Proper 19 Year B (Mark 8:27-38)

As we can see from the conversation between Jesus and Peter in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry which began with such an outpouring of popularity, because of his personal charisma, his message of a new kingdom and his healing ministry, becomes harder for his disciples to comprehend when he starts talking about who he really was and what he had to do- i.e. suffer and die.

A few weeks ago in John 6 after telling his disciples that he was in fact The Bread of Life we read these words: “When many of his disciples heard it they said, “This teaching is difficult, who can accept it? because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

So let’s fantasize for a moment and imagine a strategy session with the core group; “wow our numbers are decreasing; let’s hire a PR consultant and come up with a catchy jingle that will attract people to the cause of Christ. So the consultant comes in and says, lets brain storm with some of Jesus’ sayings that will pique the interest of seekers out there: (soften the message)

Brainstorming: I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly; blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the earth; love one another as I have loved you; its more blessed to give than to receive.

Well, everyone’s getting excited about possibilities and Jesus comes walking by, and consultant asks, “Master, what do you think?” He pauses, rubs his beard and says all these are great but if you want a phrase that captures the heart of my message it would be this one:

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

Jaws drop! Not the way to popularity and numbers! Bummer!!! How does this sell?

At first hearing this sounds pretty grim; So heavy, life as a burden-a cross weighs up to 100 lbs! Message seems to be suck it up, grit the teeth, life is hard get used to it! turn your back on everything you like that makes you happy that brings you pleasure; so for Jeffrey Fishwick,

no more mint Oreos, for the ECW no more wine tastings; get rid of that nice sweet NFL cable package you just bought! Hey! Let’s have Lent all year round! We’ll be handing out monks’ robes for everyone after the service today. That’s what Jesus seems to be saying.

So we have to ask, is Christ’s call to deny ourselves to pick up our cross, really a directive to move away from our attachment to the the things of this world? No, there is nothing in this scripture about denying ourselves all pleasures. It is simply a matter of priorities and obedience. Self-denial doesn’t mean imprisoned by self-abasement; rather it is a call to let go of our inherent human narcissism and replace the primacy of our will with God’s larger purposes for our lives, that give it real meaning to them. Self-denial and cross-bearing are not about being less happy but about discovering the abundant life that comes with sacrificial love and service to the other. For Christian communities it means to seek the common good for everyone, not just ourselves.

Again: “Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me, for those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”

Notice how concretely, literally true these words turn out to be for Jesus as he does, in fact, carry his cross and lose his life and is given it back and more in the resurrection. For Christians the Cross means victory. Way of the cross is the way of life. So we must ask, ‘might this also be true for us?

Have we at times noticed, for example, that when we give a gift to another we recognize how much we receive in return? Interesting recent studies indicate, for instance, that the only way money truly makes people happy is when it is given for a worthy cause or purpose. Or have you discovered on occasion that only by loving another do you feel yourself to be loved? Have you ever gone without so that someone could have more and felt intensely richer as a result? Have you ever discovered that there’s no better way to find a friend than first to be a friend, and that unexpected rewards come through sacrifice. All these are small glimpses of what one might call the inverted logic of Jesus’ teaching; steps we can take that bring real life.

There is no question that such a life lived for God and others is counter cultural in today’s America. Give of yourself. Sacrifice. No wonder this kind of discipleship has trouble attracting applicants. Who really wants to be a part of this club?

Well I hope you do, because Christ offers us real life, not the pseudo life we so often settle for; a life that the world tells us depends on you get what you deserve, a life that the world tells us glorifies instant gratification; rather Jesus offers this: follow me pick up your cross, lose your life to find it-all you have to do is to trade what we’ve been led to believe is life for the real thing; come follow me and I’ll show you a life that offers you more than you could ever ask for or imagine.

The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer is correct when he points out in his book, The Cost of Discipleship that there are demands to being a follower of Christ.

He writes, “discipleship is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; yet the rewards are beyond measure, true grace because as we walk behind him, on the road less travelled he says to each one of us, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” And so will ours. Amen.

Proper 18 Year B (Mark 7)

“He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:37

Can you imagine a total stranger coming up to you, sticking his fingers into your ears, spitting and touching your tongue? And your own friends brought you to him! Call the police! All they asked was for Jesus to place his hand on him and bless him! And here goes Jesus sticking his fingers into the man’s ears and spitting on his tongue.

That’s what Jesus wants to do with us here this morning. He wants to stick His words into our ears. He wants to loosen our tongues to sing and to speak his praise. The One who does all things well wants to do all things well with us, too.

St. Mark doesn’t tell us anything about the man whose ears and tongue didn’t work. We don’t even know his name. He was one of the many hearing impaired at that time, living in silence, struggling daily to communicate with people whose ears did work. He’d never heard the sound of laughter or music or God’s word. He also spoke with great difficulty. Even the most casual of conversations was a struggle.

Jesus takes the man aside, away from the crowds. He doesn’t want to make a show. What Jesus does is so different from our culture of celebrity of our day. Alive today, he wouldn’t be on the talk shows promoting his latest miracle. No twitter about how good he is; Jesus never sought the limelight He is completely present for that man who couldn’t hear or speak. He has Jesus’ undivided attention.

So, without fanfare He touches what is broken with the Creator’s touch. The Good Physician is at work. He is “hands on” not distant and removed. This doctor makes house calls.

That’s because Christ is a hands-on-God, who stepped down from His glory in heaven, to step into our human flesh, to dwell among us and touch us through his own humanity. Fingers in the ears, spitting and grabbing tongues. He is the God who deals with us as the human creatures that we are. None of this out of body “spiritual” nonsense we hear about today.

God deals with us in the grubby, ordinary, earthy, everyday ways of our human existence. When Jesus stuck his fingers into that man’s ears, they were the fingers of God. When Jesus touched the man’s tongue, it was God touching his tongue.

Then Jesus looked up to heaven. “That’s where your help comes from,” he was saying to the man. “Your help comes from God, and I have come to bring God to you.” Jesus is our go-between, the mediator between God and humanity. He prays for us. He intercedes for us. He touches us with God’s touch. He sighs. Why does he do that? Because Jesus knows how deep the brokenness of the world is, and what price he will have to pay to fix it. He knows the cost of this healing: a cross and His death. Jesus knows our human suffering and sorrow. He knows our weakness.

Finally, Jesus speaks a word. St. Mark gives us the Aramaic original: Ephphatha! Be opened. “Be released from your bondage; be free.” Jesus was releasing him from everything that held him bound and captive. “Be released.” Jesus came to proclaim the release to the captives. Not just to the misfortunate, but to you and to me. To all of God’s people, He came to speak a liberating Word.

That liberating Word is still alive and powerful. The Good news for each of us here this morning is clear: God has come to open us up from whatever it is that has bottled us up; that frustrates us; that separates us from others; that impedes our relationship with others; that prevents us from being the person God intended us to be; what holds us captive.

Healing is not just for some-those who have a physical impediment or a chronic condition, or who are sick and dying; everyone here needs healing; we all are broken in some shape or form; the question for us today and every day is how are we going to let Jesus touch that brokenness, those impediments; what will it take for us to be released, liberated. The answer seems clear EHF-uh-thuh! Be opened!

 

Ephesians 6:10-20

Military language of battle and war to describe the Christian life isn’t exactly in vogue these days, not just because of our seemingly endless wars in the Middle East but also because we continue to witness the effects of war on those who wage it, win or lose. What’s more, as Christians we’re committed to loving God above all and our neighbors, including our enemies as much as we love ourselves.

So what do we do with St. Paul’s image of putting on the warrior garb of Roman soldiers? Or as he calls it, the full of armor of God. Do Christians really need a soldier’s uniform? Well of course not literally, but I would argue that the image serves to make a good point-there is a struggle going on and Christians need to stand our ground, strengthen our resolve, remain vigilant and use the tools (the armor) that we have been given by God.

As Paul writes to the embattled early Christian community in Ephesus (modern day Turkey), he explains to them first of all that this struggle is not against flesh and blood. Not against our fellow human beings. Then and today the struggle is not against people we don’t like, against those who have different belief systems than we do. It’s not a struggle opposing non-Christians or even our own petty attitudes. No matter how hard it is for me to admit it, the New York Yankees are not the evil empire.

No, Paul tells the Ephesians that the whole armor of God is needed so that they will be strong against “the wiles of the devil”, “against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.” These forces threaten to mitigate, or even destroy the good news of what he calls the “mystery of the Gospel,” in other words, as we say in our weekly Eucharist, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. You see the forces of evil that put Jesus on the cross have been seriously upset by the victory of the resurrection. They are horrified at the thought that the message of this Jesus is challenging their power and authority, and that communities loyal to Christ are springing up, bringing people together in a new humanity, that shows evidence of the creator’s sovereign power and hence their own eventual demise. The forces of evil are doing their best to oppose this Gospel, to distract crucial Kingdom work and depress and divide those who would engage in it; in Ephesus then and here among us now.

Sometime this attack will take the frontal form of persecution or intimidation. More often it will take the more oblique form of persuading Christians to invest time and energy in irrelevant side issues or become fascinated by false, distorted teaching. The evil one loves it when we lie or are tempted to anger. Sometimes it will be the age old temptations of money, sex and power. Whatever the form of attack, individuals and Christian communities must know that they are coming. This was made all too clear on September 11, 2001 when the whole world looked into evil’s face. We must remain strong against evil’s thrusts, avoiding the traps of denial on the one hand and obsession on the other as C.S. Lewis reminded us in The Screwtape Letters-his wonderful book about the reality of evil and its subversive ways.

We can strengthen ourselves by using the parts of the armor listed in Paul’s writing. The belt holds up the toga so the soldier can move unencumbered by cloth. The belt of truth fixes what is necessary in such a way that leaves the church free and flexible, able to walk, or run loosed from from what constrains or trips up the wearer. The breastplate covers the core of the body. Righteousness protects the heart and lifeblood from cosmic evil. Shoes are for readiness to stand for, and to speak peace. The shield is defense against flaming arrows. Roman shields were leather, wetted against incoming fire and large enough to cover the one who carried it and one-third of the person beside him. The shields were linked so that we can see the Church armed with faith, facing assaults from those who would try to undermine it. The helmet of salvation reminds us of our baptism, the indelible cross on our foreheads. The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. Proclaiming the mystery of the Gospel both cuts and saves. Conviction and love at the same time. This is good news because the very nature of the Spirit is to bring life.

Today we gather to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection whereby God’s mighty power has looked sin and evil in the eye and put them to flight; but like a defeated army that has not yet surrendered, evil can still pack a punch as we know all too well. It is like a wounded, cornered animal, who can and will lash out and inflict much damage. Its days are numbered but watch out for now.

May we continue to be a people who are vigilant against evil’s rages and continue to put our trust in the One who has and will deliver us from evil. Let’s be a people who stand up against it.

Amen.

John 6:51-58

Through the lens of the last supper, the Church has interpreted Jesus’ long dialogue in John 6 as proof of his presence in the Holy Meal, the Holy Communion. This in turn has led many clergy including me down the path of trying to explain it. But I’m not going to do that- how do you explain a mystery? Rather using our Gospel reading as a guide, I want to explore with you the current debate going on in the church about whether The Eucharist is the Church’s meal or Jesus’ meal.

Largely in Christian history it has been the Church’s meal; that is to say that it has insisted that there are certain requirements for participation; some kind of initiation ie. baptism, and instruction; the idea is that participation in the Lord’s Supper is serious business to be taken seriously and approached reverently. St. Paul famously wrote, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.

When I decided to join the Episcopal Church I learned that I couldn’t receive communion until I was confirmed by a Bishop, even though I had been receiving communion in the Catholic Church for years. This was confusing. Perhaps some of you have similar stories. To this very day denominations have their own criteria for who is able to participate in Communion. EC its Trinitarian baptism.

The trend in Churches across the board today however is to offer what is called open communion. This is Jesus’ meal. It is felt that in an era when many people who walk through the door of the church have not grown up in the church and most likely have not been baptized do not need to be excluded from this important part of the liturgy. People will not feel welcomed if they are denied participation in this important part of the service.

And I have to say the scripture gives much credence to this view; Jesus did not make the five thousand sit down on the grass and give them a lecture so that they understood the connection between eating the meal and what he meant when he said I am the bread of life. It almost seems that if Jesus hadn’t fed the large crowd, he wouldn’t have much to say; his concern clearly is less with getting his hearers to understand as getting them to eat.

But there is another side to what Jesus is saying. Listen to the words again. “Very truly I tell you he says, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day.”(6:53-54).The words flesh and blood of course point to the cross, where Jesus’ flesh will be broken and his blood will be spilled. Jesus therefore associates the separation of his flesh and blood in his violent death on the cross as the moment when he will give his whole self for the life of the world.

As we partake in the holy meal, we participate in the promise Jesus fulfilled on the cross. Jesus promises to nourish the world with the gift of himself in the bread and wine. He promises to nourish our faith, forgive sin and empowers us to be witnesses of Christ in that world out there.

Welcoming and participating is fine, Jesus’ meal, I get it but do we not also have the necessity-obligation to share with the uninitiated, the promises Jesus makes. What this means for them. It doesn’t have to be in a boring class explaining the meaning of Communion but it needs to be communicated in and through our preaching and our witness of the faith to those walking through the doors for the first time. How sad if all people come away with is a little ceremony toward the end of the liturgy! Stretch legs and get something to eat and drink.

If in bygone days we leaned too far in the direction of understanding before being invited to eat, perhaps today we lean too far with eating without proclaiming Jesus’ promise and inviting people into relationship with Him. There is certainly more going on at the altar than eating and drinking the bread and wine. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.” this is certainly good news, the best news possible and when people come to communion they need to know that. Amen.

Proper 14B

At the end of every episode in one of 1950’s iconic cowboy TV shows a mysterious masked man wearing a powder blue suit who had just rounded up the bad guys, would ride off into the distance on his horse Silver; someone would always ask: who was that man? and the reply invariably would be, well I don’t know, but I’ve heard him called the Lone Ranger.

Who was that man- or more precisely who is this man is a question people have asked about Jesus for the past two millennia. His identity mystified his contemporaries and still baffles many today. And you might say that the conversation about who he is, began with the dialogue he had with his Judean followers in today’s Gospel reading.

What has started out as moment of appreciation for what he has done, has now morphed into puzzlement or even irritation. St. John narrates that these people who have followed Jesus regarded him as a teacher, a healer, who have witnessed his miracles also know him as one of their own. They knew his family and they watched him learn his trade, grow up. Local boy makes good. Played second base for the Nazareth little league team. But now he is calling himself “the bread of life.” Telling them “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever and the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” What? Excuse me-has this fellow gone off his rocker. Little wonder that the crowd is offended, even angered by Jesus’ suggestion that he, the lad from Nazareth, is the answer to their deepest longings and greatest needs because he is the Christ, human and divine.

This is the claim that offended the crowd that day, who followed him then and the assertion that has offended many down to this very day. Many religions are offended by this claim that Almighty God would deign to take on mortal flesh. Also, modern enlightenment-rationalist philosophy which has such an influence in western civilization is highly skeptical if not antagonistic toward anything that smacks of the supernatural. Such thinking can and does accept Jesus as a great moral teacher and figure but certainly not as divine.

One can at least be somewhat sympathetic to this view: For where we expect God to come in might, God comes in weakness; where we look for God to come in power, God comes in vulnerability, and when we seek God in justice and righteousness which is after all what we expect from God, we find-or rather more accurately are found- by God in forgiveness and mercy!

The debate of who Jesus is or isn’t continues- I go along with C.S. Lewis’ analysis:- “a man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the Devil of Hell. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend; and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

This is the claim and promise Jesus makes today in the Biblical text: That I am both human and divine in one person, and that my flesh and blood is the means by which the world will know God’s redeeming saving love.

Today once again we encounter the carnal God, the God who does not despise the ordinary and common but rather uses it to achieve God’s will: this is the promise that rests behind the Eucharist, communion. For as God does not despise water, bread, wine; such ordinary common things, we also know that God does not despise or abandon us, who are similarly such ordinary and common people. And so in the sacrament, in communion bread and wine we find God’s promise to take hold of us and make us God’s own, to infuse his life into our own, to remain with us and to never let us go. Amen. Who is this man? He is the Bread of Life. Amen.

 

John 6:24-35

Day after feeding of the masses-large following-want to make him king- miracle makes crowd want more.

Part of me sympathizes with the crowd, people living on the edge: poor, occupied, taxed, frustrated, hungry.

Think of all refugees in the world today, Syria, Central America, Libya- living from moment to moment. Just because we got fed today doesn’t mean we’ll be fed tomorrow. In those circumstances how can you think of the big picture; survival is the goal.

We here in America, Greene County are very less stressed than those folks Jesus is dealing with, yet we too are so often caught up in everyday living, one day at a time- help me not take a drink today, need an A on the exam, how am I going to continue dealing with aging ailing in-laws.

All the time there is a larger context to our lives that we fail to acknowledge or even forget about; when Jesus answered in v. 26 “ I tell you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves” not angry but disappointed that they couldn’t see beyond immediate needs.

Jesus on his way to serving up his life on a cross to draw all people to himself, to take away the sin of the world, to strike a sword into the heart of evil and death, all people want is more food, another miracle; take care of the latest problem we have. Why couldn’t they expect more, why can’t we expect more from God?

Why do we settle for bread-fulfilling of immediate needs from whatever source- rather than seeking and expecting God’s immortal love for us that sustains us all the time? Could it be that we “work” for the food that    perishes rather than the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man gives us, because we are unwilling or unable to name what we truly hunger for and seek? Fear of being disappointed, a need to protect God from failure, and clarity that we are not deserving- God somehow won’t provide our real needs?

Jesus responds to us as he did the crowd, “This is the work of God that you believe in him whom God has sent.’ (v.29) To believe is to trust that Jesus is the instrument of God’s saving embrace of the whole world, that God in Christ is doing something new that human created conditions and circumstances cannot undermine or negate.

Today we are being asked in the middle of our daily needs and concerns also to remember and to see Jesus as a gift from the Father for the life of the whole world. To believe is to submit everything even our highest stake issue, to God’s saving work in Jesus. Jesus is more than just a problem solver, a wish fulfillment expert, he is Lord of the universe.

Jesus is the bread that fulfills our deepest hunger and thirst. Jesus frees us to follow him not to achieve self-satisfaction, not to get anything that is in it for us, not even to attain or maintain peace of mind. Jesus frees us to embrace God’s redeeming will to restore the cosmos to what God created and humanity to what God intends. Such faith does not mean separating the spiritual from the everyday. It means putting God rather than us at the center of both. When we do, we can and will expect more and by God’s grace receive it. Amen.

Proper 12 B (John 6:1-15)

Glass half empty or half full? How would you answer that question? It might be fun to have a conversation about where each of us is on that dynamic? And what about our Christian faith-half full half empty? I would like to apply that thinking to the miracle of the loaves and fishes- but I urge you not to jump to conclusions because the answer might surprise you!

So, a brief recap: A crowd of people has followed Jesus to the lake shore. Their attraction to him is so strong that in their excitement they forget the picnic lunch.

Jesus leans over to Philip and says, “Philip, how are we going to buy enough food to feed all these people?” It is a test. And Philip, responds the way God’s people often reply to a crisis. “We’re done for. Half a year’s wages wouldn’t be enough to feed all these people.” And then, as Philip begins to mumble, his colleague Andrew informs Jesus that a boy in the crowd is carrying a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. “But so little as that” Andrew says in effect, “is really quite irrelevant under the circumstances.”

“Make the people sit down”, replies Christ. The meal is blessed, served, then eaten and when all are satisfied, there is enough left over to fill 12 baskets. So much abundance!

Unfortunately much of the time we seem to forget this fact. Much of the time our faith seems to mirror that of Philip and Andrew, who could not see past six months wages or the meager 5 loaves and 2 fishes.

We tend to base our own living on our own scarcity-what we don’t have, or even on our own fears of insufficiency. So we hoard and save and worry and end up living in small and safe measure. We pull back when we should push forward. We give in to our fear rather than exercising faith in God’s abundance. Glass half empty. Circle the wagons. Expect the worst.

Feeding of the 5000 says don’t expect the worst, expect the best; expect the unexpected! Feeding of the 5,000 says Christians are constantly on call to go places where we have never been, to do things we have never attempted and to see things we have never envisioned before.

Here at Grace Church we can look at the contraction of two services to one in two ways; one way is to say it is necessary because after the exact same worship schedule for the last generation, and because Grace Church has experienced roughly 30% decline in Sunday attendance during the past five years; God is calling us to do something different.

However another way of looking at this, is that as we are followers of Christ the one who can make something out of very little we have faith that more in this circumstance has nothing to do with numbers but everything to do with a more hopeful, more unified congregation moving forward.

The feeding of the 5 thousand invites us to live into a grace filled inheritance, a timely calling because most of us tend to live on the edges of what God is offering us. We are challenged you and I to take seriously God’s generous offer of life of abundance so we can position ourselves for the adventure of faith that enriches and enlivens those who embrace its challenge.

However we look at life: glass half empty or half full, God can and does meet us where we are, whether we are optimists or pessimists- but know this God is not satisfied with a half filled glass, God in Christ is in the business of filling the glass up; overflowing.

For instance, at the wedding in Cana Jesus instructs the servants as the wine was about to run out to fill jars with water which he turned into wine- good wine that lasted for a long time! At a community well in Samaria, Jesus tells a woman who has had a hard life about living water gushing up to eternal life. As a matter of fact, wherever we go in the Gospels we are confronted with this profuse and full measured flood of God’s grace mediated through Christ. And that is certainly the message of the feeding of the multitudes in today’s Gospel.

Jesus says to us today and every day, I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly. Let’s fill the glass!

Proper 11 Year B

From humble roots, to slayer of Goliath, to military commander, to successor of Saul as King of Israel, David has recently conquered the independent city of Jerusalem (hereafter always called the city of David in the Bible). He has brought the sacred Ark of the Covenant with him and wants to build a permanent building to house it in, after centuries of residing in a traveling tent.

As we come to our reading, David is riding the crest of the wave. His approval ratings are sky high, and it’s probably true that David could at this point do pretty much whatever he wanted to. David has not yet discovered his propensity to let all this go to his head. That will come soon enough in the upcoming adultery and impregnation of another man’s wife. Bathsheba. For now the world was David’s oyster and he was starting to think he could do no wrong, not even in God’s sight. His pastor Nathan obviously believed that as well, for when David proposed that he build a house for the ark, as grand as the cedar-paneled executive mansion he was living in as Israel’s king, Nathan didn’t even have to pray about it before giving David the divine go-ahead.

And the Lord was with David and that is precisely why the same Lord had to put the brakes on at this point in the story. David was about to trot down a path that may have looked as innocent as could be but that could well have led him to the kind of arrogant self-sufficiency that could be his undoing. God’s word to David through Nathan was essentially this: “you want to build me a house? Forget it- I’m going to build you a house. The kingdom that I’m shaping here isn’t what you do for me but what I do through you. I’m doing the building here, not you. This is a kingdom that we’re dealing with and I am the real king here. I’m the real focus here not you! I’ve gotten along without a so-called house for a long time now. Where did you ever come up with the idea that I need or want a house? If there’s any building to be done, I’m doing it.”

The point of course is that this story in the Bible is not about David and what he can do for God. This is about God and what God alone can do for David. David may be the man after God’s own heart but as it turns out he most certainly cannot do whatever it is that he wants. Even spiritually alive people like you and me even now and then need to be reminded that God is in charge and that God’s ways are not necessarily our ways. Right?

David was embarrassed that God was still living in that sorry old tent as had been the case when the Israelites themselves were nomads living in tents but now that they were doing better had a homeland and had roofs over their heads, David assumed God would want and need the same thing.

Divine dignity demanded it. A humble tent could never do for the great God of the Universe!

Of course what God goes on to promise David is a temple down the road that would be pretty spectacular. But as it turned out God was more interested in building David a house and line of David that would one day bring into the world the incarnate Son of God who was needed to bring salvation. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory.”

A fine temple was nice but God didn’t mind living in a tent; as a matter of God can live and does live wherever God wants which is most places- including a pretty little Episcopal Church in Stanardsville Virginia. And most importantly, thanks to the Holy Spirit, God resides in human hearts.

Right now at this important, transitional moment in the history of this parish, God is living here and abiding with you. Please remember that as you move forward. Amen.

Proper 10 Year B (Amos)

It is the 8th century before Christ; David and Solomon’s empire has split into two- a northern kingdom, Israel, and a Southern Kingdom of Judah. It was then that a southerner, from the hill city of Tekoa south of Bethlehem who described himself as a “herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees” received a call to prophecy in Israel. His name was Amos.

When he appears on the scene, the northern kingdom is booming. None of the big powers in the region such as Egypt or Assyria are on the prowl. For a change, the government is stable: King Jeroboam II is in the midst of reigning over a half century of prosperity and strength. Amos cannot get over what he finds in the northern cities. The luxurious lifestyles shock him: gorgeous couches, beds of carved ivory, summer homes, top grade meat, fine wines. And it seems obvious to Amos that this extravagance is built on a foundation of injustice: oppression of the poor, slavery, dishonest business practices, court brides, privilege bought with money. People are too busy enjoying the good life and not loving God and their neighbor. In order to get the attention of those who are at ease in Zion, Amos speaks in italics and exclamation points.

Amos warns, Israel cannot forever push God into the small corner of their lives, to be brought out like a magic charm whenever they need him. They cannot build their lives on the backs of the poor and the oppressed.

So he speaks. It is not a comfortable word: This country is in a perilous state. You have already been warned by plagues of locusts and by parching drought that to trifle with the Lord of Creation is fraught with peril. Despite your carefree optimism, your society is built on rotten foundations. I have seen YHWH standing on your walls with a plumb line in his hand and he said to me, “this place must be destroyed. What was once straight has become crooked. I can stand no more. This land is ripe for destruction.” Can you imagine how the beautiful people of his day responded to this message?

No wonder his ministry lasted no more than a couple of years! Here is a man who dares to tell us what we don’t want to hear. Amos is the prophet of justice. His standards are uncompromising, like the God he speaks for! True he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder-the desert-dweller’s suspicion of everything connected with civilization, which is apt to bias his judgment.

But on the moral order of the universe, he is on bedrock. Morality is not an accident or a convention: it is the principle on which the universe works. Amos is no philosopher and builds no system. What he sees, he sees by inspiration and intuition. For him the sequence of cause and effect applies to the whole of life: sow evil and reap destruction, whether you are man or nation.

Amos is also the voice of social conscience. He reminds us that our heritage as people of God is not only to be concerned with our individual salvation but also with our neighbor; read just society. When Jesus began his public ministry, he returned to his hometown to speak in the synagogue there. He got up and read these words from Isaiah: The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Later he told an incredible parable of the sheep and the goats the punch line of which goes like this: Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Jesus has some Amos in him, doesn’t he?

As inheritors of the prophetic message of Amos, and Jesus, as Christian people, we are reminded as the baptismal covenant of the Episcopal Church puts it to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.” We are also called to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”

It seems to me that an important ingredient in the role of formation is not only the ability to distinguish between right and wrong but also an understanding of the larger context of neighbor; Amos and Jesus challenge us today as the Church to speak out against injustice, and hypocrisy in our own culture and to be advocates for “the least of these” in our own day.

Maybe our style won’t be as confrontational as Amos’s was, but our message must be just as strong. Amen.

Mark 6:1-13

The failure of Jesus’ preaching at his hometown in (Mark 6:1-6), and Sending the twelve disciples out to expand his mission (Mark 6:7-13) give us some important insights about ministry in general and parish ministry in particular.

The first learning is about preaching; yes it’s difficult to preach in front of a crowd that remembers you as a young person. When I first preached in my home parish in Lexington, the father of my best friend, who now was the senior warden came up to me and asked if I still collected baseball cards!

Jesus faced a similar kind of reaction. But what really contributed to the failure of his preaching in his hometown of Nazareth was that he didn’t preach on what the congregation wanted to hear. He wasn’t just another synagogue preacher telling people that if they continued to obey God’s law that one day a better future awaited them.

Instead, He told them, apparently on his own authority, that the future was now. Where he was the kingdom was. And he was doing things that demonstrated that-would they be on board? The challenge didn’t go over so well did it? From Jesus’ example we can extrapolate that good preaching is proclaiming the truth of God’s word whether it makes people feel good or not.

Secondly, the text tells us that “he could do no good deed of power there.” In other words, as we learned last week with Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood, an atmosphere of faith is an essential part of any ministry; ministry in Christ’s name can’t flourish without it. Ministry has to operate within the context of trusting relationships and belief in the cause of Christ. If there are other agendas more important than that, ministry cannot flourish; additionally, if there is animosity in the community, clearly it will not be ready for the healing necessary in the lives of the people it seeks to serve.

When he sent them out for mission Jesus told the disciples to travel light; no excess baggage; he told them that if their ministry was not well received they needed to move on to something else; For today’s parish it means when after a time a ministry initiative isn’t working anymore- it needs to die. We need not be afraid to let go of things in the parish that clearly are diminishing because after all our Christian meta-narrative is out of death comes new life- resurrection.

The mission of the church today is to discern fertile places where the Christian message of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation can take root. These places are going to be different from where they were even ten and fifteen years ago. In a time in which Bishop. Johnston calls “institutional fragility” the ministries of today will need to be creative, nimble and flexible.

Bottom line is that for this parish or for any parish the main mission of the Church is to be faithful to the call of Christ-and in the culture we live in now that will mean taking some risks, not playing it safe;. Risking is always a part of the Gospel; we can’t be discouraged by failure; Remember the growth of God’s reign on earth is God’s work not ours. In a time of frustration and discouragement God spoke these words to St. Paul, “my grace is sufficient.”

My hope and prayer is that a parish with the name Grace Church will remember that as your future unfolds. That is the most important thing.

A few years ago while serving as interim Rector in a church in Wisconsin, a Lutheran pastor shared a prayer with me that I think fits in nicely with what our readings say about Christian mission and our role in it.

Lord, your church is composed of people like me.
I help make it what it is.
It will be friendly if I am.
Its pews will be filled, if I help fill them.
It will be known as a place of forgiveness, if I can forgive.
It will make generous gifts to many causes if I am a generous giver.
It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship if I invite and bring them.
It will be a church where people grow in faith, and serve you if I am open to such growth and service.
Therefore with your help Lord, I shall dedicate myself to the task of being all the things you want your church to be for you honor and glory. Amen.