Matthew 9: 35 - 10: 8 (9-23)
Object: one of our banners for the sanctuary, picturing Jesus and some sheep.
Key Verses: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9: 36-38)
The other day I stumbled across this banner and was rather taken by it. Of course, the banner depicts Jesus with a bunch of sheep. This is a pastoral scene which gives us all kinds of good and warm feelings.
As I looked at this banner, a song came to my mind, one with which you might be familiar. When I see this banner, I think of the song, I Just Wanna Be a Sheep:
I just wanna be a sheep
Baa, baa, baa, baa
I just wanna be a sheep
Baa, baa, baa, baa
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
I just wanna be a sheep
Baa, baa, baa, baa
There are other verses which note things that you DO NOT want to be, such as a hypocrite, a Pharisee or a Sadduccee. Nope, don’t want to be one of those. But if I WANT to be SOMETHING, brothers and sisters, I want to be a SHEEP.
So the first verse of the song says: “I just wanna be a sheep.”
But I think there might be a verse missing, a verse that we may have to insert.
Notice that there is no verse which begins: I just wanna be a HARVESTER; that is the verse we need to add.
If there was, the new verse could look/sound something like this:
I just wanna be a HARVESTER
Yeah, yeah, yeah , yeah!
I just wanna be a HARVESTER
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
I pray Jesus will send me out there
I just wanna be a HARVESTER
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Apparently there is no such verse. And in some respects, I think for good reason; we
would rather be a sheep than a harvester which raises all kinds of difficulties and struggles for us.
I see this Sunday the second Sunday of Pentecost, as being a Sunday of transition, a new direction. We are changing seasons in the church year and with the changes come some notable issues and concerns.
No longer are the paraments white, no longer do we hear wonderful stories of seeing the resurrected Jesus, no longer do we sing Easter hymns of joy. Now, we see green paraments which are meant to suggest the growth of the church and we hear stories not of joy, but of work.
From now on we hear stories of work, getting on with the work of the church.
And that is hard.
Wouldn’t it be nice to just be a sheep? Wouldn’t it be nice to stay all cuddled up, safe in the arms of Jesus? Wouldn’t it be nice to lie beside green pastures, to break bread with the Lord, to have our cup runneth over?
Instead, we sheep are encouraged to be HARVESTERS. And that is hard.
Harvesting is hard and WAS hard and I imagine that when Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest," his disciples might have said, “Uh oh!”
Why? Because harvesting WAS hard in the days of Jesus walking on this earth.
Harvesting was backbreaking work.
Two thousand years ago, there were no combines, no air conditioned cabs, so people had to harvest grain by pulling it up by the roots, or cutting it with a type of sickle, according to circumstances. The grain when cut was generally put up in sheaves which were afterwards gathered to the threshing-floor or stored in barns.
Harvesting continued with the process of threshing which meant spreading the sheaves on the threshing-floor and causing oxen and cattle to walk repeatedly over them. On occasions flails or sticks were used for this purpose. There was also a “threshing instrument” which was drawn over the grain; the Hebrews called this moreg, a threshing roller or sledge.
When the grain was threshed, it was winnowed by being thrown up against the wind and afterwards tossed with wooden scoops. Sometimes harvesters used a shovel and fan for winnowing. The refuse of straw and chaff was burned.
Figs, grapes, vegetables, pomegranates, fruit were picked by hand.
Obviously harvesting was very labour intensive.
Harvesting could be a form of employment. Harvesters were often itinerant workers.
Some of you may be able to relate to that because maybe you saw or experienced threshing crews on the prairie many years ago. People hired out for threshing crews and would go from farm to farm. The legend of threshing crews always included large meals and many people gathered at the table.
In the day of the gospel writers, if a farmer did not have a big enough family, he could hire itinerant workers. Large landowners obviously needed hired hands so they too would hire itinerant workers to harvest. Absentee landowners were the same.
So a harvester was a worker who bounced from job to job. He didn’t usually get paid well for back-breaking work. He often had to rely on the hospitality of strangers. If the itinerant worker was lucky he was fed and maybe even sheltered. Otherwise he would show up in the village markets to hopefully get picked up for a long day of labour.
No doubt the disciples cringed. Harvester?! Can’t I just be a sheep?
But Jesus doesn’t just see people as sheep.
While we are indeed sheep and follow Jesus, at some point Jesus calls upon us to be workers in the kingdom of God. Jesus calls upon us to exercise the same compassion with others that he has extended to us.
Jesus had compassion for the crowds and as such, he taught and healed and gave people hope. As Jesus selects his followers he does so, because he sees a harvest and he sees that nobody else cares. So he recruits followers to send them out into the fields, into the crops, to where the harvest is. They are to go and give people hope. They are to take care of their backyard first.
Our gospel opens with the sentence: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.”
You see, Jesus had been doing that for quite a while. If you go backwards in your Bibles, from Matthew 9: 35, all the way back to 4: 23, you will see that Jesus has been: teaching, proclaiming, healing and curing, all the way along. He teaches the sermon on the Mount, he cures blind people, deaf and dumb people, people who are bleeding, he raises people from the dead. The whole time he goes along and he tells people that these are all signs of the kingdom of God, that God’s reign is being established in, with, through and under his person.
And now... we come to these WATERSHED VERSES, today’s gospel reading, Matthew 9: 35-10: 8 . Jesus continues to preach, teach, heal, cure and proclaim the kingdom of God. And then Jesus turns to his disciples and says:
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Oops!
From now on, in the second section of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus shifts responsibility and the call to action. Jesus seems to figure that it is no longer satisfactory for him to go about his ministry on his own; it is time, for the whole organization to get involved. It is pretty easy to figure out WHO he shifts the responsibility to; it is to his followers.
He gathers a whole bunch of people, the good, the bad and the ugly. He gives them instructions on how to go out into the harvest. He sends them out. He tells them that it is not going to be easy, that this might involve scorn and persecution, but he tells them not to be afraid because he will be with them at all times.
I personally don’t imagine that they were happy campers.
And yet, in the end, maybe this is the only logical conclusion to this Jesus movement. Jesus goes about the countryside, extending mercy, compassion to those he meets. His heart goes out to all that he encounters.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, The Greek word for compassion refers to deep, emotional feelings located in “the bowels” of one’s humanity. We find that Jesus was compassionate in many circumstances and the word, “compassionate,” is used to describe him.
Jesus extends compassion, not because he is such a nice fellow, but because that is what the kingdom of God required of him. He was a shepherd to harassed and helpless sheep. That compassion took him to the cross, because that is what the kingdom of God required of him.
Jesus knew that such compassion was the way of God. He also knew that such compassion was rewarding and fulfilling, not just for those who received, but for those who gave of such compassion.
For his followers, all of this took on special meaning.
Christ died for his followers, not when they (we) were righteous, but while they and we were ungodly sinners, and because of him they and we have been given hope through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As people of God we are endowed, blessed, gifted, with the holiness and righteousness of God. We are a kingdom, of priests, of ministers one to another and a holy nation to bring hope to the lost and sick and oppressed, who are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.
What does all of THAT mean?
It means that the harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few. It means that a world starved of compassion, NEEDS compassion and there are very few people out there who are compassionate. Those who have experienced compassion, especially the compassion of Jesus, become the laborers.
Sometimes that doesn’t seem like something we want to hear on a Sunday morning.
But strangely, it brings joy. I have seen that joy in a lot of different situations and times in this church, as we have given of ourselves, extending compassion to others by offering food and clothing.
It means that people who need companionship and community are invited into fellowship.
Still…. wouldn’t it be nice to just remain a sheep? Sure would! We STILL ARE sheep. We are still part of the flock of Jesus. But Jesus gives us another role. He wants us to be HARVESTERS too, for we have been given a precious gift that he wants us to share with others.
Still…. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Matthew 28: 16-20
Objects: the Pastor’s certificate of ordination and degree of Master of Divinity
Key verses: And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..... (Matthew 28:18-19)
These are two very important documents in my life. The first certificate indicates that I was awarded the degree of Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon. The second certificate indicates that I was ordained on June 16, 1991 by Bishop Marlin Aadland. These two pieces of paper give me the authority to preach and tell others about Jesus. I have been educated and tested and examined and I was found to be worthy to graduate from LTS and to be ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
Do YOU have degrees similar to mine? You DON’T? Oh my, I guess the rest of you are NOT qualified. The rest of you are not WORTHY to be witnesses of Jesus.
You know, that’s the way we think in the church; the pastor is worthy, the pastor is qualified and the pastor goes out and tells people about Jesus. The rest of you, the rest of us..... stay home. That’s the way WE think, but that is NOT the way that GOD thinks. I have lots of stores and anecdotes to tell you.
Some of you may have heard of the Alpha course.
The Alpha course was started in 1977 by the Reverend Charles Marnham, a curate at Holy Trinity, Brompton, a Church of England parish in London. It started as a course for church members regarding the basics of beliefs commonly held by many believers in Christ but then began to be used as an introduction for those interested in the faith. The Very Reverend John Irvine, at that time a curate at Holy Trinity, Brompton, took over running the course and developed it into the 10-week format which continues to this day. In 1990 the Reverend Nicky Gumbel, a curate at Holy Trinity, took over the running of the course at the invitation of the Reverend Sandy Millar (vicar at that time) and oversaw its revision and expansion.
Nicky Gumbel appears on the DVD lectures in the Alpha course.
Nicky Gumbel was a reluctant convert to Christianity, a man who was a lawyer and a skeptic. Eventually the lawyer became a reluctant Anglican priest who then became the face of the Alpha program which has become a very prominent, world-wide program for telling the story of Jesus.
Who would have thought? Those who have met Nicky Gumbel readily agree that HE would have never imagined such an explosion of Christian witness, and Nicky Gumbel himself is “blown away” with the thought that HE had a hand in such witness.
During one of the Alpha course videos, Nicky Gumbel told the story of a young man who was a party-animal, a womanizer and a non-believer. He had nothing to do with the Christian faith, yet God answered the prayers of his mother and the young man turned his life around. Eventually the young convert to the Christian faith became a priest, and then a bishop and finally one of the most influential theologians of the Christian faith. The man is most commonly known as St. Augustine.
By the way, St. August was born in November 13, 354 AD and died August 28, 430 AD. For those who are not quick on the math, that is roughly 1,600 years ago.
St. Augustine had a huge influence upon an insecure German monk by the name of Martin Luther, who was searching for a gracious and loving God. Martin Luther read a lot of the writings of St. Augustine.
Who would have imagined that LUTHER who struggled with doubt all his life, would have been a major vessel in proclaiming the story of Jesus?
Speaking of the most unlikely of witnesses, consider the disciples of Jesus. Throughout the gospels, the disciples of Jesus are painted as a bunch of goofs: they accompany Jesus in his ministry, they see all the signs and miracles and wonders and they miss the boat. At one point they confess that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Messiah, but as quickly as they come to that realization, they slide back into some form of semi-consciousness. THEN, when they were REALLY needed, they failed miserably.
Okay, so they didn’t always “get” Jesus. At least they could have stood by him and offered their support or their lives. When the heat was on and Jesus was being arrested, tried and tortured, the disciples of Jesus fled. They hid behind closed doors and were reluctant to come out into the open. It took some brave and courageous women to venture out and discover the empty tomb, but most, if not all of the disciples of Jesus continued to cower.
We are tempted to criticize the disciples, but we should not imagine that we would have done better. Jesus does not rebuke them. He understands their doubt, but he speaks to their faith. He understands their frailty, but calls them to carry on his work. "It is not to angels or perfect believers, but to the worshiping/wavering community of disciples to whom the world mission is entrusted.”
These underachievers were running true to form, but then what would you expect from a bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, social misfits and outcasts?
So what to do with these guys?
Jesus ENTRUSTS them with a mission, THE mission.
Jesus sends these underachievers out, to baptize, to convert, to teach, to tell God’s story of Jesus. Imagine that you and I, our ancestors, 2 millennium worth of believers, were dependent for OUR faith story, upon such an incompetent and disloyal bunch.
Yet, Jesus entrusts his story to THEM. Here is grace, the grace of Jesus in action. But such graceful action has always been a part of Jesus and the way of God. The history of the Judeo-Christian faith is full of stories and people who were not the obvious choices. The way of Jesus, the way of God has always been to use the supposed weakest links to accomplish God’s purposes.
There are in fact, so many underachievers, that one doesn’t know where to start, but how about this for an example.
How about Moses? God called Moses to lead God’s people out of slavery from Egypt. Moses was a runaway who hid out in the Sinai peninsula, quite convinced that he did not have the skills or the desire for such an important task. At one point, his greatest objection to such a mission is the fact that he does not perceive himself to be a capable public speaker. God fixed that by appointing Moses’ cousin Aaron as the PR guy. God needed to liberate God’s people, to keep the story going. God entrusted the runaway with the vitally important mission; Moses liberated the people from slavery and led them towards the promised land.
Or.... how about the prophet Jonah, who complained and belly-ached and avoided the task of proclaiming God’s story in what he perceived to be hostile territory. No matter how much Jonah avoided or messed up, God pressed Jonah to proclaim God’s story. In the end, God ended up sending Jonah by boat and then via the belly of a whale, in order to get Jonah to the appointed destination. Jonah finally got it; he became God’s messenger.
Or.... how about the apostle Paul? Paul is probably the most influential Christian witness but he started out as an antagonist, a persecutor of early Christians. You can read in the book of Acts, how Paul, then known as Saul, stood by, holding the coats of those who were stoning the Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Yet.... most amazingly, God used Paul to proclaim the story of Jesus. Paul embarked on many missionary journeys, established many churches and his writings form an important part of our New Testament scripture.
It has ALWAYS been this way; the Bible is replete with people who became important parts of God’s witness. The spirit of God moves in gracious and amazing ways.
As usual, God uses the average, the ordinary, to accomplish God’s purposes. Of course, all the stories and individuals that I have mentioned are famous examples. We need not get self conscious or self-deprecating and imagine that God would NEVER use “little old me,” to tell God’s story. God DOES use the ordinary, everyday people to get the job done. That INCLUDES you and me. Whether we believe it or not, whether we understand it or not, God uses US to tell the story of Jesus.
Today’s gospel reading has often been called “The Great Commission.” The great commission is not about OUR abilities or our belief, but it is of grace. We who doubt are given the job. It is not because we have been good at it, or have earned it or have been deemed worthy. Rather, it is because we have been claimed and we have been committed. God has taken us to God’s self.
These degrees of mine are not worth a hill of beans. These “SHINGLES,” as they are often called, give me no authority and certainly do not contribute to my ability.
In the gospel today Jesus says that HE has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore,” he says. In other words he says, “BECAUSE I have been given the authority, I am sending YOU to be my witnesses; you who are unqualified, you who wonder, you who doubt, you who fear.
Ah you say, but the pastor STILL has 2 more degrees in theology than I do!
But that is not true. YOU have the same degree in theology that I do.
It begins HERE, at the baptismal font. Water is poured upon us, God claims us and God says that we are worthy, no matter what WE think. We are washed and sent out because God chooses US.
In Lutheran doctrine, we say that EVERYTHING originates with our baptisms. The ultimate degree that we are conferred with is our baptisms. Our Confirmations, our Ordinations, all are rooted in our BAPTISMS.
That is why, in the Lutheran Church, we do not consider Confirmation or Ordination as a Sacrament. We say that Confirmation and Ordination are just ordinances, religious directives that bring order and enhance our faith life.
The Sacrament of Baptism on the other hand, conveys God’s love, forgiveness, God’s acceptance of us. Our Baptisms send us out to be witnesses for Christ. And our Baptisms tell us that we are not qualified with anything other than the grace of God.
Because God believes in US, even though we struggle and doubt, we are given the job. We are not particularly able, nor are we necessarily good at it, or have earned it or have been deemed worthy. Rather, it is because we have been claimed God that we are given the task.
How amazing. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The Day of Pentecost
John 20: 19-23
Object: a balloon
Key verse(s): When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20: 2)
I hold in my hands, an empty balloon. In a way, you could say it is a “dead balloon.” A "dead balloon" -- has no life; it continues to lie wherever you put it. The balloon doesn't move; it has no power.
Take a "dead balloon" and do what Jesus did -- blow on/in it. What happens? It's full of air; but it is going nowhere until that power is released. [As an illustration, the "powered balloon" can be released.]
Under the "spirit's/breath's/wind's" power, the balloon can move. It goes out. However, when the wind power within the balloon is released, you don't know where the balloon is going to go; but you know it's going somewhere.
Full of air, releasing the power, this is no longer a “dead balloon.”
Speaking of “dead balloons,” in the gospel reading for today, Jesus enters a locked room and encounters 11 “dead balloons.”
This was the evening of the resurrection day, the first Easter Sunday. In the wee hours of the morning, some of the women had gone to the grave of Jesus, only to discover the empty tomb. The news spread quickly to the disciples, the inner circle; the body of Jesus was missing.
If they hadn’t done so to that point, the disciples of Jesus surely went into hiding. The disciples of Jesus had been hiding behind locked doors for fear that the Jewish leaders might hunt them down. This Jesus movement had all of a sudden, fallen apart and with the crucifixion of Jesus, they could have only imagined what other terrible things were to come their way.
The disciples of Jesus were deflated; they were “dead balloons.”
Jesus steps into this room of “dead balloons.” To those “dead balloons” Jesus first says, “Peace be with you.” He speaks what might be the most comforting words that they were ever likely to hear; they are words of calm and words of FORGIVENESS. What a joy and relief it must have been, to hear those words, ESPECIALLY at a time like that.
In the gospel, Jesus breathes upon his disciples to remind them that he is with them. God’s Holy Spirit is among them and because of that, the presence of Jesus is with them. His words, his teachings, his actions, are right there in front of them at all times. They are never alone, because the grace and forgiveness that came from God, that sent Jesus, that accompanied Jesus throughout his life, ministry, death and resurrection, THAT is with them also.
On the one hand, this is a wonderful experience and on the other, it presents a troubling future. The disciples who were fearful have had a great rush of joy as they encounter the risen Christ, but there is an instant DOWNER. SAFE AND SECURE, hidden away from a hostile world, they are now sent out to encounter that hostile world, a world that runs contrary to their beliefs.
Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you,” but immediately after that, he says, “As the Father has SENT ME, so I send YOU."
Now there will be no lounging around with Jesus, no keeping Jesus to themselves, no luxury of lingering with Jesus, no staying behind closed doors; no safety and security of staying within their closed circle of disciples, no hiding from the world. The world that they fear is the world into which Jesus sends them.
What happens to the balloon after it has "spent" its power? It seems dead again. All out of power. It's flat. There's no more "spirit/breath" within it.
On one hand we are not like that balloon. Jesus promises that the Spirit will be with us forever. We will never run out of the Spirit's power. The Spirit given to you in baptism remains forever.
On the other hand, over and over again in Acts, we read that certain disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Their filling didn't just happen once, but over and over again. So we also need to be refilled. Weekly we return to church as a refilling station.
We receive Jesus again in the hearing of the word and in the sharing of sacrament and through the fellowship of the saints.
And full of the Spirit, Jesus propels us back out into that world.
Do you feel propelled?
If not, you are in luck; today is a PROPELING Sunday. Today is the Sunday of Pentecost, the day which has traditionally been celebrated as the beginning of the church, the birthday of the church.
Today is also an important day in our church, because traditionally we celebrate Confirmation, as these young people affirm their baptisms.
After two years of Confirmation classes with me, all of you may feel like “dead balloons.” You may feel like you have graduated from church that all the air inside of you has been spent and your “balloon” is done.
But that couldn’t be further from the case, on Confirmation Sunday.
Today is a propelling Sunday in which Jesus breathes upon you and into you and gives you the gift of the Holy Spirit. He breathes into you and then sends you out into the world to be his witnesses.
As you are propelled out into that world, you don’t know where it will send you, but God through Jesus will indeed send you.
But Jesus doesn’t just propel you Confirmands, he propels the rest of us too. God through Jesus continually breathes into you, the Holy Spirit and releases you. And when you are spent, God breathes the spirit into you again. And again.
We are reminded of this in our Confirmation ritual. At the end, we welcome you as our Confirmands and we invite you to join in the mission of the church, to speak and act out the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As you are filled with the spirit, as WE are filled with the spirit, we are released to do the work of God in this world. So we are going to CELEBRATE your Confirmation at that point, by joining you and filling up our balloons and releasing them.
Together, we are propelled out into this world. Jesus reminds us: “As the Father has SENT ME, so I send YOU."
Thanks be to God.
1 Corinthians 13: 1-13
Objects: a wall hanging with the letters for love, connected by string. a ball of yarn
I have a wall hanging here that you can obviously see, spells out the word: LOVE. I bought this wall hanging at the Dollarama store and as you can well imagine, this is on the shelf as part of their Valentine’s items for sale.
But, please ignore the Valentine’s Day connection and instead try to focus on the word LOVE and how we might use it in church. Later in the worship service we are going to read from 1 Corinthians 13, a Bible passage that many people recognize and sometimes refer to as the LOVE passage.
Now, you may look around you and wonder where the bride and groom might be hidden. When we hear the passage from 1 Corinthians 13, we assume that we are attending a wedding. Well, there is no wedding here today.
Of course, 1 Corinthians 13 is used often at weddings, because it is understood as praising the value of romantic, human love. But in reality 1 Corinthians 13 has NOTHING to do with weddings.
What is often missed, and perhaps actively ignored, is that this text was first written to a Christian community in the ancient city of Corinth that was having a very difficult time staying together. The people who were attending the church in Corinth were struggling with the difficult realities of relationships and they ask the apostle Paul for help and advice.
So Paul begins to address their issues and he talks to them about their relationships and what is at the foundation of their relationships. The foundation of their relationships, says Paul, is LOVE. Love is what we are all about because we gather in church to hear and celebrate that GOD loves us. God loves us so much that God was willing to send Jesus to the cross in order that we might have the gifts of eternal life and forgiveness. We forgiven and we are given the gift of heaven out of God’s LOVE.
Then of course, we soak in that love and then let God’s love flow OUT of us. We try to love others as God loves us. Love is at the heart of who we are and what we do.
While Paul talks about this LOVE, Paul wants to point out that this love is CONNECTED. Notice my wall hanging that feature the letters which spell out the word love: L-O-V-E. Notice that those letters are connected. The letters on this wall-hanging are connected with silver string. They have to be connected in order to spell out the word love.
And this connection is VERY important.
As Paul talks about the word love in 1 Corinthians 13, he is actually continuing his discussion from 1 Corinthians 12. 1 Corinthians 13 builds off of 1 Corinthians 12. 1 Corinthians 12 is about being one body. Paul says that we are part of the body of Christ.
How might we IMAGINE the fact that we are part of the body of Christ?
(Produce a ball of yarn. Have people grab hold of the yard and then toss the ball of yarn around the church to someone else)
I don’t know if you have ever been a part of an exercise like this. I have taken part in this exercise in other places, holding on to my piece of the yarn and then passing the yarn to others to hold on to and then pass to someone else.
Eventually we ALL are holding on to a piece of the yarn and the ball of yarn has made its way throughout the congregation.
Guess what? We have just acted out 1 Corinthians 12. We are all part of the body of Christ; we are ALL connected.
Now what connects us? JESUS.
We are connected to God through the love we have experienced through Jesus. We are called to be in community with each other to be in the body of Christ together and how we do that is through love, service and we act out of love.
Sometimes that is not easy. Sometimes that is difficult to do, sometimes there is quite a cost as we try to love God, love each other; love our neighbourhood. It is never easy, but God always seems to call us to a form of higher service that speaks of God and is of God.
We are CONNECTED to each other by the LOVE of God as we have seen through JESUS.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
(Portions of this sermon were taken from the website, Dollar Store Children’s Sermons at: http://dskidsermons.com/2016/01/20/january-31st-2016-4th-sunday-after-the-epiphany/.
Also consideration was taken from the website, Working preacher at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2734.
Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Tuesday morning, on the first day of the week (the first day of my work week), I sat down and wrote on my To Do list, everything that had been booked on my cell phone calendar. Needless to say, that calendar was fairly full but as I looked at my freshly prepared To Do list, I felt that this might be a week in which I could accomplish every task written down.
And then I opened up my email…..
In front of me sat a bunch of emails from members of the congregation, from the Synod office, from colleagues in ministry. Some emails involved requests for me to do a certain task or an additional task. Some emails were of an FYI nature, but a serious nature to say the least. Some emails were requesting my assistance and support. And so, I thought, the journey begins.
And then, the phone started to ring…..
The phone calls I received were from people needing help in a variety of ways. The process of walking alongside them begins.
Then a family asked to come into the church in the afternoon to begin to talk about their sister’s funeral. I had officiated at their mother’s funeral 13 months ago and now they were asking me to officiate for their sister who died suddenly and tragically in her home at the age of 53 years. The process of assisting them in their grief begins.
And then, the door opened…..
During the day, someone walked in the door and said, “I need to talk to you.” A journey with that individual has now begun.
All of this occurred on Tuesday. By late Tuesday afternoon, I paused and stared at my To Do list. That To Do list looked a lot different and I realized that a great many of those tasks I had originally written down, would not likely get dealt with during the week.
A NEW list stares back at me; I felt overwhelmed.
Beyond feeling overwhelmed, a great sadness enveloped me; here are people in turmoil and crisis and they have called upon me at the beginning of what was to be a very busy week. I am already tired. From whence will come the time, the energy, the ability and the strength to be of any assistance at all?
By the way, I don’t think this is exclusive to me as a pastor. Last week I had occasion to talk with a colleague of mine; I asked how it was going. The response was quite similar to most things I had experienced on Tuesday. My colleague was overwhelmed and very tired; so much to do and so little time to get it done.
From whence will come the time, the energy, the ability and the strength to be of any assistance to all those in need, all those who call upon us pastors?
By the way, this is not meant to be a “pity party” for the pastor; I do not think that this is exclusive to pastors.
It would not surprise me to hear that a great many people, from many walks of life, feel overwhelmed by the events that swirl around them.
As an aside, this past Monday, January 15th is called “Blue Monday.” We have this “Blue Monday,” half-way through the first month of the New Year. By Blue Monday, Christmas euphoria is over, the Christmas bills are coming in and most people have broken their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get in shape. That would include me.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed; it would not surprise me if people are enveloped by great sadness, or are in turmoil and crisis and feel exhausted even before they start.
From whence will come the time, the energy, the ability and the strength to deal with everything that swirls about us?
God only knows. And yet, I think, God does know and God knows why.
Wednesday morning, gathering myself somewhat, I sat down with the Scripture readings for Sunday and was immediately captivated by the reading from Nehemiah. The following phrase caught my attention most of all:
“This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.”
As a bit of an aside, I read that and somewhat sarcastically commented to myself, “Yeah I get it, there’s no crying in baseball.”
At that point, the week did not seem holy and yet sarcasm and cynicism aside, I was indeed captivated. What was going on here in this passage from Nehemiah?
Briefly, the exiles of Jerusalem return from Babylon. Approximately 570 years before the birth of Jesus, the massive military might of Babylon crushed little Israel, destroyed the Temple and took many influential people into captivity. Roughly 70 years earlier, 500 years before the birth of Jesus, the exiles return to take on the task of re-settling in their homeland, of re-building the Temple and the walls of the city of Jerusalem.
The people of Israel are overwhelmed with the task before them upon their return to their homeland. In addition to the physical reconstruction of Jerusalem there is suspicion, fear and even paranoia over the management of this task, which does not fall under the kings of Judah, but the absentee landlords of Persia. A struggling Jerusalem needs spiritual and political leadership.
Despite being overwhelmed, the people are gathered together. They gather on the first day of the seventh month, which today is Rosh Hashanah (the fall new year), which is followed by Yom Kippur and the Festival of Sukkot, or Booths. They do not gather at the temple but at the Water Gate, where all are admitted.
The Temple was an exclusive place and not everybody could enter, but everyone was allowed to enter the Water Gate. The location of this gate is uncertain, but its name suggests proximity to the Gihon spring, Jerusalem’s only natural water source, on the eastern side of the city (cf. Neh 3:26; 12:37). The Water Gate is on the way to the pool of Siloam, and would be associated with a water-drawing ritual during the week of Sukkot (see verses 14-18).
Ezra reads from Scripture; the people are saddened because their recognize their neglect of divine commands and they fear God’s wrath (2 Kings 22:11-13); the people begin to weep,
Despite their feeling of being overwhelmed, despite their weeping, despite their sense of inadequacy, despite their fears, Ezra says to them, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.”
Ezra also said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink the sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Rather than a national day of fasting, rather than remorse or being immobilized by fear and dread, they are to celebrate; they are to feast, they are to share their food, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (verse 10).
Despite all that they feel, God is on the move, God is doing something. Yes they will be called upon to contribute to that “something,” yes they will be a part of God’s holy movement. They are standing on holy ground; they are participating in God’s realm. God will be with them, God will surround them with love and grace and they will not weep but move forward in the joy of the Lord. Despite their fatigue, they will be strengthened for the journey and the task.
It is easy to get bogged down; it is easy to become frozen in fear and dread. We tire easily. What is going on in my life and why do I feel overwhelmed? How can I even begin to deal with all of this?
And if we wish to speak theologically we may ask: Where is God?
What is God up to? God ONLY knows. God wishes for people to be enveloped in God’s love and calls upon others of us to be agents of that love.
God’s reign or God’s realm is the joy of the Lord. God wishes for the kingdom to come and God will give us the necessary strength to move ahead. God will be with us and God will not abandon us. God is with us and as such, this is holy to the Lord and we are invited to stand with God on holy ground.
God willing, we will feel that strength that grace given to us and hopefully we will feel it lifting us so that our fears can be put aside, so that God’s joy will become our strength.
This God has promised. Thanks be to God. Amen.
John 2: 1-11
Objects: some glass jars/pitchers; one ordinary jar, one fancy jar
Plastic container inside baptismal font
Welcome to “God’s a gonna trouble the waters,” Part II.
Last week during the sermon, while I talked about God troubling the waters, Shane mentioned that God troubled the waters when Jesus turned the water into wine.
So I thought about that; did God REALLY trouble the waters when Jesus turned the water into wine? If so, HOW? Yes indeed, God did trouble the waters.
One of the ways God troubled the waters was due to the fact that Jesus brought about something NEW. CHANGE always troubles the water. Change? :God’s a gonna trouble the waters.”
Change apparently was evident through the jars that were used as Jesus turned the water into wine. John tells us that the jars at the wedding were very important jars, they were jars used for Jewish purification rights.
These were not ordinary jars, they were fancy jars. See the two pitchers on the baptismal font? One pitcher is ordinary looking; you would probably find most jars like this in a home. But the other pitcher on the font is pretty fancy looking; you would probably find a fancy pitcher like this in the church. At church, we would not put water in an ordinary pitcher; we would have something special which would give the water poured, a sense of being special.
So here you have these fancy jars at the wedding and these fancy jars were jars used for religious reasons. People would go into the temple in Jerusalem and pour water from these purification jars and wash their hands. They thought that when the washed in a special way, it made them closer to God. In a way they thought they were washing with “holy water.” Water in jars at the temple. Holy water.
Jesus takes the holy water, RESERVED FOR THE TEMPLE and turns it into wine.
Excuse me? Jesus turns the HOLY WATER into wine? Does that seems a little sacreligious?
God’s a gonna trouble the waters.
Jesus is changing things.
Jesus uses the jars of purification, as a sign, pointing to a new order of things. Jesus takes these jars of purification, filled with holy water if you will and replaces them with himself. Big time change.
When Jesus does this, he is saying that you don’t have to wash your hands at all the right times and in the temple, in order to be good with God; that was the OLD way of doing things. Jesus tells them that HE will make you right with God, by suffering and dying on the cross. We are right with God through Jesus. That is the NEW way of doing things.
Jesus believed, his presence and his ministry, was meant to replace these institutions and rituals. Closeness and holiness in relationship to God, was no longer centered in performing the rituals, or being in the temple at the right time.
Closeness to God, greater knowledge of God, was centered in JESUS. Keeping the covenant with God no longer involved washing at the right time or in the right way. The old covenant was being replaced by Jesus, the new covenant. Holiness and righteousness was brought about through FAITH in Jesus.
Jesus is the completion, the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises.
This is a huge change in the way these people thought of God. Jesus was the focus of that change.
God’s a gonna trouble the waters.
Change and renewal was not the only way that God was a gonna trouble the waters.
God was a gonna trouble the waters by unleashing the power of God through Jesus. This first miracle was a sign of things to come.
In the next 3 chapters that follow in the gospel of John, there will be other signs. These signs are meant to show people that God is embodied in Jesus in the fullest and most remarkable way. God’s reign is coming among them and they can see it taking place in these signs.
God’s a gonna trouble the waters.
The power of God unleashed through Jesus in this miracle and in others that followed, became a little more evident to me in a song that I heard recently. The song was written and performed by country music legend Johnny Cash and is entitled, “He Turned the Water Into Wine.” I have a video of that song and I would like you to listen to it. If you want to listen to it later, you can simply Google the following: johnny cash he turned the water into wine.
One of the reasons I like that song, is it appears that Johnny Cash is just reading along in his Bible; after Jesus turns the water into wine, other miracles follow. Jesus had come to inaugurate the kingdom of God, that the ways and will of God would be forever cemented in Israel’s life, that God would be THE ruler overall and that Israel’s faith in God would be vindicated.
The power of God is unleashed through Jesus.
God’s a gonna trouble the waters.
God began to trouble the waters in a lot of ways. Changing water into wine signaled that God was troubling the waters.
Though John the fourth evangelist accepts the reality of Christ’s miracle, it has for him, a further symbolic significance, pointing towards what Jesus was to accomplish on the cross. There, at the cross, the old order will be replaced by the new. Forgiveness, eternal life, God’s acceptance, unconditional acceptance of humanity will come about in the most unimaginable way. Jesus will die to show humanity the total love and dedication that God has for humanity. There will be no need to justify one’s self before God, there will be no need to try and measure up to human standards. God saves, God conquors sin and death and gives the gift of eternal life, in the act of sacrifice by Jesus.
The real and final epiphany, is the cross. This is what the changing of the water symbolizes.
So what does this mean for us?
The power of Jesus, the power of the resurrection is NEEDED in our lives. Change and renewal is present in Jesus and is promised in our lives. This speaks to us as individuals AND as a congregation.
Change, hope, renewal, the power of God through Jesus come in a wide variety of circumstances. This miracle takes place on the third day! Resurrection! Purity through faith in Jesus! It speaks of HOPE for a myriad of circumstances. I think about some of these circumstances:
- Family and personal struggles, from health, to relationships to finances…. one could go on and on.
- Considerations of change and renewal in congregational life. As WE look to the future, we wonder: “Where are we going? What is going to happen to us? What will our church look like?”
- The struggle of those in our community and society who are at a disadvantage.
In every one of these instances, the message for us is that the son of God, who has the power to change water into wine, will change our circumstances and renew us.
Christ is with us and we are given the hope that a better day will dawn.
Our witness to this comes through our own celebration of new wine AND new bread.
WE don’t change water into wine, but we recognize the new wine as it is presented to us in Holy Communion. We are given wine, we are given Christ, which moves us, motivates us, gives us a sense of God’s presence and lets us know that the power of the resurrection is alive and active in our midst.
With the bread and wine, we are given hope and strength for the future.
New wine for everybody! The power of God in us through Christ! Thanks be to God!
The Baptism of Our Lord
Isaiah 43: 1-7
Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22
I need some children to come up and help me out and maybe even bear witness to what is going to happen in the bowl of our baptismal font.
As the children can probably attest, the baptismal font is empty, but now I am going to empty a pitcher of water into the baptismal font. As I pour the pitcher of water into the bowl, the water crashes and splashes and swirls. It doesn’t take long however, for the water to become calm.
What happens when I pour in another pitcher of water? The water poured into the bowl stirs up the water that is already in the bowl. Of course, it doesn’t take long for the water to become calm and smooth.
Now watch me stir up the water with my hand. What do you see? The water is stirred, it is bothered and it splashes and swirls and moves.
Now what do you think would happen to this bowl of water, if we were to leave it sitting still for a week? The water would become stale and stinky and gross. How to avoid the water becoming stale? We would add more water, so I will pour in another pitcher of water. From time to time, I would have to come and stir the water with my hand so that it doesn’t sit long.
So we avoid stale water by replenishing the water and stirring it up, that way the water stays fresher. We stir up the water; we “trouble” the water.
We “trouble” the water.
Later on today, we are going to sing a song entitled, Wade in the Water. There is a refrain or line that gets repeated, and it goes like this, “God’s a gonna trouble the water.”
“God’s a gonna trouble the water.”
What does that mean? It means that God is going to stir up the water and make it move and flow and bubble and splash and crash.
It also means that God has stirred things up; God has made a splash in the world throughout history.
Long, long ago, the people of Israel were held captive in Egypt and they were slaves, toiling under the whip of the Pharaoh. Now Pharaoh thought that the waters of Egypt were calm and pleasing, but the waters were not calm for the Hebrew slaves. God stirred things up. God troubled the water, so much that God convinced Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go free.
Our Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah makes note of this:
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
One of the ways that God troubled the waters for Pharaoh and Egypt was to bring all those plagues upon Egypt, not the least of which was turning the waters of the Nile River into blood. God troubles the waters and the people of Israel go free.
The psalm writer in Psalm 29, notes the ability of God to trouble the waters. The psalm writer says:
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
Many, many years later, God would trouble the waters in an amazing way. First of all, God troubled the waters by sending John the Baptist. John the Baptist looked around his homeland of Israel and he saw that Israel was becoming stale and poisoned. While the leaders of Israel thought the waters were calm, John stirred the waters and called everyone to go out to the waters of the Jordan River, to be baptized. John`s baptism of repentance was meant to trouble the waters, to convince people to turn around and become a God-fearing, God-following compassionate nation. But John the Baptist was not the only one to stir the waters.
God REALLY troubles the waters, REALLY stirs the waters big time, by sending Jesus. Jesus walks into the Jordan River, is baptized by John and God begins to stir the waters. Jesus, the son of God, embarks upon his ministry which includes everybody, encourages everybody to share the abundance of creation; it is a ministry of love and compassion. The ministry and teaching of Jesus are something that has never been seen before . God REALLY troubles the waters. Jesus speaks the mind of God, shows the heart of God and ultimately God troubles the waters in the most amazing way, sending Jesus to the cross to suffer and die for our forgiveness of sins and for our eternal life. Sin and death has no claim upon us. God TROUBLES the waters and God has not stopped troubling the waters.
Earlier I had mentioned that we are going to sing a song entitled, Wade in the Water which features the refrain, “God’s a gonna trouble the water.”
That song comes out of the United States and it is an African American spiritual. It is a song that was written by African Americans at a time when many of them were slaves. They sang this song because it gave them hope that someday they would be free people.
How were they going to become free people?
“God’s a gonna trouble the water.”
They prayed and they believed that God would trouble the waters that God would stir the waters and much like the people of Israel, they would be free. And God did trouble the waters and God did stir the waters and they were made free. Ever since, God has CONTINUED to trouble the waters, stir the waters and African American people have continued to make strides in many areas of their society. They have a long way to go in many regards but God will NOT stop troubling the waters and life will continue to change for them and all people.
“God’s a gonna trouble the water.”
God troubles OUR waters. We have been baptized in water like this and when we were baptized the waters were quite calm before the waters were poured over our heads. But from then on, God troubles our baptismal waters.
When we were baptized God commanded us to let our lights so shine before others so that they might see the glory of God the Father. God has called us to bear God`s creative and redeeming word to all the world.
Ever since THEN, God troubles our waters, calling us to action. God troubles the waters, stirs the waters and invites us to be a part of that splashing water. As God stirs the water, God invites us to take part, to bring in the kingdom of God, to make a world that God desires and wishes for all people.
Later on, while you are in Sunday school, the adults are going to remember their baptisms and say yes to those baptisms. As they do this, I am going to ask them the following questions:
You have made public profession of your faith.
Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
- to live among God’s faithful people,
- to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
- to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
- to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
- and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
In other words, I will ask the adults if they are ready to have God trouble their waters. Are they ready to have God stir up the waters? Are they ready to participate in God`s dream of justice and equality and compassion?
Some will likely say yes, some will say maybe. God knows when we are ready to participate in living out God`s dream, but that never stops God from troubling the waters.
God is always moving, always stirring things up, God is always changing this world to make things better for all.
God`s a gonna trouble the waters. Amen.
As all of you well know, New Year’s has come and gone. New Year’s Eve is an interesting phenomenon in that we celebrate and we kind of wave good bye to the old year and then welcome the new year with great fanfare. Our celebration lasts for the rest of the evening and early morning and then maybe carries on into New Year’s Day; one last kick at the cat as we clean out our larders of all the Christmas baking and chocolates.
After that, how do we ring the New Year?
Of course we all know the drill; we continue to recognize the New Year by making New Year’s resolutions.
I suspect that of all the resolutions which are made, the number one resolution would be to lose weight. More people join gyms and exercise facilities, or buy exercise equipment than we can imagine.
In a way, the same applies for me. I got this Fit Bit device for Christmas.
Immediately upon opening this gift, Darlene wanted me to put it on. I resisted and said that I was going to break it out of the package on New Year’s Day. I didn’t want to mess up my Christmas and miss all that baking and all those goodies. No way! It’s Christmas and I was determined to fill my face.
But on New Year’s Day, out came the Fit Bit with great fanfare and I took my first walk on the dikes with my Fit Bit. In 56 minutes I walked 2.79 miles, took 6700 steps and burned 390 calories. And so my new year begins. I did not make a New Year’s resolution, but I think I have bought into the traditional way of ringing in the New Year.
How do you ring in the New Year?
Of course, we know and often take part in the traditional ways. But how about a different consideration?
Today we consider something else. Today is another edition in our series on Stewardship, with our theme of “A Year of Grateful Living.” Today we acknowledge that this Sunday’s stewardship comes in the context of a new year. Instead of dwelling upon the traditional ways of ringing in the New Year, we want to encourage you to think of other ways in which you could ring in the new year.
In this “Year of Grateful Living,” how about living gratefully?
Before we deal with that question, some Biblical considerations.
Consider the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah.
The prophet Jeremiah reminds the people of Israel that God has generously redeemed them and brought them out of exile in Babylon. A bit more than 500 years before Jesus, Israel had been overrun by Babylon, the world super-power. Israel had strayed from God had been disobedient to God and some felt that the consequence was death, destruction and exile to Babylon. Seventy years after their captivity in Babylon, God returns them to their homeland.
The people of Israel return to their homeland and have the chance to start all over again. In effect a new year has dawned for them; a fresh start is before them.
How shall they ring in the dawning of this new era? The prophet Jeremiah suggests that they worship and praise God. The prophet says:
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
The people of Israel live gratefully, they worship and praise God and acknowledge the grace and mercy of God who redeems them despite their lack of faithfulness towards God.
The psalm writer in Psalm 147:12-20 suggests the same type of grateful living:
Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat……. Praise the LORD!
The writer of the book of Ephesians in the New Testatment, expounds upon this grateful living. The writer says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…
…..so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
We live for the praise of Christ’s glory, we live like Christ, emulating his grace, his compassion, his actions, his words, his deeds. We live gratefully.
In this “Year of Grateful Living,” how about living gratefully?
How do we live gratefully, how do we live this out? Granted, like the Israelites, or the early Christian church, we can live this out by worshiping and praising God. Of course there are other ways.
Of course, paying attention to your health is a way of living gratefully. Attending to our spiritual lives is a good way of living gratefully. The list of items at the bottom of this sermon were posted on Facebook yesterday and I thought it was a wonderful way of living gratefully.
Charity and service to others, are wonderful ways of living gratefully and I am sure you can come up with many more.
Actually I heard a wonderful story of gratefulness while listening to TSN Sports Radio 1040 AM. Tom Mayenknecht was speaking about the new year and the year gone by and reflected upon the death of his father last year. He talked about how difficult it was and how it left a hole in his life, but now he thinks in terms of gratefulness. Tom said that he was grateful that he was his father’s son and how important it was for him to live up to all the good things his father had done. You don’t hear that on sports radio too often.
Even in the midst of sadness and sorrow, gratefulness can peek out and we can find a way to live gratefully.
How about one more way of living this out?
The Stewardship Committee of this congregation has some thoughts in that regard. We have for you, in the Fellowship Hall, a calendar. For the month of January, we would encourage you to take the calendars home and fill in the days, with something for which you are grateful.
Don’t work ahead, fill in each day. At the end of January, bring it back to church to share and we will post on the bulletin board, or keep it on your fridge door to remind yourself.
May the grace of God, the life of Christ and things like this calendar, remind you of grateful living and inspire you to live gratefully.
16th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21)
Mark 9: 38-50
Jesus heals. Jesus heals unclean people. Jesus heals on the sabbath. Jesus performs many mighty works. When you consider all of these things Jesus did, it would be very easy to heap all kinds of praise upon Jesus. We could go on and on about what a wonderful fellow He was and is and what a glorious thing it must have been to follow him. What awesome powers he must have possessed!
But in today’s gospel we discover controversy; someone ELSE is healing and doing a mighty work. A common ordinary follower of Jesus is healing somebody! Isn’t that supposed to be reserved for Jesus? How could a mere human being perform a miracle? Suddenly we are presented with all kinds of issues.
Does this mean that the miracles of Jesus were no big deal; something that anybody/everybody could do? Was Jesus just another in a long line of magicians or faith healers who were a dime-a-dozen and lived in every village and town in the country? Does the shine come off Jesus at this point?
It would be easy for us to be indignant at this gospel passage. After all, we lift Jesus up as Lord and Saviour and it seems a bit of a come-down that he should share his awesome power with mere mortals. If we were trying to reserve all these mighty works for Jesus alone, we might react negatively to this passage and we might be in good company.
It appears in the gospel that the disciples of Jesus were, themselves, more than a little put out with the fact that this individual was performing miracles. Who was this nobody, this outsider who was performing miracles?
It would be easy to get swept up in the controversy. However, I don’t want to pour water on the mighty works of Jesus, nor do I wish to cast any aspersions on this apparent interloper in the miracle game.
The important part of today’s gospel for me, is the foundation of those mighty works, both the works of Jesus and the works of this unknown disciple.
The foundation is AUTHORITY. Today’s gospel is about authority.
The ancient Hebrews were really big on authority, as were everybody else in ancient times; for them, it was everything. Your credibility was based on the authority someone else granted you.
The first reading, from the Old Testament, tells the story of Queen Esther who saved her people, the Hebrews, from annihilation.
Queen Esther is given the authority to make a petition on behalf of her people. Who gave her that authority? It was the King of Persia, Ahasuerus. Esther pleads for the lives of her fellow people, condemns the oppressor Haman and saves the life of her cousin Mordecai.
The Jewish people were saved from their enemies thanks to the only person who had the authority to spare them, the Persian King Ahasuerus and Queen Esther who was granted authority to speak for them.
The Old Testament lesson is also about authority.
The Hebrew people of Jesus’ day, believed strongly in authority. There was the political authority of their Roman oppressors. The Jewish people did not like that particular authority, but for good or ill, they recognized the authority. If you didn’t, the Romans killed you.
For the Hebrew people of the day, the real authority lay in their religion and their religious institutions. TRUE authority rested in the Temple of Jerusalem, the seat of everything religious and holy. True authority rested in the Temple, with the chief priests and scribes, with the upper crust of the religious elite. The Pharisees, those keepers of the law, they had authority to interpret the law.
Finally, when it came to the forgiveness of sins, only God, Yahweh, had that authority.
So it was natural that when the people of Jesus’ day saw Jesus, they wondered: Where did he get his authority? When Jesus began claiming that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, they struggled. Where did he get this authority to say these things? After all, isn’t this the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary and Joseph? Haven’t we watched him grow up before our eyes? On our street? Isn’t this the boy next door? AUTHORITY? He MUST have some sort of authority.
When he taught, they were amazed because he taught like one in authority. When he claimed to forgive sins, they cried blasphemy. Only God had the authority to forgive sins. He was claiming to be God; by what authority?
Throughout the ministry of Jesus, people were continually focused on his authority. The disciples of Jesus were convinced that Jesus had authority, authority from God. They came to the conclusion that Jesus was the son of God, God’s Messiah. The disciples of Jesus were a product of that environment, they understood authority. So when they came to the conclusion that Jesus had authority from God, they invested all authority in him.
But what is this? There is a mysterious follower of Jesus who is doing mighty works? Someone else is healing? By what authority? By OUR authority? Since Jesus had been replacing the authority of the Temple with himself, the disciples too, had been abandoning the authority of the Temple, the priests, the Pharisees, etc. They followed Jesus in that regard.
But the disciples were human beings who were not content with the authority of Jesus alone. There had to be other sources of authority, there had to be a chain of command and they concluded that THEY had to be part of that chain, part of that authority. They invested authority in Jesus, but also in themselves, their group. In ADDITION to Jesus, you had authority to do ministry if you were a part of their group. Not everybody can do miracles, you understand, only those who a part of OUR group can do those things. The disciples had closed the circle and had restricted the authority to heal and minister.
It was all about AUTHORITY. Authority you see, brought power and prominence, it brought fame and notoriety. You were needed, maybe even indispensable. Because YOU had the power and authority, you withheld it from others.
Jesus jumps all over the disciples’ notions of authority. Jesus quickly lets his disciples know that the authority to heal and minister in his name has nothing to do with power, fame, notoriety; it has everything to do with faith and most importantly, living out the faith.
This mysterious follower who is doing a mighty work, is acting out his faith and Jesus says to the disciples,
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”
Jesus means to say, that if the disciples act on any authority OTHER than the name of Jesus, they are inhibiting the faith of those who are trying to live it out. To impose THEIR authority instead of the authority of Jesus would be stumbling block to those who believe. It would be better to walk around with one foot, or one hand, or one eye, than to impose THEIR authority, over the authority of Jesus.
So Jesus says to them, relax, be at peace. Because you believe in me, because you follow me and do mighty works in my name, you have a flavour to you. Don’t lose that flavour.
The flavour, the saltiness that Jesus confers on his disciples, is his message and his authority. The message of Jesus was to be carried to the 4 corners of the earth and this message was to be carried by others.
The followers of Jesus were given this task to proclaim Jesus in word and deed and they were given the authority to do that, through the name of Jesus.
Jesus SHARES his saltiness with ALL of his disciples and those who weren’t necessarily his disciples.
So the followers of Jesus would go out and proclaim the glory of God as they had seen and experienced through Jesus. They proclaimed it because they could use his name.
We get a glimpse of the practise of the early Christians when we look at the book of James. In today’s second lesson the writer of James talks about a mighty work that was practised in the early church. He says, “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”
The early church ministered in the name of the Lord; they had authority.
The early Christian church had the authority from Jesus and they KNEW it.
What about THIS church, 2000 years later? Do we have the authority to proclaim the mighty works of Jesus in word and deed?
In our day and age I think one of our struggles as church is the struggle with the authority Jesus gives us. Too often religious belief is characterized as IMPOSING one’s beliefs upon others. Can we impose our beliefs on total strangers? People wonder if they can even impose their religious beliefs on their own children. Can we still be church in this day and age?
Jesus reminds us that the authority he gives us is the authority to be salt. He does not tell us to impose our beliefs, or lord it over other people, or make demands upon people before we minister to them.
Jesus simply tells us to be salt.
So we make quilts, we provide lunch at Glenwood Elementary, we do our street ministry. Who knows what else we will do, but we will be salt.
It is all about being salt.
Yesterday in Philadelphia, Pope Francis proclaimed in his sermon during mass that the history of the church is not about building walls but breaking them down. He said,
"It is a story about generation after generation of committed Catholics going out to the peripheries, and building communities of worship, education, charity and service to the larger society."
This applies to all Christian communities.
It is about being salt and nothing more.
We do indeed have the authority to proclaim Jesus. We are reminded in baptism that God has bought us and redeemed us with an incredible price. We have life, in the future and in the present, because Jesus died on the cross for our salvation and our forgiveness of sins. Through the resurrection, we go out and live out our faith. We are God’s own children and God through Jesus calls us to be workers in this kingdom.
We are to be salt and nothing more.
We understand that as we go out and proclaim in word and deed, Jesus gives us the authority. But thanks be to God, we only proclaim. We do not judge, nor do we impose our beliefs on anybody. We proclaim, we act as salt which means that God’s Holy Spirit is the one who convicts, the one who prods, the one who transforms the listener, the one receiving our ministry.
We are to be salt and nothing more.
Thanks be to God.
Pentecost 14/Lectionary 22
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Imagine if you will, going to a restaurant and prior to sitting down to eat, you look over and you notice Pastor Roland sitting at the next table. Well, isn’t that special!
Imagine that you decide to get up from your table and go to the washroom to wash your hands. Maybe you simply turn on the water and run your hands under the water for a few seconds and towel off. You turn from the wash basin and who do you imagine is standing behind you? Why it’s Pastor Roland! Surprise, surprise!
If that was not enough, Pastor Roland begins to take you to task for not soaping your hands and scrubbing them while you recite the Alphabet. Such an encounter might make you very uncomfortable, maybe even anger you, but the best would be yet to come.
All of a sudden, Pastor Roland who has been yelling at you for improper hand-washing, accuses you of not believing in God; he tells you that you are a sinner and that you are heading to hell in a handbasket.
Imagine that you move forward to protest Pastor Roland’s presence in the washroom and his rush to judgement. As you try to defend yourself, Pastor Roland backs away and says, "Don't touch me!"
You then discover that Pastor Roland is actually afraid that you will contaminate him with your "germs; "Spiritual "germs" that is. If YOU are heading to hell in a handbasket, Pastor Roland certainly wouldn't want be touched by YOU, because then HE would be heading to hell too.
Can you imagine such a scenario? Does that sound a little bit over the top?
That is the kind of situation we encounter in today's gospel.
The disciples are accused of an improper religious observance and a religious group known as the Pharisees don't want anything to do with them because the Pharisees don't want to be religiously defiled and polluted.
A very important question is raised in today's gospel reading as Jesus and his disciples encounter a group of Pharisees. Question is: "What defiles, what pollutes, what makes us dirty?"
The Pharisees believed that they were "clean" people. What made them clean and UNdefiled? The Pharisees scrupulously observed all the laws of Scripture and all the laws that were built around the interpretation of Scripture. They understood that the proper observance of the hundreds and hundreds of laws and rules of the faith, made them clean and Undefiled.
If that was the case, then what made them unclean and defiled? What polluted THEM? They believed that external contact, IMPROPER external contact, made them unclean and defiled them.
We often look at the Pharisees and imagine them to be a bunch of "wingnuts," but the truth is, the Pharisees did not operate in a vacuum. There were a lot of people who believed that defilement was an external phenomenon and the gospels are actually chock full of stories regarding defilement and uncleanliness. On top of that, those same gospel stories pit clean people against unclean people and the reader is left to wonder, what kind of defilement is going to take place.
In addition, the reader of all those gospel stories is left to ask the essential question: "How will Jesus react to an external threat of defilement?"
Consider the story of Jesus and his encounter with the 10 Lepers. The 10 Lepers call out to Jesus, FROM A DISTANCE. Why did they do this? Simple, they understood that their leprosy made them unclean and they were defiled and if they were to come into contact with Jesus, a rabbi and likely a pious Jew, one who might have observed all the religious laws, well, that would make HIM dirty and defiled. The 10 Lepers respectfully, don't want to come into contact with Jesus, because they will defile him.
The first century Palestinian reader would acknowledge their cries FROM A DISTANCE, but horror of horrors, the first century reader would have been alarmed and mystified by the reaction of Jesus. Jesus, the clean one, the undefiled one, welcomes the lepers close, comes into contact with them and he heals them. Why would the undefiled Jesus welcome such external contact?
Why does Jesus not appear to be ritually defiled and unclean?
Or, consider the story of Jesus' contact with the woman who suffered from the bleeding, lo those many years. SHE was considered ritually unclean and defiled and she knew it too. That is one of the reasons why she sneaks up behind Jesus, to touch the hem of his garment. She did not want the ritually clean and undefiled Jesus to notice such contact and she did not want him to be reviled in horror at this external contact with the defiled. She did not want to contaminate HIM.
The first century reader of the gospel might react with anger and revulsion over the external contact between the defiled and undefiled, yet, the reader would have certainly been amazed by the reaction of Jesus.
Jesus does not recoil from such external contact, rather he wants to know who touched him, who it was who sapped him of some of his healing power. Why would the undefiled Jesus welcome such external contact? Why does Jesus not appear to be ritually defiled and unclean?
The answer to those questions becomes obvious in today's gospel reading.
First of all, it appears that Jesus does not view such people as defiled and unclean. Jesus certainly did not see the 10 Lepers as unclean and beyond his healing mercy. Jesus did not see the bleeding woman as unclean and beyond his healing mercy. Jesus does not believe that his disciples are unclean and defiled neither.
So, remarkably Jesus challenges the cleanliness rules of first century Judaism. Hand-washing has nothing to do with a person's standing before God, and improper hand-washing will not send you to hell
In addition to this, we understand that Jesus does not believe that external contact defiles HIM.
The defiled and the unclean can touch him all they want; it will not make him dirty or polluted. That too, was a radical claim.
Of course, we have to ask, WHY Jesus believed that defilement had nothing to do with external contact.
That answer, lays in the fact that Jesus believed that defilement was not an EXTERNAL phenomenon, but an INTERNAL phenomenon. Defilement had nothing to do with whom you were standing next to or who you were touching or who came into contact with you.
Jesus looks at the disciples and points to the HEART and he notes that defilement starts right there.
Now, maybe on the face of it, that doesn't seem to be a big deal, but in reality, it is a very big deal. Defilement comes from within, and Jesus brings us face to face with the phenomenon called SIN. The Pharisees didn't think that they were terrible sinners. Oh, they knew they were sinners alright, but it was nothing that a good hand-washing couldn't cure; it was nothing that keeping "good company," couldn't cure.
Except, it appears that Jesus is in total disagreement with the Pharisees. Good hand-washing is not going to cure a sinful heart; good company is not going to necessarily keep you from straying from the important laws, from God's laws.
So NOW what? If this is an INTERNAL process, what does that leave us with? If we can't wash our way to heaven, if we can't hob-nob with the right people and stay in God's good books, what can we possibly do? Is it ALL up to us?
Well, yes and no. Yes, it IS up to us, we are responsible for our own actions. We ARE sinners and we are plagued by our own sins and we may not be able to conjure up a disease or a syndrome to absolve us of responsibility.
The problem with this internal process is that while we bear responsibility for what is in our heart, WE cannot fix it on our own. In the end, we cannot work our way out of it, for we can never be good enough. Develop a good hand-washing system and someone will come along and challenge your system and then you will have to try and wash your hands better and more effectively. The goal posts will always be moving and we will never be good enough.
So now what?
All of this can get confusing. While this may be an INTERNAL process, we are left to understand that we are not capable of being right with God. We can’t do it on our own?
We are reminded that we are left to rely on the mercy and strength of the Lord. It is the strength and power of God which allows us to work on and try to perfect this internal process. But we will always need God’s help.
Jesus was very aware of our need of God. Yes, holiness and undefilement are an internal process, but Jesus also knew that there has to be an external as well, a very important external. It was HE, Jesus, who was that important external.
The disciples of Jesus could not contaminate HIM. The 10 lepers, the woman with the bleeding, you and I, cannot defile and contaminate Jesus, BUT, HE can clean us. He can take the defiled, the polluted, and turn them around and make them clean. In fact, Jesus welcomes that contact.
Today, as we come forward to the altar to celebrate Holy Communion, we come as those who continually struggle with our internal process, our internal demons.
To whom shall we go?
Jesus, the clean, the undefiled, welcomes us to come close to him. Jesus offers to come into our lives, deep into our existence, as close as bread and wine can come to being inside of us. He comes into our lives, welcomes the contact and promises to make us clean and undefiled.
And this has important consequences for us. Because Jesus welcomes us and promises to make us clean and undefiled, he CALLS us to welcome contact with those in our society whom some deem to be Unclean and defiled.
Sadly, there are lots of people in this world who are still considered UNCLEAN; people who are kept at a distance, people who cry out from afar. Who are those people?
Regardless of who they are, we are called to welcome contact; we are called to bring them from that distance they experience. We are called to bring them close and provide whatever ministry, comfort and solace we can. We are called to embrace everyone with the grace and love of Jesus Christ.
In joy Jesus wants us to go out and try our hardest to be doers of the word. He wants us to go out and try to live a life without blame. But if we fail, and we often do, he invites us to come back, to come close, to be healed and cleansed, again and again.
Cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus, he will send us out to proclaim his saving love and grace....again and again.