May the words of my mouth and the mediations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
In today’s Gospel, a man with many possessions encountered Jesus.
His wealth of possessions is central to the story.
Which leads us to ask.
Are possessions good or bad?
Blessings or hindrances?
And like many aspects of life: it all depends.
But maybe the more important questions are:
What is this story actually about?
How does Jesus use possessions to teach his disciples about God?
What does any of this have to do with finding meaning in our lives?
So lets look back at the story,
The man with all of the possessions started off with a question:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Notice the word INHERIT.
He was looking for an inheritance:
Not a gift, or a payment, or even an allowance or reward.
Which would lead us to ask:
Did the man with many possessions see himself as a child of God,
Who was due a birthright like one might expect from a parent?
The conversation that follows seems more like an exercise in earning something rather than inheriting it.
Which is it?
Is eternal life earned?
We have to dig pretty deep into the story to find out.
To answer the man’s question,
Jesus refers to the ten commandments.
Jesus offers a list of what the man must do to qualify.
But when the man with many possessions says he has done all of these things,
Jesus pushes him further:
To a whole new understanding about eternal life with God.
“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,
And you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Eternal life doesn’t mean life until the end of time.
Because there is no time in eternity.
Eternal life is not about quantity,
But about quality.
Eternal life means a deep connection with God and God’s kingdom.
Eternal life describes the QUALITY of relationship between human beings and God:
Bringing us into a present knowledge and experience with the loving and living spirit of God.
The man had followed the specific, outward regulations that were spelled out in the Bible,
And we might imagine that Jesus took a good look at the man’s heart and soul:
To see if that was enough.
And it seems as if Jesus perceived that something was still keeping him from complete relationship with God:
And for this man, that happened to be his possessions.
Material belongings stood in the way of his following Jesus:
And we have proof of this,
Because having heard Jesus tell him that he needs to give them up,
The man went away:
Shocked and grieved,
Stunned and defeated:
Maybe even with a broken heart.
He could not meet the ultimate measure of full relationship with God.
His love of possessions blocked him from totally loving God and following Jesus.
And Jesus, peering into the man’s heart and soul, knew this would be the case.
Over the years,
Scholars have generally thought that this story is not necessarily a teaching against a Christian having material possessions.
Instead, its a reminder that the crisis for the man with many possessions was not how much he owned,
But that his possessions owned HIM:
They blocked his way to unity with God.
What blocks it for you?
What OWNS you?
Would Jesus have said to another person, “One thing you lack,”
And then listed something totally different from selling possessions and giving the income to the poor?
What is the one thing that we each lack?
What do we need to give up,
What do we need to put behind us, in order to completely follow Jesus?
What is it that blinds and defeans us from connecting with God?
What stands in our way of becoming what God intends us to be?
Most of time, its selfishness, in one way or another.
Because putting ourselves first puts God second, or third, or more like tenth.
And when we do that, we become separated from the resources of the Holy Spirit.
What is it that we need to give up in order to gain what is much more valuable?
Is it greed?
It might be pride, or anger,
Or the need to control.
The possibilities are endless,
And certainly aren’t limited to our material possessions.
And most likely, it’s the thing that would be most difficult for us to give up.
If giving up possessions were easy for the man in today’s story,
Jesus probably wouldn’t have suggested that it was what he needed to work on.
What was truly keeping the man from God was not the things that were easy for him:
Like practicing the ten commandments,
Or perhaps even prayer, and worship.
It was the thing he couldn’t give up.
The thing he couldn’t let go of.
If you can easily give up your possessions,
That’s probably not where you’re lacking in your relationship with God.
If you can easily give up anger,
That’s probably not it for you either.
It’s most likely the thing that’s the hardest to let go of,
That is separating you from inheriting eternal life.
At the very same time, there’s a deep irony.
The man with many possessions asked about INHERITING eternal life.
And the truth is,
He HAD already inherited it:
As a beloved child of God.
Like each of us, he was created in the image and likeness of God.
He had already inherited God’s spirit.
But he didn’t know it,
Or at least didn’t believe it.
Jesus tries to open him up to understanding that reality:
To instruct him in how to break through what blocked him from recognizing and utilizing the very spirit of God that he already had:
If only he could put it before all else in his life.
May we learn from the man with many possessions,
May we discern what we must do,
And what we must give up,
In order to recognize and put to use the eternal life that we have already inherited.
Do you ever feel like your heart is heavy?
In today’s world:
There’s a lot going on:
And a lot that can make a heart heavy.
We’re still living in the midst of a world-wide pandemic:
One that we thought we’d get through:
But every day, we are reminded that we’re still in it.
The political landscape of America seems to be more polarizing than ever.
Misunderstanding, finger-pointing, and sometimes down-right hatred,
Is boiling all around us.
It’s enough to make a heart heavy.
And today, despite it all:
I’m grateful that we’re together.
That we’re here to pray with one another.
Because this is what a heavy heart needs to do.
Our Collect today, is timely:
As it says: “God, you are always more ready to hear:
than we to pray.”
And here we are:
Coming together to pray.
To the God who is ALWAYS waiting to hear us:
No matter what is going on around us:
No matter what virus swirls,
Or what political disagreements arise,
God is ALWAYS, ALWAYS ready to hear:
In the midst of heavy hearts:
And in the midst of moments of Joy.
And its fitting:
Because that’s what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel Reading.
He’s talking about the importance of relationships:
Of being with one another,
And united to God,
Despite our heavy hearts, or disagreements.
We hear from Jesus two teachings today:
An uncomfortable teaching against divorce:
And a quite comforting teaching on the welcome of little children.
And we might feel this tension:
The uncomfortable and the comforting.
Like many of the political issues surging up all around us.
We might be quick to get up in arms:
About Jesus’ words against divorce.
(or at the very least, feel quite uncomfortable.)
Instead, we might listen a bit closer:
We might look a bit deeper:
And see that Jesus’ concern here is not on judging:
But on valuing community:
Valuing our need to be in relationship:
Valuing our need to be healed.
Jesus: always more ready to hear:
Than we are to pray.
And then there’s that teaching about little children.
We’ve talked about this for the last few weeks.
And today it comes up again.
Rather than seeing Jesus' welcome of children as some sweet adorable story that we’ve come to expect:
We might see the real implications of this teaching:
The shock of its counter cultural assertion that God’s kingdom belongs to its weakest members.
That even children have something important and meaningful to both say and offer.
So maybe: We should listen to them….
Unlike God: who’s ALWAYS more ready to hear:
We are often: quicker to speak:
Than to hear….
Or to pray….
I’m sure you’ve noticed:
In the turmoil of today’s world:
That many people are far too quick to judge.
That many are refusing to listen.
That many—especially on social media--
Are shouting at each other:
In pain and in anger.
I’ve also noticed that tragedies that can make are heart heavy,
Do NOT always bringing people together:
As so many often claim.
Sometimes tragedies can separate us even more.
The strong feelings,
And the unwillingness to listen:
Are breaking relationships:
And putting up roadblocks against forming new ones.
And this is exactly what Jesus is warning against:
Warning us against broken relationships:
Against turning others away:
Against “speaking sternly” as the disciples did to the children.
Yet even in Jesus’ warnings:
He welcomes us anyway.
This, too: is our task:
And a hard and difficult task it is.
Because, as humans we are prone to break relationships:
We are prone to be quick to anger:
Prone to be quick to judge.
And in today’s world of fast paced news:
And instant declaration of our beliefs and political viewpoints:
We are more prone than ever to broken relationships.
We are more prone than ever to hurt one another through our words:
And Jesus knew this.
Jesus KNEW how easy it is for us to break relationships:
To refuse healing:
To refuse forgiving:
To refuse to listen to one another.
But Jesus names this brokenness:
And willingly associates with us:
The hurting and the vulnerable of all kinds:
And the unjustly wronged.
And as the Letter to the Hebrews says:
Even in our brokenness:
“Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.”
Even in our brokenness: God is ALWAYS more ready to hear:
Than we to pray.
DESPITE our brokenness:
DESPITE our broken relationships:
“Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.”
How can we, too, live unashamed:
Unashamed to call one another brothers and sisters?
Whether we agree or disagree?
Even if we have been hurt or wronged?
Jesus’ teaching on divorce is not merely about divorce.
Marriage is just ONE place where humans have the OPPORTUNITY to live out their baptisms:
To serve God and God’s people in meaningful relationship:
To speak truth:
But to speak it with compassion.
Jesus is talking about much more than divorce:
He’s talking about ALL our relationships.
And ALL relationship failures are hurtful tragedies:
Spaces of unrealized hopes:
Whether its friend and friend,
Husband and wife,
Child and parent…
Because our relationships are meant to be the places where we live out God’s mission:
Where we live out the Good News:
Where we honor the Creators image in ourselves,
And in each other.
God has given us the gift of community:
The gift of being together.
And this gift is one that humanity longs for:
That humanity desperately needs.
But we have to say yes to that gift.
Today’s world and its turmoil is proof that the human life is too hard for us to live alone.
And God knows it.
We do not need to agree.
But we do need to find those places:
Where we can be unashamed to call one another brothers and sisters.
Whether we’re in crisis, or in blessed joy.
And if that’s not enough:
May we remind ourselves that God is ALWAYS more ready to hear:
Than we are to pray….
Even in our brokenness:
Even in our failures:
Jesus is not ashamed, to call us brothers and sisters:
May we strive for the same.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I couldn’t believe it…
That today’s Gospel story ended with this discussion of Salt.
I shared last week that I had been unwell, and the doctors were working to figure out the problem.
Well the problem… was Salt.
Or: a lack of salt…
It turns out, my episodes are related to my naturally LOW blood pressure.
And the remedy:
I’m supposed to eat A LOT of it.
So personally, this Gospel reading seemed quite fitting.
But I also might be JUST a little too close to this salt metaphor to dig into it today.
And there’s also MUCH more here than just the discussion of salt.
There’s actually a whole lot of discussion on Sin:
And tearing, and breaking, worms and hell.
Lots of scary stuff.
So…While I promise to eat more salt:
We really do need to talk about all of this other stuff.
When we read all three of today’s readings:
It’s clear that this doesn’t seem to be a good day for anyone in any of these stories.
This doesn’t seem to be a good day for anyone in any of our scripture readings today.
Moses is mad at the Israelites:
And what an unexpected description we’re given of Moses!
Imagine him standing before God, with his hands on his hips, and huge headache saying:
“why do you treat your servant so badly?
Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?
Did I give birth to them? If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once!”
We see Moses today, not as the brave, fearless leader we’ve come to remember him as.
Instead, we see him as the real struggling human that he actually was.
Someone who is so frustrated, that he’s ready to totally give up.
God does deal with Moses’ problem.
But he doesn’t just say, “fine. Here’s some meat.”
No: God has Moses gather the elders so that they might learn to share some of the responsibility of leading the Israelites.
It seemed like a fine idea,
But once again human nature blinded people’s eyes.
Remember: God took some of Moses’ spirit and placed it on the gathered elders, who then prophesied.
But there were two men:
Eldad and Medad,
Who stayed in the camp.
They too received part of Moses’ spirit and they too prophesied:
Which caused a jealous outburst from the elders.
They seem to be saying, “Who let them in our club?”
Moses is frustrated, and he fervently wishes that all God’s people would be filled with God’s spirit.
In the New Testament reading,
We heard James: Like Moses,
Being very direct with his readers.
He lets them (and us) know that God is ultimately in charge.
Evidently his readers were acting very much like us:
Planning their lives to suit themselves regardless of how their lives affected others.
“Do not speak evil against one another…do not judge others.”
He warns them that riches will rot and that the poor will cry out against any of those who would harm them.
Someone who knows the right thing to do and doesn’t do it, commits a sin.
James makes us squirm: Maybe even more than Moses did:
Because he points to a real human reality that we all have experienced.
And then finally:
When we think we’ve heard quite enough:
Jesus lays out the problem and the solution in very clear terms.
Today’s Gospel reading starts in a VERY similar way that the Old Testament story ended.
A member of the “inner circle” or “the club”
Was put out because someone outside that circle was also able to use one of God’s gifts,
And evidently without the “right” credentials.
Both Moses and Jesus were faced with the same problem:
Their followers just didn’t get it.
They didn’t get that what was offered to them:
Is offered to everyone.
That it wasn’t an exclusive club.
What the people in Moses’ time,
The people in James’ time,
And the people in Jesus’ time didn’t get was what it means to be a part of the “people of God.”
In any age, being a part of the people of God means taking upon oneself a certain lifestyle:
A certain set of principles,
The responsibility to live a certain way in community with others.
It means looking always towards God and ones neighbor:
And not toward oneself.
In Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus talks about this lifestyle he calls it “the Kingdom of God.”
And this kingdom of God wasn’t something to wait for:
It was becoming a part of their lives right then.
Living in this kingdom means taking a whole different view of what it means to be successful.
In his letter, James firmly scolds those who aren’t living as the people of God ought to live.
He lays their sins right in front of them and offers them an ultimatum.
Jesus, too, uses some pretty harsh images to shake people up:
To remind them that sin is serious, and the consequence of sin is being cut of from God: much as a hand can be cut off from the body.
But Jesus doesn’t leave us to think about the effects of sin:
He offers us an alternative. And it’s a quite simple one.
In last week’s Gospel,
Jesus picked up a little child and said,
“whoever welcomes a child in my name, welcomes me;
And anyone who welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Today, it might strike us as a charming thing for Jesus to do when he uses a child as an image:
In that age, though, it was remarkable.
In Jesus’ time, Children had no status at all.
They represented the lowest of the low:
Not only the materially poor:
But the spiritually poor as well.
And here Jesus was forcing the adults to rearrange their thinking.
He was forcing them to understand that unless they allowed themselves to go back to being as simple and innocent as children:
Unless they began to accept ALL of God’s people as part of their community:
Unless they began to live as if they really understood that the kingdom of God was in their midst,
They were in danger of falling into serious sin.
But we don’t really want to talk about sin, do we?
It’s distasteful to us:
So we tend to ignore it.
But… It’s PART of us:
And if we ignore it, we’re kidding ourselves.
So what do we do?
What can we learn from the lessons we have heard today?
As we think about it:
Moses was dealing with a disgruntled and ungrateful people, and perhaps basically, with the sins of pride and elitism.
James laid out a whole list of sins he observed in the lives of his readers.
We could certainly find something that we too have done in that list.
But we can’t stop with the lists.
We have to look to the Gospel to put the issue into perspective:
To help us know how to begin dealing with our sinfulness--
Because in this life, no matter what anyone says, we aren’t going to get it completely right.
We can, as Jesus says, “Become like little children.”
Children: who are certainly not perfect:
Who stumble along and make mistakes, but are open enough to learn more about the world and how to walk around in it.
We too can become like little children:
We can be open enough that God’s word might still teach us something.
We can be secure enough in our faith that our relationships with others:
Even those very different from ourselves, will enrich us rather than intimidate us and cause us to shut others out.
The secret is in understanding what Jesus’ disciples were missing in today’s Gospel:
That the Kingdom of God is here among us.
Unlike those disciples, we know the rest of the story as Mark tells it:
Right down to the glorious resurrection.
So we shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the kingdom is among us still.
What we need to do is keep remembering to live with each other.
After all, that’s why we come to church and read the Bible together in the first place:
To help each other remember what it means to live the life of God in the world.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
For much of Christian history:
being identified as a “disciple of Jesus” has been considered high praise.
It is, after all: What we strive to be:
We WANT to be disciples of Jesus in the world.
And in Jesus’ time:
The disciples were the hand picked group of followers:
Who lived, learned, and labored alongside Jesus.
They were commissioned to heal the sick, baptize people:
And proclaim the Good News of God in Christ to the ends of the earth.
But when we look closely:
We see that the Scripture does not always portray the disciples with such glamor and reverence.
In today’s Gospel:
Jesus takes the disciples aside to teach them that he will soon be given over to human hands:
That he will suffer, die, and rise again.
And the disciples just don’t get it.
It’s very similar to what we heard last week:
Unable to understand that Jesus must suffer and die.
Marks’ Gospel tells of Jesus trying to teach the disciples this important lesson:
On three different occasions.
And EVERY TIME: The disciples don’t get it.
They’re concerned with other things.
Like which one of them is the greatest:
And what the people in town thought about them:
And what they’re going to eat for lunch.
And they argue about it.
Not only do the disciples not understand:
They’re also too afraid to ask Jesus any questions about his bizarre teaching of his suffering, death, and resurrection.
Hindsight is 20-20:
Because we can look at the disciples:
And see their failure:
And even be annoyed at their lack of understanding.
Because we KNOW the end of the story.
Yet how often are we guilty of the same thing?
How often are we afraid to ask a question because we think we should know the answer:
Or because we’re afraid our question is stupid:
Or even because we’re afraid of the answer?
Maybe the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus a question:
Because they should have been paying better attention.
Or maybe they were afraid because they thought Jesus would think they were ignorant.
Or MAYBE: They were afraid to ask because somewhere:
Deep Down: They already knew the terrifying answer.
Jesus said, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”
I wish that Mark would tell us about the expressions on the disciples faces:
When they heard Jesus speak these words.
Mark doesn’t tell us about any gasps, or horrified stares:
He only says: “They did not understand what he was saying,
And were afraid to ask him.”
We can guess, that the disciples feared the fate of their friend and leader.
Each of them had left their families:
And their livelihoods:
To join the task of following Jesus.
Naturally: Hearing that Jesus expects to be arrested and killed:
Never mind the bit about rising from the dead--
All comes as quite a shock to the disciples.
But what if there was another reason that the disciples were afraid?
What if, along with the fear about what would happen to Jesus:
They were also afraid of what would happen to them?
After all: If JESUS:
Their Leader is arrested and killed,
Surely his closest followers would come under scrutiny as well.
Maybe the root of the disciples’ fear is the fact that they actually were beginning to understand.
Maybe they were beginning to realize what the true cost of discipleship is.
In a world where wealth is good: but more wealth is better:
Where consumerism is the king:
And where our worth is measured by what we have,
Rather than what we give:
The cost of discipleship is hard news that many would prefer not to hear.
But it is also GOOD news that we desperately need to hear.
There was a lot of press a few years ago,
About the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jonathan Daniels.
Episcopalians from around the world, gathered in Alabama:
To remember the man who was killed during the height of the Civil Rights movement in 1965.
Jonathan Daniels: Was basically martyred:
After pushing an African American teenager named Ruby Sales:
Out of harms way, when the two walked into a corner store.
They were met by an angry man: pointing a loaded shotgun at them.
For Jonathan Daniels:
The cost of discipleship was his very life.
And as the disciples began to process their fear about what Jesus was teaching them:
Maybe they were beginning to realize the heavy cost that discipleship would place on their own lives.
These are, of course, extreme cases.
But they also show us the true fact that we can’t confess the faith of Jesus crucified, and resurrected:
Without coming to terms with the reality that discipleship puts on us.
It Costs us something.
For some of us, it may cost us what is popular.
For others, it may cost us our comfort zones:
Still others, it may even cost us a friend.
It’s easier to just listen to Jesus’ hard teaching about suffering, death, and resurrection:
And continue on:
Without asking any questions: As if nothing had ever happened.
It may be easier: To continue on the road to Capernaum:
Arguing with each other about who is the greatest:
Instead of facing the hard reality of what is to come:
Where the one who wants to be first must be the last of all:
And the servant of all.
But deep down in our bones:
Just carrying on: As if this Jesus stuff is nothing:
Will leave us hungry.
The path of discipleship is HARD.
It leads us through suffering:
And even death.
It may cost us dearly.
But its good news and blessings are even greater:
As we discover the path takes us away from fear:
Away from arguing:
Into uniting, supportive friendships.
As the Eucharistic prayer says:
Out of error, into truth:
Out of sin, into righteousness:
Out of death and into resurrected life.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
A number of years ago,
Nicolas Sparks wrote a book called the Notebook.
Its popularity increased as it was adapted for a movie.
The story is a love story:
About a couple—with the wife dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.
She lives in a care facility, and her husband visits her regularly:
Always with a notebook in hand.
The husband reads from his notebook:
A series of flashbacks:
From when they were young:
Reading their love story over and over again:
In the hopes that his wife will remember some of it.
Many can relate to this story.
The love story.
Or even those who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
The wife in the story does not remember who she is,
And so the husband reminds her over and over again.
He tells her who she is, and who they are together.
Their story is important, not only to her, but to him.
It gives them meaning and purpose in the midst of tragedy.
How often do we need to be reminded of our own stories?
As we continue to grow and change as people faced with a variety of circumstances:
We can lose sight of our true selves:
And we need to be reminded of who we really are.
In today’s Gospel: We hear a lot of things that we hear in the season of lent:
Actually, this is the same story that we heard on the 2nd Sunday of Lent this year.
Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer.
Then he will be killed.
And after three days, rise from the dead.
Jesus knows his own story,
And he does not make excuses about it.
In fact, Mark tells us that:
“He said all this quite openly.”
Jesus understood his belonging in God’s story:
And all that that would mean.
Later, he asks his disciples, the crowd, and ultimately us:
Two very important questions:
“Why would people gain the whole world, but lose their lives?
What will people give in exchange for their lives?”
One biblical translation called “The message” puts it in this way:
What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you:
The REAL you?
What could you ever trade your soul for?”
Jesus wants to know our stories:
Wants our stories to be a part of HIS story.
And the answers to these questions reveal who we truly are:
And what we believe about our stories and identities.
The answers to those questions also reveal who we believe Jesus is.
Do we believe in the story that he tells?
The Jesus that Peter says is the Messiah?
Do we believe in the Jesus that will be rejected by so many:
And left to die on a cross, only to be resurrected?
Do we really believe all of these stories?
Do we believe in the ministry of suffering and self-sacrifice?
It’s a tough one.
Either Jesus is crazy:
A con man:
What he says is TRUE.
In your own life:
If Jesus were to look at you and ask,
“Who do you say that I am?”
How would you respond?
If someone were to ask you who you are:
What story would you tell?
One could interpret Jesus’ words today as saying:
“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.
Don’t run from suffering. Follow me, and I’ll show you.”
“Don’t set your mind on merely human things:
Follow me: And I’ll show you the Divine things that are a part of you.”
This is a different message than what we hear from the world around us:
And even from our human nature that seeks to avoid pain at all costs.
God is calling us into a different way:
To be a part of a different story than the one the world is telling us.
The same is happening in the book of James today:
When James warns us about the words we speak:
How damaging our words can be if we’re not careful.
And that what we say: And HOW we say it:
Reflects our faith:
And ultimately, our very self.
What we say:
Reflects WHO we are.
God is asking us to offer our whole selves:
Our time, our talents, our treasures:
And especially our sufferings.
And to trust that we will be led into a more meaningful life than what we could come up with ourselves.
Flannery O’Connor, An American writer put it this way:
“Just being who you are, not justifying or apologizing
it sounds so easy.
It’s a life work not to get caught in producing, performing, proving:
keeping accounts of indebtedness,
waiting for gratitude, reward, ambition:
manipulation, staggering self-pity.
but cultivating: the habit of being.”
It is cultivating a habit of being:
That tells God’s story:
And Hearing it echo in our own.
It’s cultivating a habit of being:
That is able to just be:
To be where we are:
In all joy, in all suffering.
It’s cultivating a habit of being:
To be not only who we are called to be:
But to remember who we really ARE.
And like the couple in The Notebook,
May we remind each other of God’s story:
God’s LOVE story to us:
And to the whole entire world.
May we remember the love story that isn’t even over yet:
The story that is ongoing:
And even when we lose our way:
To have the courage to keep writing the story:
Bit by bit:
As we remember who we really are.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
A number of years ago, when I was serving in Watertown South Dakota,
I would go to the little town of DeSmet once a month.
DeSmet South Dakota, is well known as the “Little House on the Prairie” town:
Where Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family settled.
(That fact is irrelevant to this sermon, but is nonetheless, a fun fact.)
I lead a service in their small nursing home.
We would worship in the nursing home’s little chapel.
Sometimes we would light the candles on the altar:
Sometimes we didn’t.
But I ALWAYS wore a stole.
On one particular Sunday:
I was half way through the Eucharist prayer:
At the part where Jesus says, “do this in remembrance of me.”
And I realized that I didn’t have on a stole.
I didn’t even bring one.
I totally forgot.
It absolutely didn’t matter.
Not one bit.
Because what mattered:
Was what was in our hearts:
To be gathered together,
To worship the living God.
It didn’t matter if the candles were lit,
Or the priest was wearing the appropriate vestments,
Or the people responded with the right words
Or that we went through the motions.
Or in the case of today’s Gospel reading:
that the disciples washed their hands.
In today’s story:
The Pharisees are upset that Jesus and his disciples aren’t following the so called “rules”
Jesus says to them:
“Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
Even further: Jesus says:
“You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
This is as true today, as it ever was.
And sometimes, Christians in the church,
Are just as guilty as the Pharisees during Jesus’ time.
Now, don’t get me wrong:
I’m not saying we should be like the disciples, and not wash our hands.
For multiple and obvious reasons, we should be washing our hands more than ever.
But this isn’t about hand washing.
This is a warning about “going through the motions.”
It’s a warning about doing things for the wrong reasons,
Or for no reason at all, except for “we’ve always done it that way.”
And God knows we need to hear this.
And I can’t help but be amazed that we should get this Gospel story on the day that we decided to shake things up, and have church outside.
(I see what you did there, God!)
God is reminding us about what really matters:
God is reminding us that what’s important is us gathering together:
With open minds, open hearts,
Ready to love.
Rather than being worried about the candles, or the vestments, or in the case of the Pharisees, the washing of the bronze kettles because their ancestors “always did it that way.”
In preparation for this outdoor service,
A number of you asked me what we needed to set everything up.
The real honest answer to that is, not much.
We need some bread and some wine if we’re going to share in communion.
A table is nice, and makes it more convenient but it’s not necessary.
Candles are pretty, but not essential.
(As a matter of fact, we really only have candles on the altar because “we’ve always done it that way.”)
Because churches didn’t have electricity and the priest needed light to read the book!
The only things we really NEED
Are not things at all.
We need God.
And we need each other.
We need very little else.
The church has a real fancy word for this.
A Greek word called “Adiaphora”
Adiaphora are those things or matters that don’t really matter!
Things that are not essential to our faith:
But might be nice little “extras”
Things that are allowed, or permissible, but not essential.
It’s a really important distinction:
To think about, and consider those things that are adiaphora.
It’s not that we Can’t or shouldn’t do those things:
But that we shouldn’t make those things into the most important things.
Candles on the altar are nice and pretty.
Vestments are reminders and markers of priesthood.
(But I purposely didn’t wear a collar today, just to make the point that the things we wear are adiaphora: and totally non-essential.)
When the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Why do you let your disciples eat without washing their hands as the law requires?”
Jesus basically replies,
You are hyporcites if you only worry about clean hands,
When you don’t even have clean hearts!
When you are worried about the things that don’t matter,
When your hearts aren’t in it,
When your heart isn’t yearning to be delighted by God’s beloved embrace!
When your heart isn’t craving to give and receive love from others!
But our longing:
The murmur in the center of our very being:
To be united to the God who calls us beloved.
To be united to each other:
Who we see as beloved:
Where love received is love shared.
I want to do something a little different today:
And invite any children to come up front with me.
We’re going to go “back to basics.”
Which isn’t just for kids:
But is helpful for all of us: regardless of age to go back to every once in a while.
And what better time, to go back to basics,
Then at a baptism!
Anybody know what kind of sign this is?
What does it mean?
When we see this shape on the side of the road, we know that we need to stop.
That’s what a symbol does.
With one simple shape we create a sign,
And a symbol communicates a specific meaning.
Signs and symbols are really important for us,
Because they help to communicate something that is sometimes hard to understand.
Sometimes its hard for us to put our faith into words,
And so God gives the church important signs to offer to people so that we might know that God loves and forgives us.
In the church, we call these important signs, “sacraments”
They are holy symbols that Jesus gave us to help us recognize God’s action in our lives.
One sacrament is baptism.
And we are going to experience and celebrate that sacrament today.
In baptism we take a little “bath”
And God cleans us up,
And reminds us how much he loves us.
Another sacrament is communion:
And we’ll experience and celebrate that sacrament today too!
We eat the bread and the wine,
Which are symbols reminding us that Jesus gave his entire life to us.
When we eat the bread and the wine,
We are putting Jesus into our bodies,
So that we might become more like him:
It’s a reminder to us of how much God loves us,
And how much God wants us to love others.
But lets go back to baptism:
The church has lots of symbols for baptism.
One is (of course) water.
And another one is the shell.
In the early church,
Christians often used a shell to pour water over the heads of people being baptized.
The shell also represents the protection that baptism gives us as we travel through life:
Much like a shell protects creatures in the sea.
Jesus told the first disciples that those who believe and are baptized will be saved.
In other words, Jesus told his followers to use water to symbolize that those who trust in him are washed clean, and are given new life: Forever.
So for us:
Seeing a symbol for water, or the shape of a shell,
Is kind of like seeing a stop sign.
When we see these symbols,
We can stop.
We can think of our baptisms,
And remember how much God loves us.
I’m inviting everyone to take home a seashell:
As a reminder to you of the symbols that God gives us to recognize and remember his love.
And the seashell is the perfect symbol:
Not just because of it’s relationship to water.
But every single shell is unique. No two are exactly alike.
Just like us.
Each one of us is unique:
No two are exactly alike:
Yet we are all children of God,
made in God’s image:
And God loves us ALL.
And don’t ever forget that.
Dear God, thank you for giving us ways to recognize your love. Help us to stop and remember that your love cleanses us like water. Amen.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, Oh
Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Hunger and Satisfaction.
We find this tension in ourselves every single day.
People say that you shouldn’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry.
You’ll end up buying things that you don’t need.
Things that wont actually satisfy your hunger.
Or: If I go out to dinner:
And eat an appetizer, salad, and the main course meal:
I usually feel worse:
Even if I was REALLY hungry.
When I over-fill: I can’t even function for the rest of the evening.
Shoveling it all in when you’re hungry wont actually satisfy you.
And you’ll just be hungry again…
We have a hard time stopping when we’re satisfied:
When we’re feeling Just right.
We have a hard time just sitting with “enough.”
We meet Jesus in today’s gospel just after he has fed the multitudes.
We pick up right where we left off last week:
The people were hungry, there was limited food:
And so Jesus turned a few loaves of bread:
And a few fish:
Into enough for thousands to eat.
For thousands to be filled.
There were even baskets full of leftovers.
Everyone had their fill of bread and fish.
They had the pleasure of eating enough.
They supposedly ate until they were satisfied:
Or at least satisfied for a brief time:
They had enough:
For a brief time.
Funny thing about “enough.”
Just what is “enough”?
“Enough” for us humans:
Is rarely enough.
We seem to always want more.
And even for the multitudes:
Enough wasn’t really enough.
Because the people weren’t merely hungry for food:
The people Jesus had fed wanted a guarantee that they would always have
Jesus’ provision of plentiful bread seemed to them something they wanted more
They wanted Jesus to continually give them more.
So they pursued him.
They thought if they could have him, they could have bread –
limitless, wonderful, unending bread.
They thought, if they could just find Jesus: they would have enough.
But enough would never be enough:
People will always want more:
Yet not the “real more”
Not the more that will truly and actually satisfy.
Jesus fed hungry people.
He knew that people need to eat.
He told his followers to feed people, real, physical, tangible, nutritious food.
But he also promised that he himself would be enough.
He didn’t want to be just a provider of physical bread.
To do miracles, so that people could eat a lot of food, from a little.
He wants to be our bread –
our sustenance, our nourishment, our daily strength, our source of satisfaction.
Physical food alone cannot satisfy our whole hunger.
The multitudes thought that they wanted unlimited food and drink:
They searched for Jesus—wanting him to give them more food:
And Jesus redirects their quest:
Telling them what they don’t really want to hear:
Yet it is an extreme word of Hope:
Jesus says: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the
signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
Its as if he’s saying: You just want more food: But that will never satisfy you!!
He goes on to say: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that
endures for eternal life.”
The people want the food:
And Jesus redirects them: by giving them himself.
His very self:
The only food that will ever really last:
The only food that will ever really satisfy.
The only food that we ever REALLY need.
Jesus is bread, but he wants to fill the hunger of our hearts and not just our
He wants to fill the gnawing, aching emptiness that we try to fill with lesser
That emptiness that we try to fill with that appetizer, salad, and full course meal:
Or with junk food on a hungry trip to the grocery story.
Or with money:
Or with big houses:
Or with big churches:
Or with power:
Or with worrying about having enough of anything.
None of those will ever be enough.
None of those will ever satisfy:
They will only possess us.
Jesus invites the multitudes,
To allow ourselves to fall into the hands of the one for whom we were made:
To be fully satisfied and fed by the only one who can truly feed and satisfy us.
Jesus is daily sustenance.
He is bread to be savored, gathered around.
Bread to inspire thanksgiving, to remind us of the wonder of life, to strengthen us.
We can contemplate him thoughtfully, chewing slowly, pondering:
But we will be satisfied: If we come to him:
Open to whatever he places in our outstretched hands.
And trusting that whatever He places there:
It will indeed be enough.
As a matter of fact:
The verb used in John’s gospel for believe:
Can also be translated as TRUST.
And I wish we read it as TRUST.
When Jesus urges the multitudes to strive for real satisfaction:
Through believing in God:
He’s also telling them to TRUST.
To TRUST that God is enough.
To TRUST that God alone can satisfy the hunger.
To TRUST that our abundant God has graciously given us everything we need:
And those other things:
That we cling to in hunger:
Are the things that will never satisfy as God does.
Jesus was taken, blessed, and broken.
He is to be shared.
He is enough to satisfy our every hunger:
He IS the bread of life: Whoever comes to him:
Whoever trusts in that truth: Will never be hungry.
It has been said that ours is a time in America with more polarization than at any time since the Civil War,
which is, actually, not a great benchmark.
Since the 2016 election, the associated press actually created a whole series on detailing this division in society.
Pew research has actually sown that since 1994,
Americans on both sides have moved to both more conservative and more liberal views:
Creating an even bigger divide.
And not only that, the research shows that people are more likely than ever to think that the other side’s policies are a threat to the nations well being.
We’re not only seeing the other “side” as opponents--
We see them as hostile enemies of our very wellbeing.
What seems to be an unprecedented division in OUR national memery,
Is actually far from unprecedented in the history of humanity.
In some ways, thse deivions are baked into the beginnings of Christian history.
So let’s think about it:
Our origins lie in Israel:
A country marked by sepration from the people around it.
And with good reason:
God had selected a group of people,
Consecraged to God in order to be a light to the nations around it.
A group to live differently I order to witness to the God.
And this separation, led to a distinction between Jews and gentiles that I don’t think we can really fully comprehend.
By the time of the New Testament,
Jews could not eat with Gentiles for fear of being made unclean,
And business with them was very difficult.
In the time when Paul was writing his letters,
There were Rabbis going so far as to say that Gentiles would be judged differently (and more harshly) for the same infractions as Jews.
It was certainly divided.
So it is significant:
That Paul makes the reconciliation of the Jews and the Gentiles such a significant part of the outflowing in salvation.
The introduction to Ephesians:
Our reading from Paul today,
Follows immediately upon a discussion of our salvation:
Of Christ bringing us back into a state of peace with God:
And of making our reconciliation with God possible.
In other words,
Paul’s discussion of the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile:
Of making of one people out of two:
Flows naturally from the reconciliation of humanity with God.
It’s as though Paul is saying that the state of separation that people find themesleves in (in the world) is a result of,
And flows out of our separation from God.
For those of us for whom the separation from God is overcome,
The worldly erected separations from each other are also overcome.
Paul elaborates on a sentence he makes in 2 Corinthians:
That we as Christians are entrusted with a “ministry of reconciliation”
Or that, we as Christians are called upon to help overcome and model the overcoming of the erected separations in the world.
We are called:
To make of one people, where there are two or more peoples.
We are called upon to work to overcome the divides and breaks,
That divide people into isolated groups.
And the fact of finding ourselves in this moment of unprecedented American division and polarization,
Actually provides us as Christians:
With the unprecedented opportunity to paradoxically set ourselves apart as different and unique because we are trying to live more and more into this overcoming of division.
An overcoming of division that God longs for.
And here you might think, yeah…. But what could Paul actually have to say about our current circumstances?
It might be helpful to consider the context in which Paul was writing.
Just a few short years before this writing to the Ephesians:
Not far away in Syria:
Jews and Gentles had been slaughtering each other.
And at the time of Paul writing this, these memories were still open and living wounds.
We’re not talking about a community where people were yelling at each other,
Or making nasty posts,
Or voting in different ways,
Or calling eachother names.
We’re talking about people literally killing each other in the streets.
So Paul is not talking about hurting each others feelings.
He’s talking about a real, significant, deep, and abding mistrust on both sides:
Borne out of real mutual violence and death.
And Paul wasn’t speaking to people for whom this was easy.
We don’t get off the hook by claiming that Paul somehow had it easier than us. (Because he didn’t!)
So what does this mean?
How do we live into this reconciliation:
This ministry of Reconciliation with God?
First: we look to the example that Paul offers us:
We are to recognize that,
Like the Jews in the early Christian community:
We have to be willing and ready:
To be brought into communion with those we see as “less than”
Or “unworthy” or even “harmful” to our community.
Second we are called upon to live into humility.
We cannot continue to hold that we are absolutely right and the other side is absolutely wrong.
We must be prepared to accept that we can be taught:
That we still might have something to learn:
And that we aren’t inherently right.
Our humility is not a posture to be walked all over:
If we let others walk all over us,
It wouldn’t be real reconciliation.
But at the same time, we are not to take the stance that we are always right.
And, humility is, after all:
Something that we are commanded by Christ:
The one who himself counted equality with God not as something to be grasped,
But instead emptied himself:
Taking the form of a servant.
And not only that,
But we are to practice profound empathy.
We have to start from a position that those with whom we may disagree are not pure monsters, or devils, as we are pure angels.
We have to assume that wg
We are to practice profound empathy. We have to start from a position that those with whom we may deeply disagree are not pure monsters or devils as we are pure angels. We cannot assume they are working any more our less out of abjection or perversion or rank selfishness. We have to assume that there is some sense of self interest but likely no more or less than those on our side too. We have to accept that there may be, like there are in our position, some valid points or at least concerns, and that people do have a capacity to look out for their own awareness of needs as well as profound capacity for self-delusion—just like us.
The great and interesting thing, and taken from a kind of worldly perspective, is that there is a capacity to be walked all over. If we act in good faith and only ever offer sacrifice of our privilege, humility, and empathy, we may fear that we are going to be taken advantage of and lose out. But that is only if only one "side" does this. The point is that in the church we are all supposed to look to ourselves and not be concerned about the other side. But if everyone does this then we are going to all have a community where by mutual sacrifice, humility, and empathy, we will arrive at a breakdown of the dividing walls. We will achieve more mutual understanding. But this means sacrificing our mistrust as well. Our position requires a posture of trust both that God will ultimately work through us to break down the dividing wall and that people can live into it. In doing this we can begin to model what the new community is, the wedding banquet of the lamb where our proud divisions cease, and we are able to anticipate no longer having to be identified as liberal or conservative or republican or democrat but as Christian, as members of the body of Christ.
Enjoy the weekly sermons at anytime.