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Epiphany 4B January 31, 2021

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

In our opening reading from Deuteronomy, Moses is saying farewell to God’s people. He will not go with them into the promised land. But Moses is also saying that God will call forth from the people a prophet like Moses. This reminds us of all the great prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Hosea. 

These prophets were called by God to tell the truth, often to leaders who were going astray. They had the courage to speak truth to power. My beloved mentor, David Brown, described a prophet as someone who holds the plumb line of God, the standard of God, the values of God, up to the society, and asks, is this society living by the values God has given us to govern our life together?

In our reading for today, God says, “Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I shall hold accountable.” Prophets are called to speak the truth. They are called to speak the word of God. They are called to lead lives that are in harmony with the word of God. This is our model for good leaders.

Our second reading today allows us to look in on the people of the Church in Corinth, a bustling city with many temples dedicated to various Greek and Roman deities. The people in the congregation in Corinth are wondering whether it is acceptable to eat meat that has been “sacrificed to idols.” This was a difficult issue because, after meat was dedicated to these various deities, it was sent to the markets to be sold. Often, business dealings took place over a meal, so decisions on this topic could affect one’s livelihood.

Some people in the Corinth community say it’s fine to eat such meat because there is only one God. Others are not sure; some are deeply troubled about this. Paul reminds us that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” 

Whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols is not a burning issue for us, but Paul’s advice about our attitudes in the midst of controversies is highly relevant.  

The core of the law and of our faith is that we love God and love our neighbor. As we grapple with issues in the Church, we are bound to have different opinions. In Corinth, the people who felt comfortable eating meat sacrificed to idols were being a bit pushy in trying to convince others to agree with them. Paul is reminding us to focus on God’s love for us and our love for each other. He is also calling us to be aware of the difference between freedom and license. Christ has set us free, but that does not mean that we have a right to do things that hurt others in the community. If we think it’s okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols, we can refrain from doing that if it would hurt others in the community of faith.

In our gospel, it is the Sabbath day. Jesus goes to teach in the synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus can be seen as the greatest of all the prophets. He speaks the word of God. The people are amazed because he has true authority. What he speaks is from God.

In the synagogue is a man who has an unclean spirit. Since he is seen as ritually unclean, he is supposed to stay away from others. He is marginalized. The unclean spirit immediately recognizes Jesus and names him. Jesus speaks the word of God, telling the spirit to be silent and come out of the man. The spirit convulses the man and comes out. The man is now healed.

The prophet speaks the word of God, and that word is a word of wholeness, not brokenness; life, not death; unity, not division; love not hate.

Fred Craddock writes, “Jesus is the strong Son of God who has entered a world in which the forces of evil… are crippling, distorting, and destroying life….But with Jesus comes the word of power to heal, to help, to give life, and to restore. In Mark a battle is joined between good and evil, truth and falsehood, life and death, God and Satan. And sometimes, says Mark, the contest is waged in the synagogue.”  Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 92.

What forces are creating brokenness, division, and hate in our world? What forces operate against God’s shalom of peace, love, and harmony? Racism is one. We all have implicit racism from living in a country where white people are treated differently than people of color. Other such forces are greed, seeking power in order to use and control others, dishonesty, classism, misogyny, violence. Many forces are working against the shalom of God.

Where do we find God’s truth in our world? What forces are working on behalf of truth? What forces are working against truth? Our readings today are encouraging us to be sure that we find sources of information that deal with facts, sources that give us information which is based on scientific research and truth, sources that base their work on information and research from trained, ethical experts who convey reliable, factual information.

Writing of Jesus’ healing of the man in the synagogue, Fred Craddock reflects on the power of words. He writes, “It is the quality of the speaker’s life that makes the words word of God. Another criterion is the character of God: Ours is a God who loves and cares for people, who seeks their wholeness and  health, who speaks healing rather than harming words. “ (Craddock, Proclamation 2 Epiphany Series B, p. 33.

May we all speak the words of God, words of love and caring, words of wholeness and health.  Amen.

All Saints Sunday Year C November 3, 2019

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Daniel. This book was written to inspire God’s people during a time when they were being persecuted by an extremely cruel tyrant called Antiochus IV. The book purports to be taking place at the time of the Exile from 586 to 538 B.C.E., but it was actually written during the time of Antiochus. Using information in the book, scholars can actually date it to 167-164 B.C.E. (Gene M. Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year C, p. 482.)

We remember Daniel as the great hero who won the battle against the lions in that famous den. Our passage today describes a vision. The four winds of heaven stir up the great sea, and four great beasts come up out of the sea. The actual descriptions of the four beasts are omitted, but they represent four empires—the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks.

Earthly empires rise and fall, but the holy ones of God will receive and possess God’s kingdom forever. This was a beacon of hope and inspiration to God’s people struggling under the cruelty of a tyrant who was persecuting them.

In our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, we read of the precious inheritance we have received. Like all the saints who came before us, we have set our hope on Christ. We read these stirring words. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know the hope to which he has called you.” There is that word again—hope. We are a people of hope.

We have received such a great gift. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, all the saints who have gone before us, those who are here now, and those who will follow, and they are all cheering us on as we run the race, following our Lord Jesus. As Sister Rachel Hosmer of the Order of Saint Helena used to say, “Christ has won the victory. We are part of the mopping up operation.”

As we celebrate All Saints Sunday and think of all those who have gone before us—Laura, Hoddie, Charlotte, Harriet, Gertrude, Geraldine, A. J., Theresa, Gwen, Ruth, Frederika, Kate, Arthur, Eva, Albert, Sue, Alvin, Nat and so many more, we contemplate our gospel for today, Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Plain.

Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is easier. It has all blessings and no woes. It is placed more on a spiritual level—“Blessed are the poor in spirit” rather than simply “Blessed are the poor.” In Luke’s gospel, our Lord says, blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed on account of our Lord. Woe to those who are rich, full, laughing. Woe to you when people speak well of you. As many have observed, it is a huge reversal. 

Fred Craddock reminds us of the time when our Lord read the prophecy of Isaiah in the synagogue. When he finished, he said, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled.’ (Luke 4:21.) Craddock writes, “The today that Jesus declared in Nazareth still prevails. The messiah who will come has come, and the prophecy of Isaiah  (Isaiah 61:1-2) concerning the poor, the diseased, the imprisoned, and the oppressed is no longer a hope but is an agenda for the followers of Jesus.” (Craddock, Interpretation: Luke, p.88.)

In this sermon on the plain, on the level, Jesus is calling us to take the poor and hungry as seriously as we do the rich and those who have plenty of food. This is just another way of saying that this gospel is calling us to honor our baptismal covenant to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

The last portion of this reading is even more challenging to us. Our Lord calls us to love our enemies and to pray for those who abuse us. Craddock writes, “This unit… lays down the general principle that Jesus’ followers do not reciprocate, do not retaliate, and do not draw their behavior patterns from those who would victimize them.” (Craddock, p. 89.) At the same time we need to say that, if someone is being abused, they have every right to seek help. healing, and justice. 

And then he sums it up with what we know as the Golden Rule. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Every major religion in the world has this rule or something like it. As we all know, if all of us followed the rule, God’s kingdom would come to the earth.

As we meditate on these readings, I thank God that you and I are not in this moment living in fear of being killed by someone like Antiochus IV, but there are many people who are facing such persecution in one way or another, and I hope we will pray for them and pray and work for the day when there will be peace on earth, when everyone will have enough to eat, water to drink, clothing  and safe shelter and medical care and good work to do.

As I think of these beatitudes, I think of our interfaith food shelf. People are welcomed with hospitality and respect. No one is turned away.  Our two main upstairs greeters who welcome folks and keep our records for the United Way and other agencies know almost all of our clients by name. I have seen them deal with folks who feel ashamed to have to ask for food. I have seen our volunteers extend God’s love to these people. I think that is what our Lord is talking about in this gospel.

As we celebrate with joy this great feast of All Saints, I hope we will feel the energy and love of that great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. May we continue to build God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, and wholeness  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.

Lent 4C    March 31, 2019

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5: 16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Today is the Fourth Sunday in Lent, known as Laetere, Rejoice Sunday, from the opening words of the mass from Isaiah “Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come together all you that love her….” (Isaiah 66:10)  In the British Isles, this day is known as as Mothering Sunday, when people would return to their mother church, the church where they were baptized and servants would be allowed to visit their mothers.

This joyful note is found in our opening reading from Joshua. After their long journey through the wilderness, the people of God celebrate their first Passover in their new home. The manna disappears and they eat the produce of the land. They have moved from slavery into freedom.

In our epistle, Paul echoes this sense of joy and freedom. “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

In our gospel, we come to one of the best known of Jesus’ parables. Biblical scholar Fred Craddock calls this the “Parable of the Loving Father.” Before our Lord tells this story, the text tells us that “ all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.” We know that tax collectors were hated because they had taken jobs with the Roman occupation government and made good salaries collecting taxes from their neighbors to benefit the Roman occupiers. On the topic of sinners, Fred Craddock writes, “Sinners were persons so designated because their offenses had gotten them thrown out of the synagogues.” (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year C, p. 259. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees and the scribes are upset that Jesus allows these people, who are generally considered offensive and beyond the pale, to actually draw near and listen to him. And now Jesus tells this parable.

“A man had two sons.” The focus is on the man. He  loves his two sons. The younger son asks for his inheritance. A younger son was entitled to one-third of the estate, but he usually inherited this at the time of his father’s death. The father breaks with tradition and divides the property. Scholars tell us that the neighbors were probably scandalized.

The son goes to a “distant land” and spends every penny in “dissolute living.” Scholars tell us that this doesn’t necessarily mean that he spent it on prostitutes as his older brother will later accuse him of doing. It means he wasted the money on useless things. He has taken his family’s legacy and blown it. He has taken something very precious and ground it into the dirt.

Now a famine comes and he gets a job as a hired man feeding pigs. This means that he is breaking the religious law and is considered ritually unclean. Religious people should avoid him. He is eating the pods of the carob, something reserved for animals and the very poor.

Each of us in our own discipline of self-examination can identify with the feeling of shame, uselessness, and hopeless that arises when we make a series of unwise decisions and end up feeling alone, alienated from the people we love, and alienated from God.

We have a moment of sanity. The text says that the son “came to himself…” When we get off the path, we have to recover our true self. We have to go home. And we go over the list—I did this and this and this, and I am unworthy and I am sorry. And we want to get back on track.

If this father had been the traditional patriarch who says, “Jump” and you say “How high?” he wouldn’t have been out there at the end of the driveway waiting for his son. But he isn’t the traditional patriarch. Before his son says a word, he hugs and kisses him. Then he puts a robe on his son, probably his own robe, puts a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet. Scholars tell us that no slaves wore sandals. Those sandals are signs that he is freed and restored to his true self. And then the feast begins.

But this father has another son. The elder son refuses to go to the feast. He is operating from a theology of scarcity. There’s only so much love to go around. My younger brother gets everything. I get nothing. His father loves him just as much as he loves his foolish younger son. The father comes out from the feast. The elder son lets him have it. The father stands there patiently, lovingly, And then he tells him, “Son, everything I have is yours, always has been, always will be,  but your brother was dead and now he’s alive. We have to celebrate.”

We have all made bad decisions. We have all done things we wish we had not done. We have all sinned.

For many centuries, we humans viewed God as someone who hurled thunderbolts, spewed forth fire and brimstone, and, all in all, was extremely scary. The word was that God did these things especially when we humans went astray. I suppose this was supposed to help us stay on the path. In my humble opinion, this misunderstanding about God is not very helpful to us, especially when we are acutely aware of our sinfulness. It makes us scared to go home.

Thanks be to God, Jesus came among us. Here he is, telling this parable because the Pharisees and scribes, the elder brothers so to speak, are grumbling that he hangs out with those detested tax collectors and sinners. Heaven forfend, he even called a tax collector to be one of his apostles!

For some of us humans, certainly for me, and I trust for you, the huge depth and breadth of God’s love is a source of great hope. The sheer fact of God’s love and grace makes everything new!  And here in the midst of Lent, we rejoice.



Epiphany 6C February 17, 2019

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah draws a contrast between people who trust in God and those who trust in their human strength, those “whose hearts turn away from God.” Jeremiah says that those who do not trust in God are like a “shrub in the desert.” On the other hand, those who trust in God, those whose hearts are rooted and grounded in God, are like a tree planted by water, sending out their roots, sending their roots deep to the living water. They do not fear when heat comes; they aren’t even anxious in a time of drought. Their leaves stay green and they bear fruit no matter what challenges are going on.

Thanks be to God for the gift of faith. We are so blessed to be able to trust everything to God, to be like trees living by the stream, bearing the fruit of the Spirit no matter what.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, some people are saying there is no resurrection of the dead. We don’t know exactly what was going on. We do know that Corinth was a bustling city with many temples dedicated to various deities, people of all kinds of philosophies, some of which did not believe in resurrection. Perhaps some folks with those beliefs came into the congregation in Corinth.

Paul responds to this situation in logical form and then concludes by saying that Jesus was raised from the dead, and he is the first in a long line of people who are following him into new life. He will be expanding on this in our reading next Sunday.

Just before our gospel reading from Luke, Jesus has been up in the hill country praying with his disciples and calling from the larger group twelve apostles who will be his closest followers. They go down from the higher country to a level place near the lake. In contrast to Matthew’s sermon on the mount, Luke’s is the sermon on the plain. Jesus is on the same level with his listeners, who include the twelve just called to be his apostles, the larger company of disciples, and a large crowd of listeners from a wide area, suggesting that Jesus is addressing his message to everyone. in this multitude are people who have already been healed, and there are many others who are trying to touch Jesus. They have come to hear him and to be healed.

Jesus blesses those who are poor, hungry, grieving, and those who are hated and excluded. He tells the poor that theirs is the kingdom of God; the hungry that they will be filled, the grieving that they will laugh; the hated and excluded that the same thing happened to the prophets and that they will be greatly rewarded in heaven.

If we really think about what Jesus is saying, we could conclude that his words are shocking. He is really turning everything upside down. We don’t want to be poor, hungry, grieving, hated, or excluded. What is Jesus saying?

Fred Craddock says, “On the lips of members of the faith community addressing one another,  a blessing is a celebration of someone’s pleasant and happy circumstances and a curse or woe is a lament over someone’s plight. However, when spoken by God or one who speaks for God, blessings and woes are more than descriptive: they are pronouncements that declare in effect that those conditions will prevail. On the lips of Jesus Christ, therefore, the blessings and the woes of our Gospel section can be taken as the ‘official’ proclamation of the way life will be among the people of God. …Blessings and woes are to be heard with the assurance that they are God’s word to us, and God will implement them.”  (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year C, p. 102.)

These blessings on the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are despised and rejected,  and the proclamation that they are beloved of God and will receive God’s love and care and help, go far back in Luke’s gospel.

In the very first  chapter, they appear in Mary’s song, the  Magnificat , in which God  exalts the humble, lifts up the lowly, and fills the hungry with good things. A few weeks ago, we read in chapter four of Luke’s gospel of Jesus reading from the scroll of prophet Isaiah, in which Isaiah says God has sent him to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

After Jesus reads that passage from Isaiah in the synagogue, he rolls up the scroll and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.” Craddock writes, “The ‘today’ that Jesus declared in the synagogue in Nazareth still prevails; the messiah who will come has come, and the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the poor, the imprisoned, the diseased, and the oppressed is no longer a hope but is an agenda for the followers of Jesus.” (Craddock, Interpretation, p. 88.)

Trusting in God, having roots deep in the living water of Christ and of the Spirit, causes us to bear fruit, the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And so we follow Jesus, and we help him to implement his plan, his reign, his shalom.

For many years, you have helped to implement our Lord’s plan. In recent years, you have helped with a specific part of his plan. When our Lord says that the hungry will be blessed, that they will be filled, he is counting on us to help him with that, to be his hands and feet packing boxes of food and handing them out, to be his listening ears and loving heart when we talk with the folks at the food shelf and offer care and support. Individually and corporately, you have ministered to the folks Jesus calls us to care for in his beatitudes: the poor, the hungry, those who are grieving, those who are hated and excluded.

Just because a congregation is small does not mean that it is weak. As Molly Comeau would say, “You’re small, but you are mighty.” Thanks be to God for all your many ministries.

Dear Lord, help us to plant our roots deep in the living water of your love and grace, and help us to bear abundant fruit. Amen.

Pentecost 21 Proper 23    October 14, 2018

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22: 1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

In our opening reading from the book of Job, several months have passed, and Job has continued to suffer. Job wants to plead his case before God. He feels that God would consider the matter carefully and fairly, and he would like to hear God’s response to him.

The tragic thing is that Job cannot find God. No matter where he turns, God is not there. Our psalm describes this situation of feeling abandoned by God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the cry of our Lord as he suffered on the cross.

Job says, “God has made my heart faint. If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face.” He wants to disappear.

All of us go through such times. St. John of the Cross called this the “dark night of the soul.” In such times, God seems very far away. When we are going though one of those dark night experiences, we can recall times when God was so close we could feel God’s presence, but those times seem far away. Nothing we do seems to help. All we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep trying to follow our Lord, keep praying, and keep hoping.

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Scholars tell us that the word of God in this context means the scriptures and especially the gospels. If we think about what we know of God from the prophets, such as Isaiah and Amos, God’s word is indeed living and active.

At the same time, the Holy One who will be our judge is someone who understands our weakness. He understands what it means to be human. He has compassion on us, and he will give us the grace to get back on the path and persevere on the journey.

In our gospel for today, a rich young man kneels before Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus reviews the commandments with him. The rich young man has followed those all his life. And then Jesus looks deeply into this man’s spirit with great love and sees, as Fred Craddock notes, that this young man’s wealth defines him, and he is not going to be able redefine himself as a follower of Jesus unless he sells everything and gives the money to the poor.  Craddock writes, “Here stands a person whose life has been defined by wealth, and. sadly, he will not accept a new definition of himself.” (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year, Year B, p.441.)

Privilege is an insidious thing. If we have wealth and privilege, it becomes easy to think that we have all this wealth and all these things because of our own strength. It is so difficult for us to remember that everything that we have is a gift from God. We can think that we have worked hard for all these things, and we have earned them and that is true. But God has given us the gifts and the health and the energy to do that work. all good things from God.

Furthermore, people who have wealth and privilege are treated differently. Other defer to them and wait on them. With all the trappings that go along with wealth and privilege, it is easy to fall into feeling self-important, and it is extremely difficult to keep in mind that we are all totally dependent on God and that we are all frail and fallible human beings.

For this particular individual, Jesus tells him to sell everything, give the money to the poor, and come back and follow him. The man cannot do it. Jesus tells the man to do this because he sees that the wealth is going to prevent this man from trusting completely in God and opening himself to God’s grace in order to follow Jesus and carry out his ministry.

The disciples, who have left everything to follow Jesus, wonder aloud, “Then who can be saved?” This is because they have the belief, which was common at that time, that wealth is a sign of God’s favor. So, they reason, if this very wealthy young man cannot be saved, who can?

Our Lord is telling us that wealth and power can get in the way of answering God’s call and building God’s kingdom. Is Jesus saying that everyone has to sell all they have? No, but he is saying that we, as privileged people compared to all the other folks on this planet, have to be very careful to remember to thank God for all God’s many gifts, to share those gifts with others, and to continually seek and do God’s will.

What are these readings telling us? Sometimes, God may seem far away. That happened to Job and to our Lord, so we are in good company. In such times in our lives, we are called to keep on keeping on, keep asking God for help, stay on the path, and the day will come when God is once again as close as our breath.

The scriptures and the life of our Lord speak to all kinds of situations in our lives. They speak clearly and incisively. Always, however, there is the compassion of our Lord, who has walked the way before us.

We need to give up the things that get in the way between us and our Lord. We need to depend totally on him. Even when we cannot feel his presence, he is with us, and he is helping us to get through those difficult times, and he is giving us the three greatest gifts: faith, hope, and love.   Amen.


Pentecost 5 Proper 7B RCL June 24, 2018

1 Samuel 17(1a, 4-11. 19-23), 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

If we think back to our Sunday School days, what Bible passages do we remember? I think today’s first reading would rank near the top of the list for many of us. It is the classic story of the underdog winning the battle.

The text tells us that Goliath’s height was six cubits and a span. Scholars tell us that that translates into a height of ten feet. Goliath is huge; he is scary, and he is a bully. He challenges the Israelites to send one of their men to fight. If Goliath wins the battle, the Israelites will become the slaves of the Philistines.

Meanwhile, David’s father, Jesse, has asked David to bring supplies to his brothers who are at the front. David has gotten up early, left the sheep with a keeper, and brought the supplies. He goes to visit his brothers and hears the taunts of Goliath.

When he goes to King Saul and offers to fight the giant, Saul is afraid that David will be killed. But David assures Saul that, as a shepherd, he has killed bears and lions in order to protect his flock. Saul then offers David his armor, but it is far too heavy and bulky. David goes into battle with his shepherd’s staff, five smooth stones, and his sling.

As Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “David wears armor that we cannot see.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us, Year B, vol. 3, p. 32.)

When David arrives on the battlefield, Goliath hurls threats. David answers, “You come to me with sword and spear, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts.” Goliath is trusting in his own physical strength and brutality. David is trusting in God.

In our epistle for today, Paul is writing to the troubled congregation in Corinth. Some people have gotten the idea that Paul is doing his ministry for his own personal gain and that he is insincere in what he is teaching. With all that Paul has been through, including shipwrecks, prison, and beatings it is difficult to conclude that he is in it for the glory, but that is what folks are saying. In spite of all this, Paul says that his heart is wide open to the people of Corinth, and he invites them to “Open wide [their] hearts also.”

If we open our hearts to each other, remembering that in Biblical terms the heart is the center of the person, the source not only of emotions but also of intention, will, commitment, thought, and intuition, opening our hearts is a powerful thing. We are speaking our truth from the depth of our being. When we can do that in a respectful and loving way, hurts can be healed, issues can be resolved, reconciliation can come out of conflict. Paul was a wise pastor and his words are as true today as they were all those centuries ago.

In today’s gospel, Jesus calls his disciples to get into the boat and go to the quieter side of the Sea of Galilee. They have been surrounded by huge crowds and they need some time away. Of course, the boats follow him. We know the story well. A major storm comes up, with powerful winds and waves so high that the boat is being swamped. The disciples are terrified. Jesus has fallen asleep. They wake him up, shouting, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”  He asks them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And the text says, “They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?”

Biblical scholar Fred Craddock tells us that at this point in their life together, the disciples had not realized who Jesus was. Craddock points out that Mark wrote this gospel for the Church, for those of us who know who Jesus is.

Jesus is with us at every moment in our lives. God is in the boat with us. God was with David. The Holy Spirit is with us. In every storm in life, God is present. Jesus is with us, leading and guiding us, giving us grace and strength to follow him, to rely on him for courage, to follow his lead in doing the right thing.

As I meditated on these readings this week, especially the encounter between David and Goliath, the words of the prophet Zechariah came to mind: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)

In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul listed the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Lord Jesus, our Savior and brother, help us to remember that you are always with us. Give us the grace to transform our our fears into faith. Help us to seek and your will. In your holy Name we pray. Amen.

Epiphany 4B RCL January 28, 2018

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

In our first reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses is giving his farewell address to the people of God. He will not be going with them into the Promised Land. But he is assuring the people that God is going to raise up leaders who will be as faithful as Moses has been.

This is a comforting word at this time in our diocesan life. Bishop Tom will be retiring by September of 2019. Most of us have had an opportunity to know and work with him over the years, and we have grown to love and trust him. He has been a great support for Grace Church, and we will miss him deeply. This reassurance that God will provide a good and faithful leader is a great help as we face this time of transition.

Our psalm today reinforces the theme of God’s faithfulness and presence with us.

In our epistle today, St. Paul is addressing a thorny issue of that time. Corinth was a bustling port city with temples devoted to all kinds of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. If you went to the market to buy meat, chances were that it had been dedicated to one or another of these gods or goddesses.

The issue of whether to eat meat devoted to an idol is not a burning issue for us today. But Paul’s guidance in how to deal with controversial issues is relevant in all times and places.

Paul says that,  as Christians we know that these Greek and Roman deities are not equal to God. If we eat meat sacrificed to an idol, it means nothing. It is just meat. But, for someone who is new to the faith, it may not be that simple. We can think with our head, “Oh, that meat was sacrificed to an idol, and it does not matter if we eat it.” But, if someone eats that meat and then their conscience bothers them because some part of them believes that eating that meat is somehow wrong, we should not encourage them to eat that meat. Paul is telling the Corinthians and us to be very careful about pushing folks into positions that are not comfortable for them, positions that disturb their conscience. It does not matter if our position is intellectually correct. What matters is our effect on other members of the congregation. So, if we are at a meal and we know that someone in our community would be troubled it we eat that meat sacrificed to an idol, we need to consider that person’s feelings and choose not to eat the meat.

Paul says,”Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” He calls us to avoid doing anything that might make one of our brothers or sisters stumble on their journey with Christ.

In today’s gospel, it is the sabbath, and Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum. He is magnetic. His person and his words convey the truth of God’s love and faithfulness. He has genuine authority—auctoritas, authority that works on behalf of people, authority that sets people free from things that imprison them.

Now the focus changes to a man in the synagogue who is possessed by a demon. In our terms, the man is seriously ill, possibly with a mental illness or a seizure disorder such as epilepsy. In those days, folks with such illnesses were thought to be possessed by something evil. They were considered unclean and people did not associate with them.

Jesus has no patience with anything that harms people or separates them from others. In a commanding voice, he calls the forces of darkness to leave this man. The revered Biblical scholar Fred Craddock writes of this passage: “Jesus is the strong Son of God who has entered a world in which the forces of evil…are crippling, alienating, distorting and destroying life….But with Jesus comes the word of power to heal, to help, to give life, and to restore. In Mark, a battle is joined between good and evil, truth and falsehood, life and death, God and Satan.” (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year, p. 92.

There are many things which cripple, alienate, and distort life today. We have only to think of the epidemic of addiction, particularly of opiate addiction, that is taking lives every day all over our country. The sin of greed, which some have called affluenza, infects people to the point where no amount of money and wealth is enough. The pursuit of power is another destructive force of darkness. People will lie, cheat, and steal to achieve their goals. Violence stalks our streets. All of these are distortions of what human life is meant to be. They destroy individuals and they destroy community. In the face of all these, as Craddock says, “Jesus has the word of power to heal, to help, to give life, and to restore.”

We can see from this gospel passage that Jesus has no patience with anything that is destructive to any of his children. This man was not anyone famous, but Jesus confronted and defeated the evil that threatened him.

God is faithful. God calls us to be faithful. God calls us to use our gift of free will with extreme care and profound love and consideration for our brothers and sisters. God calls us to put the needs of others before our own needs. Our Lord stands clearly and unequivocally against the forces of darkness. He is the light that has come into the world.

Herbert O’Driscoll says that we, who know our Lord as the Compassionate One, may be shocked to see the power with which our Lord vanquishes this demon. He writes, “For me, the value of this passage is the glimpse it gives us of the immense natural authority that was clearly present in Jesus’ words and actions.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Today, Year B, Volume 1, p. 86.)

In our readings today, Moses, St. Paul, and Jesus give us sterling examples of leaders with moral authority. May God give us such leaders in our own time. Amen.

Pentecost 26 Proper 28C RCL November 17, 2013

Isaiah 65:17-25
Canticle 9
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Our first reading is from the prophet known as the Third Isaiah. The people are returning from their exile in Babylon. Scholars tell us that the process of trying to rebuild the temple is proving to be difficult. Some people are falling into the worship of false gods. There is conflict and corruption. In other words, things are falling apart at the seams.

In powerful terms, Isaiah describes God’s vision of a restored Jerusalem and a world made whole. There will be no more weeping. Babies will not die. People will live to a ripe old age. People will build houses and plant vineyards and enjoy the fruits of the harvest. They will live long lives and they will be blessed by the Lord. The lesson ends with a beautiful echo from the vision of shalom in Isaiah 11. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.” The foundation of this new creation is trust in God.

In our epistle, false teachers have convinced some people that the end is coming. Some folks are apparently quitting their jobs and putting a burden on those who are continuing to work. Paul is encouraging everyone to keep working in order to support the whole community so that the church can continue to do its ministry.

In recent years, scholars have realized that idleness is not the correct translation for the key problem here. Beverly Gaventa of Princeton Theological Seminary points out that the Greek word ataktos, which is translated as idleness, means insubordination or irresponsible behavior. Other scholars say that the word translated as “idleness” should be translated as “rebellion.” The point is that the problem in the community is that people are not focusing on the good of the church. They are causing disruption. They are not working as part of a team and taking responsibility for the health and strength of the Body of Christ.

This epistle refers to matters within the Christian community. It is not intended to speak to issues in the larger society. The epistle is saying that we as Christians are called to take our responsibilities as members of our faith community. Paul ends with that wonderful encouragement, “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” An older translation says, “Do not grow weary in well-doing.” And what are we called to do? Jesus tells that we are called to give a glass of water to one who is thirsty, feed one who is hungry, clothe folks who have no clothing, give shelter to those who have none, and, in doing those things to our brothers and sisters, we are doing them to him. That is why we need to keep the Church strong, so that we can minister to others in his name.

In our gospel, Jesus is continuing to teach in the temple. The disciples admire the beauty of the great temple in Jerusalem. Jesus says that it will all be thrown down, Indeed, the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 A. D. Luke’s gospel was written after that time, so the members of Luke’s community were aware that the temple had been destroyed. The disciples ask Jesus when this will happen, and what the signs will be.

Jesus tells us that many people will come and will use his name and will claim to be from him. There will be wars and all kinds of terrible things. And, of course, we know that many of his followers in the first century were persecuted and killed, and that is happening today. But he said that no matter what comes, no matter what tests and trials, he would give us the grace to get through them. When people were put on trial, he would give them the very words to say.

Jesus does not give us a definite time when he will return. In fact, he tells us not to try to figure it out, just to be ready. Here in the United Sates, we are probably not going to have to go to trial because we are accused of being Christians. Christians are being persecuted in other places on earth, but, as yet, not here.

Jesus speaks in this reading of a time of testing for all his followers. Biblical scholar Fred Craddock has some important comments on this. He writes, “The end is not yet. During the time of testimony, disciples will experience suffering. They are not exempt. There is nothing here of the arrogance one sometimes sees and hears in modern apocalypticists, an arrogance born of a doctrine of a rapture in which believers are removed from the scenes of persecution and suffering. There are no scenes here of cars crashing into one another on the highways because their drivers have been blissfully raptured. The word of Jesus in our lesson is still forceful. ‘This will give you an opportunity to testify…By your endurance you will gain your souls.’” (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year, Year C, p. 474.

What are these readings saying to us? How are we to give our testimony as followers of Jesus and builders of his shalom, his kingdom of peace and harmony and healing and care for all persons? At our Diocesan Convention, Tom Brackett talked about the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 as excellent marks of Christian community—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul talks about these qualities as he guides the Galatians in building a loving community of faith where people focus on the Body of Christ and work as a team to carry out Christ’s ministry. Tom also talked about communities where people love each other and trust each other and share deeply and support each other, welcoming others who want to become a part of these communities of caring.

As I said last week, I offered the observation that we have this kind of community here at Grace. This is a precious gift that God has given us. Even though our world sees Christianity as irrelevant, people are looking for genuine communities of faith where people can love and trust each other. We have that gift to offer, and that is our response to our lessons today.

May we continue, with God’s grace, to love and trust each other and to reach out to others with Christ’s compassion and healing. Amen.