Lent 5 Scripture Reflection: We wish to see Jesus:
“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.'” Seeing is one of the central themes of John’s Gospel.
Crowds have previously flocked to Jesus or heard or interacted with him. What makes the visit of this delegation of Greeks in today’s Gospel so remarkable? Their step-by-step approach highlights the unusual and important reality of their journey: they want to see Jesus. Philip speaks with Andrew, and then Andrew and Philip approach Jesus together. In response, Jesus concisely sums up his message and states that the critical moment has arrived. Then a voice from heaven utters confirmation. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Next week begins Holy Week about seeing Jesus – really seeing Jesus – all of Jesus, right up to the Cross. This 40 day journey has been filled with spiritual practices that deepened and challenged our spiritual journeys in Christ. Let us go deeper still in our faith and take the Paschal Triduum Challenge worshipping here Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday* and Easter Day. And, invite a colleague friend or family member who does not regularly attend worship to come with you so you can show him what Christ is really all about.
Holy Week, truly of all weeks of the year the most important for us, is about seeing Jesus – really seeing Jesus – all of him. Will you join me for all of Holy Week, from the Sunday of the Passion (commonly called Palm Sunday) through the Easter Eve service, so that together, like Andrew and Philip, we can see Jesus – perhaps in new ways!
Lent 4: Look to be Healed…
In the tradition of the church, there are three types of joy, “Gaudate,” the joy of anticipation in Advent; Laetare the joy in mid Lent, the oasis in the desert; and “Jubilate” the joy of Easter, when the sorrow of Good Friday is turned to the Resurrection on Easter morn.
Today is Refreshment Sunday or Laetare Sunday. We are midway through the forty-day season of Lent, a good day to stop and gain some perspective for the rest of the walk towards the cross. Ahead lies the Passion and all that Jesus will suffer to give himself, the Bread of Life, to his people. I want to look at both today’s Gospel and that strange passage from Numbers, and I want to give a title to my sermon today so we don’t get lost in some of the oddness of that first reading.
I want to title my sermon,
“Look to be healed; LOOK to be saved by God’s extravagance (things may not be as they seem to be!)? Sometimes suffering is the only path to redemption, and often the road to healing and light runs straight through darkness and pain. Not easy to hear, but it is the truth. And in the words of Jesus, “the truth will set you free.”
Lent 3: Rules to Live By
In the second book of the Torah, Moses, the greatest figure of the Torah, to whom history has credited as the author of the first five books of the Bible, is preparing the people of God for life in the real world. He has definitely been on the road and the code to live by is the Ten Commandments – for starters – many more codes will the Jews know by the time Jesus meets up with the Pharisees almost 1000 years later in today’s Gospel. Teaching our children well means living by example. Our actions speak louder than our words, as Jesus shows us.
All 4 Bible passages for today show us that life that is full of ways to live together in community and life is full of challenges to the faith, of obstacles to community rules, of wisdom and discernment about how to follow God’s laws and how to be a model for children. A very tall order for the people of Israel; a very tall order for the people of first century Palestine as well.
Like other rabbis, Jesus taught both by word and by example.. As a Jew, Jesus followed 10 basic laws called the Decalogue, or, from the Hebrew, “the 10 Words” or 10 Laws. We call them the 10 Commandments. We will recite them together following today’s Creed. In the Godly Play method of teaching Bible stories in Sunday School we call them the “Ten Best Ways.” I like that a lot – the 10 Best Ways to live. Not the 10 quick ways or the 10 easy ways, the 10 best ways.
Few people know the 10 Commandments by heart. This was not always so. Surveys of ordained ministers suggest we can remember maybe six of them. BUG GULP. Time to do better. In addition to our journey the wilderness, our Lenten practices that draw us closer to God, let’s add knowing the 10 Commandments by heart. They are the 10 best ways to live in community, putting us on the path to loving our neighbors (our theme for 2018)
Lent 2: The Journey Continues
‘But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
In the gospel lesson for this second Sunday in Lent, Jesus is no longer in the wilderness. For 8 chapters Jesus has been casting out demons, healing the sick, walking on water, calming the storm, and feeding the masses. Jesus demonstrates that he has the power to do anything he wants to do. This is, seemingly, what Peter means when he says ‘You are the Messiah.’ So, the disciples can hardly be blamed for being stunned when Jesus, for the first time, mentions the cross. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering.”
So, what do we set our minds on? In our first reading from the Book of Genesis, Abram and Sarai are told to set their minds on the covenant, an everlasting promise of a great nation, which begins with them. This is miraculous since at this hearing the couple had pretty much resigned themselves to being childless. Biology notwithstanding, this octogenarian couple will know the gift of a child, Isaac.
Reflecting on this passage, Paul writing to the Romans in today’s epistle says, “It depends on faith.” Abram, blameless as he is, does not earn this gift of a child from God; he receives it because he has set his heart on faithfulness.
This Lent may we set out hearts on being faithful to God’s word and following where God leads us, embracing new wilderness experiences, knowing that God not only is with us in our journeys, but also is leading us, like Abram, to new and unfamiliar territory. Let us embrace God’s call and set our hearts on God’s word.
From Ashes to the Cross: Keeping a Holy Lent
Into the wilderness we go….
Many of us grew up in the church understanding Lent as a time to give up something for 40 days. An alternative to giving up something is to take on a spiritual discipline. Here are 7 ways to help you do just that during your 40 day journey of Lent.
1. Commit to worshipping every week at Emmanuel – Sunday at 8 am in the Chapel, Sunday at 10 am in the church, Tuesday morning at 10 am in the Chapel or Wednesday evening at 6 pm. All 4 services have distinctive styles. All are designed to support you in your prayer life.
2. Read the Bible every day. There are many different ways and programs to do this. One is to take the Social Justice Bible Challenge offered on Wednesday evenings.
3. Follow the Lenten Mediations from Episcopal Relief and Development (copies in the Narthex).
4. Say grace – at every meal, even if you are out in public.
5. Take time to listen to a friend, family member, colleague, or stranger in need, even if it is not convenient.
6. Create a piggy bank (what were called mite boxes) for your pocket change and on Easter Sunday place the change in the offering plate at church.
7. Join the Sunday morning Bible Study group from 9 – 9:50 AM in the Guild Room.
As you choose and engage in strengthening your discipline during Lent, among the myriad of routes available here at Emmanuel, do not forget your journey’s content. Our spiritual discipline is that which nourishes our dependence on God, which kindles openness to God and God’s work in all of our life. The Spirit, which anointed Jesus at his baptism, drove him into the wilderness to contend with Satan on our behalf. Discipline for us is the way we move out of ourselves and the barriers which would enslave us here, into, where our calling demands, the wilderness, and in this entrance, we enter into God’s presence.
Because we accept that life is difficult, we commit ourselves to discipline. It’s just that simple. Understanding the reality of the wilderness, we prepare ourselves to confront it ourselves and on behalf of others this and every day.
May you know and keep a holy Lent – in the wilderness, for it is there we meet God most directly and most profoundly. Blessings as we commence our Lenten journey together.
The Season of Epiphany is Ending
As we come down the homestretch of this season of Epiphany, a church season specifically decimated to outreach, a season that began with our Feast of Lights, I invite us to look at light and our calling this Last Sunday after the Epiphany through powerful and vivid stories: the story of Elisha receiving the mantle, the cloak of authority from Elijah, and the story of the Transfiguration, when Jesus upon a mountain, is transfigured, changed, before Peter and James and John.
Our calling, the authority we have to put on the armor of Christ, to put on garments of righteousness, reminds us that from our baptism we are called to bear the light of Christ. Our ancestors, Biblical, biological and in the community, have given us garments, real and symbolic, that we put on to continue the traditions that have gone on for centuries before we arrived on the scene. And the mantles continue to be bestowed upon us. Like the clothes in the attic we find or the vestment made for men only, the garments may not fit perfectly, but we are called to wear them, and to proclaim our faith to the world.
Join me these final days of Epiphany as we approach the most solemn season of Ash Wednesday in holding onto the light of Christ.
Today’s Gospel is one truly in praise of women and deacons. Peter’s mother-in-law is lifted up, as in the Resurrection we celebrate in Easter. She begins to serve – just as the apostles are sent out, as we celebrate in Pentecost.
Simon’s unnamed mother -in- law is the church’s first deacon. She announces the Gospel by her action. Healed, transformed, and readily at service she slips into her role as easily as if her life-time had prepared her for it, which it had, of course. She serves like Jesus himself. For the son of man came not to be served but to serve. (Mark 10:45) and she ministers to others. And, the place designated as her home in Capernaum is to this day the site of many healings.
If we counted up the actions in the Gospels that Jesus performs they are more times healings in body, mind and spirit. In the Gospel of Mark, which we read from during year B, Mark opens his account of Jesus’ ministry in the North (Galilee) with the healing story of the unclean spirit in the man who knows who Jesus is – who recognizes Jesus as “the Holy One of God.”
I’m always caught up short to hear the story of the unclean spirit seeing Jesus as the Son of God. After the first miracle of the Capernaum demoniac we move today to the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, followed by a generalized summary of miracles at sundown, and Jesus’ attempt to flee in order to carry on his mission elsewhere. I’m reminded again that it is often the persons least likely (in my view), the ones in the background, who are showcased as models of faithfulness. What does this tell us about Jesus’ ministry, and by extension, ours?
When Jesus is baptized, God tears apart the heavens, and a voice declares the truth of Jesus’ identity: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” At his river baptism, Jesus is given not just an identity, but a mission — and his mission is not just comforting, but dangerous. This mission drives Jesus back to the wilderness to wrestle with the devil and it leads him to places of suffering, chaos, and despair. When God hears the cries of the creation, God sends Jesus, armed with the power of the Holy Spirit and with his identity and mission, as the “Son of God.” What could be more powerful or dangerous than such a mission!
The baptisms where I have presided have been orderly and relatively tame. The most dangerous thing that usually happens is an inquisitive baby pulls at my microphone, hair, or earrings, or a boisterous baby wails before being baptized. Still, I pray that the heavens are again torn apart so that this child of God bears both Jesus’ name and his mission. This is both comforting and dangerous. Baptisms are very serious events, full of symbolism, purpose, and lifelong commitments. When we do not have a baptism on the Sundays particularly noted to hold them, as today is one of those Sundays, we read the Baptismal Covenant, which includes our renewing our own baptism vows.
Sometimes I wonder if we can do more to point out that something powerful is happening at such a renewal, let alone a baptism. Perhaps, like writer Annie Dillard once suggested, we should all wear crash helmets and life preservers. Perhaps we should issue warnings with our baptismal certificates: “This is a passport to places you never thought you would go, to be an emissary of the living God in the desert and the wilderness to plant seeds of hope and healing and new life.”
The heavens torn apart mean that God is somehow with us in a new way. Not that God wasn’t with us before, but that something new is being born — a different kind of relationship, both dangerous and comforting — the wildness of the river is not tamed by the font or by the order of the service. God’s words — “You are my Son, my child. With you I am well pleased” promise us a wild ride into the current of God’s justice, passion, and mercy. The 12 days of Christmas are over. Into Epiphany we go!
New Year’s Eve: Wake Up to Love
We live in a moment in human history that calls for the deepest wisdom and will require holy struggle on behalf of all creation. So, on the eve of the Feast of the Holy Name, AKA New Year’s Day, I ask you to ponder, What is the spirituality we need for the 21st century?
“We face a choice,” writes Sister Joan D. Chittister, “to retire from this fray into some marshmallow paradise where we can massage away the heat of the day, the question of the time, the injustice of the age, and live like pious moles in the heart of a twisted world. Or, we can gather strength — our spiritual strength — for the struggle it will take to wake up from this pious sleep.”
On this seventh day of Christmas, just after we have gloriously celebrated the birth of our Savior, I urgently ask that we do the same — wake up and celebrate our humanity and God’s humanity in Jesus Christ. Today’s Scriptures show us how to take the first step to waking up to our work for the new year of 2018. We look specifically at the beautiful Prologue to the Gospel of John as our new year wake-up call.
For many centuries, the principal Gospel reading for Christmas was the Prologue to John’s Gospel, or chapter 1, v. 1-14. When prayer books were translated from Latin into English, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer and those who worked with him saw no need to change this, though it did change, probably because people were more comfortable with talking about a baby in a manger contemplating all creation and light. Therefore, we read the story of the birth — the Nativity — every Christmas Eve and usually Christmas Day, but it was not always so in the church.
In this Prologue, there is no baby in a manger, no angels singing a heavenly hymn to shepherds in the fields, as we heard proclaimed on Christmas Eve. Yet this beginning of the fourth Gospel does express the theology that is the reason for all the celebration: love — the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us: Jesus Christ.
In a collection of his writings, noted preacher and social justice advocate William Sloane Coffin describes our wake-up call to the word made flesh in this way: “Socrates had it wrong, it is not the unexamined life, but finally the uncommitted life that is not worth living. Descartes, too, was mistaken; ‘Cogito ergo sum’ — ‘I think, therefore I am’? Nonsense. ‘Amo ergo sum’ — ‘I love, therefore I am.'”
Wake up to God’s love this New Year. Wake up to God’s Love made known in the Incarnation, as told in the beautiful Prologue to John’s Gospel.
A Christmas Message from the Rector
Ever since it was built in 1902, the Emmanuel Church Bell Tower has had two bells, but for the past two years, the smaller bell, traditionally rung at weddings, has been dislocated from its bearing and out of commission. This year, we will hear not only handbells played inside the church, but also we will hear the bells from our bell tower, as the third phase of the bell tower project has just been completed, in time for us to ring our bells again. Christmas is always associated with bell ringing and Emmanuel continues that tradition. How I have missed our church bells.
In preparing to ring our church bells, I thought immediately of the Christmas carol (not in our hymnal) “Christmas Bells,” written by the New England poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Two tragedies are behind the story of his writing this beloved hymn. Longfellow’s wife, Frances, had been fatally burned in an accident in their own home. His son, Charles, had been severely wounded in the Civil War. This double dose of death and disability almost drowned Longfellow in hopelessness.
In Christmas of 1863, a saddened and reflective poet sat down and began to write the deeply moving words of the hymn we know as “I heard the bells on Christmas Day.” The final two verses make the critical shift from his despair to hope, the joy of the Christ child born Christmas morn:
“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said:
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!'”
May our restored bells peal this Christmas Eve, reminding us of the triumph of love, peace and joy that the Prince of peace brings to our world. A very Merry Christmas to all of you and yours.
Sunday, December 17, 2017 Gaudate Sunday
Gaudate is Latin for “rejoice.” “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, ‘Rejoice’.” Just as we do on Laetare Sunday in Lent, we mark the midpoint of Advent with a lightening in tone, signified with a rose-colored candle in the Advent wreath. Our readings today encourage us to be full of joy. Such is Paul’s word to the church at Thessalonica, while Isaiah, the great prophet, announces good news to the poor, the lowly, and the oppressed. We rejoice with Mary in the words of today’s canticle. Today’s Gospel focuses again on John the Baptist, but this time as witness to the light and life offered to all in Jesus Christ.
In the tradition of the church, there are three types of joy: “Gaudate,” the joy of anticipation in Advent; Laetare Joy in mid-Lent, the oasis in the desert; and the “Jubilate” joy of Easter, when the sorrow of Good Friday is turned to the Resurrection on Easter morn. This Gaudate Sunday we look at John the Baptist, messenger of anticipation, from John’s Gospel.
Throughout today’s Gospel, John is saying, “It’s not about me.” Later in John’s Gospel, he will say that he is the best man to the bridegroom, Jesus. He must decrease so that Christ can increase. John’s humility, his preparing the way for Jesus, his pointing to Jesus as the way, are all part of our faithfulness as well this Advent.
Sunday, December 10, 2017 The Forerunner
As our earliest gospel written about 70 AD, or 40 years after Jesus, Mark offers his account of Jesus’ life, not by first focusing on Jesus, but first on the person of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. Gospel writer Mark firmly sets John the Baptist as the prophet-forerunner foretold in Jewish salvation history. Mark compacts two prophetic texts into one – and attributes them both to Isaiah. The “messenger” who prepares the way comes from Malachi (3:1), the voice crying in the wilderness is an image we just heard, taken from Isaiah 40:3, made so memorable as the opening tenor solo in Handel’s oratorio, Messiah.
John the Baptist preaches repentance and baptism, the forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Christ. John IS that voice of Isaiah crying in the wilderness. He advocates a road less taken – that of repentance first. John’s words are harsh ones – as was his appearance.
John was an ascetic, a contemplative, a Nazarite, a wild man of the desert and yet his words are part and parcel of what Advent is all about – preparing the way, waiting for the long expected Messiah. John the Baptist reminds us and underscores for us the Second Sunday of Advent our role as preparers of the way.
We are all forerunners! Proclaiming the good news ahead of us, leaving behind the past to go onward to what is always just in front of us. And so, we really join with the wild John the Baptist, his predecessors the Hebrew prophets Isaiah, Elijah, and Malachi, recognized and forgotten, a mixture of voices this Second Sunday of Advent, to again prepare the way in the wilderness of our own lives. We are Advent pilgrims on the way to the manger, passing through the deserts of own lives to get to the road to Bethlehem.
Sunday, December 3, 2017 The Advent of Advent
I love Advent. In fact, it is my favorite season of the church year. I love the feeling of anticipation, of counting down to Christmas, of watching and waiting (though I am not good at the waiting part) for the Christmas child to be born. I relish the wonder of this 4 week season and the gift we have been given in preparing for the greatest gift ever given: Jesus, the babe in the manger, the Prince of Peace.
I savor the counter culture quality to Advent. When all the world it seems is hustling and bustling in consumerism and commercialization, we can, if we choose, stop and enjoy being with one another in community, choosing activities that feed our souls and deepen our spiritual journeys.
I love the prophetic call for justice that we hear again and again in the scripture readings for the season, beginning this Sunday and for the next few weeks in the great prophet Isaiah. I welcome the invitation to repent that this penitential time offers us.
It is easy to love all of these things about this four-week season of preparation and expectation. It can be harder to be intentional in daily practices of prayer and quiet. Such practices of intentional devotion make all the difference in our being as prepared as we can ever be for the gift of Christmas.
Join me in devotional time each day in quiet and prayer. Listen to the Advent prophets. Hear the voices of those crying out for justice. Spend time with a friend, a family member or a stranger in need. Choose which activities enhance your Advent journey. It’s a short walk to Christmas. Every day counts.
Sunday, November 26, 2017 Christ the King
`Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
This final Sunday of our church calendar, the last Sunday in the season of Pentecost, we celebrate as Christ the King Sunday. The celebration of Christ the King Sunday arose when Pope Pius XI found the increasing secularism of modern society eroding people’s faith. This was in 1925, and the Fascists under Mussolini were making their presence felt in Italy. Pius thought it was necessary to remind the faithful that whatever political powers might hold sway, ultimately, it is Christ who is “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
The Gospel of Matthew, which has been read for most of this year, points over and over to the kingdom of God as a reality that can be obscured by the world of human endeavor, Jesus shows us this kingdom when he heals, when he masters the chaotic elements of creation, when he feeds people, when he meets and loves people on the margins. In Matthew, Jesus says over and over that the kingdom is visible and available to his followers, as well, when we behave as citizens of that kingdom: when we serve the least, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, and perhaps, above all, emulate Jesus when he speaks God’s truth to the powers that be. In the words of the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “The Gospel is written on 5 fingers: ‘You did it to me.’”
Sunday, November 19, 2017 Parable of the Talents – Never Hoard God’s Gifts
Today’s Parables of the Talents challenges us to examine how we are we investing in God’s kingdom, beginning with our ministry right here and right now at Emmanuel. How do we secure the funds necessary to use our buildings not only for ourselves and our neighbors, but also, following the definition of sustainability, for future generations? We not only take care of the gifts we have been given – i.e., building maintenance, but also, like the two slaves, we need to grow them Starting with this beautiful earth, we have been given gifts of daring generosity from God. When we are called to account for our we tended God’s world, let us not say, as the third slave says, “Oh, I was afraid, and so I hid the talent.”
Jesus says again and again, “Do not be afraid.” ‘God’s mercy never ends’ is a way of saying grace has capital, love is rich. As we begin to trust allowing God to move through us, our lives change as individuals and our communities have a better chance of change. There are rich pickings, so to speak, and the harvest is ripe. We must never to be afraid to give generously as God has done first for us.
When we are called to account for how we tended God’s world, the question will be not be if we preserved the balance sheet or the bricks and mortar. The question will be how we copied God’s daring generosity and doubled our gifts. That is kingdom investing and that is putting our treasure where God’s heart is. May our hearts be there as well.
Sunday, November 12, 2017 Are you ready to let God’s justice roll?
In reading Scripture passages like today’s cry of God in Amos and Jesus’ parable of the bridesmaids I was reminded of two types of time I learned about in seminary – chronos – as in chronology – and kairos. Chronos is our human clock time, of which I was reminded last week in getting that extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning when I set my clock back an hour Saturday night. This kind of time is somewhat predictable, though how often do we have days when all our best-laid plans get behind our scheduled clocks.
Kairos is God’s time, “the fullness of time,” as my mother liked to talk about “The fullness of time” as one of her delay tactics. For God’ “The fullness of time” is no delay tactic . It is when an extraordinary God-given possibility changes everything – sometimes, just like that, sometimes over days, months or years – God’s calendar, and we can learn a bit of patience and humility along the way..
The prophecy, “Let justice roll,” in Amos urges us to think in terms of God’s time – the reign of justice and peace, which is when observant Jews in Jesus’ time, and in our day, believe, will be a sign that the messiah has come. This waiting – this living in two worlds, keeping watch is very hard for me.. Impatient person that I am, I am bolstered by the knowledge that waiting is not passive. Today’s parable of the wise and foolish virgins (more on this parable in my sermon!) is about the consequences for failing to prepare and the rewards for preparing appropriately. But, like all Jesus’ parables, there is a lot more to it than meets the ear.
We get so trapped to our schedules, our things and ours responsibilities that it may be hard to be spontaneous, as Jesus was always ready to serve. Being ready takes practice; it is also takes a tremendous amount of trust that things will really work out – if only we have faith in God. It also means that we speak out against injustice. That too is part of striving to live in God’s time so that justice may “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”
Sunday, November 5, 2017 You, too, are called to sainthood!
Today we remember, following an ancient custom in the church, those among us who have “passed right through,” who have gone on to this larger communion since the last All Saints Day. As we began the tradition seven years ago, I will read the necrology in the context of the Eucharistic Prayer. We also say that we are still creating saints, as we add to the number of the church this day in baptism. And, we renew our own baptismal vows, our calling to sainthood, in the oldest creed we have in the church, the Baptismal Covenant.
As we profess our faith in the words of the Baptismal covenant, we say that we are striving to live out our sainthood in daily life. Home and school, community and nation, work and play, citizenship and friendship, all belong to God: God calls us to do God’s work in all times and places. We have before us the examples of prophets and apostles, servants and martyrs, ordinary woman and men who took their baptism very seriously and let God’s grace change their lives. The celebration of All Saints is a celebration of our faith that we are counted in their number, starting with the very newest Christians among us.
Sunday, October 29, 2017 Anchor Scriptures
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Anchor Scriptures – We all have them. 12 step programs require and swear by them – powerful phrases and memorable verses that you not only can quote at the drop of a hat, but also are lifelines that you can call to mind when you need to be rooted in something much larger than your own immediate problems and deep sorrows, horrific and scary as they may be.
The “Greatest Commandment” which appears in today’s Gospel, is such an anchor Scripture. It is a annotated version from the Hebrew Scriptures (Jewish scholars call this midrash) that that has given direction and challenge to the church ever since.
The teaching seems simple: “Love God, love your neighbor.” The difficulties arise in the carrying out of these words. Everyone I know who has made a serious, lifelong effort to live out these simple precepts has struggled with one or both of them. Who is God, and who is my neighbor? What does it mean to love them? Wrestling with these questions is at the heart of discipleship. And the more we wrestle with them, the more we become clear about our identity as people of faith.
If you are looking for an Anchor Scripture passage to live by, today’s “Love your neighbor” is the best place to start, especially since here at Emmanuel our motto is “serving our neighbors.” Thank you for joining me in the journey to love and serve our neighbors.
Sunday, October 22, 2017 Setting Priorities
In today’s Gospel Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem in the way we commemorate on Palm Sunday. The days that follow are filled with a number of controversies between Jesus and lay and clergy leaders of the religious establishment. These verbal clashes are not true debates, but rather these skirmishes are designed to ensnare Jesus in giving a wrong or at least an unpopular answer, kind of like presidential debates. In today’s Gospel the goal is to paint Jesus into a corner and then to proclaim triumphantly, “Gotcha!” We’ve all done this or had it done to us, but it does not work with Jesus.
And here’s the sticky wicket. If Jesus declares that Torah forbids paying the taxes, which sustain the Roman occupation and contribute to maintaining pagan temples, he can be denounced to Pilate’s security forces and arrested for sedition. That declaration alone would put him out of circulation among the people. On the other hand, if he claims that Torah allows people to pay the taxes without protest, knowing how the Roman authorities abused taxes, his teaching would be sharply discredited.
Jesus does not fall into the trap. He says, “give back to the emperor, to Caesar all that belongs to him, – pay the taxes, the financial burden,” and it was a burden for the citizens in Israel. “But give back to God the things, which belong to God, which means to return all that we are and all that we have in an intentional way back to God.”
Jesus’ admonition to render unto Caesar, what is Caesar’s. Is a clever response, not just because he refuses to fall into another trap, but also because he is inquiring where our duty lies: Where are your priorities? Where is your treasure? In a human ruler or in God? We all can have many masters, including our own schedules and agendas and the agendas for others in our households. Jesus’ answer is simple, “Give to God the things that are God’s.”
Sunday, October 15, 2017 The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
A new Christian with no church background saw the notice and called up the friend. “I have two questions, “she said. “It’s about this supper thing. Am I invited and how much will it cost?” This story came to mind immediately when I read today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells of a feast to which invited guests refuse to come, and of people rounded up from the streets. This story foreshadows a future celebration symbolizing the fulfillment of the coming of the Messiah, when God’s reign will be established.
Matthew the Gospel writer is saying in today’s Gospel that the time that Israel has been waiting for has now come, the Kingdom is right here – in the feast of a banquet, freely offered to all, a time and Kingdom that will include God’s acts of mercy on behalf of the poor and needy. Are you ready? God is calling you into this Kingdom. God wants you to enter fully and completely, not give it half a heart or effort – but your all! Are you ready?
God actively seeks out anyone who will respond to God. God’s banquet is open to everyone, or as former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning was famous for saying, “The church knows no outcasts.”
Sunday, October 8, 2017 Listening to today’s Parable of the Vineyard
This Parable of the Vineyard, like several of Matthew’s parables, honestly describes the mixture of communities jostling together in the pews trying to determine who is in that kingdom and who is not. Parables, however do not give us answers- they paint us pictures. Especially in Matthew’s Gospel, they can be harsh and without an understanding of the background, very difficult to understand. However, I know for certain that these parables are not just about something back then, but about today. In fairy tales, it’s the frog, the rejected little sister of the simple farmer who turns out to be the truth bearer. For Christians, it is the rejected stone that becomes the cornerstone. It may be the least likely person, the quiet person in the final pew who is our prophet – you just never know, so, we need to listen very carefully.
Can we listen to unfamiliar language and even frightening and harsh stories of the prophets of our day? Then we, like those first hearers of Jesus’ parables, can discover something more. Jesus told parables to them, for them, about them, to encourage them, sometimes even to warn and correct them about being faithful to God.
Sunday, October 1, 2017 Humility
Last week we heard how the reluctant prophet Jonah wanted to keep God’s mercy and love from the people of Ninevah. One could hardly call Jonah a model of faithfulness. His opposite in word and deed might be the prophet Micah, who gives a description of what is required of us in chapter six of the Book of Micah:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Humility is a rare virtue. In today’s epistle, Paul uses an ancient Christological hymn in his letter to the Philippians to emphasize the humility of Jesus in fulfilling the wish of God and completing his mission to bring salvation. “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.”
Last week we read of the magnanimous mercy and patience of God — that with God it is never too late to be faithful. Today we see that that Jesus has authority over all. God looks to the heart and knows us better than we know ourselves. We might be able to fool those around us and maybe even ourselves with words and platitudes, but we can never hide who we are and what we do from God. Humility still remains one of the greatest virtues commended by the prophets, by Jesus, and by St Paul.
Sunday, September 24, 2017 “The last shall be first and the first shall be last,” or “Life is not fair”
If I were to put a board out front the way some churches do with a saying of the week or the theme of the sermon, today’s might read, “Today’s Sermon Topic: Life is not Fair”.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand, ” Jesus warns his listeners. If we always at the very least lean toward the side of justice and truth, then indeed we may be standing alone, or at least not not in the crowd. We may face persecution and rejection for our unpopular views, but I urge you this day to look at how the church — and I’m not talking about a congregation, but the following of Jesus — has grown since the first generation of followers, how it has added to the house, not divided it. And it grows by following the graciousness and mercy of God, not by trying to hoard God’s mercy, as Jonah does, or resenting God’s generosity s the laborers who have worked all day in the field are.
The Book of Jonah is a short story. We step into the very end of where we find Jonah, the very reluctant prophet, told to preach about God’s mercy to a foreign people. He wants no part of this generosity. He does not believe that God would care for the Gentile people of Nineveh. Through a series of adventures, including the famous three days in the belly of a great fish, Jonah is finally led, albeit very reluctantly, to see that something is seriously wrong with a religious system that enables him to be more compassionate toward a tree than he could be toward the Ninevites.
In the words of a seminary professor of mine, the church needs to have “porous boundaries,” to enable the Spirit to flow freely and to catch as many people as she can in her wide embrace, including those who arrive at the eleventh hour.
Sunday, September 10, 2017 Loving One Another
Today Jesus says, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” Is there anything harder than confronting someone who’s grieved you? Especially when it’s someone you know well? It’s so much easier for us to take our grievance to someone else — to talk about it to anyone else who would listen. Anyone else that is, except the one we ought to. But this is what this gospel is all about. It’s about how we should behave if we are indeed going to call ourselves members of God’s family.
If we want our church to grow (as everyone has so far said in the surveys), we need to work constantly on our witness, our discipleship. Others must see us care for each other. They should hear us speak kindly of one another and they should see us forgive and ask forgiveness. It’s not always easy, and we won’t always do it. But as we try to live as we are called to live, we have only to remember that Jesus also said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” As Jesus also reminds us in today’s Gospel, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The promise is now made, not to Peter alone, but to us as well, “Whatever is forbidden on earth, will be forbidden in heaven and whatever is permitted here will be permitted in heaven.” Or, in the words of Jesus later in Matthew, we write the Gospel on five fingers, “YOU DID IT TO ME.” Let us remember, this and every day our brothers and sisters in need here and around the globe. And let there be no separation or estrangement from one another. We need one another in this journey in faith. As Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle to the Romans, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Let us show such love without ceasing at Emmanuel.
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.
In today’s Gospel we see that the Pharisees and teachers of the law are trying to impose religious burdens. Later in (Matthew 23:4) we will read the scribes and Pharisees “bind heavy burdens and place grievous weights on peoples’ shoulders.” The practices of the Pharisaic Jews seem here like a rigid routine of religion of rules and regulations, rules that included over 600 practices as outlined in the Book of Leviticus. Religion then became a weight and burden to be loaded onto one’s shoulders.
Jesus’ yoke is entirely different. It is as if Jesus is saying: “Take my teachings, take my life, take my spirit, take my way of life and learn from me instead of learning from the Pharisees and their religious interpretations and religious legalisms,” and not from the Pharisees’ rule book.
How do we do these things? For me, it starts by giving thanks every day. It involves living and being in community with other travelers in life. It always includes keeping the Sabbath and finding Sabbath time every day. Come and share how you are able to follow Jesus and be carried by him. See you in worship!!!
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Today’s Scripture reflection is from our Postulant for Holy Orders, Charles Cowen, who when he was with us at Emmanuel often facilitated the Sunday morning Bible Study. This is Charles’ reflection for today’s Gospel, as published in last week’s Episcopal Church’s Digital Network under “Sermons that Work” on the readings for June 25 and July 2. Charles is a rising senior at the Seminary of the Southwest, Austin, Texas.
“These two verses at the end of Chapter 10 of Matthew conclude a treatise from Jesus to his disciples on the role of mission. Jesus gathers the twelve, gives them the powers of healing and exorcism, and sends them into the world to cast out demons and heal (Mt 10:1). Jesus then warns his disciples that in performing these acts of love, they will meet persecution and disdain.
Jesus still commands us, his 21st-century followers, to share the Good News of Jesus, which brings healing and life to the world. This may not make us popular, and neither will the work be easy. In these two verses appointed for today, however, Jesus reveals the rewards for those who are faithful. Notice that these rewards do not include wealth, fame, or worldly goods. Our reward is “the reward of the righteous” (Mt 10:41). God calls each of us to spread the Gospel in different ways-some are wandering prophets, some are teachers, some are even little children. All of us, however, carry the light of Christ and can take that light into the dark places of this world.
- What are your gifts, and how might you use them to spread the light of Christ?
- What brings you great joy? How might God use that joy to spread the Gospel?
- Where are the dark areas in your community that need the light of Christ?
Sunday, June 25, 2017
In today’s Gospel Jesus prepares his disciples for their mission in the world. They will face dangers, humiliations, possibly death. They observe, as an eighth century Christian prayer puts it, that “things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new…” But do not fear, says Jesus, do not be intimidated, be honest and faithful. Keep the last day in mind. You are loved. And by losing your life, you will find it.
Jesus’ comments about not fearing come in the context of his sending his disciples out to preach in towns and villages of Galilee. At the same time, we heard him last week warn the twelve of coming persecutions “See I am sending you out like sheep in to the midst of wolves.” But then he tells his disciples not to fear any of these things. Really?
Jesus is not saying that all we have to fear is fear itself, rather to fear that which is truly deadly. He is talking about what truly matters; about the importance of taking the long view. In today’s Gospel Jesus shows his desire to fortify his disciples for the impending opposition by community and family. There is a constant interplay of hard texts (warnings) and comforting texts (promises). What is a disciple to do?
Our world is different; perhaps more complicated that first century Palestine with slaves and masters. So, taking a long view about fear pushed me to read ancient and modern religious leaders, including Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, to help me with Jesus’ words on being faithful and not fearful.
Join us in worship to learn more about how not to fear and what I learned from these ancient and contemporary masters. Learn from one another about how to be a fearless disciple!