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April 12, 2015, 11:01 AM

Sermon- Second Sunday of Easter


Easter II

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them, and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    A month or two ago, Kristy and I were watching a special about Downtown Abbey. I think the last season was coming to a close, and PBS was trying to extend the fanfare by producing a special about what life in Edwardian England was really like. 

    What was so fascinating to me, was the premise that the fascination with manners during the turn on the century were predicated upon the French Revolution. In short, the passions which rocked France upside down terrified the Brits. If society as a whole could be turned upside down by fervent pleas for a New World Order, then what British society would introduce was a novel way to suppress emotion: manners. Etiquette became the way to control our emotions. By regulating our behavior into tightly controlled social constructs, we have, in essence, sublimated our fears into ritual. 

    And, as strange as it sounds, this link between fear and ritual; between propriety and passion; became the perfect prism with which to understand this morning's reading from Acts. 

    Last week, I introduced the thread which I believe runs through all the Easter and post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels--the link between fear and faith. Mark, certainly, understands that fear and faith are opposite sides of the same coin, and if you re-read Mark's gospel, you'll certainly notice a pattern of fear, faith, and promise. 

    Of course, this morning, we are reading from Acts, not Mark. But Luke understood this same link between fear and faith, and as he begins his second book cataloging the Acts of the Apostles and the Early Church, we are seeing the fruits which faith has borne out. 

    Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

    These early Christians are living in an Easter world. How do I know this? Simple--they aren't living in fear--they are living in faith. Faith that God has provided for them, and faithful that they will provide for one another.

    And then it struck me--I am afraid to live that way. 

    

    Every year, parishes gather together in the fall to start planning our stewardship campaigns. And, at its heart, a good stewardship campaign boils down to challenging parishioners to develop and deepen their faith by making an outward and visible sign of their spiritual maturity in the form of a pledge of time, talent, and treasure to their local congregation. We have ritualized the stewardship season. Scan the lectionary readings from late September to early November, and sure enough, there will be at least one which easily lends itself to a conversation about wealth and stewardship. Like the Brits, we are afraid to broach the subject of money, so we ritualize stewardship season like Captian Renault from Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that the bible talks about our responsibility to money, and your stewardship envelopes can be found in the pew in front of you!”

    But, in this Easter season, I think we are given the freedom to talk openly about what stewardship is really about: it is about fear and faith. Those exact same concepts which dominate our understanding of Easter also control our reactions to stewardship. 

    Every single time I have heard a stewardship sermon, every single time I hear a representative of the parish ask to consider raising my pledge, the very first thing that runs through my head is a quick opportunity cost breakdown. If I up my pledge by $25, $50 a month, what would I be forced to give up? A fast-food lunch in Reno? A dinner out with the family? Now, I can say to myself "Those are both things that I enjoy and that are important to me," but what I am really saying is, "I'm scared I'm not going to have enough." What I'm really thinking about is my fear instead of my faith. 

    If...If, however, I could start from a place of faith instead of fear, how would my approach to stewardship change? Every week at the offertory we say "All things come of thee, O Lord, and of Thine Own, have we given thee." Our pledge, our time, our talents, our treasure, every week we acknowledge that everything we start with already belongs to God, not to us as individuals. How then, can I turn retreat into fear and say "Will I have enough?" if I have already declared in faith that "God has blessed me with riches beyond what I deserve." 

    Stewardship has inspired some truly terrible cliche's about giving, most of them, if we are being honest, can be truly destructive: "Give until it hurts. Think of it as your membership dues!" All of those miss the mark, precisely because they do not address the fear/faith dichotomy. The wisest words I have ever heard about stewardship comes from Anne Frank: "No one has ever become poor by giving."

    That, is the essence of Christian stewardship. That is what inspired the early Christians of Luke's community to share all of their possessions with the church. And that model of trusting our faith rather than our fears which should guide us today. 

 

    We are embarking on a new experiment together: We are going to couch our stewardship campaign in the context of this Easter faith. We are going conquer fear and insecurities with the knowledge and trust of God's grace. 

    This week, Christ the King will begin soliciting two pledges. The first, our yearly stewardship pledge drive of Time, Talent, and Treasure. The second drive, today we kick off an $8000 capital campaign to furnish St. Giles' Hall as a Sunday School and Family Ministry space. 

    Now, I will begin by saying that we, on the Mission Committee, shared concerns, worries, and fears, that we wouldn't reach a more ambitious goal. Now, in the Mission Committee's defense, those concerns were raised in Lent--and we are now an Easter People! Before we even begin our drive, I am thrilled and proud to announce that we have already received commitments totaling more than $2700! And, I am faithful that we will reach our goal successfully. I am assured that we, as a parish, will live out our Easter faith without fear or reproach. I am convinced that Christ the King, as a parish, will live into the promise captured by this morning’s collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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April 5, 2015, 12:00 AM

Easter Sunday Sermon 2015


Easter Sunday

2015 - Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    Sermon writing is a bit like story telling. You start with a thought or an insight that you’d like to share—that’s the middle of your sermon. So, you try to find a hook that will tease your audience into actually listening to your sermon—that’s your beginning; and finally, you try and wrap it up and find some way to relate what is the good news of what’s going on in the Bible to how we ought to approach our lives here in the 21st century—that’s how a sermon ends. Sermons are just like any good story in that they have a beginning, a middle, and an end.    

    Now when Mark sat down close to two thousand years ago to write his Gospel, he did so because he wanted to tell the story of Jesus and his disciples. And, like any good story, it begins at the beginning. Mark opens his gospel with the following: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark follows that up with a brief introduction of John the Baptist preparing people for God’s Messiah, and as soon as Jesus is baptized we’re off to the races. Immediately we are in the thick of Mark’s gospel: Jesus is healing the sick and exorcising demons, and before long he has recruited disciples and is preaching and teaching throughout Galilee. Jesus continues his public ministry through working miracles, healing the sick, and teaching many in parables. Eventually, Mark’s story comes to a close as we trace through the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

    But there’s a problem with Mark’s gospel…there isn’t really an ending at the conclusion of Mark’s gospel. Let’s take another look at Mark’s telling of Easter Morning. Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of James and Salome go to the tomb in the garden to anoint the body of Christ. But on the way they are worried that they will not be strong enough to roll away the heavy stone which seals the entrance to the tomb. But when they arrive, just after dawn, they find, to their astonishment, that the huge stone has already been moved aside.

    Not knowing what they will find, they quietly enter the tomb, and are confronted by a young man, dressed all in white robes, he was probably an angel, who tells them. "Do not be afraid; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here, see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you."

    But then what happens? Do the women run back to the disciples to share the great news with them? Do they shout from the roof tops that Jesus is raised from the dead? No, nothing of the kind. Marks only says that "they went out and fled from the tomb; for fear and trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone. 

    And that is where the real Gospel of Mark concludes. Right there. This ending was so abrupt, so confusing in its lack of resolution, that later Christians added a two separate endings to the story with accounts of Jesus' appearance in Galilee, but as far as the experts can tell, the oldest and original version of the Gospel of Mark ends right there. No appearances of the Risen Christ, no words of encouragement, no great commission, just this: "They went out and fled the tomb; for fear and trembling and astonishment had come upon them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” If you can believe it, the conclusion of Mark’s gospel is even more abrupt in the original Greek. Translating literally, The Gospel of Mark actually ends “they said nothing to no one, they were afraid because……”

    

    Now, from a narrative perspective, Mark fails to give us a satisfying ending. But that is exactly were Mark’s literary genius is revealed. For I believe that Mark understood that when he reports that the “women told no one because they were afraid,” that this is the end of the Mark’s written story, but that it is not the end of Christ’s Gospel. 

    What Mark understood better than most, is that no written account could ever capture the total story of the gospel. More than that, Mark knew that the the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning, does not, and will not end. 

    What Mark’s audience, both two thousand years ago and today, knew, is that Mark wasn’t telling the whole story. How do we know this? Well..simple…we’re here, aren’t we?

    The church, we here today, are all proof that the women did not, and could not, stay silenced in terror. Eventually they found the courage to report what the angel had told them: that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and he awaits them back in Galilee. The women, as the angel commanded them, told Peter and the rest of the Disciples the amazing news. Peter and the disciples, in turn, responded to witnessing the resurrected Christ by bolding proclaiming the Gospel in all corners of the world and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

    What Mark knew, what I believe Mark was trying to tell us is that quite literally, God will always have the last word. 

    Mark’s account of Good Friday is perhaps the most bleak of any of the four gospels. As Jesus himself predicted, the shepherd was struck, and the sheep were scattered. Jesus dies a total failure in Mark’s gospel. Abandoned by his disciples, feeling abandoned by God, Jesus is only recognized and proclaimed as the Son of God in the moments after his death. Worse than that, despite being told several times that Jesus would be persecuted and killed, but raised back to life on the third day, when these women actually witness the reality of these predictions, they run away, their terror preventing them from proclaiming the glad tidings of Easter Morning. 

    Mark’s written gospel ends in total, absolute, and abject failure. But Mark wouldn’t write the last word. God would. God will not allow the story to end poorly. Medieval Christian Mystic Julian of Norwich described it this way:“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” John Lennon put it another way: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.”

    And that’s what we have in Mark’s Gospel: proof that despite the apparent failures and devastations of this world, the knowledge, the Good News that God will, in time, transform our brokenness into the fullness of God’s undying love and protection. In Mark’s Gospel, we have the beginning and the middle of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but the end of the gospel, the end of all stories, belongs not to Mark, neither to Matthew, Luke or John, but to God alone. 

 

    I could end my sermon there. But if you would indulge me, I’d like to make one final point because I believe that Mark was a genius, and I think that his every nuance should be carefully considered. 

    We know that Mark doesn’t give us the whole story. Somewhere, some how, the women, together with the disciples, transform from scared and confused blockheads into the very pillars of the Church. Now, a lot of us would like to know how that happened—we want to see that transformation take hold. But on that point, Mark remains steadfastly silent. And, interestingly enough, the only clue which Mark gives us, does not answer the question of “how” but “where.”

    Remember the only words which the angel spoke to the two women, the very last words which that angel spoke for God to his people. "Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee, there you will see him as he told you."

    "Go to Galilee", why what's there? What is so important about Galilee that the disciples must go there to find the Risen Lord? What is in Galilee, what did that mean to the disciples? What does Galilee represent for our modern ears?

    Well, simply, Galilee is where it all began. By the shores of Galilee Jesus first called Peter and the others to be his disciples. Galilee that is where all of this started. It is where they first became disciples and where they first learned who Jesus was and what he was about to do. Galilee is where it all began, but more than that, for the disciples, Galilee was home. It is where they would now return to pick up the pieces of their beautifully shattered lives. Galilee was where they lived their lives before Jesus turned their lives upside down, Galilee is where they would try to put things back together, now he was no longer with them.

    Jesus is risen from the dead, that was a fact which Mark and all those who read or heard his Gospel knew. But that momentous fact takes life, that event only becomes real when its consequences are lived out in the ordinary events of everyday life back in Galilee. 

    You can’t comprehend Easter in the abstract. The Good News of Christ’s resurrection can only be understood in the context of our average, ordinary, everyday lives. Many people come to Church, whether it is on Easter Sunday or any other day, hoping very sincerely, with open minds and hearts to find something which they some how feel is lacking in their lives. You could call it faith, or assurance, or peace of mind, whatever you call, there is something very deep and essential which we are hoping to find in Church on Easter. And maybe it is here, maybe they, maybe you will find it this morning, but Mark is trying to tell you that this is not the only place to look.

    For in his Gospel, the disciples do not find Jesus, they do not find faith worshipping at the now empty tomb. That tomb is the symbol of Christ's victory, but he is not confined to that place. In the other Gospel's the Risen Lord is indeed encountered at the tomb, as you may well find him here today. But for Mark, if the disciples want to find Jesus, and wanted to be found by him, the tomb was not the place. Galilee, back in their own everyday lives, back as normal people living normal lives, doing the things people do to make it from day to day, that is where they will find Jesus. That is where they can find faith, and assurance and peace of mind. That is where there lives are lived and that is where Christ will be with them. What Mark is saying Mark is saying to those first Christians, what his Gospel is saying to us today, is the place where we are most likely to find the Risen Lord is right in the midst of our everyday lives. That is where he now lives. And that he has given us power to live our lives in light of his ultimate victory over sin and death. More than that, we are invited to contribute to the centuries long story of the gospel. We are able to continue the gospel in our own lives…to, like the disciples, find the courage to contribute our verse to the story of salvation. 

    Mark’s Gospel then has three parts: Beginning, Middle, and Re-Beginning. 

    Go back, Mark entreats us. Go back to your lives knowing that God is with you. Go back knowing that God has suffered human pain and now comforts us in our own afflictions. Go back to the beginning and start fresh again knowing that Christ is Lord. Go back, literally, to the beginning of Mark’s own gospel, and rest assured that despite their near constant failures, this ragtag bunch of men and women will eventually get it right. Rest easy that even in failure, you’re in good company with the saints of God. Return home knowing that God loves you, until ultimately, God calls you home to his everlasting love. 

Amen.

    

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April 3, 2015, 12:00 AM

Good Friday Sermon 2015


 

Good Friday

2015

 

    In the name of the Crucified Christ. Amen. 

 

    For most of my adult life, I have approached Holy Week in much the same way. For me, it has always been vital for me to don a pair of historical blinders as we make our way from Palm Sunday to Easter Morning. For me, there is value in not resting in the easy knowledge that Easter is inevitable. To be confused, rightly so, of how quickly the tables have turned on Jesus. Just a few days ago, it was Jesus who was greeted as a conquering hero and imminent King ascending to the Throne of David. Those Hosanna's have been all but silenced now, in their place the crowds now shout for the release of Barabbas, and as for this Jesus, they now shout "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

    In turn, my approach to Holy Week has borne similar fruit from year to year. I can reliably be found here at this pulpit on Good Friday, pondering the cognitive dissonance between Psalm 22's words of despair, words echoed in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew's account of Christ's passion with the triumphal vision of Jesus ascending to the cross gloriously in the Gospel of John. 

    If we apply Einstien's definition of insanity to theology, there would be little surprise here. Approach Holy Week in the same way, year after year, and, lo and behold, you're going to come to the same conclusions about Good Friday year after year. 

    So, what is different about this year?

    Well this year I started with Easter and worked backwards. Instead of veiling Easter behind some curtain, I wondered how Easter morning could inform our understanding of Good Friday. 

    Now, from the outset, we must be wary of this approach. Our Gospel on Sunday will be from the Gospel of Mark, which is quite different from the Gospel of John's account. You certainly can not take John's understanding of Holy Week and apply it to Mark, nor vice versa. But what if we could examine Mark's Easter in such a way that we could understand Good Friday in general, then perhaps tailor that newfound perspective towards the nuanced accounts in each of our four gospels?

    

    So what will we find on Easter Sunday in Mark's gospel? Surprisingly, not much good news. The women who witnessed Jesus' death upon the cross arise early before dawn to anoint Jesus' body in the tomb. However, when they approach the tomb, they find a young man, presumably an angel, telling them that they are looking for Jesus in the wrong place. He is no longer in the tomb. He is risen, just as he said he would be, and he awaits both the women and his disciples ahead in Galilee. 

    As for the women's reaction to this news...well...for that you'll need to come back Easter morning--but there is something remarkable about this angel informing the women that they are looking for Jesus in the wrong place. And it made me wonder, are we looking for Jesus on the wrong place here on Good Friday, too? Or, more probably, are we simply looking for the wrong thing on Good Friday?

    Well, to answer that question, we must first try to answer the question of what, exactly, are we looking for now, and where are we searching for it?

    For many of us, Good Friday is an attempt to understand what Christ accomplished on the cross. What did Jesus ultimately do, by dying on the cross? Was it, as early Christians understood, an attempt to fulfill Jewish law? Or, as Medieval theologians came to understand Good Friday, was Jesus atoning for the sins of the world, substituting his own innocence for our transgressions? Was Jesus stretching his arms upon the cross to bring God and Creation together, rending the separation from the Holy of Holies and mortals, as Mark understood Jesus’ death? Or, like John, do we understand Jesus crucifixion as Christ being raised up from the earth, so that he might draw all humanity towards him?

    These are all important questions, but what they all have in common is that they are an attempt to understand what Good Friday was, not what Good Friday is. And properly distinguishing between what Good Friday is and what Good Friday was, for me, defines whether or not we are looking for Jesus in the right place. 

    We are really good at understanding what Good Friday was. We have centuries, millennia, actually, of art, song, and poetry extolling the virtues of the Cross. While there is a mystery of Jesus' death which we may never understand, I think that we, as Christians, can in some way acknowledge the significance of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. 

    What is more difficult for us to appreciate is what Good Friday is

    We can sit here in a darkened Chapel and with all due reverence we can marvel at the wonder of God's self-sacrifice upon the cross. For some of us, the crucifix is a powerful symbol of our faith, but the crucifix is a symbol of what Good Friday was. Jesus' actions upon the cross belongs to the Good Friday of history. For us, his disciples, we must understand what Good Friday asks of us today. 

    Jesus said:

    If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

    If Good Friday is to have any power in our lives, then we must endeavor to observe both what Good Friday was and what Good Friday is

    So what Good Friday is is a reminder that we are not truly Christ's disciples until we take up our own cross. We can not hold Jesus' cross in such high esteem that we neglect to find our own. 

    Good Friday is not an invitation to martyrdom, although it certainly does not preclude it. What Good Friday asks of each of us, is to sacrifice our own sense of self and self interest. As Paul says, "For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them."

    

    Poverty, hunger, disease, loneliness...there are countless of crosses in the world to bear. But I am convinced that Jesus is not hoisting us onto a cross we do not want to bear. What is remarkable about the crucifixion in John's gospel, is that the cross can only be understood in the context of love and success. 

    During his final meal with his Disciples, Jesus says "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." What Jesus accomplished on the Cross, the reason he endured the cross, was borne out of Love. 

    There is no Simon of Cyrene in John's gospel, there is no darkness overshadowing Calvery--the sun does not fail because God's Son is accomplishing exactly what he was sent here to do. John's Jesus is everything but a failure. 

    And I am convinced that we will be given the strength to bear our own cross by the love of God. What Good Friday is is the opportunity, the invitation, to recognize that we will be at our happiest, our most fulfilled, when we search out our own cross instead of our self-interest. When we discover that passion, that love, we will quickly discover that our sense of identity melts into the very act of caring for another. The search for our cross which will give us life, even as we die to ourselves. 

    That is what Good Friday is, that is what Good Friday was: an opportunity to find ourselves by looking for God, the discovery that this love will strengthen us to follow God's call, wherever the destination may be. 

    It is only then, that we will be in the right place to find the Risen Christ in Easter. 

Amen. 

    

    

    

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March 22, 2015, 12:00 AM

Lent 5- Year B


Lent V

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

    Like so many Americans, I have spent much of the last few days in front of my TV watching college Basketball. And yesterday’s slew of upset brought about the usual sports cliche’s. Top seeded teams weren’t expecting a challenge, and time and time again I heard commentators admonish teams for looking past their current opponent to prepare for their upcoming game, only to find themselves out of the tournament before that game would ever materialize. 

    What, if anything, does that have to do with this morning’s lectionary?

    Well, each Sunday in Lent, the Gospel readings follow, the by now familiar, path of Jesus as he makes his way up to Jerusalem. Having followed Jesus on this journey many times before, we have become comfortable with the lessons: we know where they are leading, and we know how the story will turn out. Here at Christ the King, the Palms have arrived and are all ready for next Sunday, and the Easter flowers are all reserved and confirmed at Safeway. In the office, Holy Week bulletin’s are being proofread, and I’ve started to outline sermons for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. In many ways, I spent this week getting ready for my next tournament game, only to be surprised by this morning’s Gospel lesson. 

    Like Villanova or UAB, I got caught believing that I could skate through this weekend’s readings, only to find myself profoundly challenged by what this morning’s gospel is trying to teach us about discipleship. Just as we are settling in to begin the oft-repeated sequence of Holy Week, John’s Gospel reminds me to not look past what is right in front of me. Tucked right in the middle of this morning’s reading is this little sentence: “He who loves his life will loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The tendency is to just keep reading the narrative and not make too much of this one little aphorism.

    But, once again, I made the mistake of actually researching this morning’s gospel. I was curious about which of the other gospels contains an alternate version of this line: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Curiously, I couldn’t find exactly which of the other gospel that appears in because it actually appears in every source we find in the Gospels. It appears in Mark; it appears in the source called Q, which is the material which Matthew and Luke share in common, and it appears in the Gospel of John, from whence we heard it today. In fact, this aphorism appears six times in the four gospels. While the Jesus’ frequent repetition of this axiom may not prove anything in and of itself, it certainly suggests that here was something at the core of Jesus teaching which he wanted, perhaps we could go so far as to say, something which his disciples needed to understand.

    The first form of this aphorism is probably found in Mark, where it follows immediately upon the sequence in which Peter confesses his faith in Jesus as the Messiah, in response to which Jesus gives his first prediction of the passion and the rebukes Peter for not accepting the prediction. Jesus then says: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for the sake of myself and the gospel will save it.” Matthew and Luke repeated the same saying, in the same setting, with one difference: this is the one place in all the Gospels where Matthew and Luke agree against Mark, in that they leave out the phrase” for the sake of the Gospel”. So in all probability the earliest reading of this saying would have been: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life will save it.”

    Now, the gospels were written in Greek. So when we read the gospels, the Greek noun for life is “psyche”, but Jesus wasn’t speaking to his disciples in Greek, he was talking to them in Aramaic, where the word for life has a much broader meaning. Jesus is not talking about some simplistic notion of sacrificing oneself on earth to gain a heavenly reward. He is talking about giving up everything one is, being willing to sacrifice your own pride, your sense of self-worth, you accomplishments and successes, everything that makes you “you”, in order to learn, to teach one’s self, even to the point of martyrdom and death to rely solely upon God and his grace. It is the same sense of reversal of human values, the same call for complete and abiding trust in God alone, that we find in the Beatitudes and which make them such a challenge for all believers.

    Today’s reading from John’s Gospel presents a variant of the proverb, but the message, and particularly the ironic form is easily recognized: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hate his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” If you pare this proverb down to its earliest Aramaic form, again, Aramaic being the language Jesus himself spoke, you are left with something like this: “The one who loves his life will loose it, and the one who hates his life will keep it.”

    To summarize, if you take all the variants of the same aphorism and pare them down to their core, you come up with: “Whoever seeks his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life will save it” as the first, and “The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life will keep it” as the second, you are really left with variants of a single proverb. 

    As John Meier put it: “The proverb comments on the paradoxical relationship between the action of preserving or losing one’s life and the results of such action, results that are the exact opposite of what one would expect if one judged by superficial human standards.” 

    To say it again, this time in English: All the forms aim at one basic message: a Christian who clings selfishly or cowardly to this present life as if it were ultimately valuable will lose the ultimate good of true life in the kingdom of God, while a Christian who voluntarily risks (or actually suffers) the loss of this present life will save, preserve, or find true life in the kingdom. 

    As with most of Jesus’ sayings, there are at least two ways to read each of these. On the comforting side of the ledger, it is well to be reassured that those who sacrifice everything, including perhaps even their lives, will receive a commensurate reward in the Kingdom of God. Certainly this sense of comfort and reassurance can be justifiably derived from this saying. Add to that the fact that we would all like it very much if the saying were true - if the meek, and lowly and downtrodden of our world received their just reward in heaven, and we can all take comfort in Jesus’ saying.

    But, on the other hand, the first phrase of each saying is not nearly as warm or comforting. Since Sunday school we have all heard the necessity of learning to rely upon God for our every need. “Behold the lilies of the field, they neither spin nor sew, but I tell you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these.” We have heard these stories and injunction to rely upon God alone all our lives. But if it is all just the same we would really rather not.

    As ironic, or counterintuitive as it may seem, we would almost all rather rely upon ourselves than upon God. In fact, that is the message. which our society spends a lifetime trying to teach us. From elementary school we are taught to be self-starters and self-reliant. We are taught to compete and assert our own rights and prerogatives. We learn how to build our future, and to guard that future for our family and ourselves. In a world where self-reliance and the eagerness to compete successfully are proclaimed as the highest good, Jesus says “No.”

    “None of what you acquire, none of what you accumulate, none of the things, which you value so highly and which provide you with a sense of security and well-being, are worth a thing.” In the final analysis, Jesus says, very bluntly, it is not our net-worth, but our trust in God that matters. 

    And that is precisely what Jesus expected and demanded of each of the disciples, that they give up, that they intentional forfeit all that they had, all that made them feel secure, all the gave them their sense of accomplishment and identity to follow him. They did not know where they were going, nor why? They did not know how the journey would end or even if they would survive to see the end. They were simply asked to give up everything a follow. Many did, but some could not. Some valued what they could feel and touch and hold more than they could trust what Jesus promised. Not all those whom Jesus called responded and became disciples. 

    As we approach Holy Week, there is a temptation to answer the big theological questions which arise out of the the final chapters of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But this morning’s gospel asks a more fundamental question which we must ultimately answer before we could ever approach Jerusalem:

    Do we trust God?

    That, in essence, is one of the lessons of this entire Lenten season. Lent is about reminding ourselves that God is God, and that we are but dust, and to dust of Ash Wednesday we shall return. In Lent we are reminded of our call to become disciples of Christ. That is a call that not everyone can answer positively. Like high caliber athletes, we must train ourselves to the challenge of answering that question which has been raised, and will never go away. 

    Who is it that we ultimately trust, God or ourselves? 

    God awaits our answer.

    




March 15, 2015, 12:00 AM

Lent 4 - Year B


 

 

Lent 4

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    Today, the fourth Sunday in Lent, was once referred to as Refreshment Sunday. As the name suggests, today offers a bit of a relaxation from the penitential character of Lent. Should random Church history facts appear as a Jeopardy category in the near future, Refreshment Sunday is the only day in which it was legal to officiate a Marriage during the Lenten season. 

    Today is also known as Mothering Sunday. If you want further proof that the greatest existential threat to the church is the revision of Thomas Cramner's 1952 lectionary, look no further. Traditionally, today's epistle reading highlights the theme of maternal love by enlisting Ephsians 4:26 which states "Jerusalem, which above is free; which is Mother of us all."

    There are two wonderful traditions which accompany Mothering Sunday. The first, recognizes our earthly mother, saw servants and workers sent home for an opportunity to worship in their "Mothering church." Once there, members of the church would practice "clipping the church," they would encircle the building, each holding hands and, in a sense, embrace their mother church as a family. 

     I love that image, of a parish family embracing each other and the institution which has brought them together. All of a sudden I feel like The Earl Grantham, pining away to buttress eroding traditions. 

    As this is Refreshment Sunday, I wanted to say just a few short words about this theme of Mothering Sunday and clipping the church in our modern American context. 

    Taking a quick look at this morning’s lectionary, America’s favorite proselytizing verse from scripture is taken from John’s gospel this morning. In my 30 or so years since I have been watching football, I can’t think of a single game, college or professional, in which some member of the crowd, usually near the end-zone, isn’t holding up a banner which reads John 3:16. That verse, which we read this morning, says this:

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

    That verse, in a sense, is a wonderful representation of the Gospel of John as a whole. You can read it straight-through and have a succinct understanding of the message’s import, or you could spend a life-time delving into the mystery of those same words. 

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

    Week after week, month after month, I see various polls and statistical models which point to an over-arching decline in religious attendance and religious belief. Now, you could argue that while Religious participation is declining, perhaps those numbers are also dropping due to declining social pressure to “admit” to going to church. Perhaps we have the same number of people attending church, but more and more people feel liberated to simply tell the truth that they no longer attend. 

    And there are many numbers of reasons why religious attendance figures are in decline. There are somethings we might try to counter-act those macro-level events, and there are somethings upon which we need to rely on God’s grace to stem the tide. I won’t go into all of those now, except to offer that need to return to our mothering church and it’s original faith:

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

    The Gospel, the Good News that the Jesus movement offered people was a reunion with God. Men and women felt separated from the Almighty. They were told that their illness, their poverty, everything that caused them grief was the product of their own sin. Yet this Jesus fellow came around to remind people that there is no correlation, absolutely none, between our suffering and our sinfulness. Human misery, it turns out, exists not because of human sin, but as an opportunity for human righteousness—to see love transform the broken into the bound. 

    In the two millennia since Jesus’ earthly ministry, the human Church has been rocked by schism and controversy. As if we were looking in mirror dimly, the Church has prioritized the wrong messages. We have been consumed by debates over church hierarchy, personal freedom, and human relationships, sometimes at the very cost of our most basic message: That God loves us—each of us. That God’s love for us was so devout, so unshakable, that He would sacrifice his only Son on our behalf. 

    That is the good news this morning. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. That is the teaching of our mothering Church, the message to which we and the Church itself should return to this Mothering Sunday. Should we find ourselves preaching that message of God’s love, we shall also find ourselves surrounded by a wider circle of earthly saints clipping the church alongside us. 

Amen.


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