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.
`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.’”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
- 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!