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Advent 1 Year C November 28, 2021

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Today is the First Sunday in Advent. This is the New Year’s season of the Church. We change from lectionary year B to year C. Our vestments go from green to the purple which symbolizes both a season of penitence and a time to prepare for the coming of our King.

Our first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah. Scholars tell us that Jeremiah is in prison. The Babylonians have conquered Jerusalem. Jeremiah has actually seen bodies of his fellow citizens piled up in the streets. This is a terrible situation. Jeremiah has been imprisoned because he has told the king the truth. The king does not want to hear the truth.

In the midst of a national and personal tragedy, Jeremiah shares the most profound good news. God is going to raise up a king from the family of David, and this king is going to rule with justice based on a right relationship with God. Judah will be saved. Safety will prevail. Peace will come. In the midst of this disaster, God is sending a message of hope and healing.

In our epistle for today, Paul is writing to his beloved Thessalonians. This is one of the earliest letters in the New Testament. He had started this congregation just a few months ago and he has moved on to Corinth. He writes, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel for you before our God because of you?” Paul loves these people deeply. He is hoping to visit them and to help them strengthen their faith. They are suffering persecution. Paul prays that God and Jesus will lead him back to these beloved people. He prays,”May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.” These strong bonds of love enabled the followers of Jesus to stay close to each other when all they had were letters carried by messengers such as Timothy. We can be sure that when the people of the Church in Thessalonica heard this letter read. their “hearts were strengthened in holiness.”

In our gospel for today Our Lord tells us that there will be all kinds of tensions among nations and severe weather events, and we have certainly seen many of these kinds of upsets and turmoil. But Jesus tells us not to spend a great deal of time trying to figure out when he will come to us. Rather he tells us to be ready, to be alert.

All of our readings today tell us about how God comes to us in challenging times and gives us the good news about God’s kingdom of peace and harmony. 

Advent is a time when we look backward to the birth of our king in a cave used as a stable in Bethlehem. He came among us, just as we came into the world, as a baby. He is a king who knows what it is to be human. He grew up in a carpenter shop, helping his earthly father, Joseph, and learning his trade. Our King is fully human and fully divine. He knows us and understands us. We can look at his life and see how a human life is to be lived. A kingdom life. A life of shalom.

In Advent, we also look toward his coming again to complete his work of creation. It is going to require a great deal of effort to take this world. which is full of strife, just as Jeremiah’s world was, and filled with persecution just as the world of the Thessalonians was, and transform it into a world of peace and harmony. But that is what our King is trying to do. When he comes again, he will complete that work.

Meanwhile, he is asking us to help him with that work now. He is calling us to be people of hope as Jeremiah was in the midst of war and suffering, He is calling us to be people of love as the Thessalonians were in the midst of persecution. He is calling us to be people of faith.

Think about the power of the love that connected Paul with the community of faith in Thessalonica. As we read the passage, we can feel how much they cared about each other. And Paul prays that they will have that love for each other and for all people.

In this Advent time, this time that is between Jesus’ birth and his coming again, we have a great gift that can guide us as we try to walk the Way of Love. We can look at the life of our Lord here on earth as we read the gospels and we can see a living, breathing example of how to live as shalom people, kingdom people. We can follow his example. We have the model of a human life to follow; we have the living example of Jesus’ life. 

If we’re going to prepare the way of the Lord, we need to follow his example, and the wonderful thing is that we have his gift of grace. We have his help. Some of us are reading Bishop Curry’s book, Love Is the Way,  and it is full of people who “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

One of the most important ways that we can be ready when he comes again is to move closer and closer to him by asking his grace to walk the Way of Love. In every choice, every decision we make, we can choose the path that will lead us closer to love. Love for each other, love for all.

Loving God, help us to be alert to opportunities to walk the Way of Love. Strengthen our hearts in holiness and faith and hope. Give us grace to be partners with you in building your shalom of peace and harmony and wholeness. Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 9B, July 4, 2021

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

In our opening reading, all the tribes of Israel come together to make David their king. It is 1,000 years before the birth of Christ. He will be king for forty years.The text tells us that, for some time, even though Saul was king, David has been leading the troops into war. For years he has been doing the work of a king. Now the people want to anoint him as their leader.

God has called David to be king, and David is a unique kind of king. His rule is based on a covenant among David, the people, and God. God has called David to this position of leadership. David is a shepherd-king. Like a good shepherd, he will protect his flock. He will put the needs of his people first. After seven years, David moves the capitol from Hebron to Jerusalem, which is about halfway between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Under his leadership, the kingdoms and tribes are united. As we have said before, David is not perfect. But he has been called by God, and he is a person of deep faith.

In our epistle for today, we remember that Paul founded the church in Corinth, but he has not been there for a while. He has been staying in touch by writing letters, but that is not the same as being there. During his time away, other teachers have come through Corinth. They have accused Paul of being insincere because he told the people he would visit them and he has not been able to do so. These teachers have other criticisms of Paul, including that he isn’t a very good public speaker, and the latest one is that he does not have enough mystical experiences.

So Paul tells a story in the third person. Scholars say that this is really a story about Paul, but he is too humble to say that. Paul has been “caught up in the third heaven.” Scholars tell us that the third heaven is the highest heaven.

Perhaps we have not been to the third heaven, but I think many of us have had times when we have felt God’s presence in a way that goes beyond words. Perhaps we were looking up at the stars one clear night and sensed the paradox of the vastness of God, who could make such a universe, and yet the infinite love of God for a little creature like us. Perhaps we were listening to some favorite music and felt the glory and joy of God. Or maybe we have been struck with wonder at a sunrise. We have all had these moments of realizing the power and glory of God. 

The other teachers who have come through Corinth have bragged about their gifts and their mystical experiences, and some of the Corinthians have followed the example of these teachers and bragged about their gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues.

 But Paul does not brag. Instead he shares something deeply personal with these people, who can be quite arrogant, persnickety, and competitive. He shares that he has what he calls a “thorn…in the flesh.” He has prayed to God three times to remove this, and God has not removed it. Instead, God has told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Scholars have no evidence of how Paul’s sharing about this weakness was received in Corinth, but you and I know that this takes us straight to the heart of the cross. We know that, when, we are at the end of our rope, and when we have tied a knot on the end of that rope and we are now hanging on for dear life, that’s when God can finally help us. Until that point, all our plans and solutions and delusions of our power can get in the way. The Revised Standard Version says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So, Paul is telling us,“[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.”

That is one reason why our Lord died on that horrible instrument of torture, the cross—to show us that, when we let go and let God, new life happens. Paul says that is when “the power of Christ may dwell in [us].” When we admit our weakness. And when we share our weaknesses with trusted others, God’s power can act in amazing ways.

In our gospel for today, our Lord goes to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. As a rabbi, a teacher, this is what he would be expected to do—go to the local synagogue and teach. But the people see him only as the local boy who went out into the world and came home to put on airs. The text tells us that he “could do no deeds of power there.” He did heal a few sick people. Our Lord sums it up: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown….” Does this lack of hospitality and openness stop him? No. He heals a few people. And he calls the apostles and sends them out two by two. And he tells them to do their work with simplicity—take only what you absolutely need. As it turns out, they heal many people.

What are these readings telling us? God calls a young shepherd to be king and has Samuel anoint him as such. This young shepherd leads the people in battle. They get to know and trust him. He unites the two kingdoms into one. When God calls us to be together in community and we build that community on the covenant of love for God and neighbor. that is a foundation of great strength. God’s love calls us together and creates unity among us.

Our weakness can be our greatest strength. Sharing our weakness, asking for help, is a powerful thing. Admitting our weakness allows  us to let God help us. When that happens, miracles happen. The cross, which can be seen as a symbol of weakness, is, paradoxically, a symbol of great power, the greatest power in the world—the power of God’s love.

Gracious God, help us to love you with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Thank you for helping us in our weakness. Thank you for the power of your love.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 14C August 11, 2019

Isaiah 1:1. 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Our first reading today, from the prophet Isaiah, dates back to around 742 B.C. Isaiah’s ministry began in the Southern Kingdom of Judah a bit after the time of Amos and Hosea. Scholars tell us that Isaiah was probably familiar with the work of his two colleagues who ministered in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Isaiah addresses the kings of his time. He calls them “rulers of Sodom” and “people of Gomorrah.” This language serves as a big wake up call. The prophet is addressing a society whose leaders need a major transformation.

Isaiah addresses the issue of worship. The temple in Jerusalem was the center of the life of the people. Sacrifices were being offered; holy days were being observed in worship, but there was a glaring problem. The leaders were corrupt. Even those leading worship in the temple were not adhering to God’s values.

God does not want offerings of animals. God does not want the spilling of blood. God calls these “abominations.” We begin to wonder, is God asking the temple officials to stop all worship?

Then God hits the nail on the head: “I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.” What is going on here? The temple leaders are conducting the services, but their hearts are not in the right place. Their attitudes are so far away from what God wants us to have when we worship that God is disgusted.

God says. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow. In the society of the Southern Kingdom, the rulers are corrupt; the gap between the rich and the poor is growing larger and larger. God is calling them to return to justice, help the oppressed, and care for those who are the most vulnerable.

This passage from Isaiah calls us to remember that when we worship God, we can’t just go through the motions and say the beautiful words in the prayer book and then ignore and forget the values of God’s kingdom. For us as Christians, the values expressed in our worship need to be reflected in our lives.

Our epistle, from the Letter to the Hebrews, was written to Jewish people who had made the decision to follow Jesus. This was extremely difficult for them. Their families could not understand what they were doing; their home congregations were upset, and, as followers of Christ, they were subject to persecution.

To give them strength for the journey, the writer of this inspiring letter turns to the great icon of faith, Abraham and his wife Sarah. When God called them, they set out from their comfortable life to go to an unknown country. Along the way, they met great dangers and challenges.

God had promised the they would have children as numerous as the stars, but, by the time they arrived at their new home, they were very, very old. When God came and told Sarah that she would have a child very soon, Sarah rolled on the floor with laughter, and it was infectious.  Abraham couldn’t help but laugh right along with her. Nine months later, their son Isaac was born. The story of these two courageous people reminds us that God loves us and that we can trust God to lead and guide us to the promised land.  

Our gospel for today is a reflection on our story last week of the man who had such an abundant harvest that he decided to tear down his barns and build new ones to hold all his riches.

Jesus begins with those wonderful and powerful words: “Do not be afraid.” God gives us good things beyond our imagining. God gives us God’s kingdom of peace and harmony. Our Lord reminds us to remember how much God loves us, and to trust in God to guide and strengthen us.

Then our Lord gives us a kind of Advent call: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” Don’t be like those five foolish maidens who ran out of oil. When the master comes, open the door for him. And then what happens? He invites us to sit down and he serves us a meal. Our Lord truly turns the world upside down. Our Lord, our leader, is serving us, just as he washed our feet on Maundy Thursday.

If we are focused on him and on his shalom, his kingdom, we are constantly praying to him for grace to do his will. We are filled with his love and we are extending that love to others. We are working to build his shalom, his kingdom of peace, in which everyone has food and clothing and a place to live, and medical care and good work to do.

That’s what it means to be ready, to be awake. And then Jesus comes in and puts on an apron and serves us a meal! Patricia Lull from Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota writes, “The Gospel text for this week entices the hearer to place first things first. The things of God are to be given the most urgent priority in every Christian’s life. Neither fear nor worldly distraction is to lure the children from God’s tender, attentive care.   God promises to surprise with the gift of the kingdom those who stand ready and willing to receive this singular treasure.” (Lull, Feasting on the Word Year C Volume 3, p. 334.

When our Lord comes again to bring in his kingdom, to complete his work of creation and heal and make the world whole and full of his love, it will be a time of great joy. This text adds a wonderful picture of our servant Lord serving us a midnight supper or an early morning breakfast!

May we stay awake. May be ready to receive him. May we be ready to receive the gift of his kingdom with great joy and gratitude. Amen.

Pentecost 13 Proper 15C RCL August 14, 2016

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2. 8-18
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

In our opening reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us a moving story of God’s love. God has a vineyard. With utmost care, God plants the best vines, builds a watchtower, and makes a wine vat. God expects this vineyard to yield grapes, but, as scholar James D. Newsome translates literally, the vineyard produces “stinkers.” (Texts for Preaching Year C, p. 470.)

The Southern Kingdom of Judah is enjoying great prosperity, but there is no justice. As in our society, the rich are becoming richer, but the poor are losing ground. There will be invasions by foreign powers—first Assyria and then Babylonia.

In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the new converts are reminded of the powerful history of faith from the time of the Exodus onward. God frees God’s people. God leads us out of all forms of slavery. God brings us safely home.

And then the reading moves into that stirring call to faith and action which we read on the feast of All Saints: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The journey of faith is envisioned as a race. We are spiritual athletes practicing askesis, spiritual discipline. Sin is like ankle weights that have been fastened to our legs, slowing us down, deflecting us from the goal. We are called to put aside the weight of sin, focus our eyes upon Jesus, and run with all the energy we can muster. Jesus is our goal. Living in him and allowing him to live in us is the source of the meaning and purpose of our lives.

But then we reach today’s troubling gospel. It makes us stop short. Our Lord, the Prince of Peace, is talking about strife and conflict. Not only that, he is describing deep conflict between members of families—father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, on and on.

Following Jesus is not easy. Our Lord is talking about what  Bonhoeffer called “The Cost of Discipleship.” It is important that we remember that he is on his way to Jerusalem, and he is well aware that the authorities are already keeping a close eye on him. He is attracting huge crowds. The authorities do not like this because they perceive a threat to their rule and control. Indeed, they have every reason to be threatened because the values of his shalom are the opposite of their values. They use violence to control their own people, and they will eventually kill Jesus.

When faced with this passage, I always think of our own Civil War. I think of families in the South, people who owned plantations, who treated their slaves well, and I think of the growing awareness that owning another person is not acceptable. Last Sunday Jesus said that when we wait for the master to arrive, he will sit down and serve us!

Even though slavery was accepted and practiced in Biblical times, it is not acceptable. But think of the pain and turmoil those families in the South endured. Some members of the family still felt that slavery was scriptural and permissible. Others were beginning to see the high standards which are set by the gospel.

During the nineteen fifties and sixties, we grappled in earnest with the issue of racial equality, and that struggle continues into the present.

It is so difficult for us to realize that, in God’s eyes, everyone is infinitely beloved.

In every age, following Christ can cause division. A father wants his son to carry on the family business. The son feels a deep vocation to the ordained ministry.

The son tries to fight this call. He does not want to hurt his father. Finally he sits down with his Dad and shares his vocation. The father is hurt and angry. They make a decision to pray about it and to keep talking together. Finally, the father works his way, with God’s help, to a place of acceptance.

Or, it goes the other way. The father simply does not understand his son’s selfish, willful lack of respect for the family business. This creates a chasm between the father and the son, an abyss of grief and anguish, and suffering for all the family members.

The values of God’s shalom are not the values of this world. God is still calling us to work toward that shalom, but we are not there yet. We can see the conflict, the birth pangs of God’s shalom everywhere.

How can we faithfully follow Christ in the midst of all this conflict? How can we possibly choose the values of his shalom in the midst of all this turmoil? Well, we can,  as our diocesan mission statement says, and as St. Augustine said many years ago, “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” In other words, we can root and ground our lives in prayer; meditate on and study and absorb the life of Jesus; and make his life the model for our lives.

Lisa W. Davison, Professor of Religious Studies at Lynchburg College in Virginia writes, “The good news is that Jesus has already run the race, marked the course, and provided a role model for us to follow.”

(Davison, New Proclamation Year C 2010, p. 183.

Let us run the race; let us follow him with all our heart and with all the grace he can give us. In his holy Name we pray. Amen.

 

Pentecost 12 Proper 14C RCL August 7, 2016

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

The prophet Isaiah had a long ministry in Judah beginning in roughly 740 B.C.E. during the reign of King Uzziah and ending in roughly 701 B.C.E. It was a turbulent time. The Northern kingdom of Israel was taken over and annexed by the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians then began to threaten the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

In the midst of all of this upheaval, Isaiah is called to speak God’s word to the people of Judah. In today’s reading, God is telling us that our actions must be in harmony with our worship. No matter how many services we may offer; no matter how beautiful those services may be, they mean nothing if we do not “learn to do good.” Specifically, God is calling us to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” In other words, God wants us to be sure that we take care of the most vulnerable among us.

In a sense, all of our readings today are about faith, and in our passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, we meet that icon of faith, Abraham. This letter was written to new converts from Judaism. Theirs was not an easy journey, and the writer wanted them to think deeply about the life of this patriarch who was called to leave his home and all that he knew, take his family and whatever belongings they could bring, and go to an unknown land to which God would lead them.

Theologian Frederick Buechner lives in Southern Vermont. Here is his description of Abraham and Sarah.

“They had quite a life, the old pair. Years before, they had gotten off to a good start in Mesopotamia. They had a nice house in the suburbs with a two-car garage and color tv and a barbecue pit. They had a room all fixed up for when the babies started coming. With their health and each other, and their families behind them they had what is known as a future. Sarah got her clothes at Bonwit’s, did volunteer work at the hospital, was a member of the League of Women Voters. Abraham was pulling down a decent salary for a young man, plus generous fringe benefits and an enlightened retirement plan. And then they got religion, or religion got them, and Abraham was convinced that what God wanted them too do was pull up stakes and head out for Canaan where God had promised that he would make Abraham the father of a great nation which would in turn be a blessing to all nations, so that’s what they did, and that’s where their troubles started.”(Buechner,  Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale,  pp.50-51.)

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” On their journey to the Promised Land, Abraham and Sarah had many adventures, some of them quite scary. Yet they never lost faith. They trusted God. They loved God, and they knew that God loved them.

God had promised that they would have descendants as numerous as the stars, and they believed God. True, there were some rather pointed conversations as they grew old and no babies arrived, but finally the day came when they found out that Sarah was actually going to have a baby, and she laughed, and they both laughed, but it happened. They did have descendants as numerous as the stars or as the grains of sand on the beach. God is calling us to have faith like that.

Jesus is calling us to be ready for the coming of his kingdom. He tells us not to be afraid, not to let fear govern our actions. We are called to pray that fear into faith. He tells them to sell their possessions and give alms, to travel light. Does this mean that we have to sell everything? No, but it does mean that we are called to live simply and to share what we have with others.

He calls us to be ready, to have our lamps lighted, so that when the master comes, we will be ready to wait on him. But then Jesus says the master will wait on the servant. In his kingdom, there is no hierarchy. We all help each other.

The main theme of our gospel today is that we are called to be ready for his coming. We are called to be alert.

What are these lessons telling us? First, that the ideals we express in our worship are the ideals that must govern our lives. The values we express in our lives must be in harmony with the values we express in our worship and in our faith.

Secondly, that we need to have the deep and strong faith of Abraham. He left everything and followed God’s leading to a new land and a new life. We do not necessarily have to go to a new land or a new place physically, but we are constantly moving to a new and a deeper place spiritually.

Finally, we are called to be alert, to be ready to put our faith into action, to serve those who are most vulnerable, for they are beloved of God.  Amen.