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Pentecost 23 Proper 28 November 17, 2019

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

Our opening reading is from the person we call the Third Isaiah. Biblical scholar James D. Newsome places the time of this passage around 475 B.C. (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year C, p. 596.) It is fifty years since the exiles have come back home to Jerusalem from Babylon. They have built the new temple, but it pales in comparison to the original temple built by King Solomon. 

There is still a great deal of rubble in the city. The city walls have yet to be rebuilt. Not all the people have come home to help in this daunting project of rebuilding. Many have remained in the relative safety of the city of Babylon.  The people of God are becoming discouraged

We all know what can happen when a group of people are tackling a huge task. Scholars tell us that, rather than remaining faithful to God’s call to love God and each other, some of the people turned to worshipping other Gods. There were squabbles, and factions developed.

Among the people facing this enormous challenge of rebuilding was the person we call the Third Isaiah. We know very little about him except for his powerful prophetic writings. We can imagine him as a person of deep faith watching the people of God dissolve into arguing and splitting into opposing groups. Newsome writes, “In this despairing situation, however, certain individuals began to raise their heads and to sing the old songs of joy and hope, but in a new key.….Yes… Jerusalem had been restored—somewhat at least. But God’s eye was on another Jerusalem also—a Jerusalem not of bricks and mortar, but of the human heart.” Newsome, p. 597.)

This faithful prophet brings God’s word to God’s people trying to rebuild Jerusalem centuries ago and to us today. God is about to create “New heavens and a new earth.” Infants will live long lives. People will build houses and will not have to leave them to escape an invader. People will plant gardens and vineyards and enjoy the harvest.

God tells us that before we call, God will answer. This is a foretaste of the promise that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we cannot find the words. And then we hear an echo of Isaiah’s vision of the kingdom of God in Chapter 11. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together. ….They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

In our epistle for today, The Thessalonians are being led to believe that Jesus is coming very soon or has come already to complete his work of creation. Some people are quitting their jobs. In all the free time they have, they are meddling in other people’s lives. 

When these folks quit their jobs, this means that they are not able to carry out their contributions to the community of faith. Back in those days, followers of Jesus shared their wealth so that they could help out those who needed food or clothing or shelter. In listening to the false teachers who are telling them that our Lord’s second coming is going to happen soon or already has happened, these people are not carrying out their ministries in the community of faith and are weakening the community. Each of us is called to carry out our ministries so that the community of faith can remain strong. 

Paul writes these wise words, “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” When our Lord comes again to judge the earth, it will be clear that he is here. Until then, we need to be active in our ministries and be prepared to meet him when he comes.

In our gospel for today, our Lord is preparing his followers for persecution. Many will come in his name and say that they are Jesus who has returned to lead us. The scriptures talk about times of turmoil that will precede his coming again, and this makes it easy for  misguided people to stir up fear by pointing to signs of the end times.

As we look around our world, we see many signs of turmoil. As we look around our nation, we see a great deal of tension and division.

God gives us a vision of new heavens and a new earth, a vision of unity, peace, harmony, and healing. God calls us to work together.

In reference to our reading from Isaiah, the great preacher and scholar Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “There is not a single imperative in the work of Isaiah that we do not need today. To be pointed toward the future. To be given a shining vision of what may be possible. To be called to build enthusiastically and confidently, trusting that there is a purpose in the events of human history. Finally to be given a vision of reconciliation between the endless warring forces of our culture. These are what we long for, These are what we will seek till the end of time.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us Year C Vol 3, p. 166.)

 

Lent 2C   March 17. 2019

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

In our opening reading for today, we meet those shining examples of faith, Abraham and Sarah. At this point, their names are still Abram and Sarai. God has called them to leave their comfortable life in Mesopotamia and journey to Canaan.

Abram and Sarai have no children, and God has promised them that they would have many descendants. They have been through trials and tribulations and challenges too numerous to describe, and, although they are humans like us, they have stayed on the path and kept the faith as well as anyone could  under the circumstances. Yet, they are still childless.

Back in those days, around 1600 years before the birth of Christ, having children was everything. If you had children, you had a future, If you had no children, you had no future. If you had children, you could leave your land and flocks and herds and fields to them and they would take care of you. If not, it was easy to feel that you had nothing to live for.

By this time in their lives, Abram and Sarai are very old, way beyond the childbearing years. Yet God has made a covenant with them, and now Abram is asking God, when are you going to keep your end of this bargain? God takes Abram outside and shows him the night sky. See that? That’s how many descendants you will have.

Abram still needs more proof, so God actually tells Abram to carry out a liturgical offering, a sacrifice. Then Abram falls asleep and has a dream in which God confirms that the promise will come true.  

Have you ever thought you didn’t have a future? Have you ever thought God had broken a promise? Has your faith ever wavered? Here we have Abraham, that great icon of the faithful person, needing reassurance from God. And God responds.

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is trying to kill him.  Jesus has little patience with the machinations of worldly leaders. His response is terse, “Go tell that fox that I’m going to keep on healing people and helping people and on the third day I finish my work.”

Jesus knows exactly what is going on. These days we would say he is streetwise. He knows that Herod is a fox who is ready to raid the hen house and eat the chickens. He is totally focused on his mission, and he knows that he has to go to Jerusalem. Yet he tells us a tragic truth. Jerusalem, the city where the temple is located, the city which is supposed to be listening for the voice of God and following God’s leading, is a city in which the leaders, both sacred and secular, do not hear the voice of God. Beverly Gaventa writes, “Ironically, tragically, the city that houses God’s Temple also houses a persistent refusal to hear God’s word.”  (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching Year C, p, 207.

Because of this, Jesus wants to protect his little chicks. Like a mother hen, he wants to gather us under his wings and protect us from the likes of Herod and other foxes. But he cannot do this. The powers that be in Jerusalem are not going to permit it. He is called to go to Jerusalem, and he will go, but he will not be permitted to offer healing and comfort and protection to the people. The earthly powers will stand in the way. They will kill him. Jesus knows exactly what a fox is, because he has the vantage point of a mother hen, or maybe even a chick.

How easy it is for us humans, when we acquire a great deal of money and a great deal of fame and power, to lose our bearings. The recent scandal involving very rich people paying money to insure that their children get into the best colleges and other people running a business that facilitates these transactions is a glaring example of this.

What would we do if we had that amount of money and power? What would we do without our faith? What would we do without God and Jesus and the Spirit guiding us and giving us grace?

In his letter to his beloved Philippians, Paul reminds us that, ultimately, we are not citizens of this world. Yes, we are called to stay informed and participate in our government and exercise our vote, but, as Paul writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” We are following Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. We are waiting for him to come and complete his work of creation. And we are not waiting passively. We are doing all we can to help him build his reign of peace, harmony, and wholeness.

Sometimes, on this journey, we wonder, where is God in all of this? Sometimes we may feel that God is far away. Abram felt that way, even though he was a person of deep faith. He called out to God and God answered him.

In today’s gospel, we stand beside our Lord as he shares his profound grief, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Even  before we call out to him, our Lord is ready to help us.

And yet, our Lord knows that he will not be allowed to offer that comfort and protection to Jerusalem. He will be killed.

But we are listening, and we know that, at this very moment and always, Jesus is offering us his presence, his grace and strength and guidance. He is with us right now, doing just that. We don’t even have to ask him, We don’t have to call on him. He is here.

May we accept his gracious gift of himself.  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 6 Proper 8C RCL June 26, 2016

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

In our opening reading today, the faithful and courageous prophet Elijah is coming to the end of his life. He has trained Elisha to take over and continue his prophetic  ministry. We look on as Elijah tries to  leave and Elisha, deep in grief, tries to hold on to his beloved mentor.

Finally, Elijah asks his young student what he can do for him. Elijah asks for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah points out that this is a difficult thing to ask, but if Elisha sees Elijah as he is being taken away, the gift will be granted. Herbert O’Driscoll says that Elijah is asking Elisha to face what is happening and to grow into maturity so that he can take over the mantle of Elijah.

That is exactly what the young Elisha does. He watches carefully, his heart breaking as his mentor is carried into heaven. And then he gets down to business and carries on this important ministry. In a sense, he grows up in a few short, intense moments.

In our epistle, Paul is trying to help the Galatians realize that freedom in Christ does not mean license. In other words, this freedom does not mean that we can do anything we please. Paul reminds them and us that we are called to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Everything we do must involve loving God and loving others.

We are on a journey from the level of human will and selfishness to the level of spirit, where we grow closer and closer to God and follow Jesus more and more faithfully. On the level of spirit, we become more and more open to God’s grace, and our lives are guided by God.

Paul then draws a contrast. He lists what he calls “the works of the flesh.” Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa says,”In this lection,…flesh refers to a way of thinking or behaving that is confined to the human sphere, that operates without the guidance of the Spirit of God.” (Texts for Preaching Year C , p. 407.)

Then he lists the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If our lives and our life together in community are governed by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, things are going to go much better than if we are operating solely on the human level.

In our gospel, Jesus is setting his face toward Jerusalem. He knows the price he is going to pay. He does not want to go, but he knows he must walk this journey. He does something he has not done before. He sends messengers ahead. We do not know why he does this. But it is a good thing that he does, because there is one Samaritan village that does not want to receive him because he is going to Jerusalem.

Jesus is going to Jerusalem to challenge the status quo on behalf of people like the Samaritans, who are viewed as somehow inferior because of their different religious beliefs and practices, but that fact is lost on the people of this village. James and John want to punish the village, but Jesus says No.  His is the way of compassion. On the cross, he will ask God to forgive deeds worse than that one.

As they travel along, a man offers to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus talks about his own homelessness. Following Jesus is not easy. It demands sacrifices.

Jesus calls a man to follow him, but the man wants to bury his father who has just died. Jesus tells him to let the dead bury the dead. Another man wants to follow Jesus, but he has to go and say good bye to his family. Jesus says that once we put the hand to the plow, we shouldn’t turn back. In these encounters, our Lord is letting us know that following him is not easy. Jesus puts a high value on family, but he is also saying that disciples have to order their priorities.

As I thought about these readings, Elijah passing on the mantle of leadership to Elisha; the Galatians growing up into maturity in Christ and showing the fruits of the Spirit; and our Lord’s comments on the challenges of discipleship, I began to reflect on all the people who have gone before us here at Grace Church.

The Rev. Dr. Albert Hopson Bailey is the longest-serving rector of Grace Church. He was here from May 1865 until February 14, 1891, twenty-six years. His last service here was on February 8, 1891.  Two days later, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and, as Bishop Bissell sadly reported to Convention, he was unconscious most of the time until his death six days later on February 14, 1891.

Frederica Northrop Sargent writes, that he served “in simplicity and Godly sincerity.” She notes that he “compiled the church records and brought them up to date. His foresight in that work is of great, great historical value to the parish.” Dr. Bailey was also the first historiographer of the Diocese of Vermont.

From all the accounts I have read concerning the life and work of Albert Hopson Bailey, he exemplified the fruits of the Spirit.  He was a faithful pastor, and he was especially gifted in explaining the more difficult passages of the Scriptures. Bishop Bissell described him as “one of our most devoted fellow laborers, a most trusted advisor and most loving friend.” For me, Albert Hopson Bailey is one of the heroes of Grace Church.

When we think of Elijah’s mantle being passed on to Elisha, we can think of all the generations of faithful people who, like Albert Hopson Bailey, lived their lives in Christ and passed down to us the legacy of loving and faithful life in community.

May we honor and celebrate this wonderful legacy. May we show forth the fruits of the Spirit. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.