Tending the Connections of Life

A sermon for Proper 23: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, Psalm 66:1-11, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19

 

Last week we explored how we are consecrated or set aside for God’s service, in our baptism. The first story in the bible of being set aside is in Genesis 1. Actually, there are two versions of the same event; the other begins in Genesis 2. You recognize that they are the creation stories, prior to the encounter with the “most crafty” of all the wild animals God made.

In the first creation story after God has made human, in God’s image, God gives human

dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth (NRSV Genesis 1:28)

 In the second account, God made human and then “put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (NRSV Genesis 2:15). Some have used our dominion over creation as rational to use creation however we see fit. Only, we don’t have dominion over creation, just fish, birds and the living things that move. Secondly, while dominion does mean rule, it does not imply how; one can rule benevolently, and since we are created in God’s image, we are expected to rule in God’s image (Harrelson Gen 1:26). In the second story, we are to tend or cultivate which literally means to serve (Harrelson Gen 2:15). So we can see from the very beginning we are created to be stewards of creation. That calling continues after the fall.

In the Old Testament, a steward manages the household for someone. The same is true in the New Testament, with an additional word meaning guardian. Paul refers to himself as “servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries” (NRSV 1 Corinthians 4:1). In the letters we read that stewardship includes time, talents, possessions, and self (Eph. 3:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet 4:10). Alms specifically refers to benevolence, compassionate support for the poor and needy (Sakenfeld).

This rather broad brush approach leads us to understand stewardship as the calling to tend to the household of God, including the divine mysteries, through the sensible use of   our time, our possessions, our talents, and ourselves, including care for those   who live on the margins of life. But what that might look like?

In Jeremiah’s day, it is a rather unexpected calling. Israel is in exile in Babylon. Hananiah, a rival prophet, is proclaiming God will return them to Israel in a couple of years (Bratt). Jeremiah says no! If they submit to their captivity, they can live. In fact, God wants them to bloom where they are; do all those things you have been doing: building, planting, living usual family life cycles. God doesn’t want them to live in secluded corners, but be public about your lives, and while they are at it, look after the welfare of their captors. They are to live life as their ancestors did in Egypt and flourish (Bratt; Nysse).

At times being a good steward requires that you are aware of what God has given you (Ellingsen). On his way through Samaria Jesus encounter ten lepers, who are as excluded from the Samaritan community as are they are in Israel, and pretty much everywhere. They are not considered really human; they are treated as if they don’t exist. Lepers are supposed to cry out a warning if the encounter anyone on the road. When they see Jesus, they cry to him “Have mercy on us!” Jesus tells them to go show themselves to a priest, which is what the law requires before a leper can be declared clean. And they do. That is all we know, except that on the way, one, the Samaritan, an outsider among outcast, notices he is clean and turns around to go tell Jesus “thank you.”

A couple of commentators wrote about the gratitude of the Samaritan Leper. However, for this morning I’d like us to explore how his turning around is an act of stewardship. First, he notices he has been cured. His first act of returning and thanking Jesus demonstrates how he intends to be a steward of this gift of renewed life. Also, Jesus crosses multiple social boundaries to heal the lepers; the Samaritan crosses social boundaries to approach a Jew and to recognize the relationship between them (Pagano). He cultivates his cure, and the harvest is a healing that blossoms as shalom between himself and Jesus (Epperly). And let’s not forget to notice, it is the Samaritan’s choice, to return to Jesus. Part of being a steward is being aware of what God has given into our care. Part of being a good steward is saying thank you, as a first step in cultivating what is your responsibility to manage for the glory of God.

The stewardship gleaning from 2nd Timothy is just a little subtler. Paul does not separate Jesus from the Gospel. To preach to Gospel is to preach Christ. To preach Christ is to preach the Gospel.

There is a unity here we should pay attention to. Over the millennia, the centuries, the decades and the years we have separated God and creation. It may be the result of the development our cosmology, which is a whole new way of understanding how creation developed. However, it happened, we tend to think there is God; God acts; and now there is God plus something else, creation. First, there was one, now there are two. Only creation is not autonomous from God any more than Jesus is separate from the Gospel. So when we are stewards of creation we are stewards of creations and God.

An easier way to think of this is not to think of what portion of my stuff do I tithe from, but how am I going to cultivate God’s stuff? And since money is meaningless to God, we begin to seek what is meaningful to God. It doesn’t take long to see it is the relationships between ourselves; between ourselves and others; and between ourselves, others and God.

I have mentioned before how quarks, the most basic particles of creation, exist only in relationship. Creation is fundamentally a web where everything is connected to, related to everything else. As stewards of creation, our calling is to cultivate all those relationships. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationships between ourselves and our neighbors. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves and strangers. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves and the foreigners, the aliens in the land. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves our neighbors, strangers, and aliens in the land. And all it takes is awareness, gratitude, and benevolence. All that takes is the grace of God that precedes and follows us in our work through Jesus.


 

References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 23 3C | Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7. 9 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Doyle, C. Andrew. “The Future of Stewardship.” n.d. 7 10 2016.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 9 10 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 9 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Frederick, John. Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:815. 9 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

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

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 23 3C | Luke 17:11-19. 9 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Proper 23 C 2 Timothy 2:8-15. 9 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Lewis, Karoline. The Rhythms of Faith. 9 10 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Pentecost 21 C: Gratitude and Grace. 15 11 2015.

Nysse, Richard W. Commentary on Jeremiah 29:1, 47. 10 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Pagano, Joseph S. “The Test of all Happiness is Gratitude, Proper 23(C).” 9 10 2016. Sermons that Work.

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

West, Audrey. Commentary on Luke 17:1119. 9 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

Advertisements

We are Nazarite

 

A sermon for Proper 22: Lamentations 1:1-6, Psalm 137, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10

Everyone should have received an invitation to our Consecration Sunday Celebration Breakfast on October 23rd. And yes, this means it is stewardship time again. And we all know that there is financial aspect of stewardship; it does take money to do the work we are called to do. However, the context of our financial participation in the life and ministry of St. Stephen’s is far more important than the dollars themselves. At some point in preparing for the coming month, I realized that I had not shared any thoughts about why “Consecration Sunday.” So today we are going to explore what consecration means and how it helps to define our stewardship of Christ’s ministry.

I expect you remember the story of Samson, who was consecrated by his parents to be a Nazirite before God. (Judges 13:2-5) He was not very good at keeping the vows made for him; none the less he was among the Judges that saved Israel from the Philistines. Samuel’s mother is barren, and she prays for a son, whom she will give to God as a Nazarite (1 Samuel 1:11; 1:27-28). Samuel serves as God’s agent to identify and anoint Saul and David to be Kings over Israel. Nazarites are consecrated, or set apart for God’s use. These examples show how those set apart can vary in righteousness. An entire group of people can be consecrated, priests, who call come from one tribe, Levites, Aaronites and Zadokites are all consecrated in service to God. In addition to people, times and places can be consecrated. Sabbath is a day set apart for God is consecrated time. Holy Days and seasons, like Passover, are consecrated time. The Temple and all the setting are consecrated for service to God. Events can be consecrated; the Exodus is consecrated, as are all the first-born of Israel from then on (Exod 13:2; Deut 15:19). In the New testament, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is an event consecrated to the service of God. Clearly, the human manifestation of Jesus is consecrated to God, set aside, and is holy (Sakenfeld). Others in the New Testament are also consecrated.

One person is Timothy. He receives a strong Christian tradition from his mother and grandmother. Paul acknowledges the risks of proclaiming the gospel and at the same time assures Timothy of the Spiritual resources that are available (Harrelson 2 Timothy). Timothy is set aside to subvert the present world order rooted in the will to use whatever brute force [to] make your way in the world no matter how many people you have to step on—or even squash—along the way. (Adam; Hoezee, 2 Timothy). There is the implication that Timothy’s consecration, to some degree depends on, on his acceptance of the life and discipline required. The disciples face a similar challenge.

subvert the present world order rooted in the will to use whatever brute force [to] make your way in the world no matter how many people you have to step on—or even squash—along the way. (Adam; Hoezee, 2 Timothy).

There is the implication that Timothy’s consecration, to some degree depends on, on his acceptance of the life and discipline required. The disciples face a similar challenge.

Today’s reading opens with Jesus’ disciples asking him to “increase our faith.” It is interesting to note their request is for our faith, not my faith, to be increased (Lewis). It may be an indication of their growing sense of being a community consecrated to Jesus. But why do they make this request? Well, back up a few verses and you read that Jesus tells the disciples to be sure they don’t cause anyone to stumble, and adds a warning about a millstone around their neck and going for a swim in the sea. Then he tells them that if anyone repents of a sin, they must forgive them, even if that person sins against them seven times a day, or 70 times 7 times (Matthew 18:22). This discipleship stuff is hard. The disciples realize they are going to need help. At first reading, Jesus’ answer is a tad harsh. However, he may be telling them it doesn’t take a lot of faith. They don’t have to have much confidence because the grace and power of God has it covered. And in truth, even if they don’t their scripture tradition points the way forward.

Lamentation is a series of poems expressing regret for Israel’s behavior that has led to her drastic downfall; lead to her death. The primary purpose of her lament is “to enable her to give voice to the extreme suffering she and others endure” (Gaventa and Petersen). It is an intervention that stops Israel’s descent, and at the same time compels her to renew her hope in God; as faint as the glimmer may be. In expressing her emotions, Israel releases the energy necessary for her to do the work that needs to be done (Hoezee, Lamentations 1:1-6).

 Now, the gleaning about our consecration. As did Timothy, we have also received a great faith tradition. We too have to make or renew our choice to boldly proclaim the Gospel,  in increasingly challenging circumstances. Nationally, proclaiming the Gospel in falling out of favor. The particular tradition we follow is vigorously challenged by other Christian traditions. Like the disciples, we may begin to see just how big our calling is. We may begin to doubt our abilities. We may even begin to get overly focused on possible miss steps that seem to be leading us into an uncomfortable future. Like Israel, our existence may be doubtful. And yet today we hear how expressing our concerns, and our fears, and confessing our missteps will free the divine energies necessary for us to continue to be consecrated, to be set aside, to serve God’s purposes as faintly as they may appear.

One other observation. By our baptism, we are consecrated into Jesus’ ministry. We are Nazirites in service to Christ’s ministry all our lives. We may, no ~ we will fail on occasion. God forgives, seventy times seven times a day. Our trust, our faith may, no ~ will falter. The Spirit is always there gently pointing to the way. And when our days are up, we will give thanks for the resurrection of Jesus through which we come into the gracious presence of God.

In the days between now and October 23rd, our Consecration Sunday I invite you to prayerfully explore how you are consecrated to service in Christ’s ministry; trusting in our God, who is always: more ready to hear than we to pray, more ready to answer than we are to ask, more ready to welcome than we are to seek (Pankey).

 


Works Cited

Adam, A. K. M. Commentary on 2 Timothy 1:114. 2 10 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 2 10 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 2 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 22C | Lamentations 1:1-6. 2 10 2016.

—. Proper 22C | Luke 17:5-10. 2 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Proper 22C 2 Timothy 1:1-14. 2 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher The Increments of Faith. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Logue, Frank. “An Act of Love, Proper 22(C).” 2 10 2016. Sermons that Work.

Lose, David. Pentecost 20 C: Every Day Acts of Faith. 2 10 2016.

Pankey, Steve. “Is that you Jesus?” 2 10 2016. Draughting Theology.

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

West, Audrey. Commentary on Luke 17:510. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Lamentations 1:16. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

And The Walls Keep Tumbling Down

A Sermon for Proper 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A risk to believe, a risk to act, a risk to be a steward.

A sermon for Proper 28

Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 123, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30

Today is the last of the semi continuous readings from the Old Testament until next year’s season after Pentecost. The story continues with the Books of Judges, which is the story of Israel following God as they swore to do, even after Joshua told them they couldn’t. The short version of the story is that Joshua was right. Judges is cyclical set of stories:

  • Israel quits following the promises they made and does what is evil in God’s eyes.
  • The Bible says “God sells them to …” whichever King is available.
  • When the oppression grows too much, Israel cries out, and God raises up a Judge,or military leader, who frees them from oppression.
  • All goes well until the Judge dies and Israel falls back into her wandering ways.

Over time things get worse and worse. Israel’s behavior is worse. The consequences are harsher and harsher. Their reformed behavior, after being rescued, is less and less in line with the covenant both Moses and Joshua establish for Israel. By the end of the book, it is clear the Judges system is a failure. The next step in the Old Testament story is the establishment of Kings.

What we hear this morning is only the introduction to the story of Deborah as Judge. The rest of chapter 4 completes the story, including Barak’s leading Israel to victory over Jabin’s much more powerful, chariot lead army and Jael, the Kenite, who kills Sisera, Jabin’s commander, with warm milk and a tent stake. It is a gruesome story. It’s also unusual, in that neither Deborah, Barak, nor Jael are a judge as all the others are; though collectively they are. It’s unusual that not one, but two women, one of whom is not of Israel, play a prominent role in saving Israel from oppression. And it’s a bit unique, in how it parallels the Exodus story of God leading Israel out of the oppression of slavery by throwing Pharaoh’s army of chariots into confusion. (McCann 6351)

I’ve two take-aways from this story:

  1. It’s amazing what we can do when we work together.
  2. The patience and commitment of God; this is the fourth cycle of Judges, and despite Israel’s deplorable behavior God continues to honor the covenant. (Hoezee)

There is a third piece; when you look at Judges as a whole, the status of women represents the overall health of Israel’s society. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner) From here on the treatment of women declines greatly, as does the health of Israel’s social mores.

One more bit. Charles Hoffacker writes:

“The Parable of the Talents” is not really about money or abilities. It’s a story about trust, a story about risk. Life is the same way. What turns out to be important is not money or abilities in themselves, but our decision to use them in ways that show our willingness to risk and to trust. (Hoffacker)

The difference between the first two servants and the third is that one and two reciprocate the trust  their master puts in them and therefore can risk putting the talents given into their stewardship to work. The third does not trust the master, and is therefore not able to risk the talent given into his stewardship. Deborah and Barak exhibit trust in God’s call and are able to risk taking on Jabin’s far superior iron chariot based army. It’s possible Jael, the Kenite, exhibits the same trust; remember the Kenites are Moses’ father in law’s tribe and know something of Israel’s God. Jael risks trusting God and is a major player in freeing Israel from oppression.

One last thing before I finish;  I expect you noticed I referred to the servants in Matthew’s parable as stewards. I hope you did, because these two bible stories together reveal a little discussed dimension of stewardship, risk. Throughout the bible it is a risk to believe in God. There is always some other god’s people round about who will dismiss you or seek to do you some sort of harm for your belief in God. Throughout the bible God asks people to act;  Abram is asked to leave the home of his ancestors, Moses is asked to take on Pharaoh, Joshua is asked to lead the invasion of Canaan, Deborah and Barak are asked to take on Jabin, David is asked to be King in Saul’s stead, Mary is asked to be the mother of God incarnate, and Joseph is asked to ignore social custom and be the human father to Jesus. All of them accept, all of them risk themselves by acting. Making a stewardship commitment is far more than making a promise to give so many dollars to this or that church. To be a steward  is to risk believing in the living creator God, incarnate to us in Jesus, and continually present to us as the Spirit. To be a steward is to risk acting from the moral imperatives that arise from that belief. To be a steward is to risk being a part of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. To be a steward, to commit time, talent and treasure to continuing Christ’s ministry proclaiming the Kingdom of God, is a life defining risk. So, make your commitment prayerfully, discerning God’s call. But more importantly, make your commitment trusting that God has destined you for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, so no matter our state we live with him.  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)  Amen.


References

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Judges 4:1-7. 16 11 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

Hoffacker, Rev. Charles. Sermons that Work. 16 11 2014.

Jaconson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 16 11 2014. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx&gt;.

McCann, J Clinton. Judges A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING. Ed. James Luther Mays and Patrick D Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor. Vol. 7. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002.

Olson, Dennis. New Interpreter’s Bible – The Book of Judges Introduction, Commentary and Reflection. Vol. 2. Abingdon Press, n.d. 12 vols. CD.

Remember and Choose

A sermon for Proper 27

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14- 25, Psalm 78:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13

We are back to our semi continuous reading of the Old Testament this morning. Two weeks ago we heard Moses’ farewell address to Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. He did not go with them. Joshua, his appointed successor, of sorts, is to be Israel’s Prime Minister, as God leads them into the Promised Land. This morning we hear from the end of Joshua’s farewell address, which is actually a covenant renewal. This final chapter opens with a gathering of all the tribes. Joshua gives a brief review of Israel’s history up till then, although we hear it only through Abraham’s call. This review sets the stage for the choice to come. (Koeing)

The choice Israel has to make is which god to follow. Will they follow the God of the ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who freed them from slavery, led them through the wilderness and in capturing the Promised Land? Or, will they, as they have been want to do over the years, follow other, local gods? It’s an unusual scene in that Joshua seems to stand apart from Israel, challenging them, which is not his customary role as first among. (Coote 11462) Perhaps because this task is different. Here he demands they choose. Then he declares his choice:

“… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Well success is at hand. All of Israel proclaims they will follow “the Lord for he is our God.” But then Joshua, in rather sarcastic voice, tells them they cannot. He knows they have all sorts of tokens and idols of the gods of the recently conquered lands. He has witnessed their wandering eyes. He knows their tendency to rebel. (Hoezee) And so he names it. But the people fervently reply “NO! ~ we will serve the Lord!” Twice more the people declare they will serve the God of their ancestors. And we come to the close; with Joshua’s command to them to put away their foreign gods, after which he makes a covenant with the people, including statutes and ordinances. (More laws.)

It would be easy to get offended by Joshua’s biting sarcastic “You cannot serve God!” It is tempting to think Joshua doesn’t believe: his people will, or can, put away their illicit mementoes; that Israel will not, cannot follow and serve God.

But I don’t think that’s how he feels. Joshua’s challenge forces the choice into public awareness, he names the easy pluralism or laissez faire relativism Israel so often tends to. He names the truth, they must choose, the God of their ancestors, or the gods of the lands, they cannot have both.  (Epperly)

In many ways Joshua’s fare well mirrors Moses. Both remind Israel what God has done for them, and then presents them with the opportunity to choose to follow God. It is not the last time remember then choose is a structural theme of biblical writings.

The appointed Psalm for this morning is the first seven verses of Psalm 78. Psalm 78 is 72 verse marathon reviewing the history of God and Israel through to the establishment of David’s Kingly line. It is written over against the division of the Kingdom in the 9th century BCE by Rehoboam and Jeroboam, (Harrelson)

Solomon’s sons. The verses that stand out for me are:

… things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.

We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. …

…  that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children,

so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; (NSRV)

They are a succinct refrain:

remember and choose,
remember and follow,
remember and serve.

They are also a succinct definition of stewardship: that we are stewards of Christ’s ministry to proclaim that God’s Kingdom is right here, right now. It reminds us to teach the children, not just ours but “theirs” even the unborn.

Tuesday St. Stephen’s mailed a letter with a commitment form to everyone for whom we have an address. If you did not get one let me know, I have copies. The asking is for a commitment of time, talent and treasure. I know that you know that this is the stewardship time of year, and churches ask members to tell them what they plan to give next year. There is a focus on money. Our vestry is responsible for putting a budget together to guide our spending for the year to come, and to plan for the years ahead. So, knowing your intention to give back to God, through St. Stephen’s, is important. However, the contribution of time and talent toward participating in our stewardship of Christ ministry is more important. Commitment of time and talent represent your remembrance and your commitment to put away our foreign gods and to follow and serve God. Without the commitment to follow and serve God, our financial contributions, as significant as they are, are out of context.

My challenge to all of us is: over the next two weeks take time to prayerfully remember, to listen for the divine voice, to discern your commitment to tithe, returning 10% to God, or your plan to get there, and to discern how you are called to remember, share or teach the promise in the story of God and Jesus, so we and generations to come will know and live by God’s love for all.


References

Coote, Robert B. New Interpreter’s bible. Vol. Volume 2 Joshua. Nashville: Abbingdon Press, 2003.

Creach, Jerome F. D. Interpretation. Vol. Joshua. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurois Lectionary. 9 11 2014. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25. 9 11 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

Koeing, Sara. Commentary on Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25. 9 11 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

You are about to die and be raised in Christ!

A Sermon for The Easter Vigil

Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation], Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea], Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all], Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God’s people], Romans 6:3-11, Psalm 114, Matthew 28:1-10

This evening Sarah will be baptized. The Vigil readings give us the opportunity to explore how Baptism’s roots   go far beyond Jesus all the way back to creation.  The place we’ll start is Paul; he tells us we are baptized into Christ’s death, not a real comforting thought. Paul’s reasoning is simple:    when we die because we are connected to Jesus death by baptism, by baptism we are connected to Jesus’ resurrection, and we will as Paul writes: walk in newness of life.  It’s a story captured in a baptismal liturgy of a remote people whose fonts look like small water-filled coffins; and whose children are plunged into them as the priest shouts:  “I kill you,” and who witness their children are raised high as the priest proclaims:  “and raise you in Christ!” It’s dramatic;  almost as dramatic as the connection baptism has with all of scripture. So, off we go, and plunge into the darkness of chaos.

And that what it was, all darkness and chaos, but also the lack of reason the lack of relationship the lack of love. The first thing God does is to show up, ruach – wind, spirit, or breath; and then God sings, harmonics of love burst forth first in light, not illumination, but presence a declaration I am here! And then there was all sorts of stuff, including the light of illumination, by which we see the world, and by which we perceive truth.

On the very last day we are created. Two bits are critical. One is that we are created in the image of God; that doesn’t mean we look like God; it means we bear, or carry, God’s image into the world. Imago Dei Signifier, it’s not as poetic as I’d hope, but you get the point.  Second: God makes us male and female in God’s image. I, she, we, are all forged as Imago Dei Signifier; none more so than any other, for sum of us all is less than a mere passing of infinite love.

The last thing God does is to call us to vocation. We are to:  fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over … over every living thing… Remember this is an agricultural vocation, tilling the earth. To subdue and dominate is to bring forth earth’s bounty. This is a calling to be stewards, the care takers of every living thing.

Famine drives the Hebrews into Egypt. They survive, they grow in to an overly prosperous people, and the new Pharaoh enslaves them. God calls Moses, to lead the Hebrews from slavery to freedom. It requires a dramatic set of signs, including the death of every first born Egyptian. They are making their way out of Egypt when Pharaoh decides: Nope this isn’t going to happen. and sets out after the Hebrews, who panic. Why? Have they already forgotten all those divine signs, I guess so, Pharaoh seems to have. Or do they not quite trust God and faced with death, reflexively turn back to the deceptive ways of worldly power? Moses tells them: Do not be afraid, stand firm, and witness the salvation God will provide for you today. They do, and witness a massive technological failure, it’s amazing what mud will do to the best we can think up, and the Egyptian army drowns as they dance to Miriam’s song on the shores of the sea. You would think it be unforgettable.

And it was ~ sort of. They enshrine Miriam’s song in liturgy, but pretty much forget everything else. Half a millennia later Isaiah is preaching to Judah, who’s trying to establish their own destiny. Isaiah questions their tactics, their reasoning, and their theology; here they go again, not trusting God. He asks: Why do you spend your money at Macy’s, Dillard’s or Land’s Ends? Why do you seek bargains at Wal-Mart, or Dollar General? What do you think you’re really going to find at Amazon or E-bay?  Thirsty? God provides living water, ~ no charge. Hungry? God provides bread and milk ~ no charge. Isaiah is pointing to the covenant that originally linked them to God. He’s telling Judah God wants to reestablish that covenant. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s God’s way.Isaiah also lets them know God has no worries, what God seeks, God will see.

Another hundred years and this time Zephaniah is speaking to God’s people. The message is the same, trust God, the emphasis is different: God is in your midst, gathering the outcast, healing the sick and broken, transforming shame to praise darkness and chaos to light.

And now we are three days after monumental divine failure, the messiah is dead, crucified at the request of his own people, at the hands of Rome. Mary and Mary go to the tomb. They witness: an earthquake, the appearance of an angel, the guards freeze in fear. They see Jesus and he tells them to go tell his disciples, he will meet them in Galilee.  

We do not know what they expected; none of the above was on the list. I’m not sure what we expect, yes we know about Jesus’ resurrection, but we don’t expect Mary and Mary to be the first apostles, but they are, they are the first people sent to bear witness to the resurrected Jesus.

All of this is what we are baptized into. The end point for us is the promise of resurrection. Our entry point is our sharing in Jesus’s death. But the foundation, is laid all the way back in Genesis, with light that brings light, that shapes us as Imago Dei Signifier, that calls us to tend every living thing. At the Red Sea we witness God’s continuing refrain:  Do not be afraid, stand firm, and witness the salvation God will provide for you today. Through prophetic voices we hear God’s offer of living water, bread and milk, and covenant life. Through prophetic voices we are prompted to trust God to take care of all the details. And just as God provided a vocational calling so does Jesus’ we are called to follow Mary and Mary to go and share Imago Dei in a crucified messiah now risen from the dead, who brings us into complete covenant relationship for all eternity.

It’s not a job I’m up to, but neither was Moses, or David, or Isaiah, or Zephaniah, or the disciples, or Mary or Mary; but that’s God’s way. And the truth is they carried God’s image, after all we have it, that being said, we can trust God to trust us.

Sarah, you are about to die and be raised in Christ!  so welcome to the church, the body of Christ, as Imago Dei Signifier, to live in light,  stand firm, trust God and go about tending to all creation. It’s not what anyone would expect, but God’s ways are not our ways, and our risen Christ, is the eternal witness.

 

 

 

righteousness + resurrection + trust = stewardship

After a few days reading, and some of today contemplating I think I’m heading towards something like:

From Haggai, to Luke, to Paul: it’s not about silver and gold, it’s about relationship with God, it’s not about marriage, it’s about what God did in the incarnation and will do in the resurrection, it’s not about last minute proclamations, it’s about trusting God.

And since we are still focusing on stewardship, which I see as a time to engage how we share our story of the story, this is a story to share.

Now, can I get it in 11 minutes?