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.

 

 

 

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A Journey to Light, A Journey to Darkness

A sermon for Lent 4

1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41, Psalm 23

If you watch enough Disney movies, you begin to notice a pattern: you are introduced to characters with wonderful lives; life breaks, often involving death; there is terrible hardship;  and with unexpected help the hero or heroine prevails. Think about the book of Job, we are introduced to Job, his wonderful extended family, and  his righteous life. We see a side bet between the divine court accuser and God. This leads to a horrific set of tragedies in which Job loses everything. Three friends offer unexpected help, “Confess your sins.” He protests, “I haven’t sinned!” and we know he’s his right. His wife eventually tells him to “Curse God and die.” He doesn’t, he persist in his conversation with God, though sometimes with vehement vim and vigor. God wins the bet; and Job’s former life is restored. Now I mention all this, because Job shatters the link between sin and life’s afflictions. It appears that no one in this morning’s Gospel story, except Jesus, knows the tale.

The disciples see a man born blind; in fact all they see is his blindness. They don’t want to know why he is blind; they know that – sin, they want to know who sinned? his parent or him? Jesus replies: No one. This man was born blind. Let the works of God be known. Then he put mud, made of spittle, a common healing agent of the day, on the blind man’s eyes and sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man does; and somewhere along the way his sight is restored, because when he returns, he can see. Notice, Jesus and the disciples are not there.

At this point the story has drawn me to the connection between sin and life’s afflictions. It is the belief of the day. Jesus completely rejects the idea. The maladies of life, horrid and inconvenient happen; let God’s work, God’s glory, or presence, be made know. I suspect that we don’t believe we connect sin to the afflictions and maladies of life as 1st century Jews did; but I’m not sure that is the truth. How often do we hear judgment in: that woman is unemployed, or this man is divorced, or she’s a single mom; he’s a high school dropout, he’s a failure; she’s an alcoholic, she has cancer, or he’s depressed. [i] How often do we hear an ideological or political position, regarding caring for the least of these, grounded in blaming the blind man? Listen for how we use phrases like nature or nurture, or nature or choice. How often do we respond to life’s maladies as our opportunity to reveal the works, glory and presence of God?

There is another gleaning about sin from John’s Gospel teaching. John posits that sin is not a moral issue, but a theological issue, sin is only about our relationship with God through Jesus. [ii] This results in a far greater change than one might think, because salvation shifts from association with Jesus’ death, to arising from Jesus’ life, in other words salvation is no longer sacrificial salvation is incarnational. Gail O’Day writes:

Judgment is therefore based not on what people do, as the disciples and the Pharisees in John 9 assumed, but on people’s embrace of God in Jesus. [iii]

At this point the story changes into two simultaneous journeys: the man born blind into relationship with Jesus; and the Pharisees into denial of Jesus. They are intertwined, but let’s look at them separately, starting with the man born blind.

The man born blind returns from the pool and he can see. His neighbors do not recognize him; at least there is a debate about who he is. It is as if they have never seen him before; as if all they ever saw was that he was blind. [iv] In explaining what happened the man born blind says:

A man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, told me, `Go to Siloam and wash.’  I did and received my sight.

 Next he is interrogated by the Pharisees. They ask how his sight was restored and he repeats the story. The Pharisees are also divided, so they ask the man born blind about Jesus. In spite of the implied threat he stands his ground [v] in answering: He is a prophet. Notice his relationship with Jesus changing from “a man called” to “a prophet.”

After the Pharisees interview his parents, they return to the man born blind demanding he give glory to God, and declare Jesus a sinner. The man born blind answers:

 I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

 
The interrogation increases, the threat is no longer implicit as the Pharisees try to intimidate him with their authority, but undaunted [vi] he answers:

We know that God … listens to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.

As a result, the Pharisees drive him out, of their presence, of the synagogue, of life in the Jewish community. His life has changed. Notice how the man born blind relationship with Jesus is developing, he now professes that Jesus worships and obeys God will.

Jesus reappears, asking the man born blind Do you believe in the Son of Man? He replies: And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him. Jesus answers: I am He replies Lord, I believe. And he worships him.

Sight and blindness are not defined by one’s physical sight, but by one’s openness to the revelation of God in Jesus. The man who had been born blind confession is the culmination of his progression in faith. He received his physical sight, but his true sight came as he moved through his ignorance to recognizing Jesus as the Son of Man, as the light of the world. [vii] The man born blind has become a child of the light, and Christ’s light is shining on him.

The Pharisees’ journey could not be more different. The man born blind is brought to the Pharisees with his amazing story. The Pharisees are divided; some don’t believe Jesus is from God, he worked, made mud, on the Sabbath. [viii] Others say a sinner cannot possibly do such things.

They move on to the man’s parents. It is a court room like hearing. His parents acknowledge he is their son and that he was born blind. They disavow any knowledge of how he received his sight; perhaps out of fear of being thrown out of the synagogue and cut off, in all ways, spiritually, socially and economically, from their community. In short they protected themselves. [ix]

The inquest returns to the man born blind. This time the opening is accusative; they declare that Jesus is a sinner. Later they declare they are disciples of Moses, whom God spoke to.

The Pharisees have moved from questioning to denial. Is it any wonder they fail to recognize Jesus? Scott Hoezee observes that as soon as questions about the miracle arise, Jesus disappears. He notes:

The minute we start denying the work of God in Christ Jesus our Lord so as to make things neat and tidy and in conformity to how we like things done, it’s pretty tough to see the real Jesus. [x]

In part the Pharisees are blind to who Jesus is because they are holding on to Moses etc. Their behavior is similar to Samuel grieving over Saul; he is having a hard time letting go. How often do we have a hard time letting go of what was, as good as it may have been, and fail to see how God is currently in our lives, [xi] how God is calling us to celebrate the grace and love the surrounds us.

And here we get to another gleaning in Today’s Gospel story. We know by observation and experience there is pain and misery and affliction in the world. We proclaim by faith, that God, in Jesus, by the Spirit over comes it all. And we have a vast ancient and not so ancient set of thoughts, liturgies, and physical settings we associate with God’s presence. And we hold on to them with all the vigor that Samuel is holding on to Saul, and the Pharisees are holding on the Moses, both of whom are of God. But life is not stagnate; it moves, it changes, situations evolve. What was is not what is. God tells Moses I am. Jesus tells the woman at the well and the man born blind:  I am. It’s a strange phrase that expresses both present and future being. God is in our present. God is calling us into a divine future. The man born blind journeys into the future Jesus revels to him, and he is healed, he becomes whole. The Pharisees refuse the journey, they reject Jesus’ vision of the future, and they cease being whole, they move into blindness, into darkness.

This is Lent, a time to reorient our lives to God. A time to let go of what was, as good as it may have been, and accept what is being offered. It is a time to see the world for what it really is, not what we are afraid it has become. [xii] It is a time trusts that though I may be blind, in Jesus’ presence, I can see.

 


[i] David Lose, Craft of Preaching, Dear Working Preacher, Insights, ideas and inspiration by David Lose related to the coming week’s lectionary texts, Identity Theft, Part 2, Tuesday, March 25, 2014 8:42 AM 
[ii] Walter Harrison, New Interpreters Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 2003
   O’Day, ibid,
[iii] O’Day, ibid
[iv]  Robert Hoch,  John 9:1-41 Commentary by Robert Hoch – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1985 1/3, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on John 9:1-41 
[v] Sermon, worship resources and children’s sermon for March 30th (Lent 4) . March 30, 2014 John 9:1-41 Ephesians 5:8-14 1 Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm Copyright © 1970-2014, SermonSuite / CSS Publishing Company, All Rights Reserved
[vi] O’day, ibid
[vii] ibdi
[viii] O’Day, ibid
[ix] Lose, ibid
   Gerard S. Sloyan, Interpretation  JOHN, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR      TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor 

John Knox Press, ATLANTA

[x]Scott Hoezee  cep.calvinseminary.edu , http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php,This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is March 30, 2014 (Ordinary Time), This Week‘s Article: Lectionary Gospel Text is: John 9:1-41 
[xi] ibid 
[xii] Robert Hoch Michele Bilyeu “With Heart and Hands” (25 September 2012),  http://www.with-heart- andhands. com/2012_09_01_archive.html, accessed on 16 November  2013.
                Alzheimer’s Prayer: “I pray that [caregivers and family members will care] for their patients and loved ones as the                                    people they truly are . . . and not just who they seem to have become.”

Lamb of God

O lamb of God, that takest away the sin to the world, 
have mercy on us.

I have heard, spoken and sung this versical for years beyond reckoning.  For decades I have known their source as John’s Gospel. I have never thought about what it means. It is self-evident: it’s a request for Jesus, the lamb of God, to take away the world’s sins, and oh yes, mine while you are at it. Straight forward; right? 

Well, maybe not. Scott Hoezee [i] and Richard Swanson [ii] both ask, and then seek to answer what John means when he names Jesus lamb of God and his purpose to take away the sins of the world. It turns out to be far more complex than you’d think. 

To begin with the phrase lamb of God appears only here, there are other references to Jesus as lamb, but this exact phrase is used only here. [iii]  If Jesus is a Passover lamb, there are image difficulties arising from the understanding of God joining the meal, and eating …. If Jesus is a sacrificial lamb, well sacrificial lambs are female, and while male goats are included, male lambs are left out!  [iv] Additionally, lambs are typically a symbol of gentleness, meekness, and vulnerability not exactly a model for a messiah. 

Okay, let’s not get drawn overly deep into the lamb bit, let’s just focus on the core phrase, who takes away the sins of the world. How?  Let’s begin with take away which is rooted in the Greek lift up, which may imply lifting up sins so everyone can see them. Or it may refer to the firey serpent episode in Numbers with the bronze snake lifted to so those bitten can be healed. Or perhaps it’s a reference to being lifted up during crucifixion. We might even consider the sacrifice of Isaac, when God provide the lamb, but again there are translation difficulties. [v] 

From this mess of ancient sacrificial practices, and translation question an image emerges that is helpful, God provides for the healing of God’s people. Yes, we have our obligations to meet, nonetheless, the healing and redemption is accomplished through God in Jesus’s birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension.  All this being said, knowing the Lamb (sheep, sacrifice) of God, takes away (lifts up) the sin of the world, has mercy on us all the time, for all time, illumines lives. 


[i] Scott Hoezee, The Lectionary Gospel Text is: John 1:29-42, ep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, January 19, 2014

[ii] Richard Swanson, Commentary on John 1:29-42, Working Preacher, WorkingPreacher.org, January 19, 2014

[iii] Hoezee

[iv] Swanson

[v] ibib, and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.