Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sermon; 12 Pentecost/Proper 14B; Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2


As a reminder: Ephesians may or may not have been written by Paul to a church or churches that may or may not have been in Ephesus. It has no presenting controversy; that is, it's not like the letter to the Galatians which was written to counter challenges about Paul's teaching on circumcision as well as introducing dietary laws and rituals, nor is it like Corinthians where Paul wrote to address congregational divisions and the marginalizing of their poorer members (among other things). It can be said, as I did last week, that Ephesians might probably be a catechism for the instruction of new converts to the faith.

The other point to remember about Ephesians is its structure. It is a giant funnel that begins with the cosmic and eternal plan of God and moves down to the role and mission of the Church, our place in that mission, how we are to live as Christians, and how that ultimately shapes our individual lives. God – Christ – Church – Members – Individuals.

Unlike last week which followed immediately from the previous week, this week there is yet another gap between readings. The good news, though, is that it's not all that important in the big picture.

Last week's lesson was all about leading lives worthy of the calling to which you were called. It begged and encouraged us to live gently and humbly, with patience, bearing with one another in love, and striving for unity. It encouraged us to mature in Christ, learning sound doctrine, and using our gifts, talents, and skills to build up each other and the Church.

Last week was all about what was expected of us as Christians. The vast, cosmic, eternal plan of God, fulfilled through Christ, unifying those who were formerly separated, is represented in the Church, with you as holy members who are rooted and grounded in love. And as members of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, you are urged to live lives worthy of that calling.

What might it look like if we lived lives worthy of our calling? It's one thing to suggest we do so, but what does that actually entail? This is a rather common question. Think back to when Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Do you remember what follows?

“And the man said, 'But who is my neighbor?'”

As humans we love to complicate things. For instance . . . If I throw this football to someone, what will they most likely do? They will probably catch it. HOWEVER, anyone who has followed football recently knows all about the trials and tribulations of defining a catch. I also have it on good authority that there was initially only one Commandment: Don't do bad stuff. But then people started asking, “Define, 'bad'.” And some other people asked, “Define, 'stuff'.” We like to complicate things.

When Paul said, “Lead a life worthy of your calling,” he knew he had to offer some examples. And those examples are in today's passage.

Put away falsehood. In other words, not only do not lie, but actively work to end the spread of lies, untruths, alternative facts, mis-rememberings, and the like. God is truth. When we lie, when we participate in lies, when we allow lies to go unchecked, then we are not behaving as God would have us behave.

Be angry, but do not sin. On one level this is very personal. We have all had arguments with any number of people. Don't carry that anger with you. Don't resort to belittling or abusing the other person. It not only applies to our interpersonal interactions, but it also applies on larger stages. White supremacists and those who support them work to create violent confrontations. Be angry at their hatred, but don't resort to sin to fight back. Don't mirror their actions in the name of goodness. Sin is sin, regardless of who does it.

Let no evil talk come out of your mouth. Again, don't belittle or degrade another human being. Use your speech to build up, not to tear down. This applies not only to our actual verbal speech, but to our virtual speech as well. How we address people and topics on Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms is a direct reflection on our church and God.

Let me be clear . . . It is perfectly acceptable to call people out for their hateful, bigoted, ungodly behavior. It is perfectly acceptable to point out lies made by people whose entire pattern of speech relies on lies and misdirection. It is perfectly acceptable to call out hypocritical behavior, expecting one group of people to live a certain way while you yourself live another. Jesus did this all the time.

But that doesn't mean we cease to respect the dignity of their humanity. Because it is then that we too easily move down the path of evil. It is then that we too easily assign non-human status to “Those” people.

Be kind to one another, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. Be imitators of God and live in love. While all of the other directives give us guidelines on how we should live in society, this last bit may be directed specifically to life in the Church.

As people who have been called before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in love, this is the one place where this behavior should be evident. This part of the body of Christ, this household of God, this Church, should be a place of tenderness, kindness, forgiveness, and safety. Children should be free from abuse. Women should be free from inappropriate words and actions. Men should be living examples of holy and loving lives. We all should do our best to not intentionally harm or injure another; and when we do harm or injure, we should be quick to apologize without excuse. And forgiveness should inform how we move forward, because we have been forgiven by God through Christ.

As Christians, we are expected by God to live lives worthy of our calling. As Christians, we have a responsibility to make this body, this household, a place of truth, honesty, love, support, and forgiveness. This is a place where we (hopefully) learn the ways of God. This is a place where we first learn to practice what we preach.

Because if we can't live that way in here, what makes us think we can live that way out there?

Amen.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Sermon; Proper 13B; Ephesians 4:1-16


Ephesians is a letter that may or may not have been written by Paul, to a church or churches that may or may not have been located in Ephesus. Unlike the letters to the Corinthians or Galatians, there is no single event or crisis that is the reason or motive for writing the letter. It would appear that, more than anything, it is a letter to a new community (or communities) of believers, serving as a type of catechism.

Remember that this letter is structured like a funnel. It begins with the vast cosmic purposes of the eternal God, through the working of Jesus Christ his Son and the Holy Spirit, as a fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, established in the body and mission of the Church, being accomplished through the workings of you, the individual members of that body.

Whereas last week we had to play catch up and fill in a lot of gaps, we have no such issues today since today's reading comes immediately after last week's. We move directly from your role in the Church whose mission is to reconcile people to each other and God, break down dividing barriers, and being grounded in love, to a discussion of what that life looks like.

Last week I came across the idea that this letter served as a catechism for new believers. If that's true, the topics and format make much more sense, I think. How do you teach Christianity to new believers? Begin with God and move down to individual spirituality. The new believers are being instructed and re-socialized into God's mission and family. This letter guides them from their baptism into the life of a full-fledged Christian.

So . . . God – Christ – Covenant – Church – You. As members of this one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, how are we to live? This is what today's section of the letter deals with – how are we to live as Christians in the body of the Church?

First, remember that you have been called to this life by God. In answering that call, Paul begs us to lead a life worthy of that call. Live with humility, gentleness, and patience. Make every effort to maintain unity and bonds of peace.

We have been called by God to become members of this household, the Church. We have been adopted into the family and marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. And when that happens, we are reminded that there is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all – which is still part of our baptismal rite. Through these acts, we have been called, baptized, and sealed into the family.

But we all know that families are interesting places. Families are bound in love, but they are also the source of some of our greatest battles. If we want the family to survive, we must bear with each other, support each other, have patience with each other, forgive each other.

The same is true for the Church. If we are to survive, we must live differently than the world around us. We must learn to be humble, gentle, and patient. We must love and forgive. We must do this as a reflection of how God behaves toward us. We and the Church are the reflection of God on earth. Since you are most likely how people see God, I beg you to live a life worthy of your calling.

After begging us to live worthy lives, Paul then goes on to talk about the varieties of gifts found in the Church. Some are apostles, some prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. And all of these are to use their gifts to equip the saints (you) for the work of ministry and to build up the body of Christ in unity and maturity.

All of us have gifts. The body of Christ, the Church, is not dependent on one person. The priest is not the be-all and end-all of the Church. We all have gifts to use for the building up of the body. We all rely on each other. I rely on Bob and Katharine and Lou and Bruce and many others. People rely on me. And it is only through our interdependence, it is only through our mutual love, humility, patience, and forgiveness, that we will build up our particular body and the Church as a whole.

As we build each other up, we mature as Christians (or we should). We learn sound doctrine. We learn to speak truth in love. We grow in Christ, being grounded and rooted in love. And we represent the Church, Christ, and God in a manner worthy of our calling.

Ephesians is a catechetical funnel – it is a letter designed to teach/instruct new believers in the Christian life. It is saying that this new life has a different foundation than your old life, and here is what that entails.

That funnel begins with the wide opening of the vastness of the cosmological and eternal God. It moves to the plan of the Covenant being fulfilled in Christ. It draws together and unifies people who otherwise have no commonality in the body of the Church. It roots us and grounds us in Christ so that we may proclaim the breadth, length, height, and depth of that love. And it reminds us of how we are to live together in this new faith, this body of believers we call the Church.

As we ourselves work to become a beloved community, may we see the vast eternal plan of God reflected in our own lives and in this body. May we bear with one another in love. May we use our gifts to build up. And may we grow into Christ in every way so that we reflect the love of God to the world around us.

Amen.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sermon; Proper 12B; Ephesians 3:14-21


We have some catching up to do.

Two weeks ago we began our journey and exploration of Ephesians. Remember that this is a disputed letter, meaning that it may or may not have been written by Paul to a church that may or may not have been in Ephesus. Remember also how this letter is constructed – like a funnel that begins with a vast, cosmological view of God working its way down to individual spirituality. Two weeks ago we were at the wide opening of that funnel when we heard about the omnipotence of God, his eternal plan as Lord of the universe, and the very beginnings of trinitarian theology.

The lectionary unfortunately skips over a sizable chunk between two weeks ago and last week. This skipped-over section runs from 1:15 – 2:10 and includes prayers for the church/or churches to whom the letter was sent, thoughts on the power of the Resurrection and Ascension, and a reference to Christ and Church as one body, with Christ in control as its head.

Included in this section is also the story of God's people, both Christian and Jew, over the past, present, and future. The author touches on what we have labeled “the Fall” and universal sin, humanity's life outside Christ, God working to bring all of humanity back into relationship through Christ, and what our life in Christ should look like as we live into that fulfillment.

So again, we begin with the universal and cosmological view of the eternal God, that we are adopted in Christ, and that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. The letter slightly narrows to a view that the power of the Resurrection brings us back into relationship with God through Christ. And it is in this skipped-over section where we see the author's understanding of all this as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. It was through God's covenant with Abraham, remember, that all nations would be blessed.

But people were not able to hold up their end of the Covenant. Instead of a fence around the Torah that protected it from unintended or willful damage and to keep it as a garden of precious plants for all to see and use, people turned that fence into a wall designed to keep others out and delineate between Us and Them. It was because of this sin of separation that God, through his great love and mercy, gave his Son Jesus Christ so that all people may be reunited with God; thereby fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant that all nations shall be blessed.

Last week we had Fr. Bruce Torrey speak about his relationship and mission with Food for the Poor, so we missed out on looking at the Ephesians reading. So, as part of our catching up . . . Last week's reading begins to explore and explain the unity we have in the Church regardless of race and culture. The author reminds his readers that Gentiles were outside the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenant and having no hope. It is through Christ, though, that those who were far off (Gentiles) are now brought near to God. And it is Christ who has broken down that wall of separation that I mentioned earlier. It is Christ who has abolished the law of separation in order to create one new humanity, making peace across racial and cultural lines. It is Christ who reconciles all people to God, putting to death their hostility toward each other. It is through Christ that all people are unified. And it is Christ who builds the household of God, the Church, and who becomes its cornerstone.

The eternal, universal God, working through his Son, Jesus Christ, works to bring all people back into his loving embrace, through the work of the Church.

We have moved from the universality of God, to the mission of Christ, to the reason and mission of the Church. This reason and mission is found in another section omitted by the lectionary. In short, the reason, purpose, and mission of the Church is to “make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the Church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known.”

And this, finally, brings us to today.

This is the reason for the Church: to make known the plan of mystery and to make known the wisdom of God. Another way to say this is, “On earth as it is in heaven.” So Paul prays that this may be so. And this is our reading today – the prayer of Paul for the Church.

He prays that Christ may dwell in your hearts, being rooted . . . . that is, being set apart as a precious plant and protected from both unintended and willful damage. He prays that Christ may dwell in your hearts, being grounded . . . that is, being firmly established as a building with Christ as your cornerstone. He prays that this rootedness and groundedness will be based in love.

And he prays that through your rootedness and groundedness, you will have the power to comprehend the love of Christ in all its breadth, and length, and height, and depth. This is the vastness of the eternal God being revealed through Christ, in the body of the Church, represented by you. As the Church, you are in Christ and Christ is in you.

It is the missio dei, the mission of God, to reconcile all people to each other and to bring all people back into his loving embrace.
It is Christ who has broken down the walls of separation through his acts of love, and who has put to death hostility, bringing together those who were far off and those who were near.
It is the Church, as the body of Christ, that reflects the love of God and works to make the wisdom of God known to all.
And it is you, the individual members of the body, gathered up by God's plan before the foundation of the world and marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, who will proclaim all this to the world.
It is you, filled with the fullness of God, rooted and grounded in love, who will help break down barriers and walls so that the eternal plan of God may be made known.

The unimaginable vastness of the eternal God who chose us to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world was lain, set forth in Christ a plan for the fullness of time. God put this power to work in Christ by raising him from the dead, defeating death forever. And now, this power to defeat death, to break down walls of separation, to make known the mystery of the ages that is rooted and grounded in love, resides in the Church and is brought to fulfillment through you, the individual members of Christ's body.

May we never forget from whence we came, or for why we go forth.

Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sermon; 8 Pentecost/Proper 10B; Ephesians 1:3-14


The gospel of Mark is a Passion narrative with an extended beginning. Almost every story we hear in Mark points to the Passion, the Cross, and, in some cases, the Resurrection. That said, I'm going to take a seven-week break from Mark and delve into Ephesians.

Ephesians is one of my favorite letters in the NT. Part of that is due to the letter's general tone. Bibles tend to include this letter with all of the other letters attributed to Paul, but the earliest manuscripts we have don't list Paul as the author. Nor do they have “to the Saints in Ephesus,” thereby throwing doubt as to whom the letter was written. One of my commentaries says that it was written by a disciple of Paul after his death, reminding us that his ministry continued on and giving us hope that our ministries will also carry on.

All that said, let's delve into this letter that may or may not have been written by Paul to a church that may or may not have been in Ephesus.

As we read through this letter over the next seven weeks you should note that it is constructed like a funnel. The author (whom I'll call Paul for simplicity's sake) begins with a vast cosmic view of God and our role in God's plan. That cosmic view slowly narrows as Paul writes about unification in Christ, the Church, our life in the Church, our life at home, and individual spirituality. This isn't a letter focused on individual Christian character; it's a letter that focuses on the universality of God and how Church and people play a part in that universality.

Today's lectionary text starts at the beginning of the letter. As I said, it's not clear who wrote it, or to whom it was written, so the RCL begins the lection at verse 3. Remember, Ephesians can be seen as a funnel that opens up with broad cosmological themes and works its way down to individual spiritual practices. Today we have the broad beginning, the wide opening of the funnel. And in this broad beginning we can also see the beginnings of trinitarian theology.

First, we see the omnipotence of God along with his eternal purpose of bringing humanity back into the fully reconciled embrace of the Godhead. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. In other words, God is Lord of all and we are recipients of his universal blessings.

Verses 4-6 are somewhat problematic because they deal with predestination. He chose us in Christ before the foundations of the world. He destined us for adoption as his children through Christ. He bestowed his grace upon us through the Beloved, Jesus Christ.

I'm not a big fan of predestination. For one thing, I don't believe God chooses some to be saved and some to be punished or neglected. For another, I think predestination beliefs allow people to a) not evangelize, b) develop a sense of privilege in a self-serving way, c) not bother with living upright and moral lives because they own a “get out of jail free” card, and d) create a theology of exclusion where they do not need to care about other people or even the planet.

On the other hand, I do believe God is omniscient, and thereby knows who will choose to follow him and who will not.

One way you could look at this is to look at me. Was I predestined to become the 28th Rector of St. John's? You could say, “Yes.” But you could also say that God simply knew how my life and the search process would play out. It's predestination as all-knowing. I prefer the all-knowing aspect.

So, moving on . . . we have been adopted as children of God through Jesus Christ. This adoption gives us a new beginning. Through Christ we have been redeemed and our sins forgiven. This new beginning goes all the way back to Israel's redemption from the bondage of slavery in Egypt and to the release of the Babylonian captives. The horror of the crucifixion, the blood of Christ, has become the new Exodus, the new release from sin and bondage. And it is through these acts that God, through Christ, fulfills his ultimate plan to gather up all things in heaven and earth unto himself.

The inheritance that was promised to Abraham and his children is now also promised to us through Christ. It was and is through Christ that the fulfillment of the eternal plan of salvation is accomplished for all people. Christ does not supersede, replace, or invalidate the original covenant with Abraham; but it is through Christ that the covenant is expanded. It is through Christ that we are adopted as children of God.

Before the foundation of the world, God had a plan to gather all people to him to be holy and blameless before him in love. For the Jews, that plan involved the covenant with Abraham. For Gentiles, that plan included our adoption through Christ. Through Christ all things in heaven and earth are gathered up.

And then, when we heard the word of truth, when we heard the good news of the gospel of Christ, we were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. John Chrysostom said of this sealing, “It is just as if someone might stamp his heirs plainly in advance; so God set us apart to believe and sealed us for the inheritance of future glory.” We have been marked in advance as heirs of God through Christ by the Holy Spirit.

When does this happen? For us it happens at our baptism. Whether we promise to become followers of Christ, or whether those promises are made on our behalf, it is at our baptism that we are formally adopted as children of God. And it is at our baptism that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own for ever.

This letter is addressed as much to us today as it was to the people of the early Church. It takes us on a journey through the cosmos and the eternal plan of God as Lord of the universe all the way down to our individual spirituality. And as we begin our journey, we are reminded that before the foundations of the world were lain, before creation itself, we were chosen by God to be holy and blameless in love. We were destined for adoption through Christ and redeemed through his blood and by his love. And we were marked as his own by the seal of the Holy Spirit.

Today we have entered the opening of the funnel. May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing on the name of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Sermon; 7 Pentecost/Proper 9B; Mark 6:1-13


Mark is a Passion Narrative with an extended beginning. And as we make our way through Mark this year, we are noticing that almost every story we hear will point to the Passion and/or the cross in some way. But I'll be honest, some stories are easier than others to see that connection.

Pharisees plotting to destroy Jesus? Check
Family members attempting to seize and restrain him? Check
A dead calm after Jesus cries out? Check
Life in the midst of death? Most definitely Check

Today, however, is one of those stories that causes me to say, “Almost every story.” Almost is not all, and it may be that this is one of those exceptions. But rather than go another route, I still want to see if I can make a connection between today's story and the Passion. If for no other reason than that those connections play such a big part in Mark's gospel. That, and I can be stubborn at times.

So let's see if I can make this work.

Like last week, we have two stories that make up the gospel passage. The first is Jesus in his home town where, ultimately, he could do no deeds of power. Before we are told about that, however, we are told a few other important things. First, the people questioned each other (and possibly him) about who he is and where he came from. Second, Jesus doesn't ever answer their questions but he makes a veiled statement about who he is. And third, we are told that the people were astounded.

I think this story connects to the Passion in an interesting way. Keep those three things in mind: Jesus is questioned about who he is by the townsfolk, he never answers their questions, and the people were astounded.

During the Passion Jesus is questioned by both the Pharisees and Pilate. Like today he doesn't answer those questions, choosing instead to remain silent. But when he does speak, it's not to answer the questions as much as it is to give statements about who he is.

In Nazareth he said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own home town.” Yes, he was a prophet of God.
To the Pharisees he said, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power.” Yes, he was from God.
To Pilate he said, “You say that I am a king.” Yes, he is a king, but not the kind of king you think.

The other similarity here is that in this story the people of his home town were astounded at his teachings. In his encounter with Pilate, he was amazed at Jesus' behavior. Astounded and amazed. Two synonyms that, depending on how they are used, can have the same or different connotations. One of those connotations is that the people were shocked and appalled with Jesus, in a “who does he think he is” sort of way. A possible connotation from Pilate is that he had a sense of wonder about Jesus, in a “who is this guy” sort of way. These are not identical words, but they both point to a sense of trying to figure out just who this Jesus is.

And in both of these stories, the encounter in Nazareth and the Passion, Jesus came to his own, and his own knew him not.

The second story today doesn't necessarily point to the Passion and/or cross, as much as it contrasts with Mark's version of the Resurrection.

After the episode in his hometown, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples on a mission to preach, teach, and heal. This first mission goes extremely well. They preached the good news. They cast out demons. They healed those who were sick. In other words, they listened to the words of Christ to go forth.

Contrast this with Mark's version of the Resurrection. Very early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices to anoint the body. When they entered the tomb they saw a young man dressed in white. He said, “Go and tell his disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” So they went out and fled, and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.

In Mark's version, an angel tells the women to go and tell the good news. But they don't because they are afraid. In today's gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to go and tell the good news, and they do. Both of those missions could cause a person to say, “No,” out of fear; and in one they do, but it's not because they are women.

As I said in the beginning, this may or may not be the weakest passage to look for connections to the Passion and cross, but the connections are there.

Jesus returning to his hometown only to be rejected. God, in the person of Jesus, coming to live amongst his creation only to be rejected. The people in his hometown wondering just who he thought he was. The Pharisees and Pilate wondering the same thing. Some people choosing to follow his instructions to go and proclaim the good news, and some people refusing to do so out of fear.

As we look at this passage and how it connects to the Passion and cross, we can ask ourselves the same questions we ask of this passage.

Will we receive Jesus, or will we pepper him with questions looking for proof of who he is?
Will we look to work with him in God's mission, or will we simply sit and stare in astounded amazement?
Will we go forth and proclaim the good news, or will we run away in fear, saying nothing to anyone?

This may or may not be the weakest passage to look for connections to the Passion and cross. But the beauty of that is that it is precisely this passage which challenges us to see the Passion and cross in our everyday lives. And in looking for the connections to the Passion and cross in our every day lives, we will get better at seeing Jesus in unexpected places.

Amen.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Sermon; 6 Pentecost/Proper 8; Mark 5:21-43


In Ordinary Time of Year B we are on a journey with Mark to . . . where? . . . we are on a journey with Mark to the cross. Remember, Mark is a Passion Narrative with an extended beginning, and almost everything in Mark's gospel points to the cross.

The confrontations with the Pharisees pointed to the cross as they plotted to destroy him. The encounter with his family pointed to the Passion as they tried to seize and restrain him. Last week's storm had parallels to the Passion as Jesus cried out and all was silent. And today is no exception.

Today Jesus once again crosses the sea to the other side. Just so you've got this: Jesus and the disciples crossed from Jewish territory over to Gentile territory, during which they encountered a ferocious storm. When they reached shore, they met a demoniac. Jesus drove the demons from him into a herd of swine which then rushed off a cliff into the sea and drowned. The demoniac was healed, and everyone begged Jesus to leave. He got into the boat crossing back into Jewish territory, and that brings us to today.

A huge crowd meets him and pressed in on him. And here we get two stories for the price of one. The presenting story is Jairus pleading on behalf of his daughter's very life. Embedded within that story is the story of the woman suffering from a continual flow of blood for twelve years; which, by the way, is exactly how old the young girl happens to be.

Once again these stories point us to the Passion and cross. These stories point us there because these are also stories about suffering, death, and new life.

In the first story, Jairus comes to Jesus because his little girl is at the point of death. It is clear that she is suffering. But as a parent, Jairus is also suffering. When someone we love dearly is in pain or suffering, we also suffer, we know that. As friends, we know that. As parents, we know that.

The woman in the second story approaches Jesus because she also is suffering. She is suffering physically from her continual bleeding. She is suffering financially because she had spent her last penny on doctors. She is suffering mentally, socially, and spiritually because, under the law, she has been unclean for twelve years and has been removed and barred from society. She is an outcast.

These are two stories of hopelessness. The dying daughter's situation is hopeless. The bleeding woman's situation is hopeless. But in those hopeless times, they turn to the only one who offers hope – Jesus.

The Passion is also a time of hopelessness. Jesus is betrayed, arrested, beaten, tried, convicted, and executed. In those hopeless few days, Jesus is dead and buried. But there is also a glimmer of hope.

In the Burial Office one of the opening anthems begins, “In the midst of life we are in death.” This applies to the two stories today. In the midst of life, Jairus' daughter was in death. In the midst of life the bleeding woman was in death. In the midst of life we are in death. Death envelopes us. Death is inevitable. We will all experience death – from friends to family to ourselves – at some point in our lives.

In the midst of life, Jairus and his daughter were in death. In the midst of life, the bleeding woman was in death.

These two stories point us to both the Passion and the Resurrection. What Christ did in those events was to destroy death. In the Passion and cross, the human Jesus died. But for Christ to defeat death he had to experience death. It was then that he had the final victory. It was through his death that he destroyed death.

And while he didn't destroy death for either the little girl or the woman, he gave them, the witnesses, and us, a glimpse of what was to come. The girl wasn't resurrected, but her current life was restored. The woman also experienced the restoration of life.

In the midst of life we are in death, says the anthem. But with these two stories, and the Passion and Resurrection itself, I wonder if there's another way to look at this: In the midst of death there is life.

Jairus' daughter was at the point of death and things looked hopeless. Hoping against hope, he paid a visit to Jesus begging for healing. The girl did die, but Jesus restored her life. In the midst of death there was life.

The bleeding woman was also at the point of death. Having spent her last penny, from where was her next meal to come? Being ostracized as untouchable, with whom could she live or associate? Hoping against hope she made her way to Jesus to be healed and restored. In the midst of death there was life.

Betrayed, beaten, and crucified, Jesus hung on a cross to die. In the tomb for three days, his disciples hoped against hope that his words would be true. In the midst of death there is not only life, there is resurrection.

Death is all around us. Death is not only a part of life, it is the final result of all physical life as we know it. There's a saying, I don't know how true, that says, “The human body begins to die at 25.” Mildly depressing, I know. But it is a recognition that one of the few certainties in life is death.

Mark is a Passion Narrative with an extended beginning, and almost everything in that beginning points us to the cross. These two stories give us a glimpse of what is to come. What is to come is new life. What is to come is restoration. What is to come is resurrection. But we must also realize that difficulties and trials and death will precede that new life.

Don't be discouraged. Don't lose hope. In the midst of death there is life. And let us always remember that life is changed, not ended. That change, that life, that restoration, that resurrection, rests in the hope given us through Christ our Savior.

Amen.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sermon; 5 Pentecost/Proper 7B; Mark 4:35-41


Over the past few weeks we have begun the process of getting acquainted with Mark not only as a Passion narrative, but as a story that sees Jesus' life as pointing to the cross almost from the beginning. As we started this journey, the very first gospel story we heard included the scene of the Pharisees collaborating with the Herodians to destroy Jesus. The next story we heard was that of Jesus attending to so many people that he was labeled “mad” and his family came to seize or restrain him. These are two early stories pitting Jesus against the power of the world. And in those first two stories, the powers he confronts are human in nature.

The power he confronts today is nature itself.

In the evening Jesus and the disciples got into a boat to cross to the other side.” At some point on the journey a storm rose up, waves beating into the boat threatening to swamp it. I imagine some disciples grabbing a bucket or two in an effort to bail out the boat keeping it afloat. The storm is so bad that even Peter, Andrew, James, and John, all experienced fishermen, are in fear for their lives. And all through this whole thing Jesus is asleep in the stern. If this sounds familiar, that's because it is.

The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea such that the ship threatened to break up. And the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his god. But Jonah had gone down into the hold, lay down, and fell fast asleep. The captain found him asleep and said, “Get up and pray to your God. It may be that he will save us.” Eventually he convinces the sailors to throw him overboard. Immediately the storm ceased and Jonah spent the next three days in the belly of a great fish.

Jonah will be used by Jesus later in Matthew, “As Jonah was three days in the belly of the fish, so will the Son of Man be three days in the heart of the earth.” Just as Jonah was sacrificed to save the lives of the crew, so will Jesus be sacrificed to save the lives of many.

This pointing to the cross and Passion isn't just in Mark's story, but it draws on scenes from Hebrew scripture as well. We see here in this story that, just as God had power over the natural world, so does Jesus.

But we need to be careful here on two fronts. The first is attributing every natural disaster to the will of God. It's that kind of theology that leads people to say hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, and the like are a direct result of certain peoples' moral evils and/or failings.

The second is seeing Jesus as a quick-fix to any problem or bad situation in which we find ourselves. As Christians, one of the things we believe about Jesus is that he is the second person of the Trinity, co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit. As such, he is God and has power over both the physical and spiritual domains, as we've seen these past few weeks. But we also believe that he is not at our beck and call. He is not our personal vending machine. He is not there to do our bidding when we find ourselves in stormy weather.

Ride out the storm with us? Definitely. Make it stop? Not necessarily – because this story isn't about showing us that Jesus will stop every storm in our lives. This story is about showing us that Jesus is with us in the storm and that he is Lord of both physical and spiritual realms.

But there are also other aspects to this story of the stilling of the storm beyond the obvious which I've just mentioned; and one of those aspects goes back to the arc of Mark which we began a month ago. That is the arc that continually points Jesus and us to the cross. “How,” you may ask, “is this story of the stilling of the storm a story about the cross?”

I'm so glad you asked.

Let me clarify. This story isn't about the cross and crucifixion per se, but it has parallels to the events of the crucifixion; it has parallels to the Passion. And it is these parallels that draw and point us to the Passion.

Jesus and the disciples are all together in a boat, and it was night. At some point in their journey a storm comes up. The wind picks up until it is howling all around them. Waves beat into the boat, sending water over the side threatening to sink it and kill them all. The disciples are in the middle of this storm, fearing for their lives, wondering what's going to happen. And then Jesus cries out, “Peace! Be still!” And there was a dead calm.

The disciples were all together in one place when Judas went out after receiving the bread. And it was night. At some point the noise of a crowd is heard. It picks up and gets louder and louder until it is howling all around them. The mob gets stronger, threatening to kill them all. The disciples are in the middle of this storm, fearing for their lives, wondering what's going to happen. And then Jesus cries out. And there was a dead calm.

In that moment on the boat, all was calm. On Holy Saturday all creation was silent.

Today's text says that Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”

But what if we broke that up differently? Other texts read that Jesus said, “Be quiet! Be still!” What if we read that as two separate commands, one to the disciples and one to the wind and sea.

And Jesus said to the disciples, “Peace! Be quiet!” And he said to the wind and sea, “Be still!”

God, through Jesus, is with us always, even to the end of the age. That doesn't mean, however, that there won't be storms of any number of varieties. But for us to hear the voice of God, we need to spend more time being quiet. Elijah discovered this when the storm of Ahab and Jezebel swirled around him; the voice of God wasn't in the earthquake, whirlwind, or fire, but in the sheer silence. Jonah discovered this when the storm threatened to break up the ship and he had three days of silence in the belly of the fish to listen to the voice of God. In retrospect, the disciples may have heard the voice of God on that first Holy Saturday; but they certainly heard it when Jesus appeared in that upper room in the evening after the resurrection and said, “Peace be with you.” And we will do well to find times of quiet, to sit peacefully and discern the voice of God when storms are swirling around us.

There will be storms in our lives. We may feel like our boat is being battered apart. We may feel like it's the end of life as we know it, or that our life may be ending. Or we may feel like we are being crucified.

Sometimes those storms are the result of outside factors – a death in our lives, the loss of a job, political situations for which we feel helpless, are just a few. Sometimes those storms are the result of our own actions – our own selfishness that causes pain for others, words spoken in jest or seriousness that tear down instead of build up, or any number of other actions that leave others feeling like that battered boat in the middle of a storm.

When we find ourselves in such storms, it just may be that our best course of action is to be quiet and listen for the voice of God in the silence and stillness. If we can trust that God is with us in the storm, if we can muster the courage to be silent, then we are more likely to hear that voice that says, “I am the God of the living, I will not abandon you.” In that silence we may also find the courage to apologize and ask for forgiveness.

Storms will happen. But if we are quiet, we may just discover that, although they lead us to the cross, the peace that follows will lead to new life in him who stilled the storm.

Amen.