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SERMON 9/10/18 Pentecost 17B St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

following-jesusIsaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-8; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

“Who do you say I am?”  

            “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I invite you to take a brief adventure of creative imagination this morning, and put yourself in today’s story from the Gospel according to Mark.  Imagine you have been a part of that band of disciples that followed the young rabbi all around the Galilean territory. You witnessed his healings and heard him preach, and you are hooked. You cannot return back to the place you were before, because you are on a new journey and you would follow him anywhere.

You and your companions now find yourselves deep in Gentile territory in Caesarea Philippi, a city, in which there is a plethora of spiritual practices, a collection of images of various deities, and a culture of pluralistic religious dogmas.  Caesarea Philippi was an ancient Roman city that had a grotto and related shrines dedicated to the Greek god Pan.

It was in this setting, Jesus posed this question to you his followers, “Who do people say that I am.”  You look around you and watch your fellow disciples as they answer.  One says, “Elijah.”  A couple of your clan retort, “John the Baptist.”  A few in the group exclaim, “A prophet.” Now, despite your colleague’s boldness to chime in, you keep silent and watch Peter, the outspoken one whom you know will have something profound to say, but interestingly, he too is silent.

Next, Jesus looks at each person in your group with great care in his eyes, pauses and asks, “Who do YOU say I am?”  Peter can hold back and proclaims boldly, “YOU ARE THE MESSIAH.”  Surprisingly, Jesus tells you all to keep quiet about what was just said.  You and your friends, being good first century Israelites, certainly understand what expectations your culture puts on the one who bears the title “Messiah.” Jesus however, knows what Messiah really means; suffering and death.   Is the self-giving suffering servant really the kind of Messiah we Jesus’ followers seek?

“My Jesus” vs. Jesus, the Messiah

            Peter the apostle proclaimed boldly to Jesus, “You are the Messiah.” However, upon hearing from Jesus what his Messiahship really meant (suffering and death), Peter could not accept it and rebuked Jesus; the same guy who later denied Jesus three times. Peter did not want a suffering servant Messiah that Jesus self-described, the one who would be rejected, beaten, and killed. Peter was seeking a Messiah of his own making, maybe one in his own image, a powerful, bold, outspoken Messiah who would overthrow the Roman establishment, and honestly many of us may be just like Peter.

I imagine if I took a poll right now here at St. Monica’s asking, “Who do you say Jesus is,” I would hear a variety of responses.  I wonder if each of our own imagined Jesus personas and the real Jesus Christ are at odds with each other.  Some of us think of Jesus as ‘Good Teacher Jesus,” a mere ancient sage who provided the world with some really good wisdom about how to live.  Some of us think of Jesus as “Politically Conservative Jesus” or alternatively, “Politically Liberal Jesus” either of which depends on your own political affiliation, because we often pick, choose, and apply which of his words move our own agenda forward.

Some of us think of Jesus as “Vending Machine Jesus,” the Lord we only connect with when we find ourselves in dire straits, or we experience life’s difficulties, or when there is something we want or need.  Maybe we think of Jesus as “Episcopalian Jesus,” the Lord who wears the most beautiful vestments, never ever breaks the liturgical rubrics, never changes anything because we have always done it that way, or the one who can chant the entire mass with grace and style.

We (just like Peter) have in our own minds who it is we want Jesus to be, but often that image is cleaned up, tidy, and non-confrontational or too demanding.  It is often based on who we are and our own agendas, desires, and priorities. Christopher Henry, in his Christian Century article wrote, “We must be ready to embrace this Messiah, the one who will question our deepest allegiances and demand absolute discipleship, the one who requires us to move from selfishness to generosity, from fear to love, from hatred to compassion, from the narrowness of self- righteousness to the wideness of mercy.” (1)

Jesus is Lord?

Is Jesus Lord of our lives?  In our culture, we are focused on pursuing self-actualization, individual gratification, and personal success and thus, we are the real lords of our lives. We cannot forget that the master of our lives is the one who “underwent great suffering, and was rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and was killed, and after three days rose again.” The chief orchestrator of our lives is the one who tells us to “Deny yourselves, take up your cross and follow me.”

Theologian Christopher Henry explains further, “If we want to follow this Messiah, it’s going to take more than acceptance and assent, more than a moment of decision. It’s going to take a change in habits, assumptions and actions.”  Jesus is pretty clear about his expectations of his followers, and every day we face the decision to follow Jesus, or not.  Jesus tells us to care for the least lost and lonely and says, “when you do this for the least of these, you do it for me.”  He tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and neighbor means everyone with whom, we come in contact.

So, when we encounter a member of our local community who is an outcast, whose dignity as a member of the human family is challenged, when those around us lack the basics of life, when our neighbors experience a level of loneliness and isolation that we can only fathom, when our local citizens wrestle with a dark and depressive hole of despair we have never tread, or when a growing generation of our local residents are living with a spiritual emptiness like never before, will we deny ourselves for their sakes?  How will we respond to Jesus mandate to “love our neighbor as ourselves?”

Denying ourselves, taking up our cross means we must be changed so much, that we begin to deny our own priorities, and say, “Yes” to Our Lord’s way of self-giving love.  Claiming Jesus as Lord means that we must take up our cross or rather, die to our old selves, thus denying that self who stands in the way of God’s mission of grace for all.

Losing your Life

It may be that the church has to stop looking inward for her mission statement, and start looking outside her four walls, outside the priorities of inner church life, so they she rediscover what it was God was calling her to be and do.   Matthew Skinner in his Word and Worldarticle wrote, “one who follows Jesus continually enacts self-denial through living without regard for the security and priorities that people naturally cling to and that our society actively promotes as paramount. This enactment is not a matter of private piety but of public testimony, for the refusal of a certain way of living directly impinges upon one’s identity and possibilities.” (3)

We are bearers in our lives of the promise that death does not get the last word.  “Death, the last enemy, has already been defeated by Jesus’ rising from the dead.” (2)Maybe that is what it means for us to be cross-bearers and to identify with Jesus. The church must constantly die to who it has been, so she can be raised to new life everyday.  Our willingness to die to those parts of our nature that rejects the one we call Lord, and to bring hope to the world is the way to experience the promises of new life.

Then Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” I think he is saying to the church, “Lay down your own priorities, your own sense of yourselves, and your own agendas.” “Be willing to lay down parts of the communal life you hold so dear, and let go of who you think you are, and get out there and do what I do every day through you. Go out there and change the world of the other people around you by bringing them my grace through you.

We will truly discover who we are as a community, when we get outside ourselves, yes denying ourselves, and when we begin to serve those around us just like Our Lord does. That is when we identify with who Jesus is.   So, imagine once again you are there with Jesus and he asks , “Who do you say I am?” Maybe we respond with, “You are my good teacher,” or you are my “Political Jesus,” or you are my “Vending Machine Jesus,” or your are my “Episcopalian Jesus.”  I know he hopes will all will say, “Jesus, you are the Lord of my life.”  Then, he will say to us, “I know you think you cannot leave your own agenda, desires, and comfort behind so easily and bear this mission of love , but I will show you the way, and be with you all along the way.”  Then, he reaches down, picks up his cross, and invites us to pick up ours as well.  Then he looks us in the eye with love and peace and says, “Come on now, follow me.”

REFERENCES

(1)  Henry, Christopher A. “Living By The Word: Reflections On The Lectionary [S 16, 2012].” The Christian Century129.18 (2012): 19. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 8 Sept. 2015.

(2) Marcus, Joel. “Uncommon Sense.” The Christian Century117.24 (2000): 860. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 8 Sept. 2015.

(3) Skinner, Matthew L. “Denying Self, Bearing A Cross, And Following Jesus: Unpacking The Imperatives Of Mark 8:34.” Word & World23.3 (2003): 321-331. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

 

SERMON 9-9-18 Pentecost 16B St. Monica Episcopal Church

doxieIsaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

The Dachshunds

“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”   Terri and I have (all our lives) have loved Dachshunds, that breed of little dogs with long bodies, short legs, and a temperament that is somewhere between a teddy bear and a ferocious lion. A few years ago, our smooth haired red Doxie, Duchess was declining and for the sake of our other younger dog (Duke), we brought a new pup into our family. “Tyson” was different from the other dogs, and in time, he really upset the balance of your home, and it creates many challenges.

Duke and Duchess resisted Tyson’s exuberance, playfulness, and energy.  They did not trust the new boy’s toys, his smell, and his actions.  The “old timers” had been with us for a long time, and they were not ready to change or accept the newcomer without a growl, chase, or nip that went on for several weeks after he arrived.   Today, through many trials and a even a scuffle or two, Tyson has taken his place in our home.  He does strut around like he’s the “big dog,” but Duke, the real old man of the house finally has accepted him as an equal.

Church Folk and “House Puppies”

Some church folk can act like these kind of “house puppies.”   When new folks enter the life of a church with new ideas about church life, when they bring with them new spiritual gifts, and radical ideas that differ greatly from the established folks in the pews, the “old timers” can become frightened, threatened, and uncertain of our own place in the kennel. As an example, I was guest preacher at one of the churches in the diocese once, and while I was vesting, Terri found a seat in one of the pews.  A sweet lady came up to her and said, “Miss, you are in my seat.”  Churches can get stuck in our old ways and we struggle to accept, welcome and let new folks to have an impact on the pack.

The story in today’s gospel is an example of how a community of folks can be resistant to newcomers.  Jesus left his familiar “own people” and traveled from the West Bank of the Sea of Galilee to Tyre, a distance of 20 miles or one day’s travel.  He then walked from there to Sidon and then back to the region of Decapolis, which was another 150 miles or seven days.   Jesus was leaving the familiar the “insiders” the “old timers” to test the possible expansion of his ministry and to test its boundaries.

 The Syrophoenician Woman

In Tyre, Jesus met a Gentile woman, whose daughter was possessed by an affliction. The woman was desperate and pleaded with the young rabbi for help.  His reply has become one of the most puzzling scenes from Our Lord’s ministry.  When the Gentile woman asked Jesus’ for help, he said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” What?  Did he really call her a dog?   The Israelite’s understood that all Gentiles, all people outside the House of Israel were to be scorned, so much that they referred to Gentiles as “dogs,” a derogatory term popular at the time.

People on the outside of the community were cast aside and treated as “less than,” people like lepers, the lame, the blind, and the deaf.  These were the people (the outsiders) whom Jesus ironically healed through his radical hospitality, but strangely, that is not what happened in this story. Jesus called her a “dog.”  Scholars have been puzzled for centuries because this is not the Jesus we know in scripture.  Some scholars say that Jesus was not being mean, but was more gently saying, “my mission right now is this, but in due time the rest will come into the kingdom.” Other scholars soften his words and translate the word “dog” as “house puppies,“ meaning he was saying she was more like a “house puppy” that was allowed to gather food at the food of the dinner table.  When we hear Jesus’ cutting words, words we have not heard him utter in any other parts of the gospel, we are utterly shocked, and we are at best uncomfortable that Jesus would have made such an ethnic distinction.

The star of this story is the woman because despite Jesus’ disparaging remark, her faith was strong and she rebuked Jesus saying, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She made it abundantly clear that she too, even though not in the House of Israel was in God’s house, and needed to be fed by God’s abundant grace.  This woman’s whose courage and faith changed Jesus’ mind, and I believe he realized his mistake and responded to her rebuke with, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”

No Pecking Order in God’s Kingdom

Jesus was actually inspired by this woman and he confirmed that he had a new vision for his ministry, and it all began when he was led to leave Israel and take the journey to Tyre, Sidon, and the Region of the Decapolis. Jesus turned this encounter around and taught his disciples, and teaches us that there is no “pecking order” in God’s kingdom; all are welcome. Jesus is teaching us that we have to be very clear that our mission is to welcome all people and help them to fully know God’s grace.

My friend and colleague Stephanie Spellers in her book “Radical Welcome” challenges the church to invite people to encounter grace in community beyond merely being socially assimilated. Stephanie says the church is a beautiful tapestry, woven with the diverse threads of people’s lives; people of different ethnicities, orientations, political affiliations, and people with new ideas, and new visions for the church.  As these new threads are added to the cloth of the community, the practice of radical hospitality diminishes conformity and thus, enhances the diverse nature of the ever-changing Kingdom of God. 

 Adapting to Change   

We must be willing to adapt when culture changes, especially when new people arrive, because Jesus (like himself) will challenge us to change our minds. Being Christian community today will require us to do more than merely open our doors and do what we have always done before. Pew research in August reported that 29% of the American population no longer participates in Sunday morning church, which is up from 8% only 20 years ago.  12% say religion does more harm than good, and 17% hold no religious beliefs at all.  These self-proclaimed “Religious Resisters” are making up a growing sector of our American population.   If they do come to our doors, they are going to ask, “Where do I fit , in this God Kingdom you so eloquently preach about?”  “Where is my place, my voice, my participation, and my scrap of crumbs of grace from the Master’s table?”  We have to adapt like Jesus adapted, and practice the radical welcome and hospitality we heard about in the heart change of Jesus.

Theologian Stephen Fowler in a Christian Century article wrote, “The key to understanding (our response to) the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman is to recognize that in this moment of his ministry,” Jesus opened himself up to mission to the whole world, he opened his church to the world. Now we are to open ourselves to the whole world in mission.”(2)  We must be at the work of creating a new place for the new pups that are gathering around God’s table for a scrap of grace.

A few years ago, a young, energetic, feisty little dachshund entered our home.  We did not know that such a little guy would literally shake the foundations of our lives, and at first, we tried to help Tyson be like the other two dogs.  He wanted to be a part of the family, but he refused to become something he was not.  In time, we realized that Tyson was bringing to our home something we never knew we wanted or needed, and   I could not imagine life without him.

SERMON 9-9-18 Pentecost 16B St. Monica Episcopal Church

The Master of this House

I am sure there are folks here who can be uncomfortable with new the pups that join the pack and make changes to our established ways of doing things. However, I must remind you, even Jesus changed his mind.  God’s people must be transformed and welcome the inevitable make over others who join us are going bring to the pack.  Like his disciples of the time, Jesus knew his mission was not about being a clubhouse where all the members look, act, and do ministry alike, but his ministry was for all people.  The “Master of this House,” Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is calling us to be a lighthouse, where all have a place at the table of grace, and all may bring their differences, quirkiness, and new ideas.

The “Master of this House” is the one who gave himself freely for all, and brought reconciliation and life abundant. The “Master of this House” sits at the head of this table, and all, not just some, are welcome to not only join the feast, but to participate fully in all aspects of the great banquet.  The “Master of this House” is the one who through one conversation with a courageous outsider, radically changed his mind, and changed his mission for everyone. We, like Jesus, must be willing to adapt, to let our hearts be changed.  We must welcome the new person into our midst, children, young people, people of different cultures, ethnicities, orientations, and traditions.  We must welcome everyone, so they too might have a place to receive, like us, the same crumbs of amazing grace that fall so freely from the Master’s table.

(1) http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/29/religious-typology-overview/

SERMON 9/2/18 St Monica’s Episcopal Church Pentecost 15B

Purell-StationDeuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Practicality vs. Purity

Last Sunday morning, Terri and I were returning relaxed, restored, and rejuvenated from our cruise in the Caribbean.  It was an awesome ship, with a great itinerary, exotic ports, and for the most part good food.  With all of those people cooped up in one place for eight days, you can imagine the need to keep things clean.  Cleanliness and hygiene is a big deal on cruise ships.

There was Purell gel hand cleansing stations at every turn on that ship and like everyone else on our cruise, we washed our hands religiously.  Every time we touched a banister, elevator button, or door handle, and before every meal, we washed our hands.  We did not do it merely for show to let others know how clean we were, we used the gel to avoid Norovirus and the other nasty bugs people can carry on ships.  There was obviously a purpose behind the Purell.

Today you find hand sanitizers in hospitals, offices, and even here in church. I bet many of you even have a bottle in our pocket or purse right now.  Our modern day obsession with using that refreshing alcohol based cleansing gel, may like ancient religious traditions that over time have become empty habitual practices.  For some of us, we reach for the Purell out of habit, forgetting why we are even cleaning our hands in the first place.

The hand washing conflict we heard about in the gospel reading may seem to be a little absurd, because it was so practical. I mean washing your hands before you eat, washing cooking pots, and washing the food you buy at Publix all makes sense right.  So, why did Jesus make a fuss with the Pharisees over smart hygiene? Well, the issue at hand (no pun intended) was less about hand washing and more about heart washing.

Washing hands, cups, and kettles: Identity Markers

Among Israel’s priestly clan, outward washing served as an outward sign of being in right relationship with God.  A good cleansing on the outside revealed a cleansing of one’s heart.  Therefore, the washing of hands before eating, cleansing kettles and pots, and washing food purchased from the market became a frequent religious practice of the uber-righteous.  Over time though, this religious practice lost its original purpose and meaning, kind of like when we thoughtlessly reach for that Purell bottle, and we forget why we even use it.

This religious practice became an outward show in public that was used by some to draw praises, and holy accolades from the crowds for self-righteous piety.  In other words, what was meant to be a response to God’s grace became a way for the so-called holy ones, to put up religious window dressings for all to see. These outward actions also became exclusionary tactics used to make others feel as if they were less than, unworthy, or not as good as those who were faithful to the law.

I wonder if we are honest with ourselves, how many of us unconsciously put up religious window dressings like that?  Maybe in the dark areas of our hearts we entertain the thought, “With all I do for God, all the ministry I do, and I must be doing this Christianity thing better than everyone else.”  Maybe in those self-serving crevices of our psyche (that we all have) we think, “Others don’t pray as often as I do, nor study scripture as much as I do, or are not as well versed in theology as I am and thus, they are not as good a Christian as me.”  The Pharisees Jesus rebuked for their pious practices, thought like that, and puffed them up like that, and divided the community up like that.

In his article Pharisees among us, by John Ortberg, he writes, “All groups of human beings have a tendency to be exclusive; they want to know who is inside and who is out. So they adopted legalistic identity markers—visible practices of dress or vocabulary or behavior that serve to distinguish who is inside the group from who is outside.”(1)

The Pharisees’ religious practices no longer served as a response to God’s transformative power in their lives, but their piety became a way to show others how good they thought they were, by trying to earn their praise, and thus foolishly trying to earn favor with God.  Jesus saw through the ruse and he called them on it. He said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” Devotion was no longer about God and responding to God’s love, it became about a need for ego inflating self-righteousness.

John Ortberg writes and I quote, “There is a self-righteousness in me that does not want to die. There is something inside me that is not bothered when others are excluded, that wants others to be excluded, that feels more special when I’m on the inside and somebody else is not.” (1) Like Jesus’ detractors, we may want to be perceived as in the “holy in crowd,” and thus the purpose of our ministry becomes merely putting up religious window dressings.  To be “doers of the word and not mere hearers of the word,” as the Apostle James writes, our lives must mirror a heart filled with God’s grace, which acts merely to respond to that grace.

Following Jesus:  Why we do what we do

A preacher asked her congregation, “If you were arrested and put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  Our lives, our actions, our ministry should project the heart change, whereby Jesus washes us clean of our desire for self-righteousness, misled by a false “pay to play” idea of grace.

The so called “prosperity gospel” out there tries to convince us that God’s grace is somehow economic and transactional.  “The prosperity gospel is an umbrella term for a group of ideas … that equate Christian faith with material, and particularly financial, success.” (3) Consumer culture would have us believe that the way to God’s grace is through working hard, doing ministry, being a committed doer, and all to try and earn grace.  The notion of earning God’s grace has hijacked the Good News of the unearned favor of God and thus, some would have us believe that if we do the right things for God, God will do the right things for us. Grace is a gift we merely receive and not something we can purchase, negotiate, or earn through what we do. It is something we receive.

Clean your Hearts

Have you ever had someone give you an unexpected gift, and in response to the generosity you say, “Oh you did not have to do that, or I cannot accept that?”  Why is it we struggle to accept a gift from someone?   An article I read in “Psychology Today” offered four reasons why we may struggle to believe God’s grace is a free gift we mere receive and for which it cannot be earned.  First, maybe we reject the free gift of God’s grace as a defense against intimacy, fearing we may get too close to the holy.  Maybe we reject the free gift of God’s grace because we cannot let go of control of our relationships. Maybe we reject the free gift of God’s grace because we fear that strings are attached, and God may use the “gotcha now” tactic. Maybe we reject the free gift of God’s grace because we feel a pressure to reciprocate, and God may want more from us that we can give.  Grace is not something we can stay away from, control, or negotiate.  It is merely something we accept.  God loves us and that is it.  God loves you and that is enough.

If we are honest and folks, and I am being honest with you, I too fall into the trap of being that person trying to please God and seeking to earn grace. Clergy can sometimes be the worst at this issue, and so can all of us.  Consider simply why we came to church today.  We all woke up this morning and made a choice about whether to come to worship or not. Hopefully, we are not here out of some sense of guilt, or some misconstrued sense of duty, or even a desire to earn God’s favor.   Hopefully, we are here responding to the great love God has poured out on us this week.

My sisters and brothers God does not desire our gestures and work in order to love us. Our ministry service does not earn grace, but our ministry becomes how we respond to God’s grace.   Our lives, our gifts of time, talent, and treasure are offered to God every single day, not to earn favor, but as a response to God’s love that we have internalized, received, and accepted in our hearts.

Despite our tendency to try and measure up by religiously washing our hands, or doing other religious things, or acting in ways so others might believe we are good enough, God just keeps saying I love you this much. So, this journey of faith is much easier than we make it sometimes. Honestly, all we have to do is receive God’s love with open arms.  All we have to do is give thanks to God and let our life shine through all that we do, all that we say, and especially through all that we are.  We are beloved, forgiven, and transformed friends of Jesus, whose hearts have been washed clean by the “no-strings attached,” non-transactional, unearned, and certainly un-complicated gift of Jesus’ Amazing Grace.

REFERENCES

(1) Ortberg, John C Jr. “Pharisees Are Us.” The Christian Century, vol. 120, no. 17, 23 Aug. 2003, p. 20.

(2) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intimacy-path-toward-spirituality/201402/5-reasons-why-receiving-is-harder-giving

 

SERMON 8-12-18 Pentecost 12B St. Monica’s Naples FL

I-AM-THE-BREAD-OF-LIFE1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

Community and Unity

Two Sundays ago, we heard about Jesus feeding the 5000 with bread and fish, last week we heard Jesus describe himself as “True Bread from Heaven,” and this week, we hear Jesus portray himself as the “Bread of Life.”  Be ready because this bread theme continues for the next two Sundays. Despite the repetition, we preachers in August will need to dig a little deeper into the readings, in order to find subtle nuggets of spiritual nourishment.  The holy appetizer for the main course of the “Bread of Life” today, can be found in this week’s epistle reading.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus is a sweet and sour first course of delicious spiritual food for the soul.  This reading is an exhortation to a little upstart church that was finding living together in community difficult.   Ephesus was a very important center of culture, trade and commerce in the first century, and you would think that a sophisticated city like Ephesus, would be filled with people who treat each other with respect and love. That was not the case.

Ephesus and Community

Paul had to lovingly discipline God’s people for behaviors that were not Christ like. He chastised them for not speaking truth, and for lying to one another.  He called them out for their anger, for stealing, failing to share with the needy, for evil talk, bitterness, wrangling, slander, and malice.  He reprimanded them for not being kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. The Ephesian Christians were a little messed up.

We often romanticize those early churches as perfect little groups, but they were not.  They struggled to live out the faith each day, just as many of us do.  No faith community is perfect and so, we too need to take heed to Paul’s exhortations, because loving one another is how we follow Christ, and loving one another is never stress-free.

We grow together when we know God and practice his “no strings attached” love. We mature when we are in the middle of this messiness of Christian life together.  As recorded in Acts 2:42 those early communities thrived because they continued in the apostles teaching, the prayers, through fellowship, and in the breaking of the bread; the Bread of Life.  Returning to this simple model of community is how our churches will thrive today, and when we center our lives on the “Bread of Life.”

“I am” and Jesus and “I am”

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.”  It sounds simple, but there is more meat than bread in Jesus’ words.  When God sent Moses to lead Israel out of bondage, Moses was not sure what to call God.  God told him tell them, “I am, who I am. ‘I am has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14)   Did you know that Yaweh, the name for God throughout scripture is translated as “I am?”

It is no coincidence that Jesus called himself, “I am the light of the world,” “I am the door of the sheep,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the way, truth, and life,” “I am the true vine,” and “I am the Bread of Life.” Jesus was proclaiming that he is the “Great I am.” In his ministry and life, he was showing us the very character and essence of God through images of light, door, way, vine, Good Shepherd, and “Bread of Life.”

When we feast on the “Bread of Life,” we gather together in this blessed messiness we call church to connect forever and intimately with the great “I am,” the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all of creation.  Imagine for a moment the mystery of communing together with the “source, beginning and end” of all we perceive. We can, when we commune with Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Eating the Bread of Life

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” and then added, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  The literal eating of Jesus’ flesh was a difficult concept for his Jewish audience of the day, but Jesus was not talking about literal cannibalism when he made that statement.

Early Christian father Clement argued that when Jesus spoke of eating his flesh, he was referring to “the faith and hope by which believers are nourished, and … (faith) in terms of repentance and the search for spiritual truth.”(2) Consuming Jesus is a metaphor for a quest for the true nourishment found in the truths of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ.  We spiritually eat when we take into ourselves the teachings, the way of life, and conversion found in Jesus and further, when we spiritually eat at the Lord’s Table.

In the Eucharist, the priest offers the Gifts of God for the People of God saying, “take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.”  This is a reminder that Jesus is the true nourishment and the only food in which, we can trust.  He is the only sustenance we need, in order to have life abundant and life everlasting. I believe Jesus is really present among us in the Word proclaimed and the Bread and Wine consumed.

Community filled with Bread of Life

Methodist pastor Juan Huertas writes, and I quote, “we come to the “bread of life” again and again with the promise that God will come, that the spirit we are calling will show up, that the claim that we make will be made present, that you and I will find ourselves part of a new reality, transformed into God’s own, pushed, propelled, into the reality of God’s kingdom in the world.” (3)

Like that quirky little church in Ephesus, the church will always wrestle with our brokenness, messiness, and failures.  Truth be told, each one of us has the capacity to hurt one another, to fail in our mission, and to get sidetracked from the way of love.  We also have the capacity for so much more, when we live in faith together in Christ.

St. Monica’s is not an association of like-minded individuals, who like eggs in a crate, occupy common space once a week.  We are a tapestry of individual threads woven together, and like a beautiful cloth, the lines that might separate our individual gifts and lives become blurred, and the whole body takes on a new hue.  When we feed on Christ together, when we love one another, when we go out there and show others where to find bread we are being sent into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.

The hymn by which, we rejoice, the tune we sing is the song by which, the world will find holy food in us, find Jesus in us.  That little tune goes something like this:

I am the bread of life.
They who come to me shall not hunger;
They who believe in me shall not thirst.
No one can come to me
unless the Father draw them.

And I will raise them up,
and I will raise them up,
and I will raise them up on the last day.


REFERENCES

(1) Berge, Paul S. “John 6:1-71 – the Bread Which Gives Life to the World.” Word & World, vol. 5, no. 3, Sum, pp. 311-320.

(2) Koester, Craig R. “John Six and the Lord’s Supper.” Lutheran Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 4, Wint, pp. 419-437.

 

(3)  http://day1.org/4041-sharing_in_the_life_of_jesus(Pastor Huertas)

 

 

 

SERMON 8-5-18 Pentecost 11B St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL

baseballExodus 16:2-4,9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16;  John 6:24-35

Baseball and Church??

At one time, baseball was considered “America’s Sport” but it has since been replaced by Football.  Football is a “rough and tumble” game, with hard-hitting action, excitement and thrills and that spirit resembles life in our culture today. Baseball on the other hand is a leisurely game where action and excitement seems out of place on the baseball diamond.  That is of course, until someone hits a home run, or a player misses a catch, or maybe someone hits the perfect bunt and sends the third base runner home.

Life football, baseball players are talented athletes, but it takes more than talent to score. Baseball players must train and practice everyday the basics of the game.  They must hone those skills of swinging a bat, catching a ball, running the bases, and fielding a fly ball. Players must be willing to receive constant training, they must focus on good nutrition, they must learn from outstanding coaches, and they must show up with an inherent spirit of teamwork and mutual support.  Church is a little like baseball.

Church is not the constant action, hard-hitting, defeat your opponent, epic football game world, which some of us live in each day. Church is more like the leisurely engagement with our teammates on the “field of dreams” found here in the sanctuary, or in the parish hall, or together in our homes over shared meals, and most especially in the local mission field where we are called to serve the least, lost, and lonely neighbors all around us.  Like baseball being a follower of Jesus is a team sport.  You cannot play baseball alone, and you certainly cannot be a Christian alone.

Unity for Mission

In a faith community, we all show up to God’s party of love with gifts and talents, and we may even show up with our quirky junk that we would rather folks not know about, but that is ok, because we are all “beggars trying to show others where to find bread.”  Somehow in the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, God pulls all of us together, with all our unique talents, quirky habits and strange ways, and miraculously makes us one body, one spirit in Christ.   God coaches us into a unified team of fellow sojourners in life, who depend on one another to learn the lessons of Holy Love.

God doesn’t just send us out on the field with our talents and junk to figure out this Christian life thing on our own.  God gives us coaches and team managers, or as scripture calls them “apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” When we actively and not passively engage in ministry in the community, God is training us, in some way for life, for mission, and for our own sanctification.  As Paul writes, we are being built up to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Church life is the training ground for being a follower of Jesus.

Preparing for the Game

Unlike a great football game, Church may not offer the same kind of “action” and “excitement,” which we 21stcentury Americans crave.  However, if you do decide to actively play on the diamond of Christian community, and you allow yourself to be coached and trained for faith every day, you will experience how the Spirit gives us glimpses of Amazing Grace in ways you would never expect.

Maybe you will witness the amazing “double play” of mutual ministry when you pray with someone who needs healing, and in that moment the other person comes to understand that God’s grace is present in all circumstances, even the worst situations of life.  Maybe you will witness the “third base coach help a player go to home plate” when two people take communion to someone in the hospital, and they experience the grace of God’s presence in that holy meal that those who could not present with us on Sunday, receive from their fellow teammates. Maybe you will witness the incredible “catch off the wall” when a young mother and her infant receives much needed diapers, which allows her to use her income for more important things like nutritious food, rent, or utilities.

Maybe you will witness the the “seventh inning stretch” of looking into the eyes of that young child you are coaching in Sunday School, and you experience that moment when that child realizes that Jesus is her Lord.  Maybe you will witness the incredible “triple header” of joy, love, and peace in the eyes of people as they stretch out their hand to receive the Body of Christ, or when you share the Chalice of the Blood of Christ with your sister or brother.

My sisters and brothers, talented baseball players cannot play baseball by themselves and likewise, we cannot grow in faith all by ourselves.  Christian community is a shared experience by which, we come together to attain “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”  Being a Christian and sharing the mission of Christ takes a team of Christians. Remember, Jesus said, “when two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you.”

The Game Begins

Like a baseball team, in order to play or rather, “to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” we need to spiritually train, to eat right at this table, to spiritually exercise, and to coordinate our mission work together, and then we go out and play the game.  On the night of a big baseball game, the stadium grass is freshly mowed, the diamond looks immaculate, everyone shows up in spotless uniforms, the national anthem plays, and the game begins.   Sunday mornings, the parish is clean, the linens are pressed, the silver is polished, the sermon is prepared, the choir has practiced, the organ sounds beautiful, the altar party is wearing spotless albs, and the service begins.

However, the big event, the multi-game series in which, we followers of Jesus Christ are called to play, surprisingly is not the time we gather for weekly worship.  Do not get me wrong, the time we gather is an essential part of our discipleship training regime.  Yes, it is a holy time, a holy gathering, and a sacred moment, but the big game for which, we are being trained and coached, actually happens when we leave these doors and go out into the world each and every day.

Last week, I told you, “we are being fed each week for a purpose, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.  Our mission is to be witnesses in the world of Christ’s redeeming love, and we do that by literally being Good News.  We do that by reaching into the storms of others’ lives and showing them the bread of grace.  We do that by working to restore justice and dignity to every human being. We do that by loving one another as we love ourselves.”

Actively serving in one of the many ministries of service, worship, education, evangelism, parish life, pastoral care, and stewardship here at St. Monica’s, these are your training camps for Christian discipleship.  Through your ministry, you will be prepared for the big game of witnessing to Christ’s love and grace in the world.  My sisters and brothers we all need to be out there on the training field and in the game.  We all need to practice with each other the holy, life-giving, challenging, time-demanding, and sometimes messy discipleship training, of living in and serving in Christian community together.  We all must find our place on the team, and not any one of us can play more than one position at a time.  If you are not sure what position God is calling you to play, there are lots of coaches here who are ready to come alongside you to encourage and help you find your place, most especially me.

So, what do you say?  Are you ready to take the field, hone your spiritual gifts, grow into a deeper love of Jesus Christ, feed on him, and then go into the world singing, “Take me out the ballgame.”  Better yet, maybe our song should be, “Lord, I trust you, I depend on you, I will follow you; so, take me out into your mission field, where I can be your hands and feet each and every day.”  Each of us has a position to play on the team so remember, “it takes the whole team working together to accomplish the mission.” It is God’s mission of restoring all people to unity with Christ and one with another; the mission of reconciliation, mercy, peace, grace, and love.

 

 

SERMON 7/29/18 Pentecost 10B St. Monica’s Naples FL

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

How many of you love food, and how many of you love to cook?  My first career was as an Associate Buyer with a national retailer, where I developed product assortments, designed advertising, developed financial plans, and imagined new product ideas for many of those awesome kitchen items, cookware, bakeware, and cutlery that you have in your home.  Even now, I love watching cooking shows on Create TV and PBS, and I guess you could call me a “Foodie”, or maybe I am just a “wanna be” Sous chef.  I enjoy preparing a meal for folks, and I love to see their reaction when they try a dish I have made.

Feeding people, sharing food with others is a way of showing love to other people.  My mother made some incredible dishes when I was a kid, and I know each one was filled with hard work and love.   If you think about it, food and sharing a meal is a core part of the narrative of Our Lord’s ministry.  Jesus ate meals with all sorts of people, Jesus fed crowds, and Jesus instituted the holy meal we share each week.

“Give us this day our Daily Bread.”  The Lord’s Prayer reminds us of our reliance on God’s provision, and the intractable place of food in faith. However, God’s provision does not begin and end with we good churchgoers.  The church from its beginning has wrestled with this question, “Does being fed, mean feeding others?Even his early disciples were unsure about their responsibility to feed others. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus asked Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat.” Post-resurrection at the beachside with his disciples, Jesus had to tell Peter three times to “feed my sheep.” This mission of feeding body and soul was the heart of the ministry of Christ and thus, it is the work of the church, because in reality, most folks, go to bed spiritually hungry.

 

HUNGER .. REAL HUNGER for JESUS

Have you ever been hungry, I mean really hungry?  Not that Snickers chocolate bar “Hangry” we occasionally experience.  I mean that real,  “one meal a day, I have not eaten all day, I may go to bed empty, kind of hungry?” An article in the “Daily Mail” reports that the average individual American consumes an average of about “3770 calories per day.”(3) We Americans are blessed to have an abundance of food to eat, but like the folks in first century Palestine, nearly 42 million of our sisters and brothers in America, go to bed hungry every night.

The often hunger pains of empty stomach, combined with a life of hard labor was the life of the average person in Jesus’ time.  In first century Palestine, people were able to gather a lot less than 3800 calories each day, and 70% of the calories in their diet came from bread, often eaten in one main meal in the evening.   This was the dilemma of Jesus’ feeding miracle as recorded in John’s gospel.  A large crowd of 5000 men (plus women and children) was chasing after the Great Healer seeking restoration, but they had not brought food along with them, for the only meal they would eat that day.

They sought Jesus so steadfastly that they forgot about their basic physical needs in order to seek Jesus.  Ironically, the disciples who intimately knew the Master’s sustaining grace first hand, when they saw the hungry crowd, just threw up their hands and said, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  The disciples who had received grace so easily, did not understand their responsibility to share it with others, except for one little nameless boy.

William Lamar writes, “A quiet little boy with fish and bread shares with Jesus and something astonishing happens. The whole crowd is blessed. No gift given to the Lord is given in a vacuum. Instead, all gifts given to God bless the entire body of Christ.” (2) Jesus fed the crowd from a small boy’s lunch of five barley loaves and two fish, a meal the boy was willing to share with others, so Jesus could share it with the crowd.  Each one of us, must share from the abundance we have, and share in Jesus’ ministry of feeding others, both body and soul.  We who are fed by the miraculous meal of bread and wine, Body and Blood are fed, must share that grace with others, just like that little boy.

 

THE GREAT THANKSGIVING

Each week, we gather around the Lord’s Table with the simplest of food (bread and wine), and are sustained from God’s abundance. With the staple food of bread and the nourishing drink of wine, Jesus gathered his followers together and instituted the meal, which we commemorate and make present in the Eucharist or Great Thanksgiving.  This is the same meal by the invocation of the Holy Spirit, becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  Thus, are nourished not just for ourselves, but fed heartily so we might live fully, each and every day as followers of and doers of Jesus’ mission of love.

There is much more going on in this meal than just bread and wine, or even more than a memorial meal, because in it we are being fed and transformed in ways that only mystery can begin to explain.  Theologian David Fredrickson states, “There must be something bodily going on between Christ and believers (starting with Christ and moving to believers!) in order that the life of God, which is fully present in the Son, becomes their life as well.”

In the liturgy we say, “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.”  In this holy meal, we receive grace, strength, pardon, renewal, and in it together we are made one body, so that we might serve the world in Christ’s name.

Sharing the Good News – “Does being fed, mean feeding others?

“Does being fed, mean feeding others?  Yes!  At the closing of the liturgy and from the baptismal font, the priest dismisses the congregation.  From Table and past the Font, we are sent out, not to go home and take a nap (like most of us do every Thanksgiving), but we are dismissed into the world to share Christ with others.Methodist pastor and Christian leader D.T. Niles, was quoted in a 1986 New York Times article, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”

We are being fed each week for a purpose, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Our mission is to be witnesses in the world of Christ’s redeeming love, and we do that by sharing the Good News and literally being Good News.  We do that by reaching into the storms of others’ lives and showing them the bread of grace.  We do that by working to restore justice and dignity to every human being.  We do that by loving one another as we love ourselves. Being fed DOESmeans we show others who are spiritually hungry, where to find bread.

From feeding a crowd of 5000, Jesus goes and walks on the water.   In John’s version of the story, Jesus is not in the boat where the other disciples are being sheltered.  This time, Jesus is out there on water itself walking through the storm. Jesus is not merely in the boat with us good churchgoers, but he calls us out there with him, out onto the trepid and crazy waters of this life, to share his ministry of feeding body and soul, and there is much work to be done.

So, get ready when you come to the Lord’s table today, and get your fill my friends, eat hearty, eat well and then, go and share God’s abundant grace, love, mercy, healing, and reconciliation with everyone you encounter this week.  Go and show others where to find bread, because their soul and your soul depend on it.

Let us pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

 

REFERENCES

(1) Fredrickson, David E. “Eucharistic Symbolism in the Gospel of John.” Word & World, vol. 17, no. 1, Wint, pp. 40-44

(2) Lamar, William H IV. “Chasing Jesus.” The Christian Century, vol. 120, no. 14, 12 July 2003, p. 17.

(3)  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2722815/Daily-calorie-intake-countries-world-revealed-surprise-U-S-tops-list-3-770.html

SERMON 7/22/18 Pentecost 9B St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

A Call to Prayer

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.”  I imagine Jesus sitting there patiently with the twelve, as they shared their stories.  Maybe one or two were overjoyed about how the ministry that they were doing with Jesus was changing lives.  Maybe a couple of them were disappointed and wanted the mission to go into another direction. Maybe one of them was deeply saddened, because back home the family was struggling without him.  Even so, Jesus invited them to come away from the chaos and sit with him for a chat, to lay their burdens at his feet, and to share the joys of their day together.

You can just picture Jesus listening to each one of them as he occasionally offered gentle encouragement or patient correction. I bet he lovingly taught, counseled, guided and consoled them too.  Put yourself into that scene for a moment.  Imagine being with Jesus having a conversation like that with him every day.   You do know that you can right? We have a powerful communication tool that we can use to share our joys, fears, disappointments, and stories with Jesus anytime. We call it prayer.

What is Prayer?

Prayer seems a simple thing to do, but not all of us knows how to do it, or we believe we have to do it a certain way.  Some of us did not grow up in a home where our parents prayed.  Many of us were taught only one or two prayers like, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.”  Maybe before bed we prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Television and movies do not provide a good model for prayer either.

One of my favorite mindless comedic movies is “Talladega Nights” starring Will Farrell, who plays a successful, failed, and successful again, egotistical NASCAR driver named Ricky Bobby.  One of the early scenes in the movie goes like this, after successful race Ricky and his family gathered around the dinner table, and Ricky says grace.  He begins it with, “Dear sweet, tiny, eight pound six ounce Baby Jesus,” and then breaks into this weird speech prayer that I dare not repeat in church.  Ricky’s prayer was naïve, immature, inappropriate, and a bit heretical at best, but the fact remains, he believed that he should pray.

Prayer is not perfect words or specific incantations we say hoping God will respond and give us what we want.   Wikipedia defines prayer as, “an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship, typically a deity, through deliberate communication.” The key to prayer is to see it less as a one-way dialogue, and approach it as holy communication. Communication, as I have experienced it, happens through the exchangeof information with someone. Communication requires more than talking. Communication requires listening and speaking.  Prayer also requires listening and speaking.

Prayer is not empty one-sided requests by which, we proclaim our needs to an unseen cosmic vending machine.  Prayer is a conversation with God.  Prayer is conversations like those you would have with a close friend.  Prayer can be conversations like those found in our prayer book, which have been used by generations who come to God weekly to talk with God together in community.  Prayer can be simply listening and relaxing with God in an awareness of God’s presence.  We all need to pray, not to check off a spiritual to do list, but prayer affords us a chance to “take a break from all the chaos of life and spend time alone with Jesus every single day.” Prayer is about a relationship.

Why Pray?

Put yourself into this scenario for a moment. You come home every single day after a hard day’s work, and you sit in your favorite chair and your spouse or partner is sitting on the sofa lovingly anticipating hearing about your day. He or she smiles at you, patiently waiting, but every day you never saying anything to them.  There is no communication, and thus that relationship is doomed for failure. I guarantee it will not grow and flourish, because the couple will not share their lives with one another.

Prayer is a relational conversation and the model of that kind of prayer is found throughout scripture.  Jesus invited his closest friends and followers to share with him, what they had done in their ministry.  Jesus is interested in us.  Jesus wants us to share our lives with him, as he shares his resurrected life with us. In a world where social media, cell phones, music, and other noise drowns out the still small voice of God, we disciples must make it a point intentionally to carve out space, to be present with God.

How to Pray

“Alright Eric, I will do it,” you may say, “but I have no idea how to pray.”  It is so simple, because there are so many ways to pray.  Reading scripture can open up a whole new way to pray.  Let me give you an example using Psalm 23 and its beautiful words to help you pray.  First you read, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”  Maybe the prayer goes like this, “Dear brother Jesus, Lord, you promise to provide for my needs and you do so in so many ways, thank you Lord, my friend, my brother.”  Next you read, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me.”  Maybe the prayer is, “Father, I am in a really bad place right now with work, and I messed up. I am afraid I might lose my job.   You promise me that I have nothing to fear, for you are with me. I trust that Lord, but right now, please give me peace and calm to deal with this situation.” You get the picture right.  The Psalms are a playground for prayer, and each one can help the novice and expert prayer warrior alike, to have a conversation with God.

Maybe you would rather use something tactile to help you pray.  I bet you did not know that the first “spiritual” fidget spinners (invented by monks) are called prayer beads.  Prayer beads help you have something to focus your hands on, and to center your mind while praying. Repeating a simple word or phrase (grace, Jesus, Lord), while fidgeting with prayer beads, can calm your mind as you listen for God. Prayer beads can take you to that specific quiet space that allows you to rest and relax with Jesus. I know for a fact that the alcove in the parish hall has a plethora of prayer beads available.

Journaling is another way to pray. I often write in my prayer journal, and I start by finding a quiet place in our house, where I can write what I want to say to Jesus about my ministry, my day, my struggles, and my intercessions for others.  On one page of my journal, I write a letter of love to Jesus, in which I pour out my fears, joys, and sometimes my anger.  On the second page, after spending some time in silence and listening for the still small voice, I write a letter from Jesus to me, and that is where the conversation gets interesting.  It has been one of the most powerful spiritual practices of my life.   There are so many ways to pray, but the key is to commit to creating space and time to have holy conversations with God.

Go Pray, all day, every day

            Do you know the old Janis Joplin tune, “Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all have my friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends, So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” At one time in my life, I thought prayer was a futile exercise, because I honestly thought prayer was merely coming toGod, as if God was vending machine.  I thought prayer was saying the right words, only to get what you want.  I love Joplin’s prayer song, but like her, many years ago, prayer sounded less like a holy conversation, and more like a negotiated transaction.

We disciples must pray not to negotiate with God. We pray because like in any relationship, we need to have conversations, which cultivates growth in our love and commitment to one other and that requires and exchange from the heart.  Even Janis Joplin’s famous song or even Ricky Bobby’s “Dear Sweet little Baby Jesus” prayer may seem silly and irreverent, but I do like them both because they are honest and non-pretentious petitions from the person’s soul.  Prayer must be authentic and from the heart, even if the words are not right, or even if the intention is a little misguided.

Then, there are times we do not have any words to say. Theologian Rachel Srubus wrote in a recent Christian Century article, “I trust that the Spirit, who deeply sighs where words leave off, intercedes for me— and for you, and for all creation.”  If we but make the time, God will lead the conversation. Remember, the invitation to pray is there, “My beloved child, just come away to a deserted place all by your self with me, and rest a while.” Pray my friends, and then, pray some more.  Jesus is waiting patiently to hear from you today. So say a prayer, and “take a little break from all the chaos of life and spend some time alone with Jesus.  You will find peace, strength, and hope when you leave your burdens at His feet.”

REFERENCES

(1) Srubas, Rachel M. “Pray as You Can.” The Christian Century, vol. 122, no. 14, 12 July 2005, p. 19.

SERMON 7/15/18 Pentecost 6B St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

To-tell-the-truth-bgAmos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

To Tell the Truth

In the late 20thcentury, there was a popular game show called “To Tell the Truth.” Three contestants, all claimed to be the same person, and tried to stump a panel of celebrities.  Two contestants were lying and only one was telling the truth.  The panel would ask each contestant several questions, and try to guess which one was the real mystery guest. After several minutes, the host ended the questioning, and said, “will the real mystery guest, please stand up.”  Each contestant would act like they were going to stand up, and then the real person would rise from their chair, and claim their true identity. It was just a game show, but I wonder if it can serve as an example of how we face the challenges of claiming our true identity as Christians, telling the truth of the Gospel, speaking truth to power.  To tell the truth today requires great courage and it may even come with great consequences.

Truth is Costly

In today’s gospel reading, John the Baptist was arrested, put in prison, and executed for speaking truth to power, for speaking plain truth.  John announced truth throughout his ministry.  He preached to the crowds about how they needed to repent, turn from their ways, and return to God.  John proclaimed the truth about who Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of God.  John was a bold, out there, in your face, prophetic voice, and his mission was to tell the truth. I believe he was the forerunner of disciples to come.   So, how did his truth telling cost him his head? John publically revealed the scandalous truth about Herod’s sinful behavior, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” John the Baptist spoke truth to power and it cost him his life.

Now for we 21stcentury Christians, telling the truth of the Gospel, claiming your true identity as follower of Jesus may not cost you your physical life, but it may cause you to lose friends and it may cause you to suffer rejection.  Claiming Jesus may require you to take a stand on issues that the world finds distasteful, and it will definitely cause you to be transformed.   When we are changed, and we begin to live the way of Jesus, the way of mercy, grace, peace, reconciliation and love, truth abounds.  Even in a culture where truth can be elusive where “fake news,” false advertising, and alternative facts seem to be all around, the truth of Jesus’ love, mercy, grace, reconciliation, and peace is truth, on which, we can rely.

What is truth?

What does it mean to tell the truth as disciples of Jesus?  Sometimes truth telling is when we help our sisters and brothers that stray, and we share straight talk with them, even if the truth hurts. Sometimes we must speak truth to power and stand for justice for all.  All the time, we must always claim the truth of our identity as followers of Jesus, even if it costs us friends.  Truth tellingcomes with great consequences; it did for John the Baptist; it did for Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Following Jesus is costly, because it requires us to leave our old selves behind, in order to find our new identity in Christ.

The early Christians understood this concept and their claim was simple, “Jesus is Lord!”  This simple statement meant that the following Jesus was how they lived their lives.  They claimed that Jesus ministry, his life, his love would lead, guide, and directs their lives.  We Christians today must do the same, claiming Jesus as Lord of our lives.  We Episcopalians at General Convention over the past two weeks, spent some time dying to our old selves and then, boldly claiming, “Jesus is Lord” in ways that I have not seen before.  Here are a few examples.

Telling the Truth – General Convention

First, we Episcopalians spoke truth to power and stood for justice for the least, lost, and lonely.  Hundreds of us stood in solidarity and protested the detention practices of the “T. Don Hutto Residential Center,” where immigrant detainees are being held as captives, and separated from family members.  As they stood outside, God’s people inside waved, shed tears of joy, and thanked us for our love and support. Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry shouted, “We come in love. We come in love because we follow Jesus, and Jesus taught us love.”

Our Episcopal Bishops two weeks ago at Convention spoke truth to power at Austin’s Brush Park Square, and stood in solidarity against gun violence while claiming, “we are disciples of Jesus Christ” and “we reject violence as a way of life.”   On Thursday morning last week, the Episcopal Church took a stand for justice and voted to reconcile our sin of over 50 years, by which in the 1960’s we chose to separate from and abandon the Episcopal Church in Cuba.  Tears flowed down thousands of faces that day, when we voted to welcome back to the Episcopal family, our sisters and brothers of the Episcopal Church in Cuba as full members of this communion.

The Episcopal Church also took a stand for justice for all and passed resolutions that boldly and loudly proclaimed that all our sisters and brothers (siblings), regardless of race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation have an equal place in this church.  We claimed that we are family and “together we are disciples of Jesus Christ.” The Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement stood boldly together, and claimed our identity as followers of Jesus Christ, and in so doing we spoke truth to power, to each other, and to the world.   So, what does all that mean for the local church?

 Evangelism and Mission – To Tell the Truth

Imagine the “To Tell the Truth” game show as real life played out in our local neighborhood.   Pretend for a moment that we are the contestants, and the observers of the church serve as the celebrity panel.  Pretend that each one of us stand up and claim, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.” The panel watches and asks us no questions about theology, church history, scripture, doctrine, or even liturgy. The panel only observes, “how our faith has changed how we serve others, just like Jesus did,” “how our faith has changed how we face tragedy, joys, and challenges,” and “how Jesus’ love has brought healing, reconciliation, and mercy to us.”  Every day, our friends, our neighbors, and our family are intrigued by the way of Jesus, and you know, we are the only gospel many of them will ever read.  These folks hear our claim that Jesus is Lord, but they are looking for our actions to match our words.

St. Monica’s, we “tell the truth” of Jesus’ love, and we claim our identity as followers of the way of Jesus, but there is so much more we can do.  All of us need to expand our local mission work, right here in our neighborhood.  All of us need to advocate for, serve, and love our neighbors who are on the margins. All of us need to commit to the Jesus Movement already moving today, by taking a risk to share the Good News of God’s love that each one of us has experienced in Christ.  I know we can do this.

Our culture stands in wonder and asks, “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and love one another?” “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus tell the truth of how Jesus Christ has transformed their lives?” “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and care for the least, lost, and lonely?”  Religious skeptics of the world are not be interested in our history, doctrine, tradition, and some of the things we hold so dear, but they are interested in whether like Jesus, do our actions speak louder than our words.

Claiming Jesus as Lord requires us to respond to the call for grace, justice, and dignity for all, by loving our neighbors as ourselves. My dear sisters and brothers, we are the Jesus Movement that is already moving throughout the church today.  However, we must be willing to tell the truth of the Good News of the love Jesus Christ, by sharing how that love has changed us, and claiming “Jesus is Lord” in all that we do.

So what will you do the next time you meet a friend, maybe a religious skeptic, or a person that God calls you to love?  The opportunity “to tell the truth” happens everyday, even though folks around us may deny God’s grace, reconciliation, mercy, peace and love is real. We are the living advertisements of the Good News and the bearers of God’s love.  So when the opportunity to tell your our of God’s grace comes, when the opportunity to love our neighbor comes, and when the opportunity to take a stand for injustice comes, “will the real disciples of Jesus Christ, please stand up?”


REFERENCES

(1) Thomas, Rodney. “The Seal of the Spirit and the Religious Climate of Ephesus.” Restoration Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 3, 2001, pp. 155-166

(2) Campbell, Charles L. “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Journal for Preachers, vol. 28, no. 2, Lent, pp. 10-18.

(3) Baker, Kevin. “Capital T.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 14, 11 July 2006, p. 20.