A Divine Call To A orally Repugnant Action.

A Sermon for Proper 12: Hosea 1:2-10, Psalm 85, Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19), Luke 11:1-13

Throughout my working life, there have been hard things I have had to do. I had to fire an employee. I was the one to tell a customer the actions of their staff has destroyed all the company’s data. Yes, we can rebuild it, but it would be by hand, and charged by the hour, with no guarantees. There was no way to give an estimate, the work required looking at one sector of 512 bytes at a time; there were 6 ten megabyte discs requiring 11,700 individual search actions, and each had to be examined for information about the file structure information so the links of each sector in any file could be reestablished in the correct order. I was the Account Executive who had to explain to a customer how their employee, a personal friend, who had been honored by our community, embezzled from the company. I was part of a committee chosen to tell a fellow parishioner we have voted not to recommend him to the bishop for ordination. As a priest and a member of the Commission on Ministry, I voted not to recommend a postulant for ordination, that vote carried. As a member of a bishop nomination committee, I had to call and tell a candidate they had not been selected to proceed to the next step. And as a police chaplain, I accompanied a police officer to knock on a stranger’s door late one night, to tell them their child had been killed in an auto accident. All of these were hard in their unique way. Yet, all of them are categorically less challenging from other sorts of actions.

Oskar Schindler set out to make his fortune in Nazi Germany with bribes, the use of the black-market sources and employing Jewish prisoners as cheap labor. He experienced growing success. Then, after observing a Nazi killing random Jews in a public square he begins to use his businesses to save Jewish worker prisoners. He saved many hundreds by transferring them to a new munitions factory, that never produced a live round of ammunition. By the end of the war, he has spent his entire fortune and saved 1200 Jewish workers (Wikipedia).

Like Schindler God is caught in an intractable, a stubborn problem. Israel would not acknowledge its idolatry. They still believed in Yahweh. So what if they offer a little allegiance to Baal and Asherah or the gods of their pagan neighbors that promised fertility and prosperity, success and victory, just to cover the bases. Schindler realized praying wasn’t enough, speaking was dangerous, only action, discrete action, would do. For God, once again, only action would do, this time a bit of some shock therapy (Mast). The action is told in the story of Hosea.

A brief look at today’s verses. Marriage is an established metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel. Here it is vividly conveyed in the marriage between a faithful husband, Hosea, and a faithless wife, Gomer (Yee). God is faithful. Israel is promiscuous, while proclaiming allegiance to God, they also make offerings to Baal, Asherah and other gods of local power, just in case there is a need to assure fertility, and profits (Yee). The three Children’s names are significant. Jezreel, the oldest, is named for the site of the zealous coup of Jehu, in which Israel politically and religiously corrupt Royal house of Omri, Joram, Jezebel, all of Ahab’s sons, and King Ahaziah of Judah are all assassinated (2 Kings. 9–10) (Keener and Walton; Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen; Yee). The second child, a girl, is named Lo Ruhamah, which means “No Mercy” (Harrelson) or not pitied” (Gaventa and Petersen). The youngest child, a boy, is named Lo Ammi which means “Not My People” (Harrelson). Both these names are negative reflections of Israel’s assumed relationship with God. All there are far worse names than a boy named Sue.

There are other difficulties with this passage, especially in its depiction of women. Gomer never speaks. What are her feelings about naming her children after a place of a bloody coup, “Not- loved” and “Not- My- People?” (Yee). All the children’s names are reminders of Israel’s darkest days or contrary to long-held beliefs about their relationship with God, You will be my people and I will be your God (Exod 6:7; Lev 26:12-13) (Yee). What her thoughts about “whoredom” or “prostitute”?” Truth is the English is misleading. The Hebrew Zānâ is an inclusive term, covering a range of sexual transgressions (Yee). A better translation is ‘promiscuous,’ which for us may not make a difference, but in her day it does because promiscuity excludes the role of pagan temple prostitution. Gomer is likely habitually promiscuous; it is very doubtful she was a sexual agent for other gods (Yee; Couey; Keener and Walton). The story relates God to men and sin with women, which is harmful to women. Would a woman prophet (and there are implicit women prophets in the Bible) be commanded to marry a promiscuous man? What would her prophecy look like (Yee)? When we imagine the relationship between God and Israel from a feminine perspective and the decidedly different experiences of spousal infidelity, we find wholly different, though of no less valuable, revelation (Yee).

Gomer’s perspective is interesting but what intrigues me is that God asks Hosea to take morally repugnant action, marrying an unfaithful woman, possibly prostitute, have children by her, and give their children names that are counter to Israel’s national story. God knows he is asking Hosea to do something morally repugnant, at personal cost (Keener and Walton).

There are times when we are called to speak out condemning evil deeds and conditions, urging a community to repent and turn to the Lord. Today’s news provides examples enough,

  • immigration troubles
  • Arkansas’ Juvenile detention troubles,
  • Medicaid and Medicare
  • provider fraud,
  • emphasis on Corporate profits
  • at the cost of social welfare
  • of hundreds of thousands
  • of our neighbors,

and so on, you know our challenges. There are times to console the wounded with gentle words, all of us have and will know these. There times when words are inappropriate, lacking, or nonexistent, these occasions call us to act in ways that will accomplish God’s will (Yee). Not all such callings are pleasurable, today’s reading is an example of this. Not all callings look like service to God or God’s people, Hosea and Schindler are examples of this. Hosea reveals that such times require a believing trust in God, not unlike Jesus telling Thomas and all disciples, including us, to trust and be believing (John 20:24-29).

Jesus’ teaching about prayer is about trusting and believing when we ask for divine help, or search for divine presence, or knock for the divine way to be revealed. Jesus teaches

  • it is a good thing to pray;
  • it is a shameless thing to publicly pray for divine presence of the midst of ours’s and the world’s troubles (Couey);
  • it is a believing thing to seek God/Jesus/Spirit’s guidance, help,

In his life, ministry, death, and resurrection Jesus teaches us it is a trusting thing to follow God’s call [pause] especially when it compels us to speak, compels us to act in ways against currently accepted standards and the assumption that God is on our side (Epperly).

Friday there was a letter in the opinion section of The Washington Post signed by 149 former Obama administration officials, all people of color. They begin noting they have heard the call to go home before. It has been and is part of a surge in racism. They proclaim their stance with all those currently under attack. They are proud of their heritage as immigrants, refugees and the enslaved Africans who built this country while enduring the horrors of its original sin. They demand equitable access to health care, housing, quality schools, and employment. Their love of country lives in their commitment of [their] voices and [their] energy to build a more perfect union; and they call on local, state and congressional officials, as well as presidential candidates to articulate their policies and strategies for moving us forward as a strong democracy, through … equity lens that prioritizes people over profit. They close noting Frederick Douglass warning that

The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous (Kinder, Moore, and Khalilah).

I know nothing of the authors’ religious thoughts, I do not know if they have heard a divine calling. I do know, like Hosea they are taking a public stance a significant number of people of Americans object to. I hear their compulsion to speak, their compulsion us to act in ways against accepted standards, of many, including those who assume God is on their side. It is an example of action grounded in trusting and believing in the true healing of God’s presence (Epperly). It reveals a passion not simply for justice, but honest, truthful, and virtuous love, and righteousness for all; which in the end drives Hosea to follow his calling.

Somewhere in the daily torrent of words streaming towards us is our calling; our challenge is not simply to hear, but to follow Hosea, Schindler, and others in a prayerful, trusting, believing response.

 

References

Couey, Blake. Commentary on Hosea 1:2-10. 28 7 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 7 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.

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

Kinder, C., Jesse Moore, and Khalilah. “We are African Americans, we are patriots, and we refuse to sit idly by.” Washington Post (2019). <washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-are-african-americans-we-are-patriots-and-we-refuse-to-sit-idlyby/>.

Mast, Stan. Old Testament Lectionary Hosea 1:1-10. 28 7 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Wikipedia. The Shawshank Redemption. n.d. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shawshank_Redemption#Plot&gt;.

Witchger, Anne Marie. Prayers, Pentecost 7 (C) – July 28, 2019. 28 7 2019. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Yee, Gale A. The Book of Hosea, Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. Olive Tree. 28 7 2018.

 

 

 

 

YGRHRN

A sermon for Easter 7; Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, Psalm 1, 1 John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19

 

In my trolling. around trying to find better ways to organize all the organizing tools I use I have come across a website named IFTTT, which means “if this then that.” Examples of what it allows you to automatically do are upload attachments from emails to google driver; or if it going to rain tomorrow add a reminder to your calendar. Today’s reading from Acts is another example that there is nothing in the world because it is an IFTTT story.

The “If this” is if the number of Jesus’ chosen followers is not twelve, and the “then that” is to choose a replacement. But why 12, why not 11, or 13? In ancient times numbers had meaning beyond count; 12, like 7, is a number for completeness. 12 has from her earliest days been a part of Israel’s history. In Genesis, Jacob has 12 sons, who become the 12 tribes of Israel (Keener and Walton).

Part of Jesus’ teaching is the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, so there must be 12 leaders for the 12 tribes of the new Israel (Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen). In his opening lines Peter says the scriptures must be fulfilled, in verses we did not read (18-20), Peter cites the psalms (109) as reason to fill the empty apostle’s place (Wall). So far, we see the need for the 12th man is the symbolic restoration of Israel, and so that Israel will be whole (Allen). Restoring the Twelve also addresses any question of divine faithfulness. God’s fidelity is involved in the presence of the Twelve (Wall). There also the implication that as the Twelve are complete Jesus followers are ready for whatever is ahead of them (Keener and Walton).

The next sentence (2 verses) lays out the requirements. He must be male, and here the word is male (Bratt). He must be with them from the beginning (John’s baptism) until the Ascension and have been an eye witness to everything (Harrelson). He must become, with the remaining 11, a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (Wall).

An aside; this is not the only description of an apostle in the New Testament. Paul uses the apostle, which means “one sent” to refer to many followers, not just the Twelve. Both the Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene are depicted as apostles to the apostles (Harrelson). It is worth noting all the people sent with the first word of Jesus’ resurrection are women. An Apostle can be anyone sent as a witness of God/Jesus/Spirit.

Back to the story from Acts. The next step is nominations. Nothing is said about how this happens, only that 2, Joseph called Justus and Matthias, are proposed.

The third step is that the group prays. In Luke prayer surrounds all significant moments. Here the story touches on the reading from the Gospel according to John which recounts Jesus praying for all the disciples. Jesus asks the Father to protect them as he sends them into the world, just as the Father sent Jesus into the world (John 17:15-19) (Lewis). Prayer encircles the entire community, who follow Jesus, as they prepare to make this decision. It reminds them they are always encircled by divine love. And it connects them to divine wisdom, power, and insight (Epperly).

The final step in filling the Twelfth Apostle is to choose. Following common practices of the day they cast lots. They are not engaging in magic, which is forbidden. They are continuing the trust they place in God in their prayers. Saul casts lots, the Urim and Thummim, in 1st Samuel to a question (1Samuel 14:36-44) (Harrelson). Lots are used in Joshua (19: 1-40) and Jonah (1:7-8) (Wall). Urim and Thummin are typically restricted to priest, so the disciples are likely using a lot marked for each that are placed in a jar that is shaken until one falls out, or something similar (Wall). As we heard Mathias is chosen.

It is curious to note this is the last time we read about Mathias in scripture. After a dozen or so chapters Peter is no longer heard from. In fact, all twelve chosen apostles fade into the background (Harrelson; Wall). With this realization suddenly “If This Then That” doesn’t seem to carry the meaning of this story. Perhaps the message is “Not That, This.”

There other succession stories in scripture, there is nothing particularly significant about this process (Wall). And while it does remind us to trust God’s quiet voice far more than our carefully constructed processes, the story is not about process, or us, the story is about the continually “in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth” (Allen). While it is true that God works through Peter, and Matthias, and the other chosen apostles, and disciples, and the whole host of those who believe, and doubt, the story is that God’s kingdom continues to make its way into the world right here, and there, and everywhere, right now, and tomorrow, and forever. The story is that even in the in between times (and remember the Spirit has not yet arrived) the Kingdom is present, God is present in the in between times.

There are lots of people living in between times. I am living between having retired and being retired; between living at 1121 and living at 6651 or is it 15. Some of you have kids who are between one grade and the next. There are kids between parents. There are parents and loved ones between this type of care at home and another type of care perhaps not at home. There are people between this job and the next. We are approaching election season, so we are between our current representatives and the next. There are all kinds of betweens, and God is present in all of them. When our trusted symbols are no longer available; God/Jesus/Spirit is available to you. Today’s story from Acts isn’t “If This”, nor “Not This” but “YG-RH-RN” Yes, God is right here, right now.

References

Allen, Amy Lindeman. Commentary on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. 13 5 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.
Bratt, Doug. Easter 7 Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. 13 5 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 13 4 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.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Lewis, Karoline. “Prayers Needed.” 13 5 2018. Working preacher.
McCormack, Jerrod. “In the Space In-Between, Easter 7 (B).” 13 5 2018. Sermons that Work.
Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.
Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.

 

Between Humpty Dumpty & The Looking Glass

 

A sermon for Proper 12: Hosea 1:2-10, Psalm 85, Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19), Luke 11:1-13

This morning we are somewhere between Humpty Dumpty and the Looking Glass. We all know the nursery rhyme; you may not know it is a parody on the ineptitude of the King’s Calvary

“All the King’s Horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

It was necessary to speak in metaphor and parody because to criticize the King was a hanging offense. With that in mind, let’s look again at Hosea. It is abhorrent that a prophet, a man of God, would associate with any woman not absolutely beyond reproach. Gomer does not qualify. It is not until we pay attention to their children’s names, that we begin to see the prophecy. I’m sure you remember that in ancient days peoples’ names were significant. This is especially true in the Bible. Think about how many times God or Jesus renames someone. The kids’ names are Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi. Jezreel is named after the city where the king’s great-grandfather killed off the family of the previous rulers, establishing his family’s reign. Lo-ruhamah means no mercy and Lo Ammi means not my people (Harrelson). The sequence would be heard

  •  no king,
  •  no compassion and
  •  no God (Bratt).

All this is happening because of Israel’s behavior. The King and the court have turned their back on God building alliances with other kingdoms. The Temple and priest have turned their backs on God, with empty rituals and shallow sacrifices. The merchants have turned their backs on God through economic injustice. The people have turned their backs on God through hedge bets to the Baals, the Canaanite god(s) of fertility to ensure the crops would be plentiful (Nysse) (Sakenfeld). Just so you will know how the story ends, the prophets are right. Israel, the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom, is completely destroyed by Assyria. They never recover. Judah was not conquered by Assyria; however, later they were overrun and sent into exile by Babylon. As you know, they return from exile, reestablish Jerusalem and the Temple and live under a variety of foreign empires until Rome burns Jerusalem to the ground to suppress a revolt about the year 70. Israel as we know it today was carved out of the British colony of Palestine after WWII in return for Jewish support against the Axis forces. But I wander.

Now you would think that after the destruction of Israel, exile in Babylon, and being occupied all those many centuries lessons about fidelity to God would kind of be important. And they were; well sort of.

Fast forward to the end of the Gospel time. Jesus’ followers both Jew and gentile (which is really everybody not Jewish) broadly proclaim Jesus to be the incarnation of God, the perfection of Moses, the perfection of the prophets, and whose resurrection shattered the injustice of a corrupt crucifixion and secured for everyone who believes justice, and eternal life in God’s presence. This story runs smack up against Jewish traditions, which leads to Saul’s vicious persecution of Jesus’ early followers. Then Paul (note the name change) gets converted by a private audience with Christ in God’s presence. Understanding that God has done through Jesus what the people could not do through the Temple and Torah, Paul sets out on what the Pharisees always understood the next step to be, taking the light of God to all the nations of the world. Thus we find Paul in gentile lands proclaiming Christ in preaching, in person and through letters, Yes, he ran into difficulties. Certainly with Jews living in foreign lands. At first, they just objected; they remember their history. But there was also trouble with Jewish Christians, who believed that for gentiles to be truly Christian, they had to follow Jewish laws. There were also some converts who had been followers of Greek or Roman teachers who taught you had to follow an ascetic lifestyle that included a specific set of visionary rituals. Paul’s letter circulating through churches in and around Corinth is clear don’t be deceived by human philosophies and empty deceit, old traditions, or new festivals. Beware of shallow rituals and empty traditions; do not lose touch with Jesus (Walsh). For Paul, there was nothing beyond Baptism. Through Baptism

  • we acknowledge Jesus as the center of hope
  • we commit to proclaiming that Jesus’ death and resurrection changed the balance of the world, and of the cosmos.

Paul teaches that Jesus, God’s Christ, is the fullness of God on earth. Through Baptism we are now “In Christ” and therefore we are also the fullness of God on earth (Hoezee, Colossians).

So, here we are. Two thousand years later. A couple days away from the end of one political convention, a day away from the beginning of the next political convention, and if you read the news, you’d think we hadn’t learned a thing. A review of the world reveals a commitment to God in Jesus that is as corrupt as Hosea’s world and as shallow as Paul’s world. As I listened to folks around town or read social media, I hear a constant loud voice

“That if we’d only recommit to following God’s word everything would get back to normal.”

I don’t disagree. I’ve had enough of shallow rituals and empty traditions. There is only one small trouble; their faithful way of being in Jesus is my shallow rituals and empty traditions; and my, our way of being in Jesus is their shallow rituals and empty traditions. I’ve about had enough; have you had enough (Lewis)?

Well, we are not alone. Jesus’ disciples are at their edge, just like we are. Only, they had the advantage of seeing Jesus going off to pray anytime the journey got stressful, which was all the time. They also saw how refreshed and renewed Jesus was after his time away in prayer (Hoezee, Luke). And so they finally ask a really good question “Jesus, teach us to pray like that?” And he teaches them what we know as the Lord’s prayer. And for your information, yes, Matthew’s version is different, and we’ve added a classical Jewish form of Amen to the end, so relax it is the same prayer. Now, what exactly does Jesus teach them and us?

It all begins acknowledging that God’s named is hallowed; everything dedicated to God only makes sense if God is above all (Sakenfeld). Then the prayer moves to looking forward to God’s Kingdom being on earth, literally, and right now! And that is connected to God’s desire to be in a loving relationship with all creation, being accepted. Then the prayers of our seeking forgiveness of our sins, not when we forgive others, but when we have the grace of the Spirit to forgive others because it is the same grace that allows us to see and accept our sins and God’s forgiveness. And finally, we pray to be shielded from the time of trial (Whitley).

A couple, well a few points. Jesus teaches us to address God, not convicted of our shortfalls, but as he does, with the power of the Spirit to claim our heritage of being in Christ (Pankey, Father). It’s similar to Paul’s emphasis on being in Christ.

The word ‘daily’ is not so clear. We don’t really know what it means because this is the only place it is used. It might mean necessary, or continual. No matter the precise definition Jesus’ meaning is clear, follow the wilderness tradition of relying on God for today’s needs, trusting that God will also take care of tomorrow’s needs (Pankey, Bread).

Part of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray is their observation that Jesus prays all the time. They realize prayer is not for special occasions or times of need. Jesus invites us to follow him in living all of life as prayer (Hoezee, Luke).

While it is not a part of the prayer proper, the parable that follows teaches us about God’s unreasonable grace. Actually, it is the hospitality God has always called people to live. The culture of hospitality expects a neighbor to help an unprepared neighbor offer hospitality to an inconvenient guest. So yes, God will answer our inconvenient, unreasonable prayers.

Except life reveals to us, it’s not that way, at least it doesn’t appear to be. At one time or another, all of us find ourselves at the point when we proclaim “How much more!?” Beware the prosperity gospel heresy of believing strong enough and it will be; magical deliverance from illness, or winning the lottery; it is false, it is not biblical, and it is dangerous. And I know that at the times we cry out:

  • “How much more pain and loss?” God answers “how much more strength will I give you.”
  • “How much more abandonment and rejection?” God answers” how much more will I be with you.”
  • “How much more disillusionment and disappointment?” God answers “how much more I will love you.” (Lewis).

The strength, the presence, and the love of God is always nearby, at least in the gentle ministry of the Spirit’s assuring whisper that the promise of the resurrection is true, you are in Jesus, God’s Christ. And just so we can remember, the next time we hear Jesus pray it is “Why have you forsaken me?” (Hoezee, Luke).

So this morning, as we stand between Humpty Dumpty and the Looking Glass with the endless variations of nihilistic ADHD narcissism flooding media of all sorts I’m reminded that we live in Christ in prayer, that the truth of God’s word is deeper than the surface of paper, that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love. I’m reminded that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence.

that we live in Christ in prayer, that the truth of God’s word is deeper than the surface of paper, that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love. I’m reminded that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence.

that the truth of God’s word is deeper than the surface of paper, that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love. I’m reminded

  • that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence
  • that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and
  • that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love.

I’m reminded that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence.

 


 

References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 12CCenter for Excellence in Preaching Hosea. 24 7 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 24 7 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 24 7 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 12CCenter for Excellence in Preaching Colossians. 24 7 2016.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 11:1-13. 24 7 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. How Much More? 24 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Nysse, Richard W. Commentary on Hosea 1:210. 24 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “Father.” 24 7 2016. Draughting Theology.

—. Give us today our [daily] bread. 24 7 2016.

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

Stamper, Meda. Commentary on Luke 11:113. 24 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Walsh, Brian J. Commentary on Colossians 2:615[. 24 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Whitley, Katerina. “Lord, Teach Us How to Pray, Proper 12 (C).” 24 7 2016. Sermons that Work.

 

 

 

God, who cannot be contained, is always present and responsive.

A sermon for Proper 16 B

1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11),22-30, 41-43, Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18, Psalm 84, Psalm 34:15-22, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69

When I see a series of commas and parentheses in the lectionary, I know I’m in trouble because I really do not believe in reading bits and pieces of anything. So I went back and read the entire story of the building of the Temple. I found the dimensions of the Temple, 60 cubits by 20 cubits by 30 cubits. For some reason, I was inspired to look up the size of the Ark, which is 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits. A bit later I read Solomon’s Palace was 100 cubits, by 50 cubits by 30 cubits. What it is about 30 cubits, which is only 45 feet? Perhaps it’s a tower of Babel and some height thing, but there is no obvious connection. Who knows maybe it is a symbolic reminder that God cannot be contained.

The story opens with the Ark being brought to the Temple and put in its most holy place. As soon as the priests leave the room is filled with a cloud. If you recall, a cloud that leads Israel out of Egypt; that a cloud cover the top of Saini when Moses is consulting with God; and a cloud is in the Tabernacle Tent when God speaks to Moses. We know the cloud marks God’s presence. If you read all the verses you will read about glory, God’s name and deep darkness, all of which, along with the Temple itself, are marks of God’s presence. We might like a cleaner, clearer depiction of God’s presence, but we can’t have one. Solomon himself says:

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)

So while the Temple or any other human construct may represent God’s sovereign presence, it cannot contain nor constrain the divine presence (Epperly, Petersen and Gavenat, Nelson, Seow).

However, because of their presence we are reminded of, we are assured of: God’s freedom to intervene; that we are free to come into God’s presence; that we are free pray to God’s presence in the face of whatever calamity may have befallen us. (Seow)

One unusual feature in Solomon’s dedication prayer is the inclusion of foreigners. The Temple is a place all Israel and all the nations of the world may come to and offer prayers or may offer prayers towards. In short he is telling all the world God will listen to your prayers.

We shouldn’t be surprised, we know God created all humanity in God’s image. (Gen 1:26) What is hard for us to remember is the divine image in the other, in the ‘them’ over there. It is hard to remember that God’s desire to be in a relationship with us includes us being in the same loving relationship with everyone around us. (Galvin)

As we know from the recent violence in Blytheville and Mississippi County, it is oh so easy to get caught up in fears, self-interest, vengeance, greed, and self-protection. When we live in that, fear our souls can shrink.

From our Christian Sacramentality, we may see Eucharistic symbolism in the story. As with the Temple, we believe in the real, abiding, though mystic, presence of God in Eucharistic elements. (Whitley) We also know they cannot contain the totality of God nor constraint God’s presence. Through the Gospels connecting Jesus to the Temple (Matt 26:61, 27:40, Mark 14:58, 15:29, John 2:19) we see how both point towards the true living presence of God that is revealed through manifold salvific acts.

While the story is framed as Solomon’s dedicating the Temple, it is significant his first response to the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence is to pray.  (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) Verses 31 to 40, which we did not hear, are a list of prayers Israel may offer to God covering everything from resolving disputes to seeking help while in exile. Solomon would expect us to take all our emotional responses to the recent and ongoing challenges in Blytheville to God in prayer. He would expect us to acknowledge that we continue to be radically dependent on God. (Galvin) In the Celtic Christianity, there is a prayer tradition of drawing a circle around yourself as you pray. It is not a barrier of protection. It is a reminder that Christ is above, beneath, behind, in front, to your left and your right, all around you, all the time. It’s not a magical act that banishes fear. It is an empowering act of faith in God that does allow us to subdue our fears so that we can live with them and not allow them to control us and how we respond the world and our interactions with people around us. As one bit of wisdom puts it

when we are afraid we do not need to be afraid of being afraid because people who love you and God are with you. (Epperly)

The other option of an Old Testament reading is from Joshua where he asks Israel, who they will follow, and they robustly proclaim they will follow God. He tells them they cannot. He’s right. The rest of the Old Testament is the continuing story of peoples and kings failing to follow God. It is also to the story of God’s continuing presence. If God’s is not constrained by the Temple, if God’s presence is not constrained in sacramental elements, God’s presence is not constrained by the sinful mess of the world. So, we are justified by being frightened, or concerned, or whatever adjective you chose to use, by the violence, injustice, oppression and all the other forms of inhumanity towards each other. However, through prayerful seeking we can know God’s loving presence and therefore we will not allow the fears of the world to determine our response to the world. Through prayer we will glean the loving response to ‘them’ over there God is calling us to. We might even glean God’s guiding response in their lives.


References

Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 16, OT 21, Cycle B. 23 8 2015. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. Pentecost 13 _ August 23, 2015. 23 8 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2015/05/pentecostsundaymay242015/&gt;.

Galvin, Garrett. Commentary on 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43. 23 8 2015.

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

Hoezee, Scott. 1 Kings 8:1-43. 23 8 2015.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 23 8 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Not Just Bread Anymore. 23 8 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Nelson, Richard. Interpretations: First and Second Kings. Ed. James Luther Mays, Patrick D. Miller and Paul J Achtemeier. Louisville: John Know Press, 1987.

Petersen, David L and Beverly R Gavenat. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010.

Seow, Choon-Leong. New Interpreters’ Bible: First and Second Books of Kings. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. 3. Abingdon Press, 1999. 12 vols.

Whitley, Katerina. “The Word Made Flesh – Proper 16(B),” 23 8 2015. Sermons that Work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sermon for Proper 24

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

Down the drive alone
aches of the head persist
un-sensual defining presence
So, now you know, I’m not a poet.

We are all familiar with the parable of the unjust judge, which perhaps ought to be known as the parable of the persistent widow. And we will never know because the bible does not have sub-titles, all of them are supplied by translators and editors from one time or another. All that aside, this parable leaves us uneasy. Yes, we are glad the widow gets justice, well at least that the judge tells himself he will find in her favor, but still the whole thing is just uncomfortable. I posit our discomfort arises from a mistake in reading it. Not all parables are the same; some are intended to work like allegories, but some are intended to break up the soil of our previous thinking and prepare us for a new perspective. [i] Here Luke is plowing at all sorts of levels.

Throughout his version of the Gospel prayer is central: from the beginning when the whole multitude at prayer outside the Temple as Zechariah receives a vision inside, to Jesus withdrawing in prayer at crucial junctions, and as he gives up his last breath praying Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! Luke is as persistent about prayer as the widow is about justice.

After the unjust judge Luke’s moves onto plowing ground about faith. Which is another recurring theme. A couple of weeks ago, Jesus was teaching about faith, in saying faith the size of a seed will move mountains. Luke follows that with the story about ten lepers, and then the encounter with Pharisees whom he accuses of not being to see what is right in front of them. When you look back across Luke you find all sorts of stories of faith: a centurion, a harlot, friends of a paralytic, by implication sinful man; an unclean, and therefore ostracized, woman; the aforementioned leper; and finally a blind beggar. There are examples of faith throughout Luke. Save a scant handful, all of them are people the religious establishment and the proper sort of people take no notice of. And oh, I neglected to mention the faith of our story’s widow.

With all the plowing going on around the story of the judge, we correctly see Luke plowing fresh ground here also. A couple of points: in Old Testament Israel Judges are not legal actors, as we are use to, they are religious actors. Moreover, Torah established orphans and widows as top priorities in disputes and in concerns of justice. [ii] From a broader perspective a judge’s concern is to establish shalom, which is most completely understood as an all-encompassing wholeness for a person and/or for society. [iii] And, a judge’s model is nothing less than God’s mercy. [iv] So to hear a judge defined as willfully ignoring God gets people’s attention, and to the extent that character is the embodiment of the entire system, which this judge is, it will either drive people to entrench, which it does; or break them open to receive new revelation of God’s hand at work, which it also does.

When we put all this back into Luke’s sequence we have a Dagwood sandwich: an admonition to pray; a portrayal of life’s hardships, sometimes chance, sometimes an unjust, social construct, and a pointer to people of faith. In my own life I’ve been in all portions of the Luke’s Dagwood. I really learned how to pray when my oldest daughter backed the car down the driveway to go visit friends, by herself, for the first time. As for the perversities of life, the most obvious is Angie’s headaches, but, there have been others. As to injustice, I’ve not been an unwilling victim. As to faith, I’ve seen all sorts of people, in all manner of circumstances, simply step out, in places I’d hesitate, and somehow keep on bringing God to those who have not yet known or come to accept God in Jesus Christ’s transforming presence. Look around, in Blytheville there is the Clinic, Ignite, the Thanksgiving feast, Cleaner Safer Blytheville, Healing in the Hood, in Osceola there is the food pantry, SHIFT, The Shalom Institute, and the Clinic, and unexpected gifts from far off people, with troubles of their own, giving out of their vision of the abundance of God, and on and on and on.

In Thursday’s Blog I wrote this story is probably a better road map than a sandwich. It’s rather simple: pray always, especially when God’s presence feels absence, and as you journey through the vagaries of life you will know your own faith and, if not in time, then in retrospect, the ever present transforming presence of God. Such a life has been, is, and will always be: a confession that will persevere; a service in Christ’s ministry others will see; that of stewardship.

 

[i] Interpretation, LUKE, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor, Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor, Fred B. Craddock
[ii] This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php
Next sunday is October 20, 2013 (Ordinary Time)
This Week‘s Article: The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Luke 18:1-8
Author: Scott Hoezee
[iii] Standard Bible Dictionary
© 2006 Standard Publishing, Cincinnati, Ohio. Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp,
[iv] The New Interpreter’s Bible, The Gospel of Luke, R. Alan Culpepper

Prayer, faith and journey.

As I continued to read and pray about this weeks readings it occurred to me that the bit from Luke’s Gospel is like a sandwich, the vagaries of life surrounded by prayer and faith.

The vagaries of life are more than times of injustice etc, it all those times when we’d use my least favorite phrase “there by the grace of God …” because we are or are not, what ever we are observing. Here the widow may say “By the grace of God the judge granted my petition.” the judge may say “Except by the grace there go I.” except he doesn’t honor God; but you get the idea. The parable encapsulates the inexplicable times of life.

The first line of this pericope is about prayer. Luke has Jesus in prayer or teaching about prayer all the time. Prayer is a way of daily being in intentional relationship with God and Jesus assures us God will give us what He desires. 1 Job’s story teaches us to stay in relationship with God, even when everyone else abandons us, even when it seems as if God has abandoned us. In short there is a long biblical thread that reveals that prayer is all about divine relationship.

 The last line of this pericope asks if Jesus will find faith. I know it’s looking forward, but looking back reveals the answer. Jesus incarnate finds faith in a centurion, a harlot, friends of a sinner, an unclean woman, a leper and a blind beggar. 2 The implication is Jesus, returning to judge, will also find faith; just not in the people religious establishments, or others, expect.

On second thought, perhaps this bit from Luke is a life map, pray always, and as you journey through the vagaries of life, you can be faithful

1 Working Preacher, Meda Stamper, Luke 18:1-8, Proper 24
2 ibid