How many of us want things to be done our way? And when we don’t get what we want do we grumble or actually complain? We live in a time when the customer is always right and we often feel like we have the authority to say so when it doesn’t happen. Here are some examples of complaints that were submitted by travelers and published in the Toronto Star.
- “On my holiday to India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food at all.”
- A guest at a Novotel in Australia complained that his soup was too thick. He was inadvertently slurping gravy.
- Following a trip to a national theme park, one angry woman complained that the sun was so hot it melted her ice cream.
- An air traveler voiced her disapproval of all the clouds in the sky, saying they ruined her children’s game of Eye Spy.
But all of those complaints are minor when compared to one reported by the Associated Press. It seems that a man named Arthur Bundrage approached a Syracuse, New York, bank teller and demanded $20,000. When he got home, he discovered he’d been shortchanged. Outraged, he stormed back to the bank to tell them what he thought of their service. That’s when he was arrested. Well, I guess he thought he was justified in his complaint.
Before I continue, let me offer this quote for why we shouldn’t complain. “Never waste a second of your life complaining. Complaining doesn’t solve problems. It attracts them. The more you complain, the more problems you’ll have. And the more you infect other people with your problems. Don’t be an infection. Be a cure.” Here is one more, “Stay away from “still” people. Still broke, still complaining, still hating, and still nowhere.” Complaining isn’t something new
Did you notice all of the grumbling found in Scripture today? It began with the Israelites in the desert. The people were complaining to God and to Moses telling them they were tired of eating manna. They wanted to eat meat or fish. It sounds like something I might have done when I was a child. Do I have to eat my vegetables tonight? I am really tired of them. By the way, Scripture tells us that manna was actually quite good to eat. The Israelites beat the manna, boiled it and then made cakes out of it. The Bible tells us that it tasted as good as cakes made with oil. Well, I guess variety is the spice of life and the Israelites were looking for some variety in their diet.
And it wasn’t just the people who complained. Moses told God that he was tired of their complaining. He said that they were God’s people, not his and God should fix the problem not him. And that isn’t all of the complaining either. Joshua complained to Moses about two men prophesying in the camp when all the elders were away. Not one of the Israelites was happy and they expressed their dissatisfaction to God and the leaders of the people.
Well, complaining didn’t stop in the Hebrew Scripture. In the Gospel, the apostles complained about someone preaching the good news in Jesus’ name without being authorized to do so. The apostles only wanted those who had been anointed to cast out demons in the name of Jesus. Others needed to be stopped. They must have thought that you needed to be ordained in order to talk about how God works in our lives. That doesn’t happen today, does it?
It doesn’t seem that much has changed. We complain about bad drivers, about people who get in our way. We complain about things that our neighbors have done and things that are happening on the other side of the world. I know that complaining can be therapeutic. At the same time complaining can also make us negative about many things. We even occasionally complain to God about what is going on in our lives. Why did you let me get sick, we might say in our prayers to God. Why did you allow me to lose all of that money? Why can’t you come and solve my problems?
We complain to people as well as to God. How do you respond? I would say that when we hear complaints about something we said or did, we usually want to offer a retort or respond with a negative comment about the other person. We might even become disgusted or ignore the other individual. Somehow, though, when we complain to God, we believe that God is able to take it all and deal with our concerns.
You see, in each of the situations described in Scripture today, God took action. God wasn’t angered by the complaints of God’s people. God told Moses to bring together the elders and God ’s spirit entered into them. If we were to read on, we would learn that God sent quail to feed the people meat. God also entered into the lives of the apostles. Jesus told them to leave the man alone who was casting out demons in his name. God intervened to help humans understand God’s will.
These readings also highlight the role of lay people in ministry. God encouraged the lay leaders who served with Moses, the seventy elders, to preach and to speak about what God wanted. In the Gospel, Jesus allowed someone who was not close to him to cast out demons in his name. The letter from James indicates that we should call upon the elders to pray over the sick and that their prayers will be heard by God. In each case, God took charge and supported the role of the lay people in ministry.
If we believe that God intervened with the Israelites and the apostles, then God can intervene in our life as well. When we pray, we may actually be complaining and still God responds. We may not know how God answers our complaint but I believe that God does.
Just as God inspired the ministry of lay people in Scripture, part of what God does is to empower us for our ministry. In the Episcopal Church, we believe that lay ministry is just as important as the ministry of any ordained person. Lay ministry takes so many different forms and there are so many things you can do as a lay minister in this church. Chalice bearers, ushers, lay readers and the altar guild offer their ministry during the service. Others offer a ministry of hospitality that we enjoy after the service. This Sunday is social media Sunday and we have a dedicated group who keep our Facebook page and the website up to date while others help with the announcements and the newsletter. The emphasis today is on those who declare the word of God to others. I know that several people in this congregation have invited others to come and attend our church. That is a piece of lay ministry. It makes me remember the gentleman so many years ago who invited Jan and I to come and sing in the choir. It was our introduction to the Episcopal Church and it changed our lives.
Many years ago, I was encouraged by the rector of our church to go and visit someone in the hospital. When the priest asked me to go visit, the person’s name did not register with me. But I went anyway. It turns out that the man I visited was someone I had met before but not seen for a while. We had a good visit. The person I visited thanked me for coming and I got over some of the nerves I had about going to the hospital.
Your ministry matters. Listen to this quote from D’Angelo “I learned at an early age that what we were doing in the choir was just as important as the preacher. It was a ministry in itself.” I like this quote from Nathaniel Parker Willis about ministry as well, “If there is anything that keeps the mind open to angel visits, and repels the ministry of ill, it is human love.” Our ministry to others only requires that we love one another.
May you feel God’s spirit entering into you and encouraging you to minister to other people. It is always the grace of God that changes things. Hear Isaiah speaks to us about God’s grace, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God.” God’s grace is all that we need to bring God’s love to others. May you feel the strength of God empowering you this week. Amen.
On Friday, I took a trip to Mexico with a friend. For me, it was just a chance to get away. Jan was up in Flagstaff helping our daughter take care of the grandchildren. It was good to spend the day with another person and just talk. On the way we passed through the town of Why, Arizona. It is a small town located near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We started chatting about what people were thinking about when they named the town. Were they asking themselves “Why did I come to this place?” Did they wonder, “Why did God create this place?” Or was it just the only name they could think of.
When I thought about Why, Arizona it made me think of the comedy routine that was made famous by Abbott and Costello, “Who is on First”. So, I can imagine asking someone from the town of Why, “What town do you come from?” And the answer is Why. Well I just want to know how to find you? Why. I think we could make up our own comedy routine that used the town name Why. The confusion could last forever
Later, I learned that the town was named after the intersection of two highways that formed a Y when they came together. In Arizona, a town name must be at least three letters so they named the town with a question Why.
My friend said the town named Why reminded him that children ask Why over and over again. Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to go to school? After a while parents can get tired of hearing that question
Jesus mentioned children in the Gospel lesson we read. Children can be difficult to deal with sometimes but they also bring us great joy.
Jesus encouraged us to pay attention to the children for he said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Let’s reflect on that verse, asking ourselves what it means to welcome a child or any other person. I think the best place to start is to remind ourselves that we are welcomed by God.
God created us and God loves us. God has mercy and compassion on us. And God forgives us for what we have done. We can find God’s forgiveness so many times in Scripture. God forgave King David for his sins. God forgave Paul for persecuting the followers of Jesus and turned him into an apostle. God’s love was so complete that God sent Jesus to be with us.
We know that Jesus welcomed many into his life. Jesus visited with Gentile women and a woman who was bleeding. He healed lepers and people with demons. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus brought the children to sit with him, even though his disciples tried to chase them away. Everyone of the examples I have given you are people who were outcasts. Jesus forgave people when they had sinned. Even as he hung on the cross he forgave those who were killing him. It was another way that Jesus welcomed people.
Please know that Jesus welcomes you. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you have done or what you look like. I hope that you find comfort in this welcome from Jesus. I hope that you can feel acceptance in the arms of Jesus.
We read in Scripture that we are children of God. We sometimes refer to God as Abba, a loving father. Yes, God welcomes each of us. Sometimes, just like children, we ask God questions. Questions like, Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow people to go to war? Why did Jesus have to die? I wonder if God gets tired of hearing our questions. What we know is that regardless of our questions and our doubts, God accepts us for what we are.
Why did Jesus welcome the child? Professor of theology, Elisabeth Johnson, said “In any culture, children are vulnerable; they are dependent on others for their survival and well-being. In the ancient world, their vulnerability was magnified by the fact that they had no legal protection. A child had no status, no rights. A child certainly had nothing to offer anyone in terms of honor or status. But it is precisely these little ones with whom Jesus identifies.
How are we supposed to care for the children? Professor Johnson said it this way, “True greatness, Jesus says, is not to be above others, but to be least of all and servant of all. It is not to ascend the social ladder but rather descend it, taking the lowest place. It is not to seek the company of the powerful, but to welcome and care for those without status, such as the child that Jesus embraces and places before his disciples.
When you come to church, I hope that you feel welcomed by God, by Jesus, in this place. I hope that you feel welcomed to come to the altar for communion. In response to God’s welcoming, we try to welcome others. We often say about the Episcopal Church that all are welcome. We try to live that welcome when we greet folks who visit and when we offer God’s peace to others during the service. We seek to welcome others with our outreach programs. We welcome those who have been here for many years because that is what Jesus taught us.
In the letter from James, the author expressed concern about divisions in the church. James wrote that we covet something we cannot have so we enter into conflict and disputes. Our works are to be done with gentleness born of wisdom. We are not to harbor selfish ambition in our hearts. God’s righteousness is found in those who make peace. This letter encourages us to ask God for what we need and as we do we are able to welcome others in peace.
Some of you probably know a hymn composed by Marty Haugen in 1995 that speaks of our welcome. The first verse goes like this.
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions. All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
It often seems easier to surround ourselves with people who are successful. We certainly shouldn’t avoid them. But Jesus told us to welcome the child. In doing so, he wanted us to welcome all who are outcasts. In our society we glorify youth and vitality. The outcast might be someone who is older. It might mean welcoming someone who comes to the church alone. It could be someone who is sick and cannot attend on Sunday. The outcasts certainly include prisoners and homeless people.
Welcoming also gives us the opportunity to learn from others. I know I learned from people in Honduras and El Salvador who were poor and yet maintained a positive attitude, people who were joyous for the little things they had in their lives. I feel that I have learned from people who come to food kitchens where I have helped hand out food. Most of these people are thankful for the little that they have been given. It is encouragement for us to be thankful for all we have received.
While children may not be as low on the social ladder today as they were in Jesus’ time, they are still at risk. Jesus didn’t really tell us what we can learn from children. Still, I think there is much we can learn from children. Children have a love of life that some of us have lost. Children are inquisitive, a trait that many of us could use. Last week, at the 10:00 service, a child came walking up to the front of the church as we started communion. I loved her joy and determination and curiosity. Children are loving, it means so much to me when my granddaughter speaks to me over the phone and shouts, “Good morning, grandpa”. I hope that each of you are thinking about ways that children have taught you something. It is from the least, the smallest, the unempowered that we sometimes can learn something important. What might you grasp from those people this week?
I encourage you to leave church today remembering that you are welcome because you have receive the love, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. And I encourage you to reflect on how you can share God’s mercy with someone who needs it, welcoming them, giving someone the comfort and care that is only possible through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
This past Tuesday, we remembered those who died in the 9-11 disaster. We remembered people who died in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. We remembered those first responders who came immediately to help those who where affected, putting their lives at risk. We remember that first responders are still impacted by their efforts on 9-11. We remembered those who lost loved ones, friends and colleagues.
As I watched the news on Tuesday, one of the television stations aired a segment on Pat Tillman. I am sure you all know that Pat Tillman was a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals who decided after 9-11 to serve in the military. Tillman died in a battle in 2004 in Afghanistan. We are thankful for his patriotism, his commitment to defend the United States and we are thankful for his sacrifice. I continue to be amazed by his decision to give up a lucrative football career to serve in the military. Clearly, his desire to protect our country was stronger than his joy in playing football and his wish to make money.
As the newscast continued, I watched an interview conducted with Pat Tillman the day after 9-11. You can see in his face and hear in his words the resolve to do something in response to the disaster. Players and coaches on that Cardinals team later would say they knew something significant had changed in Tillman. They could tell by his words and his look. They were not surprised when he left his football career behind him. Here is part of what he said,
"My great-grandfather was in Pearl Harbor and a lot of my family has given up, you know everything, and has gone and fought in wars. And I really haven’t done a damn thing, as far as laying myself on the line like that, and so I have a great deal of respect for those that have, and what the flag stands for.” Pat Tillman showed his resolve and determination that day.
Our lessons for today, remind us that we are called to have dedication and commitment to follow Jesus Christ. We are asked to have resolve. We are asked to stay the course even though our lives may be difficult. We are asked to follow the example that Jesus gave to us.
You may remember that in last week’s readings, I spoke about persistence. The characters mentioned in Scripture were persistent in their prayers to God. It seems to me that this week is a continuation of that sense of determination. Let us be resolved to follow Jesus.
The phrase that most touched me in Isaiah today is the expression, “therefore I have set my face like flint”. Flint, of course, is a hard stone. It was used as a tool, as an arrow by the Native Americans, and it was struck to start a fire. In the image of a person setting a face like flint we understand the determination that individual has. I am reminded of a point in Luke’s gospel where Jesus decided that he must go to Jerusalem, be crucified and rise from the dead. Luke wrote, “Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. Jesus would not be deterred from this path. No one, not even Peter, could keep him from doing what needed to be done.”
In order to understand what this means to us, we return to Scripture. The passage from Isaiah is about a prophet who has heard God’s word. Knowing the word of God helped the prophet to remain steadfast in the Lord. The prophet was not moved by adversaries or temptations. Nor was the prophet changed by punishment or persecution.
I think we are in a similar position. We have heard the word of God. We should remain committed to following God’s word. It does not matter what difficulties we encounter. We may be tempted by sin, tempted by those who would lead us astray. Jesus was punished on the cross. Our punishment may not be physical, but we may be laughed at or teased by people who do not believe. Our call from God may put us in situations where it would be easier to just give in and deny that Jesus Christ is our Lord. That is why we set our face like flint. We will not be held back from our mission.
One of the temptations we face is found in the letter to James. We must be careful in all that we say. For the tongue can be a source of evil in our lives. The tongue is such a small part of our body and yet it can be so powerful. The tongue can be a source of good such as when we declare the glory of God. It can be the source of evil, such as when we gossip about others.
James wrote that the tongue can control the rest of the body. He referred to the bit of a bridle through which a rider controls all the movements of the horse. He wrote about the rudder of a ship which can be small but controls the movements of a massive ocean liner. We must let the small voice we receive from God control our words and actions.
James even warned preachers like me, telling them to be careful in what they say and mindful of God’s word, we can send many off in the wrong direction. Words can be so powerful. Let us use them to worship and praise God, not to separate ourselves from others.
The Gospel reading gives us another example of determination and the risk of temptation. Jesus was testing the Apostles. He asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke out and said you are the Messiah! His words were inspirational. He used his tongue for good. Then, Jesus spoke about the suffering and rejection he would experience. Peter must have been horrified. He loved and worshipped Jesus so much that he couldn’t imagine Jesus suffering. Peter decided he couldn’t let it happen. So he chose to argue the point with Jesus. Perhaps Peter spoke too quickly, letting his tongue and his emotions get the best of him. I don’t think Peter heard the most important words that Jesus spoke on that day. For Jesus said that after three days he would rise again. Peter missed the glory, the promise, and the redemption that he would receive when all the events were concluded.
Jesus gives us a great lesson. Jesus knew what he was going to encounter but was resolved to go through with it. Jesus knew that he would suffer in body and in spirit, but he would continue anyway, for the final result would be transforming.
In the sorrow and depths of despair that the United States experienced during the Civil War, after the death of so many soldiers who fought on both sides at the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln captured the essence of what it means to be committed. He said, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln was steadfast in his efforts to save the union. His words guide our nation to this day.
Lincoln was focused on patriotism, love of our country and dedication to live the ideals upon which it was founded. The example that we receive from Pat Tillman and Abraham Lincoln is about dediucation. Today, we seek to apply their ideas on dedication to our love of God and our resolve to live our lives as followers of Jesus.
Our commitment is to be firm in our faith, followers of Jesus. We live to be part of the Jesus Movement. We need to be dedicated for we know that we will have hard times. I don’t expect that we will be persecuted physically even though Christians in other parts of the world face that possibility. Our temptation will come in other ways. We must expect it and be ready to face it. Perhaps our temptations will be like the one Peter faced. We may experience a time when our faith in Jesus, our love of Jesus is so strong that we only want to live in the resurrection. We want to avoid the suffering Jesus experienced in his life and avoid any suffering in our lives that may come from our faith. Let us instead recognize that we may be tried and let us be resolved to remain faithful followers in all we do. Let us be strengthened by the work of Jesus and accept his mercy and love, his forgiveness when we do wrong. And let us remember that if we are resolved to follow Jesus, we receive his promise of eternal life. Amen.
Do you remember a few years ago a commercial that appeared on TV? The final line of the commercial was “When EF Hutton speaks, people listen”. It is often the quiet people that tell us what we really need to know. The loud ones can say so much that it is hard to identify what is important in their words.
The saying that we might take away from today is “when we pray to God, God listens”. It doesn’t matter whether we approach God with a silent prayer or speak in the loudest voice. God will listen. Another image that you might consider today is how we can be changed when we are in God’s presence.
In the Gospel, Jesus sought some place to rest, he chose a place away from the crowds that were following him. Jesus went to the area called Tyre, an area without Jewish people. Certainly no one would have heard about Jesus in this place. But even the Gentiles knew about Jesus’ healing power. A woman approached and asked Jesus to heal her daughter. The response Jesus gave is surprising. No way, he said. I came for the Jewish people. We could think this is an example of the humanity of Jesus. He was tired and probably didn’t think he had the strength to help. He told the woman to go away. But she was persistent and reminded him of his calling. Jesus healed her daughter. The woman asked God for help and God responded. This is an example of the power of prayer.
That initial response that Jesus gave might be a lesson to us in our own humanness. I think Jesus wants us to remember the times we have rejected the power of God and all that God does. Have you ever questioned whether God is working in the world, thinking that maybe God is just sitting back and watching? Have you ever thought that God is only listening to certain people or believers of a certain faith? Have you wondered whether Jesus really did all of the miracles we find in Scripture? I think Jesus is suggesting to us that in our humanness, we may place limits on God’s power, grace and love even though we are believers. Even during the times we question, we can pray that God will help us in our uncertainty. The power of God transcends all of our humanity, reaching out to everyone in love. Just as the woman cried out to Jesus, we may need the stranger to remind us of God’s healing power available to each person.
God’s healing power is described in all parts of our scripture today. In the gospel, Jesus healed two people each from a different culture. After healing the woman’s daughter, Jesus left Tyre and went to Decapolis. Once again, he was looking for a place where he could find quiet and rest but the people in need still found him. Some folks wanted to help a deaf and dumb man so they asked Jesus to heal him. Just like the Syrophoenician woman, the deaf and dumb man was not Jewish. Jesus didn’t reject their request and he did more than just say you are healed. He didn’t just say go your faith has saved you. Speaking to the man would not have worked. Instead, Jesus physically showed the man how he healed him. Jesus touched and spat, helping the man to experience the miracle.
Perhaps after his encounter with the woman, Jesus was a little stronger and was not distracted from his mission to all. That mission became even clearer after his resurrection. First Paul and later Peter open their ministry to the Gentiles in their lives. They both knew that Jesus offered himself to all people. So, we shouldn’t limit God by what we understand. God isn’t found in just the Episcopal Church. God isn’t found in just the Christian community. God is here for everyone in every race and every nation. The differences in the healings indicate that God deals with each of us differently according to our needs.
God’s healing power is mentioned in other passages from today’s Scripture. In the reading from Isaiah, we hear “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped”. Later in the Psalm it says, “the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down”. Yes, God’s healing is available to every person not just those who followed the Jewish customs at the time of Jesus.
Let us consider one more way these two healings connect. I find the message for us is persistence. The message is found in the willingness of people to call on God. The woman wouldn’t take no for an answer. Jesus tried to hide from others but she found him. Jesus tried to turn her away but she demanded that he help her daughter. And the deaf man sought out Jesus as well.
Given the examples we read today, I would say that we are called to ask for God’s help always. We never know when God will respond to our plea but we do know that God will always listen. In Matthew’s gospel, we find this, “Matthew 7:7-8
“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened”. Jesus actually wanted us to ask God for what we need.
A similar expression is that we should pray without ceasing. Those words pray without ceasing are found in 1 Thessalonions 5:17. I would say that we can ask God for what we need without ceasing. Given today’s healings, I think we could say that God helps those who ask. God responds to everyone and responds to us when we are the squeaky wheel.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, brings some clarification on this theme in his sermon “Pray Without Ceasing.” Emerson made the following observation: “It is not only when we audibly and in form, address our petitions to the Deity that we pray without ceasing. Every secret wish is a prayer. Every house is a church; the corner of every street is a closet of devotion.”
So, let’s make everything we do and think a prayer. Let’s always be interacting with God in ways that help us to focus our lives on holy things and what we can do to bring ourselves closer to God. The best way to understand what praying without ceasing means is to listen to the entire passage in Thessalonians.
The verses actually say this “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”
Praying without ceasing relates to everything we do in our lives. It is connected to the sense of good that we do for others. It is connected to our willingness to give thanks to God for all that God does for us. It is connected to our willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. And it is connected to our effort to do good and avoid evil.
We wish to experience God in all parts of our lives and to express the glory of God to others. That last part fits really well with what happened for after the healing of the deaf and dumb man, Jesus asked folks to not tell anyone what had happened. But they went out and proclaimed his good work to everyone they met.
Our scripture encourages us to see the power of God at work in our lives. It encourages us to trust that God will help us on our journey. It encourages us to reach out to God in prayer, asking God to help us. It doesn’t matter what we have done, it doesn’t matter where we are. God has the power to heal what ails us. We may not even know what healing is best for ourselves. But God knows. Let us pray that God will continue to work in our lives and that each of us in thanksgiving will proclaim God’s glory in all that we do, praying every day through our words and actions. Amen.
You may have noticed the common thread going through our readings is the encouragement to act with wisdom. If we look hard enough, we can find many ideas about what wisdom is. Let me start with three short sayings.
A British journalist named Miles Kington once said, “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
W.C. Fields said, "Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.”
Milton Berle once quipped, “You can lead a man to Congress, but you can't make him think.”
I am not sure any of those help that much. How might you define wisdom? You probably wouldn’t say the smartest person in the room is the wisest. The most highly educated person is not always the wisest either.
We get some good definitions of wisdom from Scripture today. It all starts with the Book of Proverbs. The entire book provides encouragement to us that we acquire wisdom and avoid folly. My study Bible says that wisdom is a word that is rich in nuance, and that throughout the book of Proverbs wisdom is referred to with terms such as insight, understanding, advice, prudence, discretion discipline and good sense. The book of Proverbs contains many sayings, advice to the unwise such as “A soft answer turns away wrath” which is found in Proverbs 15:1.
A French writer named Nicolas Chamfort wrote, “There are more fools than wise men, and even in a wise man there is more folly than wisdom.”
A newspaper columnist named Doug Larsen wrote, “Wisdom is the quality that keeps you from getting into situations where you need it.”
Perhaps we should read the entire book of Proverbs for wisdom is a fleeting virtue. In today’s passage, Wisdom is referred to as a woman. The connections to the Gospel are pretty clear. Woman wisdom invites others to enter her house “to eat of my bread and to drink of the wine I have mixed”. While dining in her abode, having bread and wine, those who come will be given words of wisdom. It connects so well with what Jesus said many years later. In the bread and wine given by Jesus, we receive wisdom and with that gift Jesus also offers us everlasting life.
Wisdom is a theme in the second reading as well. Paul exhorted his flock to live as wise people, to make the most of their time. Things haven’t changed much in that regard. The world is a difficult and dangerous place. There are many threats to our existence and many temptations. Wisdom is our way of keeping on the straight and narrow path. In the entire passage, Paul wanted his followers to live as children of the light. Before they began to follow Jesus, they lived in darkness. Now, they have received the wisdom that came from Jesus and the light that they have entered into is good and true.
Paul believed the wisdom of Jesus would change their lives. Divine wisdom brought them closer to God and Paul said they would be so excited that they became filled with the Holy Spirit and would sing hymns and psalms. In our Bible study on Wednesday, several people were moved by this idea and remembered the songs of their childhood. I am sure some of you remember those songs as well. Did you feel the Holy spirit moving in you? Were you thankful for adults who taught you songs of joy? Let’s take just a minute and sing together two songs from childhood. Let’s start with this little light of mine, a song that fits with the call to live in the light.
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine let it shine.
And how about the song Jesus loves the little children
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world
Jesus cares for all the children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus cares for the children of the world
Jesus came to save the children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They're all precious in His sight
Jesus came to save the children of the world.
I hope that singing those songs helps you to feel the power of the Holy Spirit within you and that in wisdom you are excited to praise God. Jesus wanted us to live in a community where the wisdom of God is something we seek together and something we share with each other. I think Paul wanted us to sing in our hearts as well. Our singing can be “literal singing which gives God praise, and the kind of heart attitude for which “singing” is a metaphor (Understanding the Sunday Scriptures)”. We are thankful for wisdom and we are thankful for the gift Jesus gave us. Through his sacrifice we have salvation. Our hearts are alive with joy.
This Gospel reading must have been difficult for the Jewish people to hear. Jesus said, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” How can Jesus offer us his flesh to eat, they asked. If I had been there, I would have asked the same question. It is through our reflection, through our looking back and knowing that Jesus died for us that we better understand. His death and resurrection was the gift of life for us. His blood was also given and for that we are thankful. Because of his sacrifice, we are redeemed, we are lifted up out of our sin and we have the opportunity to live a life of joy. It is through the teachings of so many who come before us and through our faith that we come to understand that Jesus is present in the bread and wine which we consume each Sunday. Jesus is not changed by giving up his flesh and blood. Rather we are changed. It is a mystery. But more important it is a gift. It is another example of the mercy of God given to each of us. Our communal worship is a time to praise God and to reverence the Lord. As Jesus told us, if we follow, we will be given wisdom. The wisdom we receive then helps us to come into union with God. That union helps us to live our lives in the way that God intended. As the prior readings suggest, this union with God is what keeps us from sin and helps us to dedicate our souls to God.
I have two more sayings from unknown sources to share.
“Going to church does not make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger. Let us join in our worship together and praise God for all that God has done for us.”
“A coincidence is when God performs a miracle, and decides to remain anonymous.” I believe that God is at work in our lives and often performing miracles. However we may not think of them as miracles.
Can you remember the last time you were really hungry or thirsty? I know, it doesn’t often happen to most of us. Perhaps, you skipped a meal trying to loose weight or maybe you were on a trip and couldn’t get to a place to eat. I remember a trip we took to Yellowstone National Park. I got so thirsty that I couldn’t stop drinking water. When we are hungry or thirsty, all we can think about is food or water. That is what our readings refer to today. We are called by Jesus to wish with all of our souls that we can be with him, that Jesus will give us the food we need. We wish that Jesus will help us to have the wisdom to deal with all that life has to offer. We pray that Jesus will nourish us in a way that all we want to do is follow him. If we can focus on Jesus then we know that all of the cravings of our human bodies such as drinking alcohol are just ways to take our minds off of what we really need. This week, let us take the bread and the wine that Jesus offers to us and allow ourselves to grow closer to Jesus, living in his love and knowing it to be the best place we can be. Amen.
I don’t often do sermons that involve everyone but today perhaps you would be willing to help me in a small way. Let’s start with this question? What is your favorite food? This past week, I went to a restaurant and my wife and I shared a steak for dinner. It was tender, tasty and moist. I loved it.
Another of my favorite foods is mashed potatoes. Jan and I tease each other about my desire for mashed potatoes. We don’t often have them at our house because they are high in carbohydrates. I like to say that we only have mashed potatoes at home when we have guests over for dinner. I love mashed potatoes. For some, their favorite food is dessert. Can you imagine the taste of your favorite desert right now? I sometimes like to go and eat gelato and may favorite flavor has Nutella in it.
I decided to begin with food because in our gospel Jesus speaks of himself as the Bread of Life. Our lesson is from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. It is quite a lengthy discourse so you need to be prepared to hear some similar words the next two Sundays as well. Jesus describes what it means that he is the Bread of Life to his followers and those who had doubts. We probably fit into both of those categories.
With any food we actually eat like a steak or mashed potatoes or gelato, we are satisfied by that one meal but our satisfaction may not last. Our joy is only as long as our memories can bring back the taste of that good food. We may need to go back and experience that food one more time. Our experience with Jesus is a little different. Jesus is constantly feeding us. Jesus feeds us on Sunday and gives us strength for the week. It is also true that Jesus is with us each day of that week and if we seek it, Jesus will feed us again and again.
Our scriptures are full of times when God fed people. These readings describe three times when God fed the people with real food. Jesus reminded everyone that God provided manna as the Israelites wandered in the desert. Jesus said, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” The Israelites never seemed to be satisfied by the food they were given. They often complained about God and about Moses.
The second example of feeding comes in the reading from 1st Kings. Elijah was running away from the wrathful Jezebel who was out to get him. Elijah was frightened, exhausted and dispirited. He stopped under a broom tree and feel asleep. God sent an angel to give Elijah food. He was so refreshed that he could go forty days without any more food. If you were to continue to read the story of Elijah, you would learn that Elijah wasn’t too excited about doing what God called him to do. God wanted Elijah to go back and care for God’s people. It took some nudging on God’s part. God takes care of us just as God took care of the Israelites and Elijah.
Just two weeks ago, we heard the familiar story of Jesus feeding the five thousand also in the Gospel of John. That is the third example of God feeding the people. But as the story continues this week, we learn that many of the Jews grumbled when they heard what Jesus had to say about the Bread of Life. They had just experienced a miracle, some wanted to make him king, but they couldn’t believe that Jesus could do another miracle, that Jesus could continue to feed them and that Jesus would feed them not only with physical food but also with spiritual food. God is kind and caring but we don’t always appreciate what God does.
When we hear Jesus speak of the bread of Life our thoughts usually turn to the spiritual food, communion. We have forgotten that God gives us food on a regular basis. Many believe that humans are the ones that make food, on large farms and in pastures. How quickly we forget that God created all things and we are intended to be stewards of God’s creation, using it to feed ourselves, to feed others and to care for all creatures and living things on the earth.
And so we say in the Our Father, give us today our daily bread. I accept that prayer on two levels. First that we wish that God will allow for creation to be abundant and that we will have food to live on. We also ask God to send Jesus so that we will be fed spiritually and have the strength to live holy lives.
Providing food for all people continues to be a challenge. It is surprising that many go hungry while farmers who grow grains are having a difficult time making money. We seem to have enough food for everyone. And yet we know that people are not getting fed. I recently read a note from the United Food Bank in Mesa. There were pleased to report that a recent study indicated some improvement in hunger in Arizona. They reported on a statistic called food insecurity. “Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” In Maricopa county, the percentage of people who struggle to get food was reduced from 15% to 14.3 %. That is still a large number who need food. Children are significantly more likely to have trouble getting enough foods. It is well known that poor people are often given food that is not appropriate, filled with carbohydrates that causes weight gain and increases in diabetes. We try to help solve this issue of a lack of food because we are God’s hands on this earth. We pray that God will provide enough food to feed everyone.
But our more important lesson is that Jesus feeds us spiritually. When Jesus said, “I am the Bread of life” he provided us with information but more importantly he gave us an invitation. Come and see he is saying to us. When the Jews went out to Galilee to see Jesus, they went because they heard about all the signs he had done. They knew that Jesus healed the sick. We too come to see this Jesus. We have heard and know that Jesus lived his life for us. We see that Jesus feeds us just as he fed the five thousand. Taste and believe he said. We receive communion and believe that Jesus is God.
Each time we come to church we are fed with this Bread of Life. Jesus gave his life for us and continues to give us a new life. The Bread that we are given each week nourishes us and strengthens us. We are able to leave this place uplifted spiritually, all because of God’s gift, all because of the promise that Jesus made to us. This Bread carries us throughout the week, helping us to reject sin and to live our life for God and others.
And it is nourishment for our entire life. Jesus promised that if we follow him and take this Bread we will receive eternal life. It is an incredible gift. So, we come each week to receive this gift. We see the Body and blood of Jesus. We are strengthened for our journey and we believe that Jesus is our Savior.
This food that we have been given, this bread of life, helps us to follow the words found in the letter to the Ephesians. It gives us the courage to speak truth to our neighbors. It encourages our contrite hearts to give up anger each day. The bread of Life keeps evil from escaping our mouth and gives us instead kind and considerate words to share with others. It helps us put away bitterness and wrath and wrangling and slander. We become kind, tenderhearted and forgiving, imitators of God’s grace.
Let us not be like the people in the road who were murmuring and questioning, doubting that Jesus could really do this, wondering about how it is possible. Instead let us accept Jesus as our Lord.
The Bread of Life is the reason we offer communion every Sunday. Jesus said come and see, taste and believe. We join fellow Christians today and every Sunday. We experience the grace and love of Jesus. We receive the Bread of Life. We believe in Jesus for we know that Jesus will give us life eternal. Amen.
Each of us has our own identity. Some times we choose our own identity and other times it is thrust upon us when people call us names. And we are often identified in several different ways. I am a husband and a father and a grandfather. I am also a priest, a designation that was given to me when I was ordained on January 19, 2014. When I am asked, what should I call you? I respond call me Bob or Father Bob for that is how I identify myself. The identity that we choose is important for ourselves and for others. As we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration, I have asked Bill Robinson to come and explain the icon which he wrote and which first appeared in this church the day before my ordination. That was special. As Bill shares the story of the icon and how it helps us to understand the Transfiguration, I would ask you to keep in mind that this feast is one way that we identify Jesus. I also ask you to consider what it means to you to be identified as a follower of Jesus.
Icon of the Feast of the Transfiguration by Br. Bill
To better understand the Icon of the Transfiguration, it might be helpful for us to have a short understanding of the nature of an “icon”, and why this particular graphic format is different from other types of religious artwork.
The word “Icon” is simply the Greek word for image, and “icons” consist of symbolic images of Jesus, Mary, all of the canonized Saints and, occasionally, the feasts and events of the church year (such as The Feast of the Transfiguration). They are usually painted on wood, or fresco, or done in mosaic, and they always illustrate portions of scripture. Icons are regarded by the major liturgical churches as “graphic scripture”. Like scripture, icons are said to be written rather than painted. By interacting with icons in prayer and contemplation, icons can become windows and doorways to a spiritual connection that one might not otherwise experience. This is similar to the icons on phones and computers. Interact with these icons by clicking, rather than prayer, and whole programs open up!
The three synoptic Gospels tell us that Jesus took the three apostles, James, Peter, and John “the beloved” and led them up a high mountain. There, as Matthew tells us, he was “transfigured into blinding light; both his face and clothing changing before their eyes”. Mark, in his Gospel, writes that “His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became dazzling white.” And again, Mark says that his clothes were “such that no one on earth could bleach them”.
In today’s Gospel, Luke tells us that the transfiguration took place while Jesus was praying. It is this comment that is depicted in this icon, where Jesus is raising His hands in prayer. Luke says, “While He was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white.” Then, before the eyes of the apostles, appeared the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. Then, if that was not already enough, a voice came out of a cloud and said, “This is my Son, the beloved. In today’s Epistle, written near the end of his life, Peter states “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.”
The icon we are discussing today is a symbolic representation of the event described in the Gospels. The composition of this icon follows a strictly symmetrical scheme. It shows a stylized mountain landscape, characterized by a central peak that is flanked by two lesser peaks. Jesus stands (or almost floats) on the central peak. He is clothed in a white and gold robe that appears to have dazzling light coming from within it. This is not sunlight. It is what students of theology refer to as the “uncreated light of God”-- a source of light, unlike sunlight or chemical light or electrical light that appears to come right out of darkness. Furthermore, He is surrounded by a gold and red boat-shaped image known as a “mandorla—the ancient symbol of the creator God. At Jesus’ feet is a round medallion showing an Agnes Dei—the Lamb of God, which is one of the earliest symbols for our Lord
Jesus is flanked by the two prophets. Moses is on His left (your right as you look at it), and Elijah on His right, each standing on his own peak. The image of Jesus is larger than the two prophets. This follows an iconic convention, which calls for the most important figure to be the biggest. Moses carries the tablets representative of the Law, and Elijah wears the “mantle of prophesy” that he passed on to Elisha before ascending to Heaven in the chariot of fire. Elijah’s mantle, or cloak, is described in the Old Testament, and in the icon it is shown as somewhat ratty. The same cloak is depicted in one of the stained glass panels at the back of our own church!
The three medallions at the bottom of the icon represent James, Peter, and John. Normally, the three apostles are shown as figures rather than symbols, but the round shape of this icon did not permit that design. The medallions, however, are accurate copies of the symbolic representations of these apostles that also appear in the stained glass windows at the back of our church. These designs have been a part of this church since its construction. So, even though the icon is new to this church, the symbols have design continuity with our whole history. James is symbolized by the three shells. After his martyrdom in the first century, James’ remains were moved to the village of Compostela in NW Spain, and the cockleshell became the symbol worn by pilgrims to his tomb. Peter is symbolized by the crossed keys. Jesus told him: “I give you the keys to my kingdom. James’ brother, John, is identified by the serpent in the chalice, which symbolizes his willingness to drink from the same cup as Jesus, and which leads to his death.
The Latin word for transfiguration, transfiguratio, means, “to be changed to another form”. The Greek word is metamorpheos and has much the same meaning. The Transfiguration, therefore, is a revelation of Christ’s divine nature, a manifestation of the Trinity, and a confirmation of the continuity between the Old and the New Testaments. This is shown symbolically by all of the white and gold lines that crisscross the image of Jesus and seem to come from within Him, rather than from an external source. This light is the central feature of this icon and was mentioned earlier as the uncreated light of God. It is a supernatural light with transforming power that has its source in God’s own being. It is the light that Jesus Himself speaks of in John’s Gospel when He says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” As Jesus becomes that light, his true nature is revealed. As Paul says in his letter to the Colossians, “For in Him the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily.
Today’s Gospel account of the Transfiguration also serves as a very early recognition of the Trinity. The disciples hear the voice the Father, they see the Son, and they were enveloped by the Holy Spirit in the brilliance of the uncreated light. They also witnessed Moses and Elijah, who represented the “Law and Prophets”, and who confirmed that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. Thus, the God they had served so faithfully for so long, without actually seeing, could now be seen and spoken to face to face. Here, in the blinding light on the mountain of the Transfiguration, prophets and the disciples were able to witness God’s personified radiance directly.
Fr. Bob speaking again
Bill has shared with you the images of the Transfiguration. The Icon is a great example of what we see in our minds when we imagine the Transfiguration of Jesus. I would ask you to think about what we hear. In this passage, God the Father speaks and says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
It is not the first time in Luke’s gospel that we have heard God speak about Jesus. God did so when Jesus was baptized when we heard God say, “‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
This sounds different to me. At his baptism, God spoke to Jesus, encouraging him to begin his public ministry. At the Transfiguration, God spoke to the apostles and through them God speaks to us. Listen to him. Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is God. Jesus told us who God is and what God expects of us. Jesus is the way to help us understand God and to hear God’s wishes.
It is so easy for our modern day minds to hear this because we already know that Jesus is God. But, I ask you to remember the gospel stories that come before this one so that you might understand the confusion that existed about who Jesus was.
We followed Jesus as he healed the daughter of the leader of the synagogue and the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. Jesus told everyone this is no big deal, don’t tell anyone what happened. Did they ask who this Jesus is?
Jesus sent the apostles out to evangelize giving them power over demons and the ability to cure diseases. Did Jesus have the authority to do this? We heard Herod speak as he wondered about Jesus. Is this John the Baptist who has come back to life? Is it Elijah? Is this a prophet? Jesus fed the five thousand people with a few loaves and fish. People wanted to make him a king.
Many questions and suggestions surrounded the identity of Jesus. All these questions are answered by the Transfiguration. Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus is God. It is his identity. As I said, none of this is a surprise to us. I just ask you to think about your identity in the context of the Transfiguration. I wish to be identified as a follower of Jesus, a disciple. I wish to be changed forever, to be transformed, to live into the name of our church. I wear a cross to say to everyone who I am. What does this change we seek mean?
On Friday, I went to the movies and I saw a preview for a new Transformer movie that will premier in December. It is called, Bumblebee. A young lady picks out a yellow Volkswagon beetle or bug and drives it home. She learns later that the car is really Bumblebee. The car is transformed into a massive robot that can handle any threat, any enemy and yet still have a caring personality.
We seek a change that allows us to focus on God and caring for our neighbor. We seek to be freed from the desires of the earth, desires for riches or fame or power and instead be dedicated to a life like Jesus led.
Have you ever had a special encounter with God? Whether your experience included images of a radiant Jesus or you heard the voice of God, I hope you can recall that time. I encourage you to ask God to continue to change you, to transform you in a way that you are willing to stand up and say, I am a follower of Jesus. I know who I am. I want to live my life for Jesus. Amen.
From your faces, I can see that you folks are as happy to be here as I am. Aren’t we all so blessed to be part of God’s creation? We know God’s GOT us. God’s got our backs, and God does everything RIGHT. And along with that, we have each other. We could, and maybe SHOULD, be dancing in the aisles! We’d like to hug the Lord our God, but we’ll just settle for hugging one another. The Holy Spirit hangs out in Churches, as well as in all creation, but I’m pretty sure -
Transfiguration is on the “A” list.
Did you catch that Collect? We pray that, “With God as our ruler and guide, we may so live our lives that as we pass through this life, we will not lose our lives in the world to come.” Is that amazing, or what? Not only does God so ordain creation that we are intended for eternal life, God provides us with the help we need to get TO that life. With God, it’s win-win for us, for all creation, if we just say YES to God.
Think that’s what we’re doing when we say ”AMEN”
Then, when we’re beginning to realize what a wonderful deal, if you will, God’s got going for us, we hear the Hebrew Scripture from Second Kings. What a story! We got Elisha the prophet, successor to Elijah, prophet extraordinaire, along with Elisha’s servant, and the fella’s are hanging out in Gilgal, a place in Ephraim, where there is a famine, taking a little break from the rather chancy business of prophesy, when one of the faithful from Baal-shalishah comes along, as he ought to do, in accordance with God’s command, dragging “food from the first fruits to the man of God.” Now Elisha’s a proper shepherd of God’s flock, and he tells his servant to “set the food before the people, and let THEM eat.”
Naturally there’s a crowd hanging out, just in case something glorious falls out of Elisha’s mouth, which WE know will happen, because that’s what God recruits prophets for, and all that waiting and listening has made the folks hungry, and this God knows, and has already solved that problem. God’s GOT this. But the servant is all, “How can I set this before the people; what ARE you thinking, this is a severe deficit in the necessary amount of food.” So Elisha repeats himself, “Give it to the people and let Them eat.” Then Elisha provides the irrefutable rationale: “for thus says the LORD, ‘they shall eat and have some left.’” Oh, yeah! Elisha knows, God’s GOT this! God’s not only gonna do what God’s gonna do, GOD IS GOING TO DO WHAT GOD SAYS GOD IS GOING TO DO. Just like the Psalm says, “…You give them their food in due season. You open wide Your hand and satisfy the needs of EVERY living creature. The LORD IS indeed righteous and loving in all His ways.” We’re not arguing with that, but sometimes we lose sight of what that means, for us, AND for the rest of creation.
Fortunately, GOD never loses sight of anything!
And our old friend Paul is well aware of this. Most of Paul’s writing is engaged equally in PRAISING God, and helping the early Christians understand what it means to be followers of Christ. The obvious thing is that Paul never shifts his focus from God as manifest in Christ. It becomes clear to us that our faithful focus on Chris t, is a recipe for the best kind of human life. In today’s Epistle, Paul prays that God will “strengthen our ‘inner being, our souls, our spirits, with power from the Holy Spirit, that we may ‘comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.’ Now, as we know “comprehend” can mean ‘understand.’ And it can also mean “include,”or” encompass.”
We want it both ways! Paul prays that we may both understand and encompass Christ’s Love. Now THERE’S equipping for ministry! With Christ’s love for creation, and our faithfulness to Christ, Paul states that God will accomplish ‘far more than we can ask or imagine.’ And we WANT to be a part of this! Of course we do.
In today’s Epistle, the passage from Ephesians, Paul urges us not to wait until WE feel strong and competent, but to start praying and jump in, because God’s GOT this, and God is willing to use us, too. All RIGHT!
Then there’s that wonderful Gospel story, parallel to the passage in Second Kings. Jesus is dealing with Elisha’s situation. Here’s the large, hungry crowd, eager to hear what Jesus has to say to them. We are THERE, we want to hear Jesus, too. And Philip, Jesus’ follower, plays the part of Elisha’s servant – complete with the momentary lapse in recollection of God’s promises. So, Jesus says to Philip, ’Bro, how are we going to buy food to feed this crew??’ That’s Philip’s cue. ‘ Six month’s wages wouldn’t buy that much food.’ But God has GOT this. Andrew says, ‘ There’s a little boy with 5 barley loaves and two fish – but how’s that going to help?’ Andrew and Philip’re like all of us, a little slow on the uptake. ‘Make them sit down,’ says Jesus; Who then asks a blessing on the food. Now Jesus is NOT into wasting food, so, when everyone is full and content, the left-overs are gathered, and an extra twelve baskets are available. Seeing this, needless to say, everyone gets excited, decides that Jesus is clearly the longed-for Messiah, and their job is to make Our Lord king, an objective with which Jesus wants no part. So Jesus makes Himself scarce, and the disciples hop in the boat and head to Capernaum. Evidently, a monsoon arises; we imagine the Holy Spirit saying, “So, Jesus, Buddy, Your homies are getting a wee mite nervous out there on the lake, due to a brief lapse in their realization of WHO they’re dealing with; and shortly, the poor terrified disciples are delighted to see Jesus strolling across the Sea of Galilee toward them. Jesus says, ‘Chill, guys, it’s Me,’ at which point everyone finds themselves safe on the land toward which they had been rowing.
See, with God, there really IS a happy ending.
Don’t we just love Scripture!?! When we can lay aside our awareness of cultural, historical, and linguistic differences, and HEAR what the Lord our God is saying to the people of God, and know that all the differences we concern ourselves over are truly irrelevant to the blessing inherent in the message for the people of God, then we realize that these ancient people are US; and that Scripture is OUR history, OUR story of God’s love and care for us, and God’s involvement with us.
We can live our lives knowing, and depending upon, the realization that God’s GOT this!
THANKS BE TO GOD! Written by Susan Smith-Allen
I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to conduct a wedding in Marseille, France on the Mediterranean. I had met the bride seven years ago in Cameroon. I
was helping my college roommate there for three months with her non-government organization, monitoring orphans scattered throughout seven villages to the north
of the city she lives in.
This bride, Elodie, a French student nurse, came to Cameroon to serve an internship in rural clinics. So she lived with us for a month there. Four years ago
she and her partner actually came to the U.S and share our Thanksgiving dinner with us. Suddenly, last winter I got an email from her asking if I would officiate at
her religious ceremony in France. Of course I said yes. When I was pondering what sort of homily I would give at the wedding, I
happened to be reading Brian McLaren’s book: The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian. In it I was deeply moved by his discussion of God’s love. It seemed a fitting center for
that homily, and it came to my mind again as I read the scripture lessons for this Sunday.
These were the words that so moved me:
1. You can’t learn to love people without being around actual people – including people who infuriate, exasperate, annoy, offend, frustrate,
encroach upon, resist, reject, and hurt you, thus tempting you not to love them.
2. You can’t learn the patience that love requires without experiencing delay and disappointment.
3. You can’t learn the kindness that love requires without rendering yourself vulnerable to unkindness.
4. You can’t learn the generosity that love requires outside the presence of heart-breaking and unquenchable need.
5. You can’t learn the peaceableness that love requires without being enmeshed in seemingly unresolvable conflict.
6. You can’t learn the humility that love requires without moments of acute humiliation.
7. You can’t learn the determination that love requires without opposition and frustration.
8. You can’t learn the endurance that love requires without experiencing unrelenting seduction to give up.
Now, hold those words about the radical nature of love God intends for us and consider the lessons this morning.
Jeremiah says: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.” There is this persistent ethical thread throughout the Hebrew Bible. God
requires the community to be ruled with justice and righteousness, unity and love. In the previous chapter of Jeremiah we read that one manifestation of how well a
ruler is doing on this front is the treatment of the alien, orphan and widow. In this passage, we read that the leaders do not have the capacity for love here.
But God has compassion for this community of exiles.
For those alienated from their homes..
For those separated from their families...
For those taken away from all they knew.
God always reaches out in love to every exile, every dispossessed person.
Mark talks about the love Jesus has for his sheep. He heals many in his own land, in Galilee – and then, after a time away for prayer and re-centering, he and his
disciples cross the Sea of Galilee to Gennasarret. That’s Gentile country, you know. Immediately, he is called upon to heal – the foreigner, the alien, and the
stranger. He is confronted with the overwhelming need of “the other” and rises to the occasion. For most of his ministry we see him in the thick of the people,
among those in greatest need. I can relate. In Cameroon, while assisting some nursing students provide health assessments of children, we ran out of time while
there were still dozens of mothers and children waiting. “Oh please,” they said, “just see my child.” And, “please, I need one of those mosquito nets, too.” The
press of those in desperate need was heart breaking.
In both the OT reading and the Gospel there is this clear message: the exiles – the alien – the stranger – the orphan – are also God’s people. The Epistle reading
raises the question of those pesky Gentiles as well. We know that the early church was struggling with questions of who is in and who is out. The Jews who had
come to accept Jesus as the Messiah couldn’t figure out what to do with those Gentiles who wanted into their fellowship. How could someone who was not
circumcised possibly become an insider? How could one who didn’t share the story of the People of Israel even begin to understand what Jesus had done for the
Jews? But in the Kingdom of God, even those pesky Gentiles are be counted as in.
In Ephesians we read that Jesus made both groups into one. He broke down the dividing walls between them. Then there were no longer any strangers or aliens. It
is at the very core of our understanding as Christians that we should grow more and more into this radical kind of love that Jesus had for absolutely everyone. It is
a difficult journey. But one we MUST take. And that brings us right back to Brian McLaren’s discussion of love.
1 You can’t learn to love people without being around actual people – including people who infuriate, annoy, offend, and encroach upon us. We are called to surround ourselves – as Jesus did – with those who are the most difficult to love.
2 You can’t learn the kindness that love requires without rendering yourself vulnerable to unkindness. Now there’s a challenge for us – allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, even to possible unkindness.
3 You can’t learn the generosity that love requires outside the presence of heart-breaking and unquenchable need. Being in the midst of people with unquenchable need is not a comfortable place to be. We can feel pretty overwhelmed as – indeed – Jesus must have felt. It’s exactly why he had to take time away from the crowds.
4 You can’t learn the peaceableness that love requires without being enmeshed in seemingly unresolvable conflict. It’s one thing sitting in our comfortable world praying for peace. It’s altogether another thing to become immersed in resolvable conflict. But how else can we possibly learn of God’s peace – that passes all understanding.
5 You can’t learn the humility that love requires without moments of acute humiliation. We know of the acute humiliation Jesus suffered. How can we possibly understand it unless we, too, experience humiliation. Perhaps one of the dilemmas that we people of privilege share is that we don’t often experience humiliation.
6 You can’t learn the determination and endurance that love requires without opposition and frustration and an unrelenting desire to give up.
You see, the kind of love Jesus modeled – and wants us to learn – is a life long school. If God loved the exiles in Babylon then we need to be schooled in loving
the exiles in our midst. If God loved the Gentiles of the early church then we need to be schooled in how to love and include the strangers all around us. If Jesus
could go out – among those in greatest need, day after day after day – then we need to be schooled in that kind of endurance and determination.
It’s not an easy school to attend. We can drop out any time. We can settle back into the sofa cushions of God’s embracing love ..... or we can accept the challenge
and enroll in God’s school of love. When we flunk out, as we surely will, we can enroll again and again until we enter the everlasting kingdom of infinite love.