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Pentecost 11 Proper 16  August 25, 2019

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

In our opening reading, we encounter the prophet Jeremiah at a crucial point in his life. God is calling this young man to be God’s prophet. Scholars tell us that Jeremiah was about eighteen years old at this time. 

Like many people before and after him, Jeremiah was terrified at the prospect of answering a call from God. Most folks know that God’s prophets are not usually the most popular people, especially with kings and others in authority, and that many of God’s prophets have been put in prison. beaten, and even killed.

So Jeremiah responds to God’s call with a statement of truth, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do to know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” God has already reminded Jeremiah that God knew Jeremiah even before Jeremiah was formed in the womb, and God had called Jeremiah before he was born. Now God reaches out and touches Jeremiah’s mouth and tells Jeremiah that God has put God’s words in the mouth of this young prophet. The rest of the story, as we know, is that Jeremiah was one of God’s most faithful and courageous prophets.

What God is saying to Jeremiah, God is also saying to us all these thousands of years later. God loved each of us from before the beginning of time. God created us, and God called us to do our ministries and to live our lives to the glory of God. From before time began, God knew and loved each of us with a love that nothing can destroy and God called us to love and serve God and to share God’s love and care with every one we meet.

Each of you responds to God’s call every day of your life. Sometimes, God calls us to a ministry that scares us. A friend receives a diagnosis of stage four cancer and shares this terrifying information with us. Or a colleague shares a complicated personal problem and asks us for advice. Or a member of our family confesses a long-held secret.

There we are, sitting listening to this beloved person. We might not pray out loud to God, but we are certainly praying silently for God’s grace and help. And when we send that silent prayer to God, a prayer that we can boil down to that famous and very brief prayer, “Help!” we can think of this description of God’s call to Jeremiah and we can remember that God is saying those words to us as well: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” 

God may not literally touch our lips and put God’s words in our mouth, but God will be with us and God will guide us to share with this other person God’s loving and healing presence. And we all have had experiences when the Holy Spirit gave us the words to say in such challenging situations. Suddenly, with the love of God deeply present, we have been given words that did not come from us but from God.

In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we remember that the writer is addressing this powerful and beautiful message to Jewish people who have felt called to follow Jesus. These people are facing discrimination and persecution.

The writer first recalls a scene from their history. Moses is going up the mountain to receive the ten Commandments, and it is a very scary scene. Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that Mount Sinai was then an active volcano. God was seen as a terrifying deity, and people believed that you could not see God and live.

But we are not with Moses on Mount Sinai with fire and thunder and terror. We are at Mount Zion. We are at the feast of Christ with all the saints and angels. God has come among us as one of us and we have become God’s children. There is no longer fear but faith. Our Lord is among us and leading us.

In our gospel, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. We do not know where. All we know is that he is on his way to Jerusalem. A woman suddenly comes into the congregation in the midst of Jesus’ teaching. She does not call to him; she does not ask for help. Yet Jesus, though he must be concentrating on what he is teaching, immediately notices this woman. Jesus stops right in the middle of his lesson and calls her over. And he says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” He lays his hands on her and right away she stands up straight for the first time in eighteen years and praises God.

The leader of the synagogue objects to Jesus’ healing on the sabbath.  But Jesus points out that everyone unties their ox or donkey and leads the animal to where the ox or donkey can get a drink of water. If we can do that for our animals, certainly this woman deserves to be freed from her illness and restored to full membership in her community.

Our loving God is constantly freeing us from things that hold us down. Healing and freeing God’s people is always in season. Yes, we need our sabbath time to rest and refresh our bodies and spirits and worship God, and at the same time, if someone needs God’s help, God is always ready and willing.

Today we have three powerful readings that remind us of how much God loves us, how God calls us to serve God and others, and how God gives us the grace and the gifts to offer that service. The human understanding of God has evolved over the centuries. At one point in our historic journey, we humans were terrified of God’s power. 

Now we humans realize that God loves us so much that God has actually come among us as one of us, and that has helped us to understand the depth of God’s love and to respond to God’s call to love God and our neighbor.

God has come among us as one of us, and that has transformed our fear into faith. We can feel our Lord in our midst; we can see him out ahead of us, leading us. We can feel his grace empowering us to follow him.  Amen.

Lent 3C    March 24, 2019

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63: 1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

In our first reading today, we are looking on as Moses goes about his daily work as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. Moses is already a walking miracle. When the Pharaoh decided to kill all the Hebrew boy babies, his mother and sister made a little boat out of rushes and pitch and put it out into the bulrushes along the banks of the Nile; the Pharaoh’s daughter came walking along, heard the baby crying, took him to the royal palace, hired his mother as nurse, adopted him and raised him as a prince.

One day, Moses went out into the world to see how his people, the Hebrews, were doing. Though he appreciated the compassion, courage, and generosity of the Pharaoh’s daughter, he knew who his people were. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man, and he killed the Egyptian. When Pharaoh put out the word to have him killed, he fled. He settled down in the land of Midian under the protection of the priest, married the priest’s daughter, Zipporah, and now has a family.

He is going about his daily work, taking care of the flock. And he sees something—a desert shrub that is on fire but is not consumed by the flames. And Moses turns aside. And that is a big part of this story. How many of us will turn aside? How many of us will delay the next meeting or phone call or letter or load of laundry and just take a minute to turn aside?

Moses quickly discovers that he is standing on holy ground and he is in the presence of God. And God turns out to be much more observant and much more compassionate than Moses had realized. Moses hides his face because he knows God is mighty and powerful, but Moses hadn’t quite realized how much God cared.

When God tells Moses that God has seen the suffering of God’s people and God is going to free the people from oppression, Moses is quite impressed. He had noticed that oppression before he left Egypt.

But now God is asking him, Moses, a guy who killed an Egyptian and had to run for his life, a guy who is number one on Pharaoh’s list of the Ten Most Wanted, to go back to Egypt and lead the people to freedom. Like all the prophets before and after him and most of the people ever called to serve God, Moses feels inadequate. There is good reason for this. We  humans are inadequate. But God gives the answer God always gives to us when we realize that we can’t do something alone: God says, “I will be with you.”

And then Moses wants to know how he is supposed to tell the Israelites that God has sent him, little ordinary Moses, to lead them out of Egypt, God says, “I am who I am,” “I was who I was,” “I will be who I will be.” God is powerful and dynamic. But God also tells Moses that God is the God of their ancestors, the Holy One who has brought them to this point and will lead them into the future.

As we all know, Moses says Yes, but this wonderful passage from Exodus is a reminder that we are on a journey from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ, and God is with us every step of the way.

Our epistle for today reminds us that our freedom in Christ is not a license to do anything we want to. There is a huge difference between freedom and license. Some of the Corinthians are saying that now that they are baptized and receiving the sacraments, they can do whatever they please. They can commit immorality, they can go to pagan festivals and eat meat sacrificed to idols and still be faithful followers of Jesus. Paul does a recap of the Exodus journey to make it clear that we have to put God first. If we are worshiping idols, we are not following Jesus. Paul also reminds us that Our Lord gives us the grace to stay on the path and follow him.

In today’s gospel, the people have questions about two events. In the first, some people from Galilee came to the temple in Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices. Pilate had them killed and mixed their blood with the blood of the animals they had sacrificed. Although this is something that Pilate might well have done, scholars tell us that there is no mention of it in any other historical document. The people seem to be thinking that, because this awful thing happened to these people, they must have been sinners.

In another event, the tower of Siloam fell and eighteen people were killed. Siloam was a reservoir. Once again, scholars tell us that this event is not mentioned in any other documents. Jesus’ response remains constant: just because this disaster happened to these people does not mean that they were worse than other people.

In Jesus’ time and now, there are still folks who believe that if something terrible happens to someone or a group, they must be bad people. That is why Rabbi Kushner wrote his excellent book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Because even now, in the twenty-first century, this belief persists. In our quest to try to find explanations for things, we revert to that ancient belief that bad things happen only to bad people.

The thing is that none of us is perfect. We are all frail and fallible humans, and, if God operated on the basis of demanding total perfection at all times, we would all be in deep trouble. God calls us to be compassionate toward one another.

This may be why Jesus tells the parable of this poor fig tree. In those days, you gave a fig tree three years to grow to maturity. During that time you did not pick any of its fruit. In the fourth year you could pick the fruit but you had to offer it to God. This tree is three years old. The owner wants to cut it down.

But the gardener says, “Just give it one more year. I’ll dig round it and put on some manure, and then, if it still bears no fruit, you can cut it down.” Our collect points out that we “have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” Thanks be to our loving God, who is always there to help us bear good fruit.  “Inch by inch, row by row, gotta make this garden grow.” Amen.

Pentecost 14 Proper 16C RCL August 21, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Our reading from the book of Jeremiah is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, and I hope it might be one of yours, too. God is calling this young man—scholars tell us he was about eighteen—to a prophetic ministry that was going to be extraordinarily difficult. At various times, Jeremiah would be put in prison, thrown into a cistern, which, fortunately, had no water in it, and finally exiled to Egypt when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.

Even though Jeremiah did not know exactly what was going to happen, he did know that the ministry of a prophet is never easy. In all sincerity, he told God that he was simply too young to accept such a vocation.

God told Jeremiah two very important things, and God is also telling us these same things. First, God has known each of us forever. God has loved each of us forever. Before the galaxies leaped into being God had each of us in mind, and each of us was the apple of God’s eye. God loves you and has loved you since before time began.

Secondly, God told Jeremiah that God would put God’s words in Jeremiah’s mouth, and God tells us that God will do whatever is needed so that we can do what God calls us to do. God will put God’s words in our mouth when we can find no words to speak. God will give us the strength and compassion to sit with someone who has just lost a child. God will give us the love and power to comfort someone who has a terminal illness. God will give us whatever we need to show God’s love and caring to our brothers and sisters on this beautiful blue/green earth. God will give us the will and the way to preserve this beautiful planet, this jewel of the universe which God has given us to tend. God loves us and will give us the gifts we need to carry out our ministries, individual and corporate.

In our epistle from the Letter to the Hebrews, we trace the history of our understanding of God. Long ago, even at the time of the Exodus, a little over three thousand years ago, God was scary. If you went up the mountain and you saw the face of God, you would die. People were deeply aware of the raw, huge power of God.

Over time, as God told people like Jeremiah that God had known them even before they were in the womb and that God cared about them and would help them, our human view of God began to change.

But we still didn’t really get it. So, finally, God came among us. He came just the way we did, as a little baby. He didn’t come as one of the rich and famous. He came to this wonderful couple, Mary and Joseph, faithful good people who lived in a little out of the way place called Galilee, in a little town called Nazareth. Joseph was a carpenter, and you can’t do better than that. He wasn’t a hedge fund manager or  a king or a general, but he was a descendant of the greatest king Israel ever had.

Everything Jesus did breathed forth God’s love. When you were with him, you  knew that God’s spirit was within you, and he would tell you that very thing. “The Holy Spirit is within you,” he would say. In the presence of Jesus, people found new hope, new strength. Jesus was God walking the face of the earth, and Jesus is risen and with us this very moment and every moment.

And so we come to our gospel for today. Jesus is teaching in the synagogues on the sabbath. He sees a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years. She is bent over and she is unable to stand up straight.

She does not have to ask Jesus to help her. He notices her. He calls her over. He does not ask her any questions. What is wrong? How did you get this ailment? Do you follow the law of Moses? Do you say your prayers every day?

He does not do any of that. There is no examination. There is no test to pass. He simply says, “Woman, you are free from your ailment.”

We should remember that this woman is considered unclean on two counts. First, she is a woman, and second, she is sick. Rabbis were not supposed to associate with women, and being around sick people could make you unclean, too. But Jesus is not focusing on the law, which is so preoccupied with keeping ritually clean.

God wants all of us to be whole and healthy, and Jesus is here to make sure that we understand that.

The woman stands up straight for the first time in eighteen years and begins praising God.

The leader of the synagogue is upset because Jesus has cured on the sabbath. Here, we need to be careful. We do not want to be anti-Semitic. If we look at ourselves as the Church, we can recall many times when we became quite legalistic. Think of the furor over the “new” prayer book (1979), the passing of the Peace, the “new” hymnal (1982), the ordination of women, and I could go on and on.

Jesus does the classic argument from the lesser to the greater. We feed and water our oxen and our donkeys and our cows and horses and chickens on the sabbath. Don’t you realize that God wants us to take care of our brother and sister humans as well?

Yes, the sabbath is important. We need time to rest and refresh our bodies and spirits. We need time to worship and to thank God for God’s many blessings to us. And Jesus has come to free us and to heal us. Making people whole is a good thing to do at any time or season.

What are our readings telling us today? First, God has loved each of us forever. Second, God gives us what we need to do our ministries. Third, Jesus wants us to join him in healing and freeing our brothers and sisters. Grace Church has been joining Christ in his ministry of healing and freeing people for two hundred years. May God richly bless you as you go out into the world this week to share God’s love and power and healing and compassion. Amen.

Pentecost 14 Proper 16C RCL August 25, 2013

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 71:1-16

Hebrews 12:18-29

Luke 13:10-17

In our opening reading today, we hear God’s call to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was very young when he was called to his prophetic ministry. Scholars tell us that he was only about eighteen years old.

God says these wonderful words to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you a prophet to the nations.” As Christians, we believe in a loving God who knows each of us intimately. God has called each of us to be God’s unique and precious child. Each of us is called to use the gifts God has given us to love and help others and to build God’s kingdom.

Like so many people in the Bible who face a call from God, Jeremiah feels that he just can’t do the job God is calling him to do. In Jeremiah’s case, his excuse is that he is too young. Moses said he wasn’t a good enough public speaker. Isaiah said that he wasn’t holy enough. God has an answer for all these objections. God says, “I know it’s scary to answer my call, but I’ll help you.” To Jeremiah he says, “I have put my words in your mouth.” When God puts God’s words in one’s mouth, that pretty well ends the discussion. Jeremiah was a faithful and courageous prophet of God. He did not have an easy time of it, but he never compromised God’s message to God’s people. He always called them to be faithful to God’s standards.

What I want us to think about today is that this lesson is for each of us. God knows each of us and loves each of us. God has known us and loved us from the very beginning of time and God will love us for all eternity. God has called us to do our ministries and will help us every moment of every day.

In today’s gospel, as in every gospel, we see in Jesus God walking the face of the earth, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. He sees a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years. In those days they thought this was due to a spirit. Now we know there would be a medical reason for this illness. The woman could not even stand up straight.

In this encounter we see the loving nature of our God. Jesus notices this woman, He cares about her illness and her suffering, He does not wait for her to ask him for help. He loves us. He wants to help us. Before we even think of reaching out to God for help, God is already reaching out to us.

Jesus tells the woman she is free from her illness. He lays his hands upon her and right away she stands up straight and praises God. But then some religious leaders say that Jesus has not done things the right way. He has broken the laws about the Sabbath. How often we religious people allow a literal interpretation of the law or rules or Scripture to get in the way of God’s work of love and healing. God and Jesus and the Spirit will free us from illness and bondage of any kind at any time. As Jesus points out, the law provided for folks to take care of their animals on the Sabbath, and God is going to heal and free God’s children every day of the week.

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews traces our growing understanding of God. When Moses went up on the mountain to meet with God over three thousand years ago, people were scared of God. They knew that God was powerful and they described God in terms of smoke and fire and thunder. They believed that one could not look into the face of God and live. That is what is being referred to in the beginning of today’s epistle. But then we come to “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”

Our understanding of God has grown over the centuries. Yes, God is powerful, but God uses God’s power differently from how we humans sometimes tend to use power. God uses God’s power the way Jesus used his power to heal this woman in today’s gospel.

God loves you. God loves me. God calls us to be the persons God has made us to be—loving, caring, compassionate, healing persons, each of us using our God-given gifts. God reaches out to us. God heals us and frees us from everything that would hold us in bondage.

Jesus is our model, He is the logos, the Word, the blueprint for how to live a human life in the service of God. As we study his life, his actions and words, we grow more and more into his likeness. We grow more and more into serving others as he served. That is what our journey in faith is all about.

Loving and gracious God, may we answer Yes when you call. May we grow more and more into your likeness. Amen.