Br. Jim. “Depending on God.” Meeting Jesus in the Gospel. SSJE. Cambridge, n.d. Email.

 

 

 

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.

 

Lentil Soup

A Sermon for Ash Wednesday; Joel 2:1-2,12-17, or Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 103 or 103:8-14, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

 Sometime after the first of the year, it came to my attention that Easter is on April Fool’s Day which means that Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day. This concurrence raises the delicate liturgical question is the proper color for the day? pink? or that deep purplish red? I asked a couple of deeply knowledgeable liturgical colleagues of mine. The first answer was to be sure and use red glitter for ashes and make the shape a heart on penitents’ foreheads. The other suggested using the little chalky heart candies for Communion wafers. Alas, I have waited too late and the traditional ashes and communion wafers lovingly baked by the sisters of Monastery of St. Clare will more than suffice.

Over these many years, have preached on the dire warning the alarm horns and gathering clouds of darkness and gloom from Joel. I have preached on Isaiah’s exhortation to announce God’s people their rebellion, and to the house of Jacob their sins. I have mentioned that the merciful goodness of the Lord endures forever. One way or another it is always necessary to remind us that now is the acceptable time to be reconciled to God. I’ve even preached on what you should do in secrete and maybe that God already knows what you do in secrete.

None of this inspired me. But only because Monday a week ago I was inspired by the Daily Office reading from Genesis (25:19-33). It includes the birth of Esau and Jacob, how Esau grew up to be a great hunter who loved the field and that Jacob became a quiet person who preferred a tent. It also includes the story of Esau coming in from the fields famished. Jacob is cooking some stew that Esau wants to satisfy his enormous hunger. Esau is so famished he sells his birthright to Jacob for bread and bowl of lentil stew. The divine muse nudged me, laying two questions on my heart and soul: How does lentil soup manifest itself in our lives? What have we sold our birth right for?

But before we can get to the depth of those questions we have to understand our birthright. As Christians what is our birthright? In the Episcopal tradition the go to liturgy is Baptism where we are washed in Christ’s baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. We are one with Christ. It is Christ who stands with us before God. It is through Christ that God’s unconditional love is made fully known. A long-time colleague of mine wrote this week and reminded us of Henri Nouwen’s wisdom:

We often confuse unconditional love with unconditional approval. God loves us without conditions but does not approve of every human behavior. God doesn’t approve of betrayal, violence, hatred, suspicion, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God wants to instill in the human heart. Evil is the absence of God’s love. Evil does not belong to God.

God’s unconditional love means that God continues to love us even when we say or think evil things. God continues to wait for us as a loving parent waits for the return of a lost child. It is important for us to hold on to the truth that God never gives up loving us even when God is saddened by what we do. That truth will help us to return to God’s ever-present love. (Adams-McCaslin)

Our birthright is that divine love which endures all the approval driven silly, wrongheaded, selfishness, hateful, violent, evil, that has ever resided in our hearts, in secrete, or boldly there for all to see.

It is such a precious thing. And yet we seem to follow Esau’s path far too often. Our desire for the lentil soup of the moment takes precedence over everything else. Our momentary desire seems more important than what is right, than what is just, than our birthright. Sometimes our desires are manifest in the behaviors of others who speak and act publicly what is secretly in our hearts and are secretly joyous. At times such persons are from the margins. At times such persons are our leaders; social, educational, business, political, and religious. Sometimes our desires are manifest in our own words, and actions; spoken or unspoken, done or undone. Sometimes our words and actions are the public manifestations of what is secretly in the hearts of others and one way or another, we welcome slight approving smiles, nods of heads, and other small signs of approval.

As we have for a life time this Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a time of inner reflection. A time to acknowledge the ominous dark clouds not so very far from the center of our lives. A time to raise our heads at the blaring sound of the trumped alarm. A time, with naked vulnerability, to explore the depths and strength of God/Jesus/Sprit. A time to acknowledge all our secretes trusting that our father, who see in secrete, will welcome you into your acceptance of your birthright of unconditional love, from God, for all that is made in God’s image, you and all of creation. A time to leave aside Esau’s path and embrace your birthright. A time to see the truth; every day is valentine’s day; because every day is the acceptable time to receive and reflect God’s unconditional love, secretly, or boldly and publicly; for every day is the day of salvation.

So today, I invite you to with both fear and trembling and with trust explore just how does lentil soup manifest itself in your lives? and what have you sold our birth right for? for knowing this truth will set you free to receive the depth and strength of God’s eternal unconditional love.