Year B 2018
Last week my sermon was a little longer. In all my time preaching I have never had the lights go out during my sermon. Today’s sermon is shorter. Hopefully that will help.
“And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
On Palm Sunday we announce the Gospel differently than any other Sunday of the year. The Gospel is the story of the death of Jesus. There is no response, just these powerful words, “The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to ….” It is not something we often talk about - Jesus’ passion.
I grew up understanding God’s love but know that I never understood it to its fullest. Incarnation is something we will never understand. We can’t. We can proclaim it. We can use words to tell others what it is but it’s truth will always elude us. We can never hold the fullness of fully God and fully man. One will win. Either we will see Jesus as fully God or we will understand Jesus as fully man.
Growing up I got the God part. Or at least when I thought about Jesus I could understand that part. Jesus as God was easy. Understanding Jesus as God allowed me to place Jesus up there. It was the fully man part I struggled with. Maybe like most people, it was easier to keep God at a distance, up there and yet at the heart of the Gospels, Jesus is fully man. It is this fully man which allows Jesus to have compassion. Jesus had compassion for them. To put it another way, Jesus was with passion for them. Passion filled him for these people.
His call to teach and feed came from that passion. That is how Jesus responded to those in front of him, to those in need.
I think that is our call as well. More important than anything we do is our call as the body of Christ to teach and feed and not for ourselves. I want you to think of yourselves as viceroys; as ambassadors of God and God’s redemption. As viceroys of God we are called to see the needs around us. We are given the mission of proclamation. The people whom we are called to respond to are those who need it. Jesus teaches, and he feeds. That is our call.
I think to be able to teach and feed we begin with God. Our call is to know that we are loved. The world proclaims that you have worth because of your position, your work, what you earn, who your parents were or are, to whom you are married. But as Christians and as people of faith we begin knowing our worth because of our relationship with God. It is God’s love which gives us worth. You are his creation, his handiwork, his joy and his hope.
Paul uses these words, “Consider your own call… not many of you were wise by human standards, not many powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak to shame the strong.”
But for us to grow in God we also must be agents of truth. Communities of faith are strong because they trust each other enough to speak truth to each other. We must, if we are to be agents of God’s love, be able to speak to each other in honesty and in love. Without that we lose any ability of growing in God and of proclaiming to the world.
I think if we begin knowing God’s love and we can share with each other truth we can begin to do that which we are created to do. We can serve. If your relationship with God is about what happens in this place then it has no value. If you are saved by God’s grace so you can get into to heaven then you have missed the point.
In Clinton we face issues of poverty and race; we face hate. We face issues the world faces. We have in front of us opportunities to proclaim, by our action, God and God’s truth. In four weeks, our students arrive. We have the opportunity to proclaim God’s love as we welcome them, and we are in the unique place to welcome, not just because of where we are but who we are and how we understand God’s grace.
All of this is about what is out there. We are called to know God’s love and to be a community of faith so that we can do what God calls us to do. Our mission is out there; our mission to teach and feed.
Who is Jesus Christ and how do we proclaim him?
The Gospel for this week is new to Sunday mornings. We have not read nor preached on this Gospel on Sundays before. It is a very interesting Gospel in the way that it is formed. King Herod heard about Jesus and what Jesus was doing. He also heard that some believed Jesus must be John the Baptist. He assumed that John, the person that he beheaded must have been raised from the dead. And then the Gospel tells us about what he remembered; the story of John and how Herod came to kill him. When I first read this Gospel my first thoughts were “what can I possibly preach about”? Most of the Gospel is a flashback. It is a story of what happened.
In the lesson from Ephesians we hear Paul’s words to one of his favorite churches, the church in Ephesus. He really likes them and you can hear his love for them throughout this letter. It is a very different kind of letter than he wrote to Corinth or Rome. In this letter you can hear his love and passion for the people. What sets them apart? I believe that it is the power of Jesus Christ to transform God’s people. It is about the power of Christ and what that power does to those who confess him. The people in Ephesus got it. They understood that Jesus could not be summed up by one person’s experience. Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord could not be contained in the mind and experience of one. It was and is found in the body of Christ, you and me.
As I read these two lessons together, one question continued to come to mind. Who is Jesus and how do we proclaim him? Obviously the question is not new. Herod has the same question when he wonders if Jesus could be the raised John. It is the question of the ages and the question that continues to challenge us. It is the question that is at the center of denominations and at the center of even the work of our own General Convention this week in Anaheim. What does it mean to be his follower and what does it mean to proclaim him? Who is this Jesus? In Matthew’s gospel we hear clearly the Great Commission, Jesus’ call to us as disciples, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). I believe the problem that we face in this age and probably the problem faced by Jesus’ followers throughout the ages is that each person sees, understands and knows Jesus in a little different way. The same Lord, the same Savior, but we see different facets of Jesus. The problem of course is that too often we believe that our understanding - our facet - how we see Jesus - is the only one or at least the correct one. We are right and therefore they are wrong. I know that is the truth because I have those feelings. I know that being a part of All Saints is better than anything else. We do it right. I know that being an Episcopalian is the best because if Jesus was around he would be one. I don’t think that kind of pride is a bad thing.
But we carry that understanding to a different place when our pride turns into a Gospel of rejection. It is wonderful to be proud of who you are and whose you are and how you understand God; but when that pride becomes the tool for rejection of others and their faith then it becomes sin. When Christians reject other Christians and condemn them then everything changes. When Christians reject other faiths, or races, or social classes; when Christians reject other humans, it is a sin.
I read a book once called “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McLaren. In it he discusses the various ways that Christians express Jesus Christ. What I found as I read was that there are many different ways that I know the power of Jesus. I think I have a little evangelical in me. On some things I am a conservative Christian and others a liberal Christian. I am a Biblical Christian and an incarnational Christian and an unfinished Christian. I like the joy of our worship and Holy Eucharist celebrated on the beach with guitars. I believe that the divisions we face are divisions of our own making; Evangelicals vs. Mystic / Liberal vs. Conservative / Charismatic vs. Contemplative; are you a biblical or contemplative or green or incarnational or evangelical Christian? When there is great truth is in the very different gifts that we each bring to our common faith. One of the great joys of being here is the very different gifts that I witness in those seeking to proclaim the risen Lord in this place. Look at the strength of Christ’s body in this place. What we do when we engage in condemning those who are different is to stop the great commission; we stop the proclamation of the Risen Lord when we forget to see in each other the gifts of God’s power and redemption. We stop God’s Holy Spirit and the epiphanies that God can bring into our lives.
I was the rector of a church who had that division, Christian against Christian. We do it right and therefore you do it wrong. And even more because you do it wrong you must be destined for hell. Herod did not get it right. He did not know the power of God’s grace and love through God’s Son Jesus. Paul, in many of his letters to churches, fusses at those who divide the body of Christ into those who know Jesus and those who know Jesus differently. I believe the joy that Paul finds in the people of Ephesus is the joy he finds when those who know Jesus and proclaim Jesus begin to listen to each other; when they begin to know the fullness of Jesus Christ because they are willing to listen to someone who understands Jesus a little differently. In Paul’s letter to Ephesus, Paul changes the way he speaks in mid sentence. He begins with “you”. He ends with “our”. “ 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this* is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”
Our responsibility is to know Jesus; to know the Risen Lord in our lives and then proclaim him to a world who does not know him. But we are to do it together; each of us sharing the truth that we know and celebrating that truth in each other as we gather here today. May God continue to bless us and may we continue to know God’s revelation and presence in the bounty of his love present in our lives.
Year B 2018
“He could do no mighty works there”
I grew up in a wonderful family. My parents worked hard but I never felt that they placed my sister or me second. I knew they loved each other and I knew they would take care of me. I don’t think I ever worried about their presence or that they would always be there to care for me.
I also knew my faith. We were Christians and after I was six years old we were Episcopalians. I was confirmed at age seven. I knew that meant certain things. It meant church was not a second thought. Sundays were days of obligation for us. Week by week our place was in church together.
I was an acolyte from the first time I could remember. I sang in the children’s choir. We gave, and I was expected to tithe; to give ten percent of my earnings to the church. Allowance did not come without responsibility. Allowance was something I earned by taking out the garbage and mowing the lawn.
I also knew God and from my earliest understanding who Jesus was. He died for me. But one thing I did not know was that there was a choice in my faith. I was a Christian. I did not know there were other options. I knew there were Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians. I knew there were Presbyterians and Baptist Christians. I also knew there were people who weren’t Christian. But I was raised as Christian and I really only knew Christians. It was not until I went to seminary that I realized I had choices; that even my faith was a choice. Did I want to be Jewish or some other religion?
The first time I chose Christianity was in seminary. I had always been Christian and always knew God’s love, but in seminary I realized I had a choice. I also realized how important making that choice was. Being able to choose is freedom. Being able to choose means I take on ownership. It means that my faith could move beyond my head — to my heart. Freedom is choice. Freedom is choosing to follow. Freedom means choosing to live under law. Freedom does not mean we will not be jailed or betrayed or sick or killed, but it does mean that we make a choice.
“ and he could do no mighty works there.” These few words stick out. Jesus was rejected, and it conflicts with my understanding of who Jesus is. He could not. Jesus Christ could not. Mark is very careful and clear when he tells this story. Jesus could not do any miracles. Those from Jesus’ home town had a choice that day. Their choice was to say no and when they did, God could not work in their lives.
This past week we celebrated our freedom as a nation. We gave thanks for all who have given of themselves so that we are free. But freedom is not something we can take for granted; freedom is not something that came and now all we must do is enjoy it. No, freedom is our work and our call; it is our choice. We must fight today for freedom. Like faith, our freedom as a nation is a choice everyday. We celebrate having a choice and being free to choose.
I am thankful for Jim’s presence over the last two weeks. I heard his sermon last week touched on the separation of families at the border. I started my sermon two weeks ago wondering what terror must happen to the human soul when a child is taken from a parent - for both the child and the parent. I don’t think I can even imagine what it must be like. I do believe it is part of our freedom which we must continue to fight for.
When I read this Gospel, I thought about the border. I thought about the freedoms we celebrate and how we must continue each day fighting for what we proclaim in our baptismal vows; that we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
Laurie Lane-Zucker wrote these words. They express so much about the power of our nation - our democracy - but they also express a truth about the power of faith when we choose it; when it becomes not just a head thing but a heart thing. "For a democracy to be truly alive, vital, and revolutionary, for it to rise beyond abstraction and mere symbolism, for it to become a throbbing head-and-heartfelt presence in our lives, we need to make it personal."
Now, listen to it again when I replace the word democracy with faith…”For faith to be truly alive, vital, and revolutionary, for it to rise beyond abstraction and mere symbolism, for it to become a throbbing head-and-heartfelt presence in our lives, we need to make it personal.”