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Last Sunday after Pentecost  Proper 29 Christ the King November 24, 2019

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Canticle 4, p. 50 BCP
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 12:33-43

Today is Christ the King Sunday. The season after Pentecost is coming to an end, and we are looking forward to the season of Advent.

In our reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God is speaking to the people. There have been many unfaithful leaders. God is now going to be the shepherd of the people. God will lead God’s people home from exile. And, especially significant for us, God will raise up a Righteous Branch, a good and wise king who rules with justice. In these words we as Christians see a description of our King, Jesus Christ.

Our canticle for today is the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Zechariah is looking forward to the coming of our Lord, and he is addressing his own infant son, who is going to be the forerunner, telling everyone that the Savior is coming.

In our reading from Colossians, Paul prays that we may “be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power,” that is the power of Jesus. He has “rescued us from the powers of darkness.” He is the head of the Church, which is the Body of Christ here on earth, and we are members of that Body. We are as close to each other as the cells in a human body. We depend on each other. We support each other. We are his hands to reach out in love, his eyes to look on others with compassion, his feet to bring help to those in need.

In our gospel for this day, we are at the feet of our Lord as he is being crucified. He asks God to forgive the people who are doing this because they do not understand what they are doing. People taunt him, yelling at him to save himself if he is so powerful.

There are two prisoners, one on each side of him, One joins the cries to Jesus to save himself—and the two criminals. But the other sees who Jesus really is. He sees that Jesus has done nothing to deserve this punishment. He asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. And Jesus tells him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The crowd sees Jesus as an earthly king, an earthly leader who will do anything he can to save himself. But Jesus is not an earthly king. He has come to save others. We are following him. He is our Good Shepherd. He is our king, a king like no other.

Jesus is the eternal Word who called the whole creation into being, and he will come again to complete his work of creation and reconciliation. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. As we read and learn about the ministry of our Lord here on earth, we see how God feels about us.

God loves us with a love that nothing can stop. God gives us gifts so that we can live our lives in joy and do our ministries. Gifts of listening, healing, growing things, rescuing dogs, singing, playing instruments, keeping the books, caring for the creation, making places and experiences accessible, and on and on the list goes.

For the next two or three weeks, we will be making our offerings to the United Thank Offering, also know as UTO. Every time we are thankful for something, we put a coin in our box or other container and at the end of the year, we put it all together and give it to UTO to help people all around our country and the world. The UTO is an outgrowth of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church. Grace Church has a long and active history of participation in this ministry. 

Also, we will be making our pledges to God for the coming year. Our pledge is also a result of thanksgiving to God for all of God’s gifts to us. For me,  the main gift is God’s amazing love. Each of us can spend our whole life just learning to absorb that love. God knows us, knows our flaws and our gifts and our foibles. Even though God knows our weaknesses, God loves us. As Paul says, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

God gives us gifts of time, talent, and treasure. Every moment we have is a gift from God. Out of all the gifts of time, talent, and treasure that God gives us, we return a worthy portion to God in our pledge. If we are giving contributions to groups like the Red Cross or the American Cancer Society, those are part of God’s gifts to us that we are sharing with others. When we give time and energy to help others, that is part of our pledge. We do this because we are so grateful to God for all of God’s blessings,

This Thursday is that very special feast of Thanksgiving—a day set apart for us to be with family and friends and to be grateful for all the many gifts God bestows on us. 

This Sunday we have two very important themes. One is the theme of  giving thanks. The attitude of gratitude is a powerful force for good. And the other theme is that Christ is our King, a very different kind of king. He is not focused on power—he has all the power in the world. He is focused on love, and he is focused on loving us. He is leading us into life in a new dimension. He is leading us in a process of transformation. He is calling us to become more like him. He is calling us to help him build his kingdom, his shalom of peace and harmony where everyone treats others as he or she wants to be treated.

This week, let us take time to thank God for the many blessings God is giving us. And let us also take some time to meditate on our King, Jesus, the Lord of Life, and, to quote Richard of Chichester, let us ask our Lord to give us the grace “to see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly day by day.”

Let us turn to page 246 and pray together the collect for Thanksgiving.

 Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 11C July 21, 2019

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

In our first reading today, we have another passage from the prophet Amos. Last Sunday, God held God’s plumb line up to the Northern Kingdom, and we learned that, under the rule of King Jeroboam II, the rich and powerful were gaining in wealth and power, but most of the other people were struggling just to survive.

This week, God shows Amos a vision of a basket of summer fruit. Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Amos wants his listeners to imagine vividly what happens to a basket of summer fruit, especially in the heat of that land. It rots. Its beauty has gone, its delicious taste has become repulsive. This is precisely how he wishes to portray his society.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us, Year C, Vol. 3, p. 55.

To portray the level of corruption and dishonesty, Amos describes merchants resenting the sabbath and other holy days because they can’t sell wheat or grain. He says that they “make the ephah small and the shekel great.” The ephah is a unit of weight or quantity, and the shekel is the currency. The merchants are rigging the scales so that the buyer gets less than the correct weight, but pays more money for it. This is causing great hardship to the poor.

The level of corruption in the society is so profound that there seems to be no hope. God is going to send a famine, but it is not a famine of food or water, but  “a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” When we humans fail to treat each other with compassion and justice, our hearts can be so hardened that we can no longer hear God calling to us.

Our gospel for today is the wonderful and familiar story of Mary and Martha. We know that these two sisters and their brother, Lazarus, are among Jesus’ closest friends and that he would stop by their home in Bethany whenever he could.

Scholars tell us that Martha is functioning as the head of the house. She welcomes Jesus. In sitting at the feet of Jesus, Mary is acting as a formal disciple.

Jesus says that Mary has chosen “the better part.” Does that mean that he thinks Martha’s preparing the meal is an inferior role?  The text says that Martha is distracted by “many tasks.” The phrase “Many tasks” is translated from the Greek diakonia, servanthood. Jesus told his disciples and us, “I am among you as one who serves,” and he called his disciples and us to be servants. Would he then criticize the role of a servant? No.

In the past, some folks have felt that, in saying that Mary has chosen “the better part,” Jesus us telling us that contemplatives are superior to activists.  Most scholars would disagree with that interpretation. Then, what is our Lord saying?

Biblical scholar Charles Cousar suggests that we remember the parable that appears directly before this encounter with Mary and Martha—the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Cousar says that the Samaritan “…is a model for loving one’s neighbor (as well as identifying who the neighbor is.” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year C,  p. 437.

Cousar continues, “…Discipleship has to do not only with love of neighbor but also with love of God, not only with active service but also with a silent and patient waiting upon [Jesus]. The Samaritan and Mary belong together.”

Where did the Samaritan get the strong faith and the vibrant grace to go over to this half-dead stranger, and save his life? Probably from an understanding of God gained from spending time with God. We see him engaged in active and life-saving ministry but we don’t see all the time he has spent in the presence of God.

On the other hand, we are seeing Mary making the choice to place herself in the presence of Jesus and to absorb everything she can. Cousar writes that Mary is “a learner of Jesus.” This reminds me of our diocesan mission statement, that we are called to “pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We have to spend time with God, Jesus, and the Spirit to get the guidance and grace that we need to do ministry.

Is Jesus putting Martha down? I don’t think so for a minute. The text says that the disciples were with Jesus, so Martha is probably faced with 12 guests. They have to be fed and perhaps housed. Somebody has to take care of all those details. We know that our Lord valued the ministry of hospitality. He was constantly feeding and welcoming people.

Jesus loves and respects both Mary and Martha.With their brother, Lazarus, they are his closest friends. Coming just after the story of the helpful Samaritan, this story is reminding us of how important it is to spend time with Jesus. I think, also, that our Lord is saying that he would like to have some quiet time with both Mary and Martha.

Time together is a precious gift.  Time with family and friends, time with our faith community, and time with God. I thank God for our time together today.  Amen.

Pentecost 5 Proper 10C RCL July 14, 2019

Amos 7:7-17
Psalm 82
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Our opening reading comes from the prophet Amos. Scholars tell us that Amos’ ministry took place between 760 and 750 B.C., two thousand seven hundred years ago.

United Methodist Bishop Willimon writes, “Prophecy is the gifted ability to see what other people cannot or will not see. Prophets focus primarily on the moral and spiritual condition of a nation; they do not simply predict future events, but warn of consequences to injustice. Willimon, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3, p. 221.)

Amos was minding his own business, going about his daily work of being a farmer and a shepherd and a “dresser of sycamore trees,” when God called him to leave his home and land in the Southern Kingdom of Judah and venture into the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Amos was not a member of the professional prophets’ guild. He had no colleagues to support him. Under the leadership of King Jeroboam the Second, Israel had exercised its military might and expanded its land to the farthest reaches in its history. The king and the other prominent and powerful people enjoyed an obscene level of wealth and power while the rest of the people tried to eke out enough to survive.

Amos had a vision of God holding up God’s plumb line of justice and compassion to this corrupt society, and, of course, the society did not pass muster. The priest of Bethel, Amaziah, was completely under the control of the king, and he advised Amos to go home to Judah. Amos responded by telling Amaziah in no uncertain terms that the Northern Kingdom was going to collapse under the weight of its own corruption and that God’s justice would prevail.

Here we have a picture of a nation whose king is so corrupt and such a tyrant that no one dares to stand against him. This includes the priest, who has become a servant of the king instead of being a servant of God. The courage and faithfulness of Amos offer us a shining example of God’s prophets through the ages.

The parable of the Good Samaritan also speaks to us powerfully over the intervening two thousand years. The lawyer asks a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Biblical scholar Fred Craddock makes a profound observation on this: “Asking questions for the purpose of gaining an advantage over another is not a kingdom exercise. Neither is asking questions with no intention of implementing the answers.” (Craddock, Luke, Interpretation, Westminster John Knox, p. 130.) Scholars tell us that the law had defined “neighbors” as “your kin” (Lev. 19:17-18.) Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year C, p. 427.)

So, when Jesus told this parable and the priest and Levite passed by on the other side, his hearers would not have batted an eye. They would have accepted that behavior because they knew that people who served in the temple had to observe the laws designed to keep them ritually pure for their religious duties. The beaten man is described as “half dead,” and priests and levites were forbidden to go near a dead body even if it was a parent. (Cousar, Ibid., p. 427.)

But when the Samaritan stops and helps the man, Jesus’ hearers would have been shocked beyond our ability to understand. Samaritans had split off from the true faith; they had intermarried with the Assyrians who had conquered them. They refused to help with the building of the temple in Jerusalem and instead built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. Their worship and theology were not orthodox. They were seen as the ultimate Other, and they were hated.

Since the man was beaten and bloody and the robbers had taken all his clothes, it was impossible to tell whether this unfortunate man was Jewish or Samaritan, rich or poor, but that did not matter. The Samaritan looked beyond all the possible labels and saw him as a fellow human being who would die if no one helped him. The Samaritan offered the best treatment he could for the wounds and then took the man to an inn and paid for his continuing care.

Once again, Jesus is stretching the limits of the law. A neighbor is not just “our kin.” It is anyone who needs our help. And the Samaritan, who shows such profound compassion and goes so many extra miles, becomes an inspiring example of what it means to be a good neighbor.

Jesus is constantly and forever stretching the limits of our hearts and minds. He is always calling us to deeper compassion. He is in every moment calling us to be inclusive, to dissolve the barriers that get in the way of his love. He is calling us to look at each other, to look at every person, through his eyes.

May we let him lead us. Amen.

Christ the King Proper 29C RCL November 20, 2016

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Canticle 4, Page 50 BCP
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

Today is Christ the King Sunday. The season of Pentecost is ending,  and next Sunday Advent begins. This is also the beginning of Thanksgiving week when we take time to be with friends and family to thank God for all the blessings God bestows upon us.

In our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah, we hear about Jesus, the righteous Branch. He is the Good Shepherd who leads us to the green pastures and guides us to the still waters.

Our reading from the Letter to the Colossians reminds us that God has rescued us from darkness and made us children of the light. We are reminded the Christ is the head of the Church. He is the Vine; we are the branches. We are part of him; and he is part of us. We are alive in him and he is alive in us. He has come to reconcile the world to himself.  We are one in him.

In our gospel, we go to be with Jesus as he is crucified. Jesus asks God to forgive the crowd because they do not know what they are doing. But the people continue to mock him. There are two criminals, one on each side of our Lord. One joins in the mocking, but the other one sees who Jesus truly is. He asks to be a part of the kingdom of Jesus and Jesus says those words we will never forget:  “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus is a very different kind of king. We have a beautiful hymn which says, “The King of love my shepherd is.” Love is the basis of his kingdom. He loves each of us even though he knows that we are far from perfect. He knows each of us so well. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He has seen us at our worst and he has seen us at our best. And he loves us through all of it. He is our King, and we are citizens of his kingdom of peace and harmony.  We are members of his Body called to share his love with everyone.

Our loving God gives us every gift we need to live our lives and to carry out our ministries. God gives us gifts of listening, music, art, sewing, sweeping the floor, writing checks, doing woodworking and carpentry, rescuing dogs, helping addicted people recover, caring for our elderly folks and our children, community organizing, advocating for young people, and the list goes on and on.

God also gives us the gifts of faith hope, and love which are the core of our lives and our life together.

And for all of this, all of these amazing gifts, we are grateful. We are here today because we know that God loves us, and we love God. We want to share that love with each other and with others in our communities.

Later this week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving, that special time when families gather to share love and delicious food and just be together, which is such a great gift.

This Sunday and next, we will be doing our United Thank Offering in-gathering. We put a coin into our little blue UTO box every time we feel thankful. It doesn’t take much time for those coins to accumulate. Each year at this time, we bring in our offering to send to UTO so that they can give grants to help people all over America and indeed all over the world. Thanks are such a powerful thing. We have so much to be thankful for.

This is also the time when we prayerfully think about our pledge to Grace Church. Our pledge is our expression of thanks to God for all that God gives to us.

God has called us to be stewards of God’s creation, to take care of the earth and to return to God a worthy portion of all the gifts God gives. God gives us time, talents, and treasure. When we devote the time to coming to worship God, that is a worthy portion of our God-given time. When we give time to a friend or neighbor who needs a listening ear and some wise guidance, that is ministry on behalf of God which uses our God-given talents of listening and caring. When we come and clean the church or mow the lawn or shovel snow or paint railings or window trim, those are offerings of time and talent.

Our offering of treasure includes not only our offering to the Church but also our support of organizations which help people, such as the Red Cross or the American Cancer Society or any one of the many groups which do such good work. Please prayerfully consider your offering and then take one of the cards on the table at the back, fill it out, and put it into the offering plate. We would like to have these before our Vestry meeting on December 18.

There is so much to be grateful for. Thanks be to God for coming among us to show us the way to new life. Thanks to each and every one of you for all that you bring to this community and for the ministries of caring and compassion which you do out in the world.

Let us pray together the Collect for Thanksgiving Day, page 246.

Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 11C RCL July 17, 2016

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

In our opening reading, we continue to follow the ministry of Amos, the prophet who is called away from his work as a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees to go to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and hold up God’s standards to their society.

Last week Amos’s vision of God’s plumb line showed that the society was not measuring up to God’s ethical standards. This morning, he sees a vision of summer fruit which in a very short time is going to rot. This is an image of the society. It is rotten to the core. People can’t wait until the sabbath is over so that they can go out and cheat their neighbors. They rig the scales so that they show a pound when the weight is less than a pound, and they cheat people out of their hard-earned money. The rulers live in luxury while the common people barely survive.

God says that there will be consequences, and indeed there are always consequences when we humans fail to treat each other with respect, honesty, and fairness. There is going to be a famine, but it is even worse than a lack of food and water. It is a famine for the word of the Lord. People will search high and low to hear the voice of God, but they will not find it. Their lives will be going on without the guidance of God. What a horrible thought.

Our gospel for today is the beloved story of Mary and Martha. Martha is clearly the head of the household, which was an unusual role for a woman in those times. She welcomes Jesus into the house. We can assume that she is preparing a meal, which the customs of hospitality would demand. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus in the classic posture of a disciple, listening to our Lord and absorbing the healing and loving and reconciling energy of his presence.

Martha complains to Jesus that Mary is not helping her with the preparations. Jesus defends Mary’s right to spend time with him and, in fact, to become a disciple.

Is Jesus criticizing those who take action and take care of others? I don’t think so. We need to remember that this story follows right after the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus praises the Samaritan’s caring for the man who had been beaten by the robbers.

This episode from the life of Mary and Martha and Jesus reminds us that spending time with our Lord is as important as helping others. The two go together, prayer and action. Many wise people tell us that we cannot be people of prayer without being spurred on to action, and I think that is true. Prayer leads us to caring action, and action leads us back to the need for prayer.

I think that probably each of us has a Mary part and a Martha part. Some of us may be more deeply called to action; others may be called more to prayer, but both are essential. Our prayers inform and guide our action.

In the end, I think Jesus would have liked to spend time with both Martha and Mary, and then have all three of them get the meal ready, enjoy the meal together and then wash the dishes together.

Scholars tell us that our reading from the Letter to the Colossians is adapted from an ancient hymn. It is a powerful and beautiful statement about the nature of Christ. “Jesus is the image of the invisible God,” Paul writes, “…for in him all things were created.” Christ is the eternal Word, who called the creation into being. Paul goes on to remind us that our Lord is the head of the Church and that he has reconciled us and all things to himself.

Paul continues, “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.” Through the cross of Christ, the whole creation and everything in it is made one with God.

This is something we need to remember as we continue to pray for those who died and were injured in Dallas, St. Paul, Baton Rouge,  Nice, and Istanbul, for their families and friends and all who mourn. I ask your prayers for our country and our world, which is so plagued by violence of all kinds.

A wise spiritual guide, Sr. Rachel Hosmer, OSH, once said, “Christ has won the victory. We are just part of the mopping up operation.” Our Lord has reconciled the world to himself. We are called to bring that reality into being here on earth in his kingdom his shalom of peace and harmony and wholeness for all people and for the whole creation.

In today’s epistle, Paul also writes about “this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ is in each of us, and because of that, we can be people of hope. We can share in new life in him.

During the interfaith memorial service for the five police officers who were killed in Dallas, President George W. Bush quoted a passage from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. That passage reads, in the King James version, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

At the interfaith memorial service in Dallas, President Obama, quoting from Romans 5:3-5, said that Scripture tells us that “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

I found it deeply inspiring to hear these words of faith from our two most recent Presidents.

May we move forward in faith and hope and love. May we, with God’s grace, work to bring in God’s shalom of peace, harmony, and reconciliation.  Amen.

Christ the King Sunday—November 24, 2013

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Canticle 16, p. 92
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the day when the season after Pentecost comes to an end. This is also the end of the Christian year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, the Church’s New Year.

Today is also the Sunday before Thanksgiving, a time when families and friends gather to give thanks for all the many blessings God showers upon us.

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah is already pointing us toward Advent. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is the branch from the house of David. His leadership is the model for all leadership in the Church.

In our reading from the Letter to the Colossians, Paul tells us how Jesus has rescued us from darkness and brokenness and called us to live in his light and healing. He is the head of the Church. We are members of his living, vibrant Body, reaching out to extend his love to others. In Jesus we see God walking the face of the earth. We see the fullness, the wholeness of God.

In our gospel for today, we see very clearly that our King is different from earthly kings. Jesus was crucified because his teachings threatened all those who depended on earthly power. They had to get rid of him. Certainly we humans can use power to try to control others and lord it over them, but that power is destructive. The love and healing of Jesus is stronger than all the earthly power of the Roman Empire. Love is stronger than earthly power, stronger than hate, stronger than efforts to control people, stronger than fear. Earthly powers may have crucified Jesus, but he is alive, and we are alive in him.

And we gather to give thanks. Eucharist is the Greek word for Thanksgiving. Every time we share in the Eucharist, we are having a Thanksgiving dinner, and Jesus is our host. He is feeding us with his own loving, healing, courageous energy so that we can serve others in his name.

God has given us so much. God has given us everything that we have.  We live in a beautiful place. We have loving friends and families.  God has given us gifts, so many gifts—of music, listening to others, sewing, cooking, carpentry, athletic ability, helping to make spaces accessible to all, community organizing, praying, working with young people, rescuing dogs and horses,  teaching, coaching,  paying the bills, keeping the books, assisting elderly folks, building beautiful crèches, serving as  EMTs, nursing, caring—the list goes on and on.  This community of faith has so many gifts.

God has given us everything we need to do our ministry.

We have an abundance. Even if we are going through tough times, we have an abundance. We have what we need. And we have the gifts and the abilities to do what God is calling us to do.

Perhaps the greatest gift that God gives us is God’s amazing and unfailing love.  We are well aware that we have made mistakes in our lives. Sometimes we have felt ashamed of our behavior. God has given us the gift of free will and sometimes we have made  choices that aren’t the most creative. Sometimes we think that we’re not worth much. But that’s not what God thinks.

The greatest gift is that God loves you. God loves me. God loves you just the way you are. God knows you. God knows everything that you have done. After all, God created you. And God loves you. Nothing that you can ever do will ever make God stop loving you.

And God is with you and me right now, God is with us every step of the way on our journey in life. God will guide us. It’s a partnership, We ask God for guidance, and, with God’s grace, we can do what God calls us to do.

What is our response to God’s love and generosity and care? What is our response in the face of all this abundance of grace and gifts? Our response is to be thankful to God. We show our thanks by trying to live as God calls us to live.

Out of gratitude to God, we also return to God a worthy portion of the time, talent, and treasure that God has given us. We offer back to God some of the time and talents God gives us to help and serve others. I know that all of you do this all the time. You help neighbors. You volunteer. You work in your communities. There are many ways to do this.

We also give back to God a portion of the treasure that God has given us.  This can be done by contributing to charities and organizations that we care about, such as the Red Cross or the Nature Conservancy

And I also encourage everyone to consider making a pledge to Grace Church. This is something to pray about in the next couple of weeks, Beth will have pledge cards for us to fill out. It does not have to be a great deal of money. The amount is between you and God. The important thing is that we are returning to God a portion of what God has given us because we are thankful to God. Then we put the pledge card in the collection plate and offer that pledge to God. We are saying “Thank you” to God. Thank you, God, for your love, your grace. Thank you for leading us out of the darkness into the light. Thank you for leading us beside the still water. Thank you for restoring our souls. Thank you for giving meaning to our lives.

So we think of our pledge of time, talent, and treasure. Just being here to join in worship every Sunday is a way of thanking and praising God. It feels so wonderful when everyone is here. We need everyone. So, if money is tight, remember, your gifts of time and talent are very important. One of the most beautiful things about Grace Church is that folks are so deeply committed to being here every Sunday.

God loves each of us more than any of us can comprehend. You are the apples of God’s eye. Always remember that, You are God’s beloved child. Christ is alive and he welcomes you to his Thanksgiving feast.


Pentecost 9 Proper 11C RCL July 21, 2013

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

In our opening reading, God shows Amos a vision of summer fruit. The fruit is beautiful to see and it is sweet and delicious to taste. But the fruit is going to get rotten. This is a vision of a society that is so corrupt that it is rotten to the core.  Those in power “trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land.” They find ways to rig the scales so that they can make something less than a pound look like a pound and charge more for it. They make a profit wherever they can. They do not care about their fellow human beings. Because the people are not even trying to seek or do God’s will, God says that God is going to cause a famine, not of food, but of God’s word. People will finally realize that they need to seek the will and the word of God, but, when they do, they will not be able to find it.

In our epistle, we read a beautiful poem of praise to Jesus, the eternal Word, who called the creation into being and who is also the logos, the plan, the blueprint for human life. “In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” In him, the whole creation is reconciled. As we listen to this passage, we can visualize the creation of stars and galaxies and solar systems, our own solar system, and “this fragile earth, our island home.” We can sense the love and care of God in every aspect of creation and especially in the life and ministry of Jesus. Paul writes, “God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ is in us, and we are in Christ. We are his body here on earth.

In our gospel we have another beloved and familiar story. In John’s gospel, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are a brother and two sisters. Here in Luke’s gospel, Martha is the head of the household. As such, she welcomes Jesus.  In those days, it was unusual for a woman to be the head of a household.

It is traditional to offer hospitality, and Martha sets about preparing a meal. Meanwhile, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus in the traditional posture of a disciple.  Jesus fully accepts a woman, Martha, as head of the household and another woman, her sister Mary, as formal disciple.  This is revolutionary thinking and action regarding the roles of women.

But then Martha comes to Jesus and complains. She asks Jesus to get Mary to help her with the work. Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part.

Scholars tell us that, in the past, we have made some errors in the way we interpret this story. So, the first thing we want to do is correct those mistakes.  Jesus is not saying that those who are students and contemplatives are better than those who make meals and wait on tables and do other tasks which we can call diakonia, that is, the ministry of servanthood, the ministry of deacons. We need all the gifts. Many contemplatives have said that the more we pray, the more we are compelled to take action, to realize that we have to get out there and help people.

Jesus is not scolding Martha for fixing and serving the meal. He is giving us some priceless guidance. In the words of my beloved friend, Carole Brown, Jesus is telling us, “Fret not thy gizzard. A fret gizzard incapacitates.” It’s not the cooking that’s the problem. It’s getting worried and frazzled that’s the problem.

This account of Mary and Martha is put right next to and paired with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Somehow, the Good Samaritan was so steeped in the word of God and the Spirit of God and the law of God that, when he saw that man  lying half-dead on the Jericho road, he didn’t even have to think what to do; he knew. This is my neighbor, my fellow human being. I have to take care of him, I have to treat him as I would want him to treat me.  And that’s what he did. No fretting, No wringing of the hands. No questioning. Just action. Action which expressed, as the hymn says,  “pure, unbounded love.”

When Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, she is extending the best of hospitality because she is going to bask in his presence, She is going to sop up all the love and all the wisdom and all the presence he has to offer. And then she and Jesus and Martha and the other disciples can fix the meal together.

One commentator talks about how in the Church we have bake sales and we have tag sales and this project and that project and we lose sight of what we are here for. In a word, we become frazzled. Fortunately, we do not do this at Grace. We come and we sit at the feet of Jesus in peace and quiet and love, and we absorb his presence. Nobody frets about irrelevant things. We just gather to be with Jesus and with each other, to be his Body here in this place.

When we take the time to sit at the feet of Jesus, everything else flows from that with a minimal amount of fretting and wasting of energy. That precious time spent in his presence energizes and galvanizes us to be his risen Body in this place.

Prayer is important. Learning from Jesus is important. Sweeping and vacuuming and painting and repairing things and cooking and serving and all these things are equally important. But it all starts with listening to Jesus and responding to his guidance and love.

Blessed Lord Jesus, thank you for calling us together to be with you, to sit at your feet, to learn from you. Thank you for calling us to follow you.  Thank you for giving us your peace and your love deep in our hearts. Amen.

Pentecost 8 Proper 10C RCL July 14, 2013

Amos 7:7-17
Psalm 82
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Amos is one of my favorite people in the Bible. He is the perfect prophet for Sheldon, Franklin County, and Vermont. He is a farmer, a shepherd, a “dresser of sycamore trees.” He is not a member of the stuffy and sometimes corrupt professional prophetic guild. He has been called directly by God to leave his home and his work in the Southern Kingdom of Judah to go to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which is enjoying a time of great prosperity and has expanded its territory through military conquest. Those in power are living in the lap of luxury, accumulating vast wealth, while the rest of the people are barely surviving.

God gives Amos the vision of God’s plumb line. God is setting this plumb line, this measurement of what is on the level, what is true and what is not, in the midst of God’s people. Here is this little shepherd and farmer speaking truth to power.

Amaziah, the priest of Bethel and an ally of King Jeroboam, tells Amos to go back home to the Southern Kingdom.  But Amos stands firm.

From time to time it is a good idea to apply God’s plumb line, God’s ethical measuring stick, to our lives and the life of the Church. Are we living in harmony with God’s vision, God’s values?

In today’s gospel, we have one of Jesus’ best known parables, A lawyer is trying to test Jesus. He is not trying to learn something. He is simply trying to challenge Jesus. He asks, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him what the law says. The Law says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus tells him he has given the right answer.

But then the lawyer asks that question, not for enlightenment but for testing, “And who is my neighbor/’ Commentator Eric Barreto says that the lawyer is really asking, “how wide he must cast the net of love in his world. In the eyes of God, who counts as my neighbor?”

We all know the story. A man goes on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Robbers attack, They strip him, beat him, and leave him lying in the road half dead. A priest passes by on the other side. So does a Levite. But the Samaritan comes to him, has pity on him binds up his wounds, puts him on his own animal, takes him to an inn, and takes care of him, The next day he pays the innkeeper to continue the man’s care and promises to reimburse the innkeeper for any further expenses when he returns.

Scholars tell us that it is almost impossible for us to grasp how difficult it would have been for Jesus’ hearers to think of a Samaritan doing anything good. There were deep differences of culture and religion and ethnicity between Jews and Samaritans. If we think back a couple of weeks ago when the Samaritans did not welcome Jesus and the disciples asked him if he wanted them to rain down fire on the Samaritans, that captures the degree of hatred between these two groups.

We also have to remember that travel in those days was dangerous. People did not travel alone. Rich people had retinues for protection and most people would travel in family groups for safety. The Jericho Road was notorious for robbers. People of that time could well have thought that this man was foolish to go alone. Maybe he had a family emergency or urgent business.

Secondly, it is very easy for us to look down on the priest and the Levite. But they were religious officials who were supposed to follow the law, and a major point of the law was to preserve ritual purity. The traveler was well on the way to being dead, which would have made him ritually unclean. Jesus’ hearers would have understood why the priest and the Levite kept their distance.

But this Samaritan, this outcast, this man who is the lowest of the low, follows the law—love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength—and love your neighbor as yourself. His pity, his mercy, his compassion, overrides all other considerations.

I am going to try to retell this parable in terms that try to approach the shock value of Jesus’ story.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him, beat him and left him in the road half dead. An Episcopal priest was going down that road, and, when she saw the man, she passed by on the other side. So also, an Episcopal deacon, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a member of Al Qaeda, while traveling, came near him, and when he saw him, was moved with compassion, He went to him, applied antiseptic, and bandaged his wounds, Then he put him on his own animal, took him to an inn, and when he had to leave to attend to his business, he paid the innkeeper to take care of him until he was well.

That is the level of shock value. This person needed help. We didn’t stop and help him, An outcast, a hated person, showed the kind of care we are called to show.

Justo Gonzalez writes, “Jesus’ final injunction to the lawyer, ‘Go and do likewise,’ does not simply mean. Go and act in love to your neighbor, but, rather, go and become a neighbor to those in need, no matter how alien they may be.”

Once again, Jesus is breaking down barriers, calling us all to be one.  It is not easy to live into this vision of shalom. It is not easy to see the hated other as our brother or sister. As Paul points out in our epistle, we can only live as our Lord calls us to live through God’s gifts of faith, hope, and love.   Amen.