Mark 13: 1-18
The Rev. Peter Faass
You can tell we are approaching the season of Advent by the apocalyptic stories in Daniel and Mark. Daniel was written during the brutal persecution of the Jewish people by the Seleucid emperor Antiochus Epiphanies during the second century BCE. In this passage, the Archangel Michael tells the people, “There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence.”
In Mark, the writer reflects on the Jewish revolt against Rome in the seventh decade, CE. Jesus says, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.”
Well, I say, let the good times roll!
As we enter the holiday season and want to sing about Glad Tidings of Great Joy, the mid-November scriptures talk about famine, war, earthquakes, and a time of unprecedented anguish. Between Syria, California, Indonesia, global warming, and our nation’s political dysfunction, Daniel and Mark have pretty much described our own time. Maybe we are in an apocalyptic era.
Perspective, though, is important when we consider that possibility. Every age has experienced events that were thought to be the end-of-time apocalypse. Christian millenarianism – the belief that the tumultuous, chaotic end, preceding Christ’s second coming, would occur at a century or thousand-year mark, has frequently come in and out of vogue. Yet despite how awful world events have been, we’re still here.
Remember Y2K on New Year’s Eve in 1999? Y2K (“Year 2000 Bug”) was the belief that computer technology could not handle the switch into a new millennium. Experts feared that all computer systems would crash, sending the world into chaos. That wasn’t a potential theological apocalypse, although the way computers have become gods to us, we might have thought so. We were terrified of the potential havoc Y2K would bring to our world. And we’re still here.
Currently, we have a right to be worried, even fearful. Many feel a sense of despair and hopeless. Things are not good.
A few of our Wednesday morning Bible Study participants felt that the way the Gospel ends by saying, “This is but the beginning of the birthpangs” exacerbated those feelings. The phrase seems to indicate eternal labor with no resolve in a baby’s birth. I have never delivered a baby, but I suspect women who have will attest that the prospect of eternal birth pangs is a pretty awful thing to contemplate.
When this passage is compared to other sayings of Jesus, as well as other Christian Testament texts, this is not what the passage intends. It is not a hopeless ending.
Mark’s text reflects the social upheaval and civil strife that engulfed Judea during the Jewish revolt against Rome. That included that insurrection’s eventual defeat and the subsequent diaspora of the Jewish population. It also included the total destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, whose grandeur the disciples fawned over a few verses earlier.
In response to their awe of the Temple, Jesus says: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” No matter how grand, secure and indestructible buildings or institutions may appear, they can all be overthrown, they all can come tumbling down.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Buildings and institutions often outlive their usefulness, at least in their current iteration. How many of us thought that the venerable American institution Sears would ever go bankrupt?
Sometimes institutions become corrupt, even evil, serving their self-interests over people. They need to go. This was the case with the Temple. Jesus repeatedly condemned the self-serving religious institutionalists who manipulated religious laws to their own benefit, but to the detriment of the people they served. The Temple and the religious leaders became corrupt. Jesus knew the Temple will fall as a result, and he told the disciples this. I’m sure they were astonished. How could the massive and influential Temple complex ever come down?
Yet, systems that become evil must be torn town. This even includes our religious, government and business institutions.
While the Temple’s destruction was seen as an apocalyptic disaster that made the Jewish people feel hopeless, it released the Jews. It especially released those of the lower castes from the abusive system that corrupted the Temple. It was an evil system that needed to come down. Looking back on history, we see that this is often true.
In John Meacham’s “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels,” does this brilliantly. He examines the various apocalyptic times in American history, like the Civil War. For many that war was a time of hopelessness. Yet, Meacham shows how the tearing down of corrupt, immoral systems, ideas and institutions – like slavery – created new opportunities for a better way of life. Doing so always resulted in a more hopeful and salvific future.
With the Civil War, America moved from slavery to emancipation, because growing numbers of American people realized how evil slavery was. They made a choice in the face of an apocalyptic time to do something about it. While full equality and civil rights were not achieved in that moment, it was a significant move forward in resolving injustice.
Meacham quotes Eleanor Roosevelt: “The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people.”
Christians can chose the values and beliefs of Jesus, or the values of empire. We can choose between hope or hopelessness.
In the moment, apocalyptic events seem as if they will be endless. Yet, it is critical to remember that the Bible tells us God is redemptive, even when it does not appear so in the moment or this life. We dimly see through a mirror. Hope in the midst of despair can be hard to see. Yet, it’s there. We must hold fast to it and make choices.
In Daniel, despite the Archangel Michael’s prophesy that there would be anguish like has never been experienced, he also says that in time, “your people shall be delivered.” That’s God’s message of redemption in a time of hopelessness.
That redemption is a tenant of our faith, which will get us through the worst of any apocalyptic time. That knowledge may not completely mollify the pain or fear, but it invites a wider, more divine understanding of that pain and fear in our lives and world. That’s what we profess happened in the crucifixion.
In the crucifixion, the pain was unbearable.To the witnesses who observed it, it all seemed utterly hopeless for Jesus and his disciples. It was a moment of intense apocalyptic disaster.
But then Resurrection happened. Hope rose from the ashes of destruction. Death itself – that most fearsome and hopeless of all apocalypses – was trampled down. A new, better way of life came into being. Both the Daniel and Mark passages invite us to hold fast to the redemptive promises of God in the midst of our own apocalyptic trials at the micro and macro levels.
We are called to be faithful and trusting disciples during apocalyptic times tp proclaim the Gospel of hope. The apocalyptic times are not the end. In fact, if we choose wisely, they are the beginning of something new and better.
Rev. Peter Faass
Oh my gosh! This Gospel story is not what I needed to hear this week. The world is so filled with bombastic braggadocio these days that encountering the arrogance and hot air of James and John just about undid me. We experience so much unrelenting pride, egotism and self-importance assaulting us daily, that we hope to find some respite in church. But that’s not the case today. “Oh please, not the disciples too!” I thought, when I read this passage in Mark.
James and John, AKA the sons of thunder - that alone should tell us something about their personalities - sure had high opinions of themselves. That thunder moniker is revealing; it indicates they were big Type A extroverts with lots of bravura and bluster. They were the kind of people who suck the air out of a room as their inflated egos shove everyone else up against the walls. People who waste no opportunity to let you know how smart, savvy, well-connected, and rich they are. They certainly don’t miss any opportunity to take care of themselves. You know the type: Two scoops of ice cream for them, one for everybody else.
“’Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ (Now there’s a red flag statement, if ever there was one) And [Jesus] said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’”
These two guys are schemers. They must have been on a coffee run at Starbucks when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. You remember, right? “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” No meekness here. As Jesus speaks of his kingdom, these guys see an opportunity to jockey for positions of great power and authority in the new Jesus administration. They want first dibs on being Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, acquiring all the power and benefits that accrue to these positions. Worse yet, they do it behind the backs of their other ten colleagues. You may have run into people like this in the workplace, or your family or – heaven forbid – the Church!
James and John were prepared to throw the other disciples under the bus to get what they wanted – wealth, possessions, power and status. They wanted the government planes and expense accounts. They wanted the glory and all its trappings they believed Jesus would deliver, and they were hell bent to get it, regardless of how that impacted others.
Things haven’t changed much from the first century to the 21st. Encountering the tidal wave of arrogance, hubris and greed that washes over us these days is not only appalling, it’s exhausting. It’s a trail to read or listen to the news anymore. I really need a good dose of humility right now. I think we all do. I crave quiet and unassuming, not loud and arrogant.
The truth is, I think people who are quiet, thoughtful, self-effacing and humble have the most to offer. And I think this is true because they are of God, because these qualities are incarnated in Jesus. “The last shall be first,” he said. Don’t rush for the place of honor at the head of the table at a banquet.
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mt.20:28) “He poured water into a basin, washed the disciples' feet.” Jesus is all about humility and becoming the servant of all. So when I say I want more humility, I’m saying I want more Jesus. I want more Jesus-like behavior.
Following Jesus is about service to others. He literally exhausts himself trying to drill that message into his disciples. Following Jesus is about taking the lower seat at the banquet, not the one flanking the host. It is about caring for the least of those among us, not sucking up to the well-connected and the powerful. It is about loving our neighbors as ourselves. Not trampling over others to get what we want.
This servanthood roll is our prime directive from God. We should hold adherence to it as a yardstick by which we measure not only the moral quality of our own lives, but of those running for elected office in all levels of government, and of CEO’s, CFO’s, stockholders, bishops, priests, deacons, and all who lead in the Church (in other words, of all people).
What the world needs now is humility, compassion and love. Despite how many believe, these qualities of humility, compassion and love are not signs of weakness – of being a so-called snowflake – they are signs of moral strength. Of ethical strength. Of Jesus’ strength.
We've experienced this Jesus strength when we serve others. These are moments where we have put someone else's needs first and ours last. This isn’t because we want something in return, but solely from the sheer delight of serving, as Jesus calls us to.
Those are moments when we volunteer for St. Herman’s, or helped a friend in need, or comforted and encouraged someone in despair, or lent a hand to someone who is ill by cooking a meal or running an errand. When we do these things, we experience the joy of giving ourselves to another person. When we do these things, we make ourselves vulnerable to the needs of others – we don’t jockey to get the best for ourselves. In these compassionate acts of putting others first, we have been rewarded not simply by the gratitude of the recipient but by our own increased sense of purpose, fulfillment, courage, and – hopefully, as Christians - of building up God’s reign.
My appeal to you in these days of an often savagely unsympathetic, selfish, arrogant, and mean-spirited culture is to build on these experiences. Heaven knows there is no dearth of opportunities to do these things in this congregation. The good stewardship of time and talent is equally as important as our treasure.
When you give of yourself to others, Jesus is at work in you - and he will continue to do good works through you if you desire. Make Jesus’ humility and compassion for all God’s children the context of your life, this church, our communities and this nation in which we live.
In so doing you will be Jesus’ hands at work in the world. And this work has the power to heal the cancer of arrogance, greed and “MeFirst-ism” that is assaulting us. Let it be so.
Mark 10: 2-16
The Rev. Peter Faass
Oh, isn’t this just lovely! Today we have the confluence of two topics that create the perfect homiletical storm: Jesus’ challenging declaration about divorce, and the beginning of the parish’s annual stewardship campaign! Divorce and money. What preacher doesn’t pray for the opportunity to preach on these two topics, together no less. Not!
I don’t want to be flip; divorce is a painful subject that impacts all too many of us. After all, we proclaim when we marry two persons, “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.” That’s a serious statement with the potential, if we violate it, of putting us in conflict with God. So, arriving at the point in a marriage when it is clear that there is no other option left but to dissolve the relationship, is no small thing. That is not a decision to be taken lightly. Regardless of the circumstances, divorce always causes pain and suffering to someone; to the couple, children, their families, and the couple’s support communities. Divorce hurts everyone.
Jesus is asked by the Pharisees, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He replies by saying, no. To do so is to commit adultery. He uses the Biblical passage we use in the nuptial blessing to justify this: “the two shall become one flesh,’” He says. “So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
These words can be devasting to people of faith who may be contemplating a divorce, or who have gone through one. They can drive people away from the One who we believe, “stretched out [his] arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of [his] saving embrace.” That anti-divorce pronouncement can seem more of a driving away than an embrace during one of life’s most traumatic events, just when people most need that saving embrace.
Two things about Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees:
Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, John the Baptist had been arrested and executed by King Herod over the issue of divorce. John had railed against King Herod because he had married his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, who had divorced Philip in order to marry Herod. Is your head spinning yet?
John rejected the Mosaic law that allowed a man to divorce a woman by simply writing a certificate of divorce and putting her out of the house. It is important to note that the Herodian household was both Jewish and Gentile, and Gentiles allowed both a man and a woman this avenue for an easy divorce, ergo Herodias initiating her divorce from Philip. John was no less amused by this Gentile practice than the Jewish one: he saw both as contrary to God’s intent. His speaking out about it got him killed.
Jesus is aware of this and of the Pharisees’ malice - yet he doesn’t dodge the question. Yet, he undergirds John’s position on divorce, even though doing so places him in a precarious theological and political position, threatening his own life. Why does he do this?
According to Mosaic Law, a woman could be divorced because, “she does not please [her husband] because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house.” (Deut. 24:1)
What options did a divorced woman have? Not many:
Talk about being cast into the direst of vulnerable states! Jesus will have none of it.
Neither will the Episcopal Church, which allows for a divorce and remarriage, because we understand that there are times when to stay in a marriage creates a situation of dire emotional, spiritual and even physical vulnerability for one (or both) of the married couple. The truth is, Jesus is concerned with the vulnerability, dignity, health and well-being of people - not the act of divorce itself.
In chapters nine and ten of Mark, Jesus cites children (3 times) – the most vulnerable of the vulnerable – as those who we must become like in order to truly follow him. “Let the little children come to me;” he tells the disciples. “Do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”
Ultimately, this passage on divorce is about stewardship: Stewardship of those most vulnerable in our society. In this case, women who are imperiled and abused by a harsh patriarchal culture, and children whom that culture sees as non-persons. The Gospel and the entire canon of the Bible is about God’s call to us to exercise good stewardship over the entire creation and all its inhabitants.
In Genesis, God calls us to rule over Creation. “To rule” doesn’t mean to abuse, dominate, take advantage of, or even destroy Creation; it indicates we are partners with God in the care of Creation.
Everything in the Hebrew and Christian texts calls to:
To be human – to be made in the image of God – is a call to practice good stewardship.
As faithful followers of Jesus, stewardship is something we are supposed to do every day. For better or worse, the church primarily focuses on stewardship in the autumn as an annual stewardship campaign. To the point of being cringeworthy, almost everyone associates the annual stewardship campaign with money. It’s all about the coin.
Truth be told, it is about the coin. The coin – and our giving generously of it – not only engages in good stewardship of our money, but it allows us as a congregation to engage and promote all the other ways God calls us to be good stewards. That is critical work.
In a world that is increasingly uncaring about the exercise of good stewardship (not only for the most vulnerable but for just about everything we are called to be good stewards of), the Church remains a beacon of hope in role modeling a better way of life for all people.
So yes, the annual stewardship campaign is about the coin, because the coin allows us to do all this and more. I pray you give from abundance, not meagerness, to this stewardship campaign. Doing so enables us to continue role-modeling and live into the stewardship for all the Creation and its inhabitants that have been given into our care.
Mark 9:30 - 37
The Rev. Peter Faass
“[Jesus] asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’”
Thank goodness no one ever argues about who is the greatest among us anymore - not!
We live in an unparalleled era of greatness attainment; of ruthless manipulation, abusing others to gain what we want: money, status, power, sexual gratification, you name it. Usually it’s some combination of them all. I don’t know about you; I feel as if I need a shower with hot, steamy water and lots of soap after reading the latest news. The behavior of so many people is grimy, especially from those who would deem themselves greater than us. Swamps are not being drained - and pigsties are being built.
For too many, being "the greatest” means being able to satiate every whim when you desire it. It’s the culture of instant gratification. Being great means being powerful, having authority over others, and exercising power through your position, wealth and sexual dominance. This results in mental, emotional and physical violence for those you believe you’re greater than. This cultural understanding of greatness is almost entirely imbued in a male-dominated world . . . like in Jesus' time.
The #MeToo movement certainly has exposed us to the underbelly of our male-dominated culture and the gross mistreatment of women. The continuing revelations of ongoing and unpunished clerical abuse of children in the Roman Catholic Church reminds us that those in positions of moral authority can be subject to abject moral failings.
The sports world is culpable as well, and the indecent behaviors are not limited to women (although there’s no shortage of that). Penn State and Ohio State had cultures where people turned a blind eye to young boys and male athletes being raped or sexually molested for years. Do I need to even talk about our elected officials in government who believe their "greatness" entitles them to abuse, manipulate and harm others to feed their greatness?
Our culture is filled with men who have been steeped in a culture of male superiority and dominance from birth. This ethos of “take and do what you want, whenever you want it” is nurtured as an entitlement of gender. This ethos gets distilled in the frequently offered and morally bereft phrase, “Well, after all, boys will be boys (wink, wink)."
A late night television host recently quipped, “If you believe that all this sexual violence we are being made aware of is legitimatized by the belief that boys are just being boys, you should not be able to raise boys . . . or girls. Maybe you can raise a potted plant.”
So much of what we encounter in this desire to be the greatest and the most powerful, regardless of the behavior or resulting cost to others dignity, self-worth and well-being, revolves around children: specifically, how we treat and teach them.
Let’s examine Jesus’ encounter with his argumentative and power-hungry disciples in today’s Gospel, where he cities children as the counterpoint to their inappropriate desires for greatness.
The child of antiquity was a nonperson. If children were useful, it was only to the degree they could perform work. This culture dictated that children should be working, or if they were too young, with their mother (another nonperson.)
In pagan Greek culture, it wasn’t unusual for children to be used for sexual gratification, especially in a mentoring relationship between a man and boy. So, what Jesus does and says with this child he takes in his lap is shocking! He has elevated this nonperson to the status of a role model follower of him.
“Whoever wants to be great must be like this child,” he proclaims. “Whoever wants to be first must be last in the accepted hierarchy and a servant to others. Just like this child.”
Jesus again reverses the world order of the dominant culture. The whole reason for his ministry (in fact his whole life) is to deliver the countercultural message of God’s reign, the path to our salvation. Following Jesus requires a total reversal of status, and it insists we adjust our values to align with that reign.
The most critical way to nurture the values of God’s reign begins with how we raise our children. At Christ Church, we nurture our children in Jesus’ ways as a core value of our faith community. Our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program is the cornerstone of this endeavor.
From a very young age, children in this program are taught the intrinsic value of every human being and to respect the dignity of each person as a beloved child of God. It’s paramount we teach them the value and dignity of every person – as Jesus taught us. We treat children with the dignity they have and deserve.
The goal is that these values become fully woven into the fabric of their lives, especially when they are reinforced in their family life, school, and elsewhere. When that occurs, these values become obvious to their conscience, souls, and hearts. It becomes part of who they are as they become adults.
A person who has these core values hanging as a moral plumb line in their life doesn’t rape someone, or abuse them for self-gratification. They don’t climb over people like so much chattel to ruthlessly achieve through any means possible, power and wealth. They don’t treat others like disposable possessions or property. They don’t lie to save their own skin when they are wrong. They don’t rip children away from their parent and incarcerate them in cages because they believe immigrants and brown-skinned people are sub-human. They don’t justify shooting first and asking questions later because of a person’s skin color. They can’t become white supremacists. They don’t because they can’t. They understand what real greatness is.
The way we treat and raise our children matters because it is a measure of our discipleship to Jesus and the Gospel. If we view children as Jesus does and raise them with his values of dignity and love, it changes the world. It’s why Jesus wants those who accept erroneous values of greatness to become like children. Becoming like a child means loving without prejudice or fear. Doing so transforms us into Jesus’ likeness.
The radical grace of God that Jesus proclaims and lives completely obliterates the world’s notions of greatness based on status, wealth, power, and sexual dominance. Perhaps that is one reason why so many resist grace so much. It is often much more appealing to be great on the world’s terms than on Jesus’ terms. That’s evil at work when we succumb to that belief. Greatness on Jesus’ terms means being humble, lowly, and vulnerable as a child. Greatness on Jesus’ terms is risky; it means living counter to the prevailing culture. As Jesus repeatedly teaches, his way to greatness is the only path of true life. That makes it all worth it . . . for our children - and ourselves.
The Rev. Peter Faass
Several years ago, when Christ Church folks went on pilgrimage to Israel, we stayed a few nights in Tiberias at a hotel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was beautiful. Part of our tour included a trip in a boat that replicated the kind of boat Jesus and the disciples were in during today’s Gospel story about the storm on the Sea. While described as a sea, this body of water is really more aptly described as a lake; in fact, its alternate name is Lake Gennesaret, referring to the town of Ginosar on its northwestern shore.
The Bible says that the Sea of Galilee is where Jesus walked, preached, calmed the storm, and granted miraculous catches of fish, and upon whose waters Peter walked, at least until he took his eyes off Jesus.
Having been there, I find it difficult to imagine a really violent storm imperiling people on this body of water. It’s not big – on a clear day, you can see from shore to shore. It’s not really deep, although at the time we were there, Israel was heavily reliant on the Sea of Galilee for fresh water and the shores had receded dramatically – in places over 100 feet - from overuse.
While the disciples and Jesus (asleep in the stern) sailed the Sea, “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Such was the ferocity of this storm that the disciples feared they’d perish. As several of the disciples were seasoned fishermen and familiar with the Sea, we can deduce that the account is authentic and this was one doozy of a storm.
In the various cultures of the ancient world, water represented disorder and chaos. In the Genesis creation story, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” Out of this formless void of water, God begins making order, putting creation together. Creating out of chaotic water is a common creation theme in near-eastern cultures. The mythological and poetic imagery of God triumphing over the raging, disordered waters is something the disciples would have understood. It also makes the answer to their question about, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” when Jesus stills the storm, self-evident. Jesus has God’s power to still the storm; he has the power to make order out of chaos. Jesus has the power to save even in the worst circumstances.
This story reminds us that Jesus consistently puts himself into liminal places. He likes to show up at literal and metaphorical boundaries and thresholds - especially if they are dangerous, or the threshold is considered taboo in the society in which it exists. Jesuslikes to push the envelope.
In the passage immediately following this one. Jesus goes to the opposite, Gentile side of the lake shore. He encounters a man with an unclean spirit – most likely epilepsy - who had been chained in the local graveyard. It is also an area where vast herds of swine are grazing. This is a threshold place for a Jew to be: an unclean graveyard, Gentile territory and amongst unclean animals. Yet Jesus goes there and heals the possessed man. He does this despite cultural taboos and what religious authorities say about him.
In another instance, he goes to a tax collector’s home and he dines with people who were considered notorious sinners. Again, he did so despite prevalent establishment beliefs that this was undignified and unclean. Any time he contacts a person with leprosy or with an uncontrolled flow of blood, he goes to the border of a taboo boundary between what is considered holy and what is believed to defile.
In a culture that disregarded children, Jesus crossed a societal border when he took a child in his arms and stated, “If anyone causes one of these little ones . . . (we might hear, these little ones with brown skin and who speak Spanish) to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus repeatedly goes to liminal places where insiders have built borders and walls between themselves and perceived outsiders. And each time, Jesus crosses that border, ignoring what others think is right and wrong. He does this so that he can offer healing and compassion to the outsider, the alien, the sick and the despised. He does this to role model that only love is the way in God’s economy.
The Sea of Galilee is such a liminal, marginal place that was a significant physical border between peoples. Geographically it separated Jews, who lived on its western shores, from Gentiles, who lived on its eastern shores. Sociopolitically it separated the humble Galilean fisherman who depended on its fish for a livelihood from the Roman Empire who taxed those fish heavily. The Sea kept populations separate and it fed imperial appetites; appetites which needed to keep people under their control and living marginally, in order to be satiated.
That’s how dividing lines work: they allow us to keep what’s known on one side and banish whatever makes us fearful, unacceptable or what is unknown to the other side of the wall.
Each time Jesus goes to these dividing walls he indicates to us that these separations don’t work and that he intends to tear them down because they are not of God. They are not about loving neighbor as self.
Jesus meddles with borders because he wants to bring order and justice to the chaos and injustice that borders and walls inflict on people. He goes to the margins because the reign of God extends divine holiness and a commitment to human well-being to places and people that we have said were beyond the limits of our human compassion and caring. He goes to the margins to love people that we have said we don’t care about.
Jesus invites us into the boat with him. He is sailing to the borders, to those places where human fear and hatred keep people on the margins. The trip will be chaotic at times. The winds will rough and the boat will be in danger of being swamped by the violent sea. But the boat’s destiny is safely guided by the only One who can and will still the storm and bring order and justice out of the chaos we experience. When we are in that boat with him, we hear his voice saying "Peace! Be still!” It is his voice and love that will tear down all those boundaries and walls in the world that imperil us, so that we all may be one.
The Rev. Peter Faass
Five years ago, Anthony and I were shopping for a wedding cake. Yes, that’s already five years ago! Wedding cakes, like other wedding components, express the personal tastes of the couple. For foodies like us, it was paramount to select a great baker for a fabulous, delicious confection. I only wish that the Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle) had been around to advise us. Her lemon and elderflower wedding cake sounded scrumptious!
A friend of ours recommended a wonderful baker who makes unusually beautiful and delicious cakes. So, we visited this bakery to discuss their products and prices (I am still shocked by what a decent wedding cake costs per slice!).
When we entered this bakery, we explained to the woman who greeted us why we were there. While I wouldn’t say her response was happy and congratulatory about our pending nuptials, she was reasonably pleasant. Inviting us to sit at a small table, she produced two loose-leaf notebooks filled with plastic-coated photos of various wedding cake design options, cake flavors, fillings, icings and price ranges. She explained that the bakery owner took the wedding cake orders and was in the back of the store, but that he would meet us in a few minutes. She then left to tell the owner we were there.
For ten minutes, we leafed through the binders. I thought, “well people get busy,” so we continued looking. Another ten minutes went by. I asked the person at the bakery counter to remind the owner we were there. She went to the back room and did not come back. The prolonged absence of the owner and other staff at this bakery was deafening and sent a clear message. A few minutes later, I said to Anthony, “They don’t want to sell us a wedding cake because we are two men. Let’s go.” We left.
This past week, the Supreme Court ruled on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. This case involved a Colorado gay couple who wanted to order their wedding cake from a bakery called Masterpiece Cakeshop. Bakery owner Jack Phillips, who describes himself as a devout Christian, refused to bake a cake for Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, because in his interpretation of the Christian faith, homosexuality is a sin. By a rather astonishing lopsided vote of 7-2 (thank you so much Justices Kagan and Breyer, and Kennedy), the Supreme Court upheld Phillips’ right to deny Craig and Mullins their wedding cake.
Anthony and I felt their pain and disappointment.
I am not going to comment on the legal aspect of this decision. I am told that it’s not as bad for the rights of same-sex couples as it initially appears. That’s cold comfort, since Ohio LGBT folks really have no rights to speak of. We have an abundance of lawyers in this congregation who can offer more accurate insight into the Supreme Court ruling.
I want to reflect on Phillips’ Christianity, especially as the majority Supreme Court opinion quoted him as saying that his “main goal in life is to be obedient to, 'Jesus Christ and Christ’s teachings in all aspects of his life.'”
So, his refusal to bake this wedding cake begs the question: Is he? Is his refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex couple being "obedient to Jesus Christ and all Christ’s teachings?" I would posit that the answer to that question is a resounding no!
Despite homosexuality being well-known in the ancient world, Jesus never mentioned it. While Jesus talks about yeast and bread, he never mentions wedding cakes (although he – or at least his nudgy mother – had plenty to say about wedding wine). In the Gospels, Jesus clearly sends a message that includes those who others feel are not worthy of inclusion. Today’s Gospel account is a case in point.
Jesus’ life-changing teachings and healings are causing larger crowds to gather around him. He and his disciples are so hemmed in that “Jesus and his disciples could not even eat.”
These growing crowds are no surprise. When someone tells you that you have self-worth regardless of who you are, after being told your whole life you are worthless, this is going to attract a huge following.
The authorities were alarmed by the increasing crowds. What is all this stuff about respect and dignity Jesus is teaching, anyway? Their power structure depends on having worthy and unworthy classes of people. Of course the authorities are the worthy classes, so they feel threatened. In last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ feeding and healing on the Sabbath so alarmed the authorities that they, “immediately conspired . . . against him, how to destroy him.” They are not happy campers.
Jesus’s family gets wind of how disruptive Jesus has become and they fear for his well-being, so they try to take him away.
“They went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”
Others accuse Jesus of being Satanic. “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” This is a classic response by those who are threatened by people proclaiming a hopeful alternate message to their own: “They’re crazy!” “They are satanic!”
How often have conservative Christians said that about Episcopalians?
Satan’s got a hold on them
It’s false Christianity!
A member of a door-to-door denominational cult once told me that as an Episcopal priest I was a spawn of Satan. Regretfully both my parents are deceased, so I have no way of confirming this.
Jesus says something which changed everything. His family, more intent than ever to whisk him away come to find him again.
“The crowd tells him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Not only does Jesus resist the intervention of his mother, he renounces their claim on him. He doesn’t do this because he disdains his family, but because they want to keep him from proclaiming the good news of God’s abundant love and inclusion. He can’t abide by this. So, they remain “outside” while Jesus embraces those encircled “around him” in the crowded house.
Jesus redraws the lines of family and belonging, saying that those who do God’s will are siblings and mother to him. Thus, Jesus proclaims a new family. In a culture where identity was bound to kinship and tribal structures, Jesus’ pronouncement of a new family beyond blood or tribal kinship surely elicited gasps of shock. But it also brought gasps of great joy to many, especially people who find themselves estranged from their own families or tribes because of who they were. This still happens to LGBTQ folks in our own time.
Jesus’ new family is defined by “those who do God’s will.” Doing God’s will is about doing the rule of love: loving God, loving neighbor and loving one another as Jesus loves us. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry proclaimed, “Love is the way!”
There is no other way to follow Jesus. Love is the only way to obey Jesus Christ and his teachings in all aspects of life.
In Jesus’ family when you follow God’s will by loving all of God’s children, not only do you get your cake baked for you, you get to eat it, too. That, my friends, is one hell of a wedding feast!
The Rev. Peter Faass
Well, it certainly has been a great couple of months to be an Episcopalian! Whew, it’s been quite a ride! Who ever imagined that interest in the Episcopal Church, especially in the midst of the downward decline of institutional religion, would be happening in the spring of 2018? On Saturday, May 19 (the day of Meghan and Harry’s wedding), “Episcopalian” was the most searched word on GOOGLE. That translates into millions of searches, and that’s amazing! Based on these past few weeks, I’m sensing we may be seeing the beginning of a new Great Awakening in the 21st Century.
We can mark the beginning of this Great Awakening with the elegant and dignified funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush on April 21st. Her funeral was held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, which is the largest parish in our denomination (over 7,000 members!). Christ Church hovers around 350. Anthony and I checked St. Martin’s website. They have 14 clergy and over 120 staff. At Christ Church, we have one clergy and four staff. St. Martin’s is a big parish!
In addition to the beautiful liturgy, viewers of Bush’s televised funeral were touched by the sight of many Republican and Democrat leaders, past and present, who gathered to honor her. Political differences were placed aside as they treated each other with respect, dignity and even affection. A love for our nation and a desire to honor a woman who served it well bound us together.
Recently, we haven’t been accustomed to that kind of dignity and respect from the political class, much less the understanding that the bonds of being American trumps being partisan. This tableau of political comity offered us hope despite the muck and mire we experience these days, reminding us of the great values of faith and nation that go beyond partisan politics and personal gain. Those values certainly were the plumb line of how Barbara Bush led her life. All this occurred in an Episcopal Church. What better a setting for an opportunity to display what “justice and peace [for] all people, and respect[ing] the dignity of every human being” (BCP p. 305) looks like.
On May 19, the royal wedding fulfilled our American fantasies about royal life, and our secret desires to become a prince or princess. Our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, preached an earth-shattering sermon about God’s love as the balm to heal our broken world.
He stated, “We must discover love - the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.”
Delivered in Curry’s powerful African-American, Baptist oratorical style, his sermon was a shot heard round the world to 2 billion viewers. Those who had believed that religion was moribund (if not dead) witnessed the revival happening in this Episcopal Church under Bishop Curry – and what he calls the Jesus Movement. Even professed atheists were having doubts about denying a God that was clearly palpable in this charismatic and holy man.
Curry is our LeBron James. I’ll let the delicious irony of that word play stand on its own in the midst of the NBA Finals between the Cavs and the Warriors.
In the midst of the depressing din and chaos we currently live in, when the news always seems to leave a dark pall hanging over our heads, these two services offered a brief Sabbath rest to weary and demoralized people everywhere.
When I say Sabbath rest, I mean more than a break from the demands of life. Sabbath is more than sleeping late and getting “some R and R.” Sabbath is a period of time which is life-oriented and life-giving. The Sabbath is meant to promote life and give hope, extolling God as a liberator from the world’s evil ways. Ultimately, Sabbath is about God’s love.
Life-giving Sabbath restores hope in the midst of hopelessness. What could be more loving than that? We poignantly experienced this in Bishop Curry’s sermon about love, which was so life-giving that it compelled millions to inquire, “Who is this Episcopal guy and what’s his Church about?”
Sabbath as life-giving is the point of what happens in the today’s Gospel of Mark, where two incidents occur on the Sabbath.
In the first incident, the religious authorities condemn Jesus for allowing the disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath to alleviate their hunger. The authorities believed this violated the prohibition to work on the Sabbath. Sabbath as interpreted by the institutional religion had often become life-denying; a dark pall that hung over people’s lives like a claustrophobic shroud. It had become morally atrophied.
Jesus (clearly a better scholar of scripture than the authorities) recalls how the iconic David and his companions ate the bread of the presence when they were famished, even though that holy bread was reserved for the priests. By alleviating David’s hunger, the holy bread became life-giving and sustained the life of Israel’s great future king. Sabbath was literally life-giving, allowing David and his followers to have hope.
In the second Sabbath story, Jesus encounters a man with a withered hand. Despite the prohibition to “work” on the Sabbath, Jesus heals him (Jesus does not mock him, he heals him). The religious authorities are aghast that he has worked on the Sabbath.
Jesus contends that sometimes certain demands of the law are rightly set aside in favor of pursuing greater values and meeting greater needs, especially when those needs promote a person’s well-being and restores their lives. Both these stories are life-giving moments, leading us to hope when things seemed hopeless. Jesus conveys that Sabbath is about life, hope and love.
Jesus (and recently Bishop Curry and the Episcopal Church) remind us that God’s life-giving Sabbath love will keep us from deteriorating into a moral vacuum.
As a commentary I read stated, “If you keep the Sabbath, you don’t get to overlook those whose lives are being threatened on a daily basis. If you keep the Sabbath, you don’t get to pass over how the lives of others are being stripped of their worth and dignity. If you keep the Sabbath, you don’t have qualifiers or quantifiers for who deserves abundant life.”
This is what it means to be a part of the Jesus Movement. Proclaim your love of God, your neighbor, and one another as Jesus loved us. They are the message of the new great awakening which has begun in our beloved Church. It is life-giving and it will redeem us from the moral atrophy that threatens us. As Bishop Curry preached, “Love is the way.” It certainly is an exciting time to be an Episcopalian.
 Karoline M. Lewis, Associate Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Rev. Peter Faass
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.
A recent meme on Facebook showed a picture of two older women having coffee. One looks at the other and states, “A virgin birth I can believe in. But three wise men? Not so much!”
The Gospel of Matthew, where this passage comes from, has no birth story per se. Instead, it gives us the story of the world’s response to Jesus’ birth. First, we have the three Magi: Zoroastrian, astrology-believing wise men from Persia who traveled almost two years to see and pay homage to the newborn Jesus. Enter King Herod, who in fear, envy and great malice orders the slaughter of every male child under the age of two when the Magi do not return to give him the exact GPS location of this newborn king and perceived threat to his throne.
Despite his being born in remote place quite unlike Jerusalem, Jesus' birth does not happen under the radar. In fact, from the moment it occurs, it has seismic repercussions that reach the pinnacles of power and beyond the nation’s boundaries. To Herod, a pretty insecure leader, the newborn Jesus is immediately perceived as a threat to his power. Even before Jesus can speak, people are jockeying to get close and destroy him.
Even though the wise men mistakenly look for Jesus in Jerusalem, Jesus' eventual entry into Jerusalem is presaged with "the powers of death doing their worst" in the slaughter of the innocents that follows later in the story. But God has a plan for this unstoppable Messiah: a message of salvation to deliver humankind in word and deed that will change the world forever. Matthew is clear; there is a new power on earth to be reckoned with in all the cosmos and heralded by a star. Nothing will ever be the same again.
We are about to wrap up another Christmas season. The secular Christmas started right after Halloween and ended once all the presents were opened on Christmas Day. The sacred one will conclude January 6 (Epiphany), when we commemorate the wise men’s arrival at the stable in Bethlehem, delivering their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Every Christmas season, we hear of some new battlefront in the alleged “War on Christmas.” This year, that battle took the form of the accusation that Starbucks’ holiday coffee cups were threatening the sacredness of Christmas by not having bells and evergreen trees on them. Mind you, the cups were bright Christmas red and had the deep green and white Starbucks’ logo on them, making them look pretty “Christmasy” to me. Starbucks also carried Christmas tree Advent calendars and sold their usual special blend Christmas coffee beans, so it’s not as if Starbucks had somehow pressed the delete button on all things Christmas.
A more familiar battlefront in this “War on Christmas” frequently takes place in city halls, where city leaders debate the relevancy of nativity scenes in public squares. These battle lines are generally drawn around traditional Constitutional separation of church and state concerns. This then leads those who advocate for nativity scenes on public property to assert that we are a “Christian nation,” arguing that an overt Christian religious symbol is in fact appropriate on public property.
Well, if that assertion was once true, it certainly no longer is. Our nation is a multicultural, multireligious and multiracial place. In fact, America looks more like the heterogeneous place that Jesus came to promote as a place called God’s kingdom rather than a homogeneous one. So in fact the exclusive Christian Nativity scene is not a symbol that secular government should be placing on property held in trust for all people.
In the eyes of Matthew's Gospel, these arguments about the war on Christmas must not only seem ridiculous, but an indictment of what the church – or certainly many of her adherents - has become.
Matthew tells of the incarnation of God in Jesus that moved people to radical, life-altering acts. Jesus’ birth struck terror into the heart of Herod, who responded by using his power to seek out and destroy this babe’s power, God made man. This birth also inspired three foreigners to risk arduous and dangerous travel to come and pay him homage, presenting the child with the world’s most precious gifts at his feet.
Whether or not the Nativity scene is allowed on the town green, or Starbucks uses images of bells, evergreens or its own logo on its cups, Christmas hardly strikes us with fear or acts of true homage anymore – except those folks waiting for their January credit card statements. In fact, just the opposite has occurred with Christmas. We have, by and large, made its meaning benign, if not downright insipid.
There are some recent examples of the Church striking fear or great awe in the hearts of the world’s Herod. Archbishop Romero, Archbishop Tutu and Pope Francis have certainly stirred things up and given people pause to think about the power of Jesus. For the most part, Christianity has lost the power that the Incarnation of God brings to earth.
In his Christmas Day New York Times op-ed piece, “The Christmas Revolution,” writer Paul Wehner states:
“The incarnation . . . reveals that the divine principle governing the universe is a radical commitment to the dignity and worth of every person, since we are created in the divine image.
But just as basic is the notion that we have value because God values us. Steve Hayner, a theologian who died earlier this year, illustrated this point to me when he observed that gold is valuable not because there is something about gold that is intrinsically of great worth but because someone values it. Similarly, human beings have worth because we are valued by God, who took on flesh, entered our world, and shared our experiences — love, joy, compassion and intimate friendships; anger, sorrow, suffering and tears. For Christians, God is not distant or detached; he is a God of wounds. All of this elevated the human experience and laid the groundwork for the ideas of individual dignity and inalienable rights.”
It is this radical and life-transforming understanding of Christmas that each and every human being has intrinsic value. The gift God has given us in Jesus is that God valued us so much he became one of us, and that reality strikes true fear in the world’s Herods, because if we are all equal, we no longer need them.
Jesus' threat to the powers of his day (and the present) brought an alternative to those powers – the Realm of God. It’s a place where all humans are intrinsically valuable because God loves us all.
Think about this truth in light of some of the issues we face today. If all human beings are intrinsically valued, how can we not love our Muslim neighbors as ourselves?
If all human beings are valued by God and we are all made in God’s image, how can we not honor and support the Black Lives Matter movement? Not because Black lives are worth more than other lives, but because so many people do not see them as being of much value at all. That inequality results in injustice and hatred and death for many.
The Realm of God plays by different rules and does not recognize the powers of this world. The Realm of God invites us to participate in it by inviting the powers of the world to take even our own lives from us as a way of showing that the world has no power over us.
Our churches are supposed to be alternative communities to the world’s ways. We are supposed to do things differently; we are supposed to be different. God’s incarnation proclaims it. We should proclaim and witness this as faith communities. Only in so doing will we will grasp the true meaning of Christmas. When we do so, Jesus is born once again.
 “The Christmas Revolution,” Peter Wehner, The New York Times, December 25, 2015
Rev. Peter Faass
The Rev. Peter Faass' homily was part of the round-robin series preached by the Rev. Faass, the Rev. Daniel Budd (First Unitarian Church of Cleveland), and the Rev. Roger Osgood (Heights Christian Church), who took turns preaching at every congregation in November 2015.
Teaching in the temple, Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces…’
As I stand here before you this morning in my Anglican choir-dress regalia, it is not lost on me that I may give just a teeny-tiny bit of appearing like one of those scribes Jesus speaks of in our text; you know, those guys who like to flaunt about in their fancy long robes to impress people, like Joseph and his amazing Technicolor dream coat!
We Episcopal clergy like to dress up for worship. If you think this (particular vestment) is fancy, you should see what I wear to celebrate the Eucharist! On our good days, we ideally wear the fancy robes to please and honor God, just like people who put on their Sunday best when going to church. On our bad days… well, they didn’t call the liturgical practice classroom at my seminary the “Barbie Dream Chapel” for nothing!
I hope that in my time with you, I can persuade you that today is a good day.
Our reading from Mark’s gospel (12:38) is broken into two scenes, or pericopes, as we in the world of theology like to call them. Both take place within the Jerusalem Temple.
In the first scene, Jesus is teaching. The class he is conducting has actually been going on for some time, having begun back in chapter 11, verse 27. The religious authorities haves been relentless; chief priests, elders, scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees have been confronting Jesus to verbally entangle him. They hope he’ll commit some sort of religious verbal faux pas and lose his credibility by offending the crowds gathered around him. Of course, Jesus is too savvy for that. He can’t be out-debated. Like any good debater, he turns the tables on those conniving to outwit him.
“Beware of the scribes,” he says, launching a list of offensive, hypocritical behaviors that they and the well-off elites of Jerusalem engage in.
Jesus says these are meaningless prayers and trust me, God sees right through their hypocrisy, their abuse of others and their lack of humility. “They will receive the greater condemnation,” he states. In other words, behaviors have consequences, and God doesn’t miss a thing.
The description of the scribes’ behaviors describes the aristocracy’s “normal practices” in Jesus’ day. While Jesus’ comments focused on the scribes who were verbally taunting him, he intended to point a finger at the ostentatious display and abuse of power of all who took on the trappings of wealth and power – especially those who did so on the backs of the vulnerable, like widows.
The charge against the scribes devouring widow’s houses is evocative of earlier Biblical prophetic charges against the rich and powerful who attained riches at the expense of others. The prophet Amos decried this behavior and spoke of God’s judgment on it:
11“Therefore because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
12For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins--
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate. (Amos 5:11-12)
Throughout scripture, God persistently calls us to care and provide for the world’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged. This call often focuses on the widowed and orphaned, but that phrase is meant to encompass all who are disadvantaged by the rich and powerful.
In today’s story, the rich and powerful prey on widows in scene one, and prominently in the reading’s second scene. The focus on widows links the two pericopes into one object lesson about God’s morality and the immoral behavior of the rich and powerful.
In the second scene, Jesus points to the rich placing money into the treasury boxes at the Temple. He then focuses on a poor widow who comes along and gives two small copper coins worth a penny.
Jesus indicates that the rich give large sums out of their abundance; sums that are pocket change because of their net worth. Their donations don’t impact their financial status because they’re surplus funds; therefore they’re not a sacrifice to God. The widow, on the other hand, has given out of her poverty, as she has “put in everything she had.”
We need to be clear: Jesus’ praise of the widow’s actions should not be misconstrued as approving the social conditions that created her poverty. They are a condemnation of those whose lust for wealth and ostentation – people who have created the very circumstances that cause the widow’s poverty. Ultimately, Jesus points a finger at those who devour widows’ houses. Their behavior is the root cause that creates impoverished people like the widow at the treasury box.
The Hebrew and Christian Testaments often assert that God created a world with more than enough for all: that the world is a place of abundance. In that abundance, God desires equity in creation so that it is a place of distributive justice:
That is God’s morality… that is God’s truth.
Jesus teaches at the Temple that those who do not adequately provide for the most vulnerable do not care about God’s truth. They only care about their own lust for money and power.
In the New York Times article, The Hypocrisy of ‘Helping’ the Poor,1 writer Paul Theroux examines the recent phenomena of some very rich people “helping” those hit hard by the jobless economic recovery. He writes,
“[we] hear [about] grotesquely wealthy American chief executives [who] announce in sanctimonious tones the intention to use their accumulated hundreds of millions or billions, ‘to lift people out of poverty.’ Sometimes they are referring to Africans, but sometimes they are referring to Americans. And here’s the funny thing about that: In most cases they have made their fortunes by impoverishing whole American communities, having outsourced their manufacturing to China or India, Vietnam or Mexico.”
While these executives boasted of how relocating manufacturing to other nations has lifted people out of poverty in those places, this was hardly done for altruistic reasons. It was cheap labor, cheaper raw products and less government oversight for worker safety and mandated benefits (such as healthcare) that drove this outsourcing.
Theroux continues, “To me, globalization is the search for the new plantation, and cheaper labor; globalization means that by outsourcing, it is possible to impoverish an American community to the point where it is indistinguishable from a hard-up town in the dusty heartland of a Third World country.”
Those who created this impoverishment and took advantage of others because of their own lust for material gain, placing untold numbers of people in vulnerable circumstances, now suffer pangs of guilt about their companies’ profits and their own stupendous salaries. To assuage this guilt, they give a donation out of their largess to supply food banks, shelters and job retraining programs (although no job opportunities). These are band-aids which haven’t resolved this immoral situation.
Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.
God does not miss a thing and won’t be foiled. The radicality of God’s love for all creation, for all God’s children, combined with God’s intent to bring about the full fruition of what Christians call “The Kingdom” or “Reign of God” demands distributive justice for all. Distributive justice means we work with God to end the world’s evil, unjust practices, oppression, violence and war. This is God’s vision for creation given to us through the prophets and Jesus.
Admittedly, the achievement of that vision can seem daunting at times. Some of you may even be thinking that it is some starry-eyed, pie-in-the-sky, impossible utopia.
Roman Catholic Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan offers this insight on those feelings:
“Maybe [in speaking of God’s reign] it is prudent to distinguish between rhapsodic and impossible utopia and an ecstatic and possible eutopia. Eutopia imagines a social world of universal peace, a human world of non-violent distributive justice where all get a fair and adequate share of God’s world as God’s Kingdom. If that is a silly fantasy or utopian delusion with no possible eventual advent, our human species may be a magnificent and as doomed as was the saber-toothed tiger.2”
We stand at a crossroads in 2015. It is no secret that wealth distribution in our nation becomes increasingly inequitable each day. The one percent figure bandied about is not some fiction.
Enormous amounts of wealth accrue to a tiny fraction, while more people sink into living at the margins, poor and struggling. The famous American middle class – a group of people who arguably benefited from the greatest era of distributive justice in our history in the 1950’s and 1960’s – is disappearing.
This all occurs because of a tiny minority’s insatiable lust for money and power that leads to immoral practices in business and in government. Scribes win – and widows loose.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose God’s truth.
God’s truth is a clarion call to us as we confront this crisis in our own time. The choice is ours, God says. We can go the way of Crossan’s saber-toothed tiger, or we can heed God’s call to work passionately for distributive justice for all God’s children. But we must participate with God. We must be proactive. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu wisely observed, “God, without us, will not; as we, without God, cannot.”
Job 38:1-7. (34-47); Psalm 104: 1-9, 25, 37b; Hebrews 5: 1 – 10; Mark 10: 35 – 45
Dr. Carol S. Franklin
Dr. Carol Franklin is a retired higher education professional and is a member of Christ Church.
You know that old saw that it is difficult to serve two masters? Well this Sunday, I feel pulled in multiple directions. First of course is the pull of today’s lessons and how God illuminates them for me. Second is the fact that I was asked specifically to preach today as part of an Outreach Sunday event. But then a few weeks ago Peter reminds me that it is also stewardship season, and finally he encouraged me to be short and succinct. My response to him about that last bit was it depends on how she chooses to speak to me. Thankfully she did speak, revealing that the heart of today’s lessons was about serving and giving. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together and all the stars seemed to align for this Outreach and Stewardship Sunday? Now let’s see if I can be succinct.
As I read the lessons appointed for the day, especially Mark’s Gospel, the first thing that popped into my head was “Clueless in Jerusalem.” With their minds more preoccupied with petty thoughts of self at the top of the table, the disciples couldn’t see Christ’s true purpose or understand his service and his sacrifice. Clearly, clueless the sons of Zebedee and the rest of the crew just didn’t get it, didn’t get the difference between worldly greatness and spiritual greatness. Then it struck me that many of us, even those of us in the church, can fall prey to that clueless syndrome.
There is a sharp disconnect between the messages of the culture in which we live and the kingdom of God to which we aspire. Too frequently, we in the world value celebrity over substance, idolizing the rich, the powerful, the beautiful and the athletic. Then there are those purveyors of a prosperity gospel that preach earthly rewards in return for our faith, focusing more on what God will do for us rather than what we are called to do or be in and by that faith.
Clueless that’s what we are, expecting seats at the top of the table and the finest of wines rather than seeing where the cup and the baptism of Christ would lead him and us. The truth is, we didn’t choose God, God chose us. Let’s be honest, who among us at first blush would choose anything, any seat or any cup from someone who asks so much of his children, of someone who could send his own son to suffer a horrific death? But we do accept because we realize that such an act demonstrates a singular truth that we are the beloved of God and that He would pay any price, including the life of His son, to ransom our lives. We are who we are and what we are because of who God is. God came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ to show us the meaning and power of His love and to remind us that we are His.
The real question is, are we ready to confront what it means to be chosen? When we take the cup, are we really ready for the service and the sacrifice? In his sermon last week, Peter said something that struck a chord with me – in essence if we accept that we are known and beloved of God, we can’t stay the way we are. We must discover what God desires us to be and what it means to walk that Jesus walk. With Jesus as our model, we see that God’s kingdom rejects the world’s measures for esteem, for true greatness flows not from dominating others but in giving of self and serving others. Thus acceptance of the cup and of baptism is acceptance of God’s way. It is accepting Jesus’ invitation to change ourselves and the world we live in by joining him in serving and giving to others. By following Jesus, we are lead directly into the heart of God, where we find that the message of Christ’s journey is not about worldly riches or a place in the spotlight, it’s about love.
The Lord instructs us to love and To Love is a verb. It requires action, for loving God is not measured solely or simply by the law or our adherence to it. Jesus practiced what he preached, breaking down barriers, loving the outcast and welcoming those on the margins. He was a rule breaker who moved beyond conventional wisdom to open our eyes and hearts to see a new path and a new life. We can do no less than to love one another as Christ loved us. For me it means that loving God is not measured simply by being baptized or going to church or praying regularly or professing to be a Christian. It’s love that must abide as we gather in worship and in giving of our self, our time, our talent and our silver to the work that God and Christ have called us to.
Last month, I ended my sermon by stating that “At the end of the day when asked ‘Where is the love?’ I hope we can respond, here in this place, as we reach out to love as Christ loved and heal as Christ healed.”
Now I could give you a litany of the ways in which we in this parish seek to reflect the priorities of God that Jesus proclaimed. It would include our outreach and giving, our work to reimagine and renew our parish life and role here at the crossroads. But if I did, I’d miss the mark on that last injunction to be succinct.
On this Outreach and Stewardship Sunday, take a moment to explore the many ways in which we in this parish live out that call to serve and to give. Talk to someone about our stewardship of time, talent, silver and this edifice. Ask about the ways in which we reach back and lift up those in our community and throughout the world through our outreach initiatives. I think you’ll discover that we in this place are not clueless, and you will be amazed to learn that we can indeed be known by our love as we walk in Christ’s purpose.