SERMON 11-10-13 Proper 27 St. Boniface, Sarasota

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38

“The Christian life is a challenging life.  These are the words we heard in the bishop’s letter I read to you, God’s people of St. Boniface, last week.  Often, the most intriguing challenge of Christian community is how we deal with the reality of power issues. Most communities of people, who gather in common life together, eventually have some formal and informal structures that define responsibilities, accountabilities, authority, and power.  Employing and sharing power in a Christian community is something that has the potential for unimaginable good, and at the same time, if conflicted, there can be implacable destruction.

There is a power struggle in the story we hear in today’s gospel. Jesus, the young radical, “change the system,” rabbi, Our Lord, encountered a power bent on his destruction.  In this particular event, several Sadducees approached Jesus and asked him well-crafted and disarming question about the resurrection. It was a blatant attempt to trip up Jesus, and topple his influence in the community. Why?  Because Jesus threatened the perceived importance of those learned and experienced folk, and the power and influence they wielded in the community.

The basis of the Sadducees argument lie in the fact, they did not believe in the bodily resurrection, and it was this differing value, which opposed the Pharisaic sect of the community and later the Christian community.  From this disagreement tensions and hostilities were ever present between these groups. The Sadducees on that particular day were blatantly making a power grab, by thwarting the authority of the young rabbi Jesus.  They were engaging in what some call the “Gotcha game.”

THE GOTCHA GAME

Have you ever had someone ask you a loaded question, and waited for you to fail? Have you ever had someone try and catch you in a compromising position, so they can exert power over you, and knock you off your heels? Have you ever had someone intentionally expose your weaknesses in order to inch ahead in the old ladder of success?  Many of us have experienced these scenarios in our lives.  “The gotcha game” occurs when someone intentionally engenders distrust, disharmony, and downright evil intentions, so that legitimate authority might be disarmed.  It is kind of like a “spiritual filibuster” or a “community shutdown” that just seems to expand and never stop.  Recent political “gotchas” have proven that “filibusters” and “shutdowns” are ineffective when it comes to complex problem solving.

I personally have experienced the “gotcha game” in my first career as a Retail Buyer.  For multi-million dollar product lines, I was responsible for managing and negotiating assortment, pricing, terms, delivery, and support partnering with large suppliers.  There were times I engaged in heated negotiations over issues, but you can bet, I took no risks when it came to the company’s assets, or the relationships I had with my suppliers.  Some of my colleagues engaged in the “gotcha” game in business, and they played it well, but there was always a price with this approach.  My colleagues usually set out to shift the buying and negotiating power to their side, by tripping up their suppliers, in order to put them at a disadvantage.  ]

In the end, by manipulating, maneuvering, and undermining the other, trust was lost, integrity was diminished, and long-standing vendor relationships were severely damaged.   What usually worked best in the realm of retail buying was to establish relationships of trust, to seek mutual support, and to respect each other when hard decisions had to be made.  The “gotcha game” really had no place in business, and the “gotcha game” certainly has no place in the church either.

Love your Neighbor

            The problem with the “gotcha game” in the church is that it violates Our Lord’s sacred command to “love your neighbor.”  The unhealthy wielding of power in the Christian community that undermines one’s sister or brother, is what Martin Luther called “a demonic spell cast upon the soul.”2 Luther described this power wielding “gotcha” as Anfechtung, a German word, which really has no accurate English equivalent.  As nearly as possible, it means doubt, inner turmoil, and pangs of conscience, despair, pain, temptation and a lot more bad things. Remember the word blitzkrieg from World War II–a lightning-like attack? Well, that’s about what an anfechtung is: a sudden, warlike attack on the human soul or body.2

Anfechtung always has devastating results.  The aftermath of such godless power, to accuse, manipulate, and destroy another person for whom Christ died, is quite honestly, beyond our imagine.  Anytime we choose to engage in the “gotcha game,” Christ is crucified anew and his body, the church, is wounded.”1

Loving one another is the remedy for the gotcha game.  Healthy dialogue is the alternative to the “gotcha game.”  Self-examination and releasing our innate desire to destructively wield power and influence, is the process toward peace and the end to the power grab.  Releasing power diffuses and moves us from anfechtung to reconciliation.  When faced with conflict, which is a natural part of moving, growing, changing, and transitioning, we need to practice the ancient spiritual practice of discernment with patience, so that reconciliation and peace might abound.

I imagine in the temple that day, had the “religious experienced” listened with patience, rather than the well planned “gotcha game” strategy, the story would have been much different.  Maybe the religious leaders could have approached Jesus with love and respect. Maybe they could have acknowledged his wisdom and respect the burden he was carrying.  Maybe together they could have dialogued, listened, and supported.  What if the religious leaders had taken a chance to be vulnerable and had spoken truth?              “Teacher, we don’t believe in resurrection,” maybe those words alone, and possibly, Jesus response, “let’s talk about that for awhile,” could have been all that the Gospel reported for that event.  Maybe if the story followed an alternative path, the ensuing well-lain trap to undermine Jesus’ authority, thwart his approach, and circumvent his mission would never have happened, especially if the dialogue had begun in mutual respect, integrity, and love.   How tragic!

Later in Jesus ministry, he faced the “gotcha game” once again.  While Jesus body hung almost lifeless on that hard cross, bleeding, broken, and near death, the religious stood pointing fingers, taunting, and possibly thinking, “we gotcha now.”  But Jesus did not succumb to the game, he like he always does, turns death in to life, despair into hope, brokenness into restoration.  In beautiful words that cut to our core, Jesus fully reveals the depth of God’s love.  At Golgotha, we are shown the vulnerability of the God of love, which is the kind of love, God demands we have for one another.

Jesus hung there with outstretched arms and said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”  With these brief words from the lips of our dying Lord, Jesus overturned the power game.   Through the cross, the “gotcha game,” anfechtung, inner turmoil, pangs of conscience, despair, pain, temptation and a lot more bad things, lost their power.

God’s power comes not from manipulation, undermining, and maneuvering over and against the other, but from a love that finds its power in ultimate vulnerability.  It is in the work of God reconciling the world to Godself, that we are given hope of reconciliation with each other.   The icon of reconciliation is that beautiful Christian symbol we lift high as we enter this place of grace, and leave it to go out into the world to love and serve the Lord.   Redemption means that in order to experience love, mercy, grace, peace, and reconciliation, we must actually take up the cross of relational vulnerability, and die to the “gotcha games,” self-importance, and communal power struggles.  We die to the old self, so that we might be raised to new life in loving community where in our relationships, we reflect the grace of the “God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of are alive.”

 

1Lueking, F Dean. “The Gotcha Game.” Christian Century 115.29 (1998): 993. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

2 http://www.wels.net/news-events/forward-in-christ/march-1984/have-you-had-anfechtung-today

 

SERMON 11/3/13 “All Saint’s Day”- St. Boniface, Sarasota, FL

Luke 6:20-31

                  “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  In Luke’s gospel today, we find Jesus’ disciples gathering with him on a mountaintop, after he had been praying all night long.  From this lofty vista, Jesus chose twelve of his disciples to be his closest followers.  What a crew he chose: Peter (the bold and yet, first to run disciple), James and John, (the two who wanted seats of honor, over and above their fellow disciples), and there were others just as notorious (a tax collector and a zealot, just to name a few).  Jesus seems to call some incredible characters into a community of disciples, doesn’t he?  I guess the messiness of Christian community is what makes it so beautiful, hopeful, and reflective of God’s grace.

Jesus left the mountain with the twelve, and then entered a level locale for his discourse, which would turn upside down, the notions of human power differentials, social ladders and thus, demonstrate our need to constantly show love for one another.  There on that plateau, Jesus gave a beautiful sermon of Blessings and Woes, paradoxical sayings and ironic logic, which was counter-intuitive to our very nature.  Jesus in this sermon proclaimed that the Christian life comes with blessings and woes, and the Christian life, is a challenging life.

Jesus understood the challenge of our sociological peculiarities, and then he said something so outlandish, so out of the park, so “you’re kidding right.”  He announced that in God’s Kingdom we are to “Love our enemies.”   “Love your enemies” is not a simple suggestion or a trite saying that looks good on pewter statues, silicone bracelets, or framed artwork.  No, when Jesus told us to “Love our enemies, ” I believe without a doubt, he meant it.  “Loving enemies” does not seem to be of great value in a competitive, destroy your opponent, and push your own agenda world.  We don’t see this enacted in most political debates, especially those we have seen in the recent headlines.  Love your enemies just doesn’t sound normal does it?

                  The definition for Enemy which I found on Wikipedia is:  Enemy – a term for an entity, whether an individual or a group, that is seen as forcefully adverse or threatening. The concept of an enemy has been observed to be “basic for both individuals and communities”.  The term “enemy” serves the social function of designating a particular entity as a threat, thereby invoking an intense emotional response to that entity. 2        So, Jesus commands us to show love to those folks who are threatening; those folks who by real or merely perceived threats, invoke an intense emotional response in us.  Sometimes we are threatened when we experience change in our lives, or when our comfort zones are stretched, or when we face new fears or disappointments.  As a result, we may respond from the emotions of fear and anxiety, directed toward another person and in so doing, we wound one another deeply.

Sometimes we perceive others as enemies: folks whom we believe hate us, or we perceive curse us, or they actually abuse us; folks who strike us (physically or emotionally injure us).  We can easily recognize times in our lives that others have caused us pain.  Equally, each one of us most likely, can identify moments when we have inflicted pain on others.  Regardless of which side of the pain we find ourselves, the Christian life gets little dicey for us because Jesus teaches us, that a “like for like” reaction to hate, curse, or abuse has nothing to do with love, and honestly, it is not of God.  What is of God in the midst of each other’s pain, is that we embrace love reactions that include: “Doing good, blessing, and praying.”  That sure doesn’t sound like a good old catfight, an “I’ll get back at them” response, or a “just you wait and see” reaction, which we find so common in our everyday lives.

The reality is my friends; we are both saints and sinners.  We have a great capacity for grace, mercy, and love.  At the same time, we possess the capacity to inflict pain, create harm, and wound one another.   When faced with this paradox deeply embedded in each of us, Jesus steps on the scene, and lovingly demands, “choose love!”  In the midst of challenging community life, God calls for our “best efforts,” our best sainthood efforts, which “sums up the divine character (merciful even to the ungrateful and wicked) and the obligation on disciples to imitate this indiscriminate mercy for all. “1

“Love your enemies?”  Is it an old adage that has lost its place in today’s culture?  Is it merely a trite saying we learned in Sunday school?  No, it is a reflection of the divine character so “exaggerated and provocative (in) quality.” 1   Love your enemies, “is a command in search of elaboration, dialogue, and discernment.  It provides direction, but leaves the itinerary to the travelers.”  Is there Good News in the midst of paradox, pain, and wounded-ness?  Yes there is!  We who in this life sometimes travel the journey of broken hearts, and often times sit exposed to the rawness of wounds made fresh; always have before us, the choice to follow the direction of love.  The means through which we arrive at that blessed level place of reconciliation, God always leaves to us.  We arrive there only by God’s grace enabling us to incarnate generous acts of love, which in the words of Jesus include: doing good, blessing each other, and praying for each other.  It is on that level place of reconciling love, where our mutual participation in sainthood is desperately needed in this world; today and in the days to come.

1 Carter, Warren. “Love Your Enemies.” Word & World 28.1 (2008): 13-21. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 1 Nov. 2013.

SERMON 10/3/10 Pentecost 22C – St. Mary Magdalene, Bradenton, FL

When I was a kid, I spent many afternoons and summers working in my father’s television and electronics store.  Back then, I had the opportunity to explore the latest techno gadgets as they hit the market.  In the 1970’s, I listened to music on LP records, 8-track tapes and AM radio.  In the 1980’s, I listened to music on FM radio, cassettes, and I watched my favorite videos on MTV and VH1.   In the 1990’s, I bought CD’s.  Today, I download my music on my IPhone and can listen to it on my Mac, my IPad, or listen on my Apple TV device at home.  The music we listen to, as well as how we listen to it,  sure has changed over the past 40 years, and it is so much different than even 50, 60, or 70 years ago.

For example, one day while working in my father’s store clearing out some old boxes, I found hidden in a corner a beautiful, antique Victor Victrola.  If you’re not familiar with what that is, it is record player popular in the early 20th century.  This beautiful machine was huge and it had a wind-up motor, a felt covered turntable, a large metal needle and records that were so heavy, they felt like bricks.  As I explored the device, I found an old gospel album inside the storage drawer, and I decided to try it out.  I wound up the crank on the side of the music box, placed the record on the table, the needle on the record, and suddenly I was whisked back to bygone days.

There was an unfamiliar tinny sound to the voices and instruments, but the sound was absolutely wonderful. The song on that record was one very familiar to me, and I imagine most of us here today know the words.  “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, twas blind but now I see.”            Though the old Victrola was early technology and the song it played was a good old traditional hymn, it was as dear to me that day in the 1980’s, as it was for the family who heard it fresh and clear on that machine back in the 1930’s and 40’s.  In a moment, I was whisked back to a time when a family sat together listening to that old record player, enjoying a song that spoke volumes about a faith that informed their everyday lives, a faith that was passed on by generations before them, and to generations after them, a song of faith, millions of people still sing today.

We sing a lot of songs in church but all share a glorious song of love that has remained the same for centuries; the song of faith.  Now, the song remains the same, but what has changed over those years, is the medium through which the song has played.  From the early church, to the medieval age, enlightenment, reformation, to the modern era and now postmodern culture, the church has had to respond to cultural change, so that the song of the gospel might be heard in the world.

The world is changing at a pace like never before.  We relate through social media, and technology.  Using the internet we can access information like never before.  We’ve changed in other ways too.  Religious institutions do not hold the influence in culture that they did just 30 or 40 years ago.  Over the past 20 years, the number of people who claim no religious affiliation has increased from 8% to nearly 20%.  Nearly 33% of all adults under 30 are religiously unaffiliated.  Most of them have never stepped into a church, ever and many never will.

Here is the rub.  The Church, not merely clergy, is charged with the responsibility of passing the faith onto others, others who are seeking a community with whom they might find their spiritual identity, where they might join in the ancient spiritual practices of that community of faith, and where they might come to a spiritual place of conviction.  Our mission is not as easy as it was just a few decades ago, but we are still in the business of “faith passing.”   Our legacy of “faith passing” is a part of our tradition, which stretches as far back as the early apostles.  Faith passing is at the heart of the apostolic nature of the Body of Christ.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”  Theologian Alcye McKenzie asserts that this faith that lived in previous generations and now lives in Timothy  . . . is made alive and powerful for the present so that it can shape the future.” (Alyce McKenzie, Perkins School of Theology, July 2006 Interpretation Journal)

Our faith is a gift from God not merely for ourselves, but a gift, which we must pass on, through the power of God’s Spirit working in and through us.  Faith becomes alive in us and by our example it becomes possible for it to become alive in those after us. Today, we are gathered here in this place today, worshipping, singing, and praising God because of the Spirit’s power working in and through the faithful lives of grandmothers, grandfathers, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends and mentors bore witness to God’s amazing grace to us.  We are people of faith today, because someone before us passed faith on to us.

In a culture that is more and more irreligious, we need to go back to this simple practice of meeting others where they are, developing relationships of trust so the basic conversations of faith, might emerge organically, grow without a membership agenda, and transform the lives of others.  We must be people of faith and people able to talk about it, without seeming to merely want to fill the pews.  We need to be seed planters of faith who toil the soil of relationships, and we need to trust the Spirit will do the rest.  To do this we must recognize the signs of faith emerging in others.  Many of wrestle with the very basic question of what is faith?

Faith is a way of life, it is a way of being.  Faith empowers, strengthens, and encourages us to face each day.  Faith makes it possible to experience the joy, peace, love in moments of fear and uncertainty.  Faith is facing each day peering through the lens of God’s amazing grace. Faith simply said, is trusting in God’s promises in all things.  Trusting that the way of justice, love, mercy, reconciliation and grace, changes everything.  Trusting God makes it possible to embrace joy, to look with anticipation to a new day, to embrace the present, even in the midst of circumstances we cannot control.  Trusting God helps us to recognize that fear binds our hearts and spirits.  Fear is the greatest enemy of faith.  Faith is looking at fear in the eye and trusting that “nothing stands between us and the love of God.”. Faith is like a mustard seed.  It only takes a little faith to recognize the nearness of the Kingdom of God.

Some say the opposite of faith is doubt.  I believe the opposite of faith is certainty. When we are certain, when the facts are clear, and we know without a shadow of doubt; there is no more room for mystery.  Where there is no mystery, we begin to rely on ourselves, and what we can control and thus, there is little room for faith in God.   The disciples wanted certainty.  They cried, “INCREASE OUR FAITH.” Faith is not about certainty.  Faith is living life, putting trust not in ourselves, not in human institutions, not and in our financial portfolios.  A life of faith is putting our trust in God.

God puts a song of faith in our hearts and the Spirit whispers that tune every day. We have to be willing to allow the faith in us to grow wild, to be organic, so like the mustard seed, it will grow and flourish both in those who are gathered here today, and in those to whom we are called to pass the faith on.  Don’t let your faith sit in a corner behind some old boxes, covered in dust and silence.  You also don’t have to broadcast your faith on YouTube, ITunes, or social media.  What you can do to participate in the work of  “faith passing” begins with your closest friends, with unexpected people in those chance encounters at the store or pharmacy, with your daily work colleagues.  It really is very simple.  Let your life be a song of faith.  Let your life resonate the grace in you, so others may join the chorus, “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound.”

SERMON 8/25/13 Pentecost 15C St. Mark’s Tampa

Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17        Listen (mp3)

We find a glimpse of God’s mission story in today’s gospel reading.  As you read through his work, “Luke’s gospel is filled with stories that reflect Jesus’ compassion and mercy for the poor, the sick, the infirm, and the oppressed.”1  For instance, at the beginning of Jesus ministry, “(He) describes himself as the fulfillment of the following verses: ‘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’.”1  This scripture shows us the heart of God’s mission at work in reconciling creation:  good news to the poor, release for captives, sight for the blind, freedom for oppressed.

In today’s gospel reading, we see Jesus’ mission being manifested in acts of mercy, love, compassion, and healing.  The scene is in the synagogue where a woman of low social status, who suffered from some ailment and thus, could not stand up, appears among those gathered.  We do not know why she was there at that time.  She may have even gone unnoticed by the crowd, but she was not be overlooked by the Master.  He saw her plight, called her over to him, and with these simple words, “woman you are set free,” she was healed.  She was lifted up.  When I think of that story, I try and put myself in the woman’s place.  Have you ever carried a huge backpack or if you served in the military, a rucksack?  Under that heavy weight, you are stooped over and it is hard to move, hard to see what is in front of you, and it keeps you from being able to move forward.  The moment you drop that weight, it can be like pure freedom!  You can see people eye-to-eye, your limbs are free to move, and you feel light and ready for action.  See, the woman in the story, had not only a weight of physical affliction, she had a social affliction as well.  Because of the disorder, her community saw her unclean and defiled and thus, she was treated as an outcast from the community.  Jesus freed the woman from her physical ailment and she stood up, but he restored her to dignity and signified that healing by reminding everyone that she was restored to her community.  She was “a daughter of Abraham.”

Now the other character in the story is the leader of the synagogue who became enraged over Jesus’ flippant attitude toward tradition and rules; rules that seem to have lost their original purpose, which was to support God’s mission of reconciliation, restoration, mercy, grace, love, and healing.   You see, Jesus saw the woman’s plight, her cage of human inequity, her prison bars of social injustice, her walls of communal disgrace and he responded with love, with concern, with healing hands, and all else, including mis-applied tradition would not stand in the way of God’s mission of healing.

I want to be clear here, the leader of the synagogue was not really a bad guy, maybe a little arrogant, maybe a little obnoxious, and maybe a little over the top however, he was trying to be faithful by living out the law.  Even so, he forgot the whole reason for the law and tradition which was to set apart a community for blessing and thus, he was blind to the woman’s need for blessing and restoration to the community.  The tradition and law were the means by which grace might flow, not the end itself. The synagogue leader needed to come down off his high horse, stoop down to the woman’s eye level so that he, like Jesus, might see that she was his sister, and they shared a common need to care for one another.   In Jesus’ acts of mercy and healing, the prophet Ezekiel was fulfilled, “Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.” (Ezekiel 21:26 NIV)  You see, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of human equity that includes liberation for those held in the bondage of injustice, poverty, and social division.

Many of us, like the woman in today’s gospel reading, struggle with some type of bondage.  Our culture pushes us to excel vocationally, financially, socially, and relationally and there are costs for that kind of pressure.  Long work hours, anxiety filled schedules, over extended finances, and unfulfilled relationships are some of the pressures with which, many of us contend.  It seems that life would be joyful, if we lived a little more simply, if we could shrug off the heavy burden of success drive, and get back to basics.  Maybe if we could just get outside ourselves a little, and see the plight of others, and maybe, just maybe in lifting them up, we might find the freedom of God’s peace we so crave.

Some of our sisters and brothers live with a whole other set of pressures, prison bars of another type.  Some folks near us struggle every day to put enough food on the table to sustain the lives of their children.  Some folks near us are unable to balance the choice between buying needed medications and the basics of life.  Some folks near us live in isolation, depression, and loneliness.  Some folks near us are like the woman in the gospel today and are seen as second-class residents, merely because they don’t have the right documentation in their wallet.  You see, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom where liberation and equity is for all who are held in bondage.  Freedom comes to all, when we all move closer to each other, and when we meet each other in our common story.

Stories seem to be what our culture today craves.  I think that may be why Reality TV is so popular.  I came across a new reality television show on BBC America the other day that starred Gordon Ramsey (UK chef, former football player – soccer for us Americans, a rugged guy, etc.)  The premise of this new show was based on Gordon being locked up in the infamous Brixton Prison in London, where he was going to try and set up a catering company to offset the expenses of incarceration. Ramsay recruited from Brixton, some of the nation’s toughest prisoners and taught them to cook on the inside, in order to sell their product on the outside.  Everyone Ramsey encountered thought his scheme was crazy; the prison bureaucracy, his friends, the vendors to whom he wanted to sell the prisoners’ creations, and yes, even the prisoners themselves.

Ramsey’s original motivation for this project was based on his frustration with the cost of housing prisoners.  He also was frustrated with the prison systems’ ever evolving movement away from its original mission.  Despite his early entrepreneurial and sociological motivations, Ramsay soon discovered in his encounters with the prisoners, a deeper, unseen narrative of human, tragedy.  Ramsay came face-to-face with a system that had moved from its original mission (to intervene and change a cycle of criminal behavior, addiction, and brokenness), to a broken system that perpetuates lives without dignity, purpose and meaning.  Ramsay came face-to-face with the stories of real people for whom society had given up, and those people had in turn, given up on themselves.

Ramsey came up against enormous resistance from prison guards who had given up hope for the prisoners’ rehabilitation.  Ramsay experienced the political wrangling of administrators whose adherence to prison regulations was more important than innovative, risk-taking solutions.  Despite the resistance, new life emerged for people held in bondage and so, after six months of working on this project, where one man offered hope, love, and purpose to the forgotten, new life emerged for 12 of the prisoners of Brixton prison.  Most of them began to understand and embrace teamwork, most of them began to care about the work they were doing, most of them began to experience transformation from a life of anger, bitterness, and lethargy, to a new found release where they experienced joy, pride, gratitude, and hope.

Ramsey, a tough nosed, controlling, loud, obnoxious, “f-bomb” dropping, foodie star, stooped down and entered a prison system and there, met people in their tragic stories.  There he offered them hope and in so doing, he too experienced hope, purpose, and meaning in his life, in ways he never imagined.  Ramsey actually showed love, concern, confidence, grace, and mercy to people with whom, he would never come in contact in his every day life.  Ramsey as well as the prisoners were transformed.  Ramsay saw in others something no one else saw, and he became a person of love in action, helping others experienced new life.   If we but open our eyes, if we but stoop down, we too can experience stories of mercy, grace, and love, where “the lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.”  We can see in action, the hope we proclaim, the faith in God’s reconciling work in creation, and the salvation for which we give thanks.

Most of us have experienced some form of liberation in our lives.  Some of us are still held in bondage, and yet God invites us to drop our baggage, take up the cross, and follow him.  The mission of God is “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” as followers, what then is our part in that mission?  In the church’s catechism it states that our mission is “to bring all people into unity with God and each other in Christ.”  It sounds like a pretty tall order, and maybe a little vague at that.

It really is a simple mission, but we may need to ask ourselves some really hard questions.  How can we, as a community, be Good News to those suffering around us?  How might we bring healing to those in our midst, stooped over by bonds of injustice, poverty, loneliness, and detachment?  How can we go into the dark places of our sisters and brothers prison walls?  These are people that may be sitting right here beside us living in bondage.  There are definitely people in bondage beyond these four walls.

The Church’s mission is simple, we must go and meet the least, lost and lonely at their level, see them fully in the blessedness that Christ sees, and then with love, with hope, with purpose, and with meaning, help lift them up to new life.  We really have a pretty uncomplicated mission, if you think about it.   The great thing is, we already have God’s blessing to begin it anew every day.  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  After all, I know God believes we can do it, because with outstretched arms of love, he showed us how.

1 Torgerson, Heidi. “The Healing Of The Bent Woman: A Narrative Interpretation Of Luke 13:10-17.” Currents In Theology And Mission 32.3 (2005): 176-186. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 22 Aug. 2013.

SERMON 7/7/13 All Saint’s Tarpon Springs Pentecost 7C

02-jesus.saves2 Kings 5:1-14; Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

As the Diocesan Missioner, the ministry in which I, and several others in the diocese are engaged, focuses on helping the church adapt to an emerging culture.  We partner with our Bishop to form new communities of faith.   Our work includes exploring, planning, and working with diocesan partners, to set the conditions and plans that lead to such communities.  The work is absolutely critical today, because the landscape of culture is changing, and we the church must adapt, so that the gospel can be proclaimed, and the mission of God continue.  This work is not new and this work is not exclusive to a few engaging in a new form of mission.  The work of sharing the good news is the work of the church, which finds its heritage in the sending out of seventy followers so many years ago.

In today’s gospel, “The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” The mission on which, they were appointed and sent out, was a mission to partner with God to bring about God’s restoration of creation; to bring about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus empowered, assigned, and sent his emissaries, ambassadors, and witnesses out before him and then Jesus arrived on the scene.  Jesus discipleship training program both then and now, is based on the solid principle that Jesus shares his mission with his followers, and expects us to go out and do it.

If you look for mission in The Book of Common Prayer you will find this statement on page 855, “The Mission of the church is to bring all people into unity with God and each other in Christ.”   What we may misunderstand when we read this statement, is that the mission of reconciliation, restoration, grace, and salvation is not ours alone, and it is not totally dependent on what we (the Church) do.   Theologian Paul Hanson in an article for Theology Today he wrote,  “The Church’s purpose is not its own.  The church is present in the world on behalf of the God by whose grace it has been called into existence.”1 Hanson reminds us that we are doing God’s work, and that understanding should be the basis and focus, of all the ministry we do.

Hanson explains God’s presence in the world as, “creative and redemptive in nature. Where there is chaos, whether in the natural or social realm, God is present to create harmony. Where there is bondage God is active to redeem the enslaved. Where there are walls dividing humans into privileged and deprived classes, God seeks to remove oppressive divisions through judgment and release. Where there is brokenness, loneliness, and sickness, God is present to heal.”1  The Church’s mission is to partner with God to bring harmony in the midst of chaos, redemption to those in bondage, remove divisions and oppression, and bring healing where there is brokenness, loneliness, and sickness.  We all, every one of the baptized, have a part in this mission.

Jesus sent out the seventy to go ahead of him to prepare the way.  we must not forget that Jesus has been sending out all his disciples for the last 2000 years.  Now imagine being in that crowd of folks when Jesus gave the instructions for the journey.  “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.”  Some may have said, “that sounds a bit out of my comfort zone, that may be beyond my capability.  Can’t you just send someone else?”  I think sometimes we look at the difficulty of the mission and think isn’t this a job for a professional.  We are sometimes reluctant to go out and proclaim Good News, when  see that our culture often openly rejects people who speak harmony into chaos, redemption into bondage, unity into division, and healing into sickness.  We are discouraged and sometims say, “that’s just not something I can do.” However, If we Can accept that The success of God’s mission is not totally up to us, that the mission of God does not take place merely by our own means, then it is not an insurmountable mission.

Jesus sends disciples out ahead of him to prepare the way.  The Church is not tasked alone to bring about salvation, but to prepare the way for the one who saves.  We are seed planters, soil preparers, and we are examples; we show the way.  Jesus comes in through us and ultimately the mission is his.  We are partners, we are ambassadors, we are representatives and if we remember that we are partners with God, then we can persevere in bearing Good News to a world that desperately needs good news.  In the 21st century, there are new dangers and challenges for God’s mission in the world.  When we consider that the number of religiously unaffiliated folks in the United States grew from 8% in 1989 to nearly 20% in 2012, the mission field of the church is becoming more and more in her own back yard and thus, we are challenged and yet still called, to go and be bearers of Good News.

So, I would like to offer you all a few principles for mission today, and I believe for you, the people of God at All Saint’s, will find Good News in our Lord’s marching orders for his disciples 2000 years ago, and for his disciples gathered here today.

(1)    Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful.” The world needs the church’s mission more than ever so, go and be bearers of Good News.

(2)    Jesus said, “The workers are few.” There is more work to do than laborers so, go and be bearers of Good News.

(3)    Jesus said, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers.” Prayer is absolutely essential for the Church’s mission so, pray and go, and be bearers of Good News.

(4)    Jesus said, “Go on your way.” Every baptized member of the church has a part in God’s mission, not just the professionals so, go and be bearers of Good News.

(5)    Jesus said, “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” There are going to be dangers when we engage in God’s mission. So go, and be bearers of Good News.

(6)    Jesus said, “Greet no one on the road.”  Singularity of purpose, being resolute, and clear is key when engaging in God’s mission.  So go, and be bearers of Good News.

(7)    Jesus said, “Eat what is set before you.”  We are on a mission set in the midst of the ever-changing culture in which we live and thus,  the host and not the guest sets the context of mission. So go, and be bearers of Good News.

(8)    Jesus said, “When they do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet.”   Expect rejection on this mission but don’t give up, don’t let it deter you, but move on and continue to bring peace.  Go and be bearers of Good News.

As you are dismissed today to “go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit”, let your life speak harmony into chaos, redemption into bondage, unity into division, and healing into sickness.  Because my dear sisters and brothers, when we rely on the power of God’s Spirit, we can, we must, and we will go out as God’s ambassadors, out into a world that truly needs at all times and in all places, God’s abundant grace, mercy, reconciliation, and love.

 

1 Hanson, Paul D., “The Identity and Purpose of the Church,” Theology Today, 1985.

SERMON 6/30/13 Pentecost 6C St. Mary Magdalene, Bradenton

mission-impossible-the-game-logo1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62

As the Diocesan Missioner, the ministry in which I and several others, including two of St. Mary Magdalene’s very own are currently engaged, focuses on helping the church adapt to an emerging culture, by assisting our Bishop in forming new communities of faith.   Our work includes exploring, planning, and working with diocesan partners, to set the conditions and plans that lead to such communities.  The work is absolutely critical today, because the landscape of culture is changing, and we the church, must adapt, so that the gospel can be proclaimed, and the mission of God continue.

In a national magazine recently, Gary Laderman, Chair of the Department of Religion at Emory University claimed that there are a couple of major developments that have led to a unique cultural metamorphosis in the U.S., resulting in nearly 20% of the American population, now claiming no religious affiliation at all.  Laderman wrote, “popular culture in America rules our spiritual lives and is a more important source of wisdom, morality, transcendence, and meaning, than the traditional institutions like the church that used to provide these religious elements.”1   Second, he states, “we are a nation of consumers and American desires for food and toys and clothes and healthcare and travel are finally refashioning the spiritual marketplace as well. “Have it your way,” a famous jingle once used by a popular fast food joint is the mantra of the religious moment.”1

The religious landscape of American culture is changing; period.  In 1989, just 24 years ago, only 8% of the American population claimed “no religious affiliation;” that segment of our population has more than doubled in two decades.  The statistics may be frightening, but it challenges us to re-consider whether we are ready to reconnect with our missionary heritage.   It may no longer be enough for us to merely open our doors, offer a great worship experience and develop phenomenal programs, in order to share the Good news.  It may be that we must become once again, apostolic and go out and be missionaries again (not overseas), but we must again journey to the far reaches of our own back yards, and proclaim the Good News.  Our mission work today has not changed from that of the early church some 2000 years ago when Jesus traversed through Samaritan territory, on his way to Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, in the 21st century, we are being challenged to reimagine mission in the church, and to focus our missionary efforts right here, in the communities in which we are planted.

The story we hear about in today’s gospel is the narrative of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and his travels through a Samaritan village.  Jesus was on a mission.  He was sharing the Good News of God’s Kingdom with whoever would listen.  He did not stop for a respite.  He did not build a great edifice and plant himself in one spot.  No, he was moving toward his goal.  Jesus’ was on a mission that required clarity, determination, resolve, and clear principles along the way.  Jesus was clearly going to preach and teach in the capital seat of his people, where he would confront the religious system.   Jesus was determined and with resolve, that he would not be deterred despite the obstacles he would face.  Jesus principles of non-violence, of abundant love, of amazing healing, and of reconciliation would lead him and his disciples on the path to what lie ahead. Jesus was clear, determined, resolute and with clear principles.

When we begin a new ministry, when we take on a new phase of mission in the church, I wonder if we truly spend enough time prayerfully discerning the Spirit’s call on our individual and corporate lives, so that we, like our Lord, can be clear, determined, and resolute?  Do we also count the costs?  Do we understand the radical nature of what it means to be “sent out?”  The Church’s mission comes with a high cost for those participating in it.  In the story today, there were three “wanna be” disciples who come up to Jesus and proclaim their loyalty and willingness to go on mission.  The first said, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  That sounds familiar doesn’t it?  There are others who promised to follow Jesus wherever he might travel.  The same boys who wanted seats at Jesus’ right and left hands, the Sons of Thunder, didn’t quite understand Jesus’ mission themselves and yet, when facing potential rejection, they wanted to call down fire on the village that rejected them.

The risk of rejection is a natural part of this mission of God.  The radical message we carry to the world, is not one people like to receive.  It changes things. It changes them.  It changes us.  “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” Jesus said.   There is a little hyperbole, a little metaphor presented in the words of Jesus here, but I believe Our Lord said these words to show the radical nature of what we as followers of Jesus must risk, when we accept the mission of God.  We risk a lot and thus, we accept the reality that the mission we are on, is not going to be comfortable, acclaimed, or readily received by the world to whom we are ministering.  My friends, when you engage in mission, expect rejection.

The second “wanna be” wanted to go, but asked for a deferment.  The “wanna be” responded to Jesus’ “follow me,” with, “Lord, let me first go bury my father.”  See, devout Jews in those days, had an obligation to bury their parents.  The question I have is this, were his parents healthy and happy, were they actively dying then, or were they already dead?  In the “wanna be’s” heart, I wonder how long did he really want to put off the call to follow Jesus.  Jesus responds to him with a little jab, “Dude get your priorities right, don’t wait, get started now.”  Jesus said, “let the dead bury the dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  In other words, we who have life are no longer dead, and nothing should get in the way of our mission.  My friends, when you engage in mission, don’t delay, don’t let other things get in the way.

The third “wanna be” wanted to go, but like the second, was distracted by what was behind him; he wanted to say farewell to those he would leave behind.  Have you ever gone on a long trip away from home and you are standing at the door with those you love, and as you consider the journey and the lengthy time you will be away, you say to yourself, I really don’t want to go.  You walk out the door and you wave goodbye, wishing you could stay.  It is the looking back that distracts you.  Your body has left, but your heart and mind yearn to come back to the comfort of home and loved ones.  Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  My friends, when you engage in mission, be clear, determined, and resolute about answering God’s call, don’t look back, but only move forward.

We get tripped up in our call to follow Jesus.  We wrestle with rejection, we let other things get in the way, we look back to the “good ole’ days” and not what is ahead.  I believe we struggle sometimes because we forget one very vital fact.  We struggle with the church’s charge to go and “make disciples of all nations,” to “bring all people into unity with God and each other in Christ,” because we make the mistake of believing our work is ours alone, either as a community or as individuals.  The mission we are on is not ours, but it is God’s work of reconciliation in the world.  Now if we truly believe that fact, and if we truly rely on the source of the mission, when we follow the one who says, “Follow me,” the struggles that come are not insurmountable.

See, the call to discipleship of Jesus inevitably means unconditional commitment to the redemptive work of God, for which Jesus gave his life.  When we consider the cost, when we give Jesus the highest priority in our lives, when we recognize that the mission is not ours, but God’s, and when we move ahead without looking back, the mission of God continues in and through us.

Jesus handed over the mission of reconciliation to us, and he trusted us to continue.  He left us to it, but did not leave us alone.  The Spirit leads us, guides us, teaches us, and inspires us.  Just remember, continuing the mission of God in the world does not require us to have all the answers, all the well-laid out plans, and all the latest resources.  Those things are important, but they are not the most important.

You know, I heard once that ministry is where your greatest gifts, meet the world’s greatest needs.  As I look out today at God’s people gathered here in this place, I imagine God has bestowed on each of as individuals and collectively, certain gifts by which you can partner with God, in God’s mission of love.  We are one holy, catholic, and APOSTOLIC church, which means we are to be “sent out.”  So, after today’s dismissal, let those words your Deacon proclaims at the door really sink in.  Remember what your charge is this week, “Go in peace to love and SERVE the Lord;” go then, and join God’s mission of proclaiming the Good News, and let your life witness to that charge, in all you do.

 

1 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-laderman/the-rise-of-religious-non_b_2913000.html

PENTECOST 4C 6/16/13 St. Alfred’s Palm Harbor and St. Alban’s St. Pete Beach

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 10.36.33 AM1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Psalm 5:1-8; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

Several years ago, I knew two couples, both together for some time, both obviously in love, but noticeably, they had very different relationships.  The first couple was so sweet, I mean, sticky sweet. They were like school kids who giggled together, as if they had these inside funny jokes, they held hands wherever they went, and when they looked into each other’s eyes man, you knew they were in love.   The other couple was equally in love and yet, there was a tension, uncertainty, and uncomfortable anxiety between the two of them.

I asked one of the partners from the second couple (tension, anxiety) one day, how things were going for them.  I knew them well, and we all talked openly about our relationships with our spouses, so it was not an out of bounds question.  He said, “You know Eric, I am so unworthy of love from my spouse.  She is so wonderful, loving, giving, and she sacrifices so much for me.  I imagine she would die for me, and I am not worthy of that kind of love.  I feel like I must work hard, give all I can, to make her happy, so I can keep that kind of love.”

On another occasion, I asked one of the partners in the first relationship (sticky sweet) why they seemed so at ease with one another.  She said, “A long time ago, we decided to quit trying to earn each other’s love by doing, buying, and manipulating.  We decided that the love we share is a gift and we finally decided to live with arms wide open, be grateful, and just receive simple love.”

In today’s gospel reading, we hear a story of Jesus and a particular encounter he had with two people around a dinner table.  It is a story about hospitality, reconciliation, and love.   The scene is this, Jesus was the dinner guest of a Pharisee, a religious leader, a person well versed in the Law.  Eating with someone in first century Palestine was very special.  You would usually not invite a guest to come under your roof, unless you had or were establishing a relationship of trust, mutual respect, and a commitment to honor each other.  Hospitality 2000 years ago, went way beyond today where we strive merely to make our  guests feel comfortable and well fed.  Hospitality was a part of the honor system within that society, and it signified a covenant between householder and guest.  As the householder, when someone came under your roof, they came under your protection, were recipients of your respect, and that relationship extended beyond the meal.

The guest’s  role was to speak highly of your patron, and to bring honor to his house.  There were symbols and rituals that became signs of this covenant between householder and guest.  The washing of desert, sand-laden feet upon entering the home, the offering of the kiss of peace, and the anointing of a person were all outward signs of this covenant of honor.

If you notice the story, none of this happened to Jesus upon entering the Pharisee’s house.  He merely entered, and took his place at the table.  Then something scandalous happened.  A woman, a sinner as she was labeled, entered the house with an alabaster jar, which was obviously an expensive, precious gift she had brought, and then she knelt down, washed Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears, and then anointed him.  It was scandalous, but at the same time, it was a radical symbol of love, honor, and respect.  First, it was a scandal because she had her head uncovered in public, but there was another significance to this act as well.  In a reading from the Old Testament, we learn why.  Numbers 5:18 says, “And the priest shall take the barley and offer it to the woman, and shall take away from her the head-dress on her head, that she may be judged with her head bare, and deprived of the symbol of modesty, which all those women are accustomed to wear who are completely blameless.” (NRSV) She uncovered her head to wash Jesus’ feet, but the Pharisee, well versed in the law I imagine, understand the significance of this act.  Then, she touched Jesus’ feet!  That was unheard of for a woman to touch a man with whom she was not married.  Finally, she anoints his feet … more scandal.  Now all this does not go unnoticed by Simon the Pharisee who in the story exclaimed, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him– that she is a sinner.”

The real motivation for the dinner invitation comes out.  Simon wanted not to bring honor and protection to Jesus, but to find fault in Jesus, and it is motivation and response, which is really at the heart of the story.  Simon, by his failure to see his own need for grace, and the willingness to receive it, AND give it, he misses the greatest lesson of this encounter with the Lord.  Jesus, said with a little moxie, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”   The parable of the debtors cuts to the heart of the matter, we all are sinners, we all miss the mark, we all mess up the relationship with God and with each other, and yet, when we cannot save ourselves (because we can’t) God’s grace abounds and all are reconciled to God, and all in God’s time.  Now, the story takes another turn, and I love this part.  Jesus reminds Simon, that the woman at his feet, showed him the depth of hospitality, the covenant of protection, the symbols of honor that Simon failed to show.

Hang on now, the story is getting better.  Jesus looks at her and says, “”Your sins are forgiven.”  Now, when I first heard this story many years ago, I thought, “OK, she showed Jesus’ love by doing this for him and because of that, she was forgiven.”  WRONG!  The word forgiven in Greek is ἀφέωνταί, which is in the form of perfect, passive, indicative, which in this grammatical form, it is different from what we find in the NRSV.  The words are, “Your sins, they have been forgiven you.”  

I believe that the woman offenses were forgiven long before she entered the house, and Jesus was merely acknowledging that fact.  Nothing she did earned, manipulated, or coerced Jesus to forgive her.  It was her trust that led her to Jesus in the first place, and it was by faith,  she accepted she had been forgiven.  The washing of feet and anointing was the outward response to Grace, she had so clearly received and was later acknowledged.  The point is, you cannot earn grace, it is a gift from God that is experienced with gratitude, it is a gift that we can only receive, it is a gift that moves us to respond with love, in kind.

My friend, the “sticky sweet” spouse and the woman with the Alabaster jar lived with arms wide open and their lives and acts of love and service became a response to grace, not a means to earn it.  The woman in today’s gospel was aware of the forgiveness she had received, long before she arrived at the door of the Pharisee’s house, and Jesus acknowledged it with these words, “Your sins have been forgiven.”  This is our story, and we like them, each week receive acknowledgment of God’s forgiveness in the words of absolution, then we share in the Great Thanksgiving, the meal of gratitude, Holy Communion, and then we are sent out into the world to respond with love, with all in whom we come in contact.  On one of mine and Terri’s parish visits a month or so ago, I heard a song sung by Amy Grant and James Taylor, which helps me understand, and accept, this gift of God’s grace.  The chorus of the song goes like this:

Don’t try so hard

God gives you grace and you can’t earn it

Don’t think that you’re not worth it

Because you are

He gave you His love and He’s not leaving

Gave you His Son so you’d believe it

You’re lovely even with your scars

Don’t try so hard

 

That is the life of the church, the Eucharistic Body of Christ, and despite our struggles, our brokenness, our uncertainty, I think it really can be easier to live in Christian community than it seems sometimes.  I think we try to rest in God’s promises, if we respond in grace to the grace we have received, and if we merely live with “arms wide open.”

SERMON 6/2/13 Pentecost 2C – Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin, FL

Iron man wallpapers tony stark 41 Kings 8:22-23 ,41-43; Galatians 1:1-12;  Luke 7:1-10

When I was growing up I, like many of my friends, loved comics, movies, and Saturday morning cartoons, all based on the adventures of superheroes.  Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, and the Incredible Hulk were some of my most favorites.  The whole idea of someone possessing incredible power, as a result of some life-altering transformation, which could be used to fight crime, injustice, and to stand up to those opposed to good, is really very appealing isn’t it.  When we think of our heroes, we want to be just like them.

Now, I have to admit that there is still a little bit of a kid in me today.  I still like superhero movies, but the characters I enjoy watching today, are folks like Batman and Iron Man.  Why?  Well, for the most part these two guys are just normal human beings, who happen to possess great, but not unusual strength and yet, what makes them superheroes is the fact they have some really cool toys.  Batman has his Kevlar suit, his utility belt, and yes, that amazing car.  Iron Man?  Well, obviously he has that awesome titanium suit of armor!  C’mon, you have to dig Iron Man’s armor.  It’s full of electronics, it can fly, he has some kind of power laser thing in his hands, and most of all, he just plain looks good wearing it.  Maybe these two superheroes are a little more popular these days, because they are more like us; regular folks.  Underneath all those gadgets, they are just as vulnerable to the temptations of power, as the rest of us.  Beyond the flash of their electronics and Kevlar suites, superheroes wrestle with balancing the power they possess, with the need for humility, in the midst of that power.  It is this struggle with power and humility that encourages, and yet, sometimes threatens our ability to accomplish the mission of love, the mission of justice, mercy, love, reconciliation, and grace, which as followers of Jesus, we have undertaken.

In today’s gospel reading we hear a story about a man of power that encountered Jesus.  This man, who in the eyes of Roman society was probably very much like a superhero of sorts; not like a Superman or Spiderman, but more like Iron Man or Batman.  A Centurion was a regular guy, who possessed great, but not unusual strength, and yet had some really cool gadgets; a sword, armor, shield, and by the way, the power of the Roman government behind him.  “The Centurion was a professional officer of the Roman army that commanded 80 men. Centurions could be elected, appointed by the Senate, or promoted ‘from the ranks’ for a variety of reasons. Being held personally responsible for the training and discipline of the legionaries under their command, centurions had a well-deserved reputation for dealing out harsh punishment. Evidence suggests that centurions had important social status and held powerful positions in society.” Centurions were powerful people, who commanded authority and yes, people listened when they spoke.

This encounter between the Centurion and Jesus is rather unique because, Jesus and he never met face-to-face and yet, Jesus changed the Centurion’s life dramatically.  The Centurion, the man of power and great authority, had a servant who was evidently very ill and so, he sent two delegations to intercede with Jesus, on his behalf.  Knowing a little bit about the nature of Roman culture, you would think the Centurion might not go visit Jesus, because the Roman was of a higher social status.  However, according to the story, he actually considers himself unworthy for Jesus even to come to his house.  This must have been a shocking twist for many original hearers of this encounter.  This was a man wrestling with a tension between power and humility.  From this man’s viewpoint, it was his humility, his deep self-awareness that grace was not about worthiness or power, which won the day.

They appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”  The leaders of the local community came and appealed to Jesus to heal the Centurion’s servant.  They proclaimed the worthiness of their Roman hero and rightfully so, because he was unlike any other Roman officer they had known before.  Not only had he built a synagogue for the people, he showed them love.  Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound like the Centurions dealt out harsh punishment or held important social status and powerful positions in society.”  No, he set aside that power reputation for a character of humility, fully revealed in acts of love for a people, not of his own kinship.  You see, the faith to recognize God’s grace, God’s unmerited favor, God’s outrageous love, has nothing to do with our own sense of worthiness and power, but it has everything to do with accepting it, and my friends, that takes humility.

“Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”  The Centurion gets it doesn’t he. What he was saying was, “Lord, you are all powerful and I am a mere man and I dare not come to you asking for a favor, but I know if you say it, by your word alone my household will receive healing.”  Do you hear his humility?  The Centurion could command a cohort to come and get Jesus, bring him to his house, order him to heal the servant, but that is not what he did.  The Centurion said, “For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and the slave does it.”  I believe the Centurion actually knew that the power and influence he had been given, was really a gift of God, and not one to be wielded but to be used for good.  Remember, he built a synagogue for the people, not so people would say he was worthy (which they did anyway), but because in humility, he loved, just as God had loved him.

God’s reconciliation movement in the world, God’s grace given us to restore creation, was never about power and status and worthiness.  Take a look at the cross and remember that the God of love fully lived humility, and took on the ultimate vulnerability by risking creation’s rejection; all for love.  Yes, God could have wielded power and status and worthiness to bring about grace, but God chose humility.  We must recognize that this Jesus movement of which we are a part, means we must cast aside our desire for power, status, and worthiness, and embrace and yes, SHARE the love found in humility.  Faith requires meekness, and faith blossoms when we begin to have a clear understanding of our own self, in relation to God and all of creation.

Theologian Robert Gagnon asserts, “Faith is: the appropriate action of one who recognizes one’s humble status in the face of an encounter with the divine.”1 The one worthy of praise, the one we look to as an example, the one for whom we desire to be like, is the one who is really like us.  This person was susceptible to our weakness, wrestled with the human struggle of power and humility, and he is the one that experienced the full breadth of the human experience.  He is the one who wields ultimate power, not power based on human government, wealth, or prestige, but power that subdues and thwarts injustice, power that overturns and unbinds poverty, power that frees the prisoner, and power that declares the favor of God.   This is the power of love, and the one who wields this power is Our Lord Jesus Christ, the one whom we are called to follow, by walking in faith.

The key to walking this journey of faith seems to be less about how much power and influence we can wield in order to demonstrate our worthiness, but how much we are willing to humbly trust that God’s love is sufficient.  A friend mine who pastors an unusual Episcopal community in California, posted a quote on his Facebook wall the other day.  He wrote, “In an achievement-oriented culture, it’s difficult for us to get our minds around the reality that there’s no finish line, no diploma, no promotion, no blue ribbon for the disciple. You cannot earn an advanced degree in grace because you can’t earn it at all. Your effort is simply directed toward receiving it, which is not simple at all. Being loved so much is awkward for those of us who live in a quid pro quo relationship economy. Thank God, Jesus is at ease with awkward.”  My friend reminds us that as faithful followers of Jesus, we don’t have to worry about being worthy superhero Christians in order to receive grace, we just need to be humble enough, to stand with, open arms, open hearts, and open spirits, and receive it.

 

1 Gagnon, Robert A J. “Luke’s Motives For Redaction In The Account Of The Double Delegation In Luke 7:1-10.” Novum Testamentum 36.2 (1994): 122-145. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 28 May 2013.