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Pentecost 18 Proper 21B RCL September 27, 2015

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Our opening reading, from the Book of Esther, is filled with drama. It tells us about the origins of the feast of Purim, which commemorates the saving of the Jews from Haman’s plot to kill them all. Here is some historical background to the story.

Along with many others,  Mordecai, a Jew, is taken captive when king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquers Jerusalem. Mordecai is taken to the city of Susa, where he becomes a respected member of the king’s court and a trusted advisor to the king. His cousin, Esther, becomes an orphan, and Mordecai takes her into his own home.

Through a series of events, Esther becomes the Queen of Persia. We are now in the reign of King Ahasuerus, which is his name in Hebrew. He is perhaps better known as King Xerxes I, who reigned from  486-465 B. C. Haman, a ruthless, arrogant, and anti-semitic member of the court, is plotting to kill Mordecai and all the Jews in the kingdom. With great courage, Esther appeals to the king to stop this genocide. Because of the antisemitism in the kingdom, she has hidden her Jewish identity, but now she ricks everything to save her people.

Her wish is granted, and Haman is hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. The point of the story is that Esther is a heroine. Like Moses, she has freed her people.

This reading can lead us to all kinds of themes to think about. Our Jewish brothers and sisters suffered the holocaust, one of the greatest horrors in history. Anti-Semitism has no place in the Christian faith. Even today, Jews, Muslims and others are being persecuted in many places. God is a God of love.

The Letter of James is so down to earth, so practical. Are we suffering? What should we do? We should pray. Are we cheerful? We should sing songs of praise. In every circumstance, we should pray.

When we pray, we are asking God to come into the midst of our lives with love and grace.

James says that when we are sick, we should call for the elders of the church to come and anoint us with oil and lay hands on us. Many churches have the laying on of hands and anointing with oil at or after the Eucharist on Sundays. When we are sick or suffering, it is a wonderful thing to share that and ask others to pray for us. James goes on to say that we should confess our sins to one another. In the early Church, this actually happened. People confessed ad received absolution in front of the congregation.

Nowadays, we tend to be more private, but it certainly helps to share our burdens with each other and ask for prayer. We can also confess to each other or we can confess individually to a priest. All of these things lead to spiritual health.

This is one of the wonderful gifts of Grace Church. We do share our burdens with each other. We don’t try to carry them alone. We ask each other to pray for us and for our families. With genuine gratitude to God and the community of faith, we ask for help. We don’t pretend to be perfect. We don’t pretend to be self-sufficient. We ask for help and prayers. And the power of those prayers helps each of us to be more healthy spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And that means that our community of faith is also more healthy, because we are all sharing our burdens and counting on each other and God for help. This is one reason why we do not have strife and division the way James’ community did. Because we know each other as frail and fallible human beings who are trying, with God’s grace, to be faithful followers of Christ, and we are all working together.

Our gospel builds on these themes of God’s love, mercy. and healing. The disciples see someone healing people in Jesus’ name. They ask Jesus whether they should stop the person. Jesus says, absolutely not. If people are doing good things, give them encouragement. Don’t stop them.

He tells them and us not to put barriers in people’s way. If some of these little people are trying to believe in hm, we should help them. We should explain our faith and live our faith in a way that encourages them to believe in Jesus.

And then our Lord tells us that if anything is getting in the way of our following him, we need to get rid of it. Maybe we have an addiction to something. We need to get into recovery. Maybe, like some of his disciples  last Sunday, we are consumed with ambition and we want to be the greatest in his kingdom. We need to revise our thinking. If anything is getting between us and Jesus, we need to ask his help to remove it. Because we want to follow him with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength.

This week is an extraordinary week. Pope Francis has come among us. He is such an extraordinary person, such a holy example, an embodiment of God’s love, mercy, and healing. He has identified himself as someone from an immigrant family and has called us to work together to create an inclusive society in which all persons are treated with respect. He has called us to take climate change seriously and work to protect and preserve our beautiful planet. He has called us to protect the vulnerable people of our world and to work for “reconciliation, peace, and freedom.”

Our beloved bother, Pope Frances lives what he preaches. He causes untold worries for those who are trying to protect him by leaving his Pope Mobile to go out into the crowd and touch people and pray for people who need God’s love and healing. This brings hope and new meaning to people’s lives. To all of our lives. Pope Francis is a living and inspiring example of the points of all our readings today.

May we follow his example.

Amen.

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