Tag Archive | Mark

25th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 11/15/15)

first reading:  Daniel 12:1-3

Psalm 16

second reading:  Hebrews 10:11-25

gospel reading:  Mark 13:1-8


At the end of each Church year we’re always given some pretty graphic readings in the lectionary.

Today – a time of great anguish says Daniel.  Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines says Jesus.

photo credit: cnnMany throughout history have tried to predict these “end times” or the apocalypse.  Some people focus their lives on preparing for “The End.”

I’m not sure why, because we are told repeatedly that it’s NOT for us to know.  Even in this morning’s gospel reading the disciples want to know when, but Jesus won’t give them the answer they want.

They ask point blank, “When will this be?”  But Jesus doesn’t answer, “in 5, 25 or 2,015 years.”  Jesus says don’t worry about the date.  What you need to worry about is your own self.  Do not be alarmed at the wars and earthquakes and all that other stuff – they may affect your bodies but not your souls.

“BEWARE that no one leads you astray.”

Jesus tells us our anxieties shouldn’t be placed with the external events, but with what’s going on INTERNALLY, in ourselves and in the community of faith.

Jesus says do not be alarmed at all the stuff on the outside, but beware of the many who will come in his name and lead many astray.  In the Old Testament, those who “lead astray” are called false prophets.  How do we tell the false prophets from those who speak the gospel?  This, Jesus tells us, needs to be a primary focus for us as all this other stuff is happening.

And it makes sense to me, because chaos, in our personal lives and community and country can lead people to do frightful things.  It’s important to know our CENTER.

Jesus broke into human history as a human person out of love for you and me.  Jesus died, so that you and I can live.  He lived, died and rose again so that we no longer fear death, and have a place reserved for us in heaven forever.  Jesus wasn’t just some nice guy or prophetic leader.  Jesus is GOD in the flesh, God incarnate – Emmanuel – come to us in love.  THIS IS THE GOSPEL.  THIS IS OUR CENTER.

novgorod-icons18

We learn this through Scripture.  Scripture is the norm and guide for our lives as Christians.  Through the Bible we come to know Jesus.  Through Jesus we are saved.  But even false prophets can quote Scripture.  SATAN quoted Scripture to Jesus in the wilderness.

photo(7)So we have to pay attention to how anyone who claims to be a Church leader uses Scripture.  The Bible is an instrument – a tool.  As such it can be used for good or ill.

The Bible has been used to defend and denounce – slavery, polygamy, strangers/aliens/immigrants, rape, divorce, to begin and to end wars – you name it, the Bible can be used and abused.

This is why it’s important we know the Bible – to read the thing and not just have it gathering dust on our bookshelves.  This is why it’s important not just to read it, but to study it – to find out the context in which its books were written.  Because verses taken out of context can be dangerous.

We have a sad history in our country of cults – with their charismatic leaders – and so many have ended tragically.

We’ve been hearing a lot about those who pervert Islam, but there have been and will be plenty who try to pervert Christianity as well.

If anyone tells you that

  • they have ALL the answers, or that
  • they have a “special” relationship with God,
  • that you need to listen to EVERYTHING they say or suffer consequences, or that
  • theirs is the ONLY way to follow Jesus, that
  • you have to be good enough to deserve God’s love, or that
  • there are those out of God’s reach,
  • if there are a whole lot of rules to worry about and not a lot of grace to celebrate,
  • if the preachers sleep in mansions while they beg for your money – then

WATCH OUT

Some of these false prophets may even start out with faithful intentions but end up getting full of themselves, and their ministries end up being just that – THEIR ministries – not Christ’s.

Many have come, and many will come, and try to lead us astray.

That’s why I’m so thankful to have a boss, my bishop, who watches over me.  And our bishop is accountable too, to us as a synod.

We see things going on in the world.  We can look at almost any moment in human history and see wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and times of great anguish.

We see it certainly in our time.  The world is in the midst of the largest refugee crisis since World War II.  Wars are raging.  We’ve been trying to figure out since BEFORE 9/11 how to combat a movement with no country – whose latest victims in Beirut and Paris we mourn deeply.  And on Friday there was an earthquake off the coast of Japan.

While many people see these things and cry, “The End is near!”  Jesus tells us to look within – within ourselves and within our community the Church.

He warns us not to so over-analyze events so that we fail to respond to the needs of those who suffer – being SO concerned about “The End” that we fail to live here and now.

Jesus warns us to not be so concerned about “The End” that we fall prey to those who give us easy answers, or the ones that make us feel better or circle the wagons.

All this stuff going on around us may or may not be “The End” – if it is or isn’t, OUR job is to stay close to Jesus, and act as Jesus would act.

Because in “The End” THAT is what really matters.

AMEN.

 

24th Sunday after Pentecost

24th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 11/8/15)

first reading:  1 Kings 17:8-16

Psalm 146

second reading: Hebrews 9:24-28

gospel reading:  Mark 12:38-44


Our readings for this morning set us up for a classic stewardship sermon.  Many congregations use a day like today to talk about stewardship in the life of the Church.

The standard definition of stewardship is this:  the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.  The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment and nature, economics, health, property, information, theology, etc…

In our first and gospel readings for today we’re given the stories of two widows, and what they did with what they had.  Surrounding these stories are proclamations of God’s power, love and sacrifice, perhaps to remind us of the “worthiness” of the widows’ actions.

Because their actions make little sense if we have ourselves in a secular mindset.  But what the secular world often misses is what the Church considers the very FOUNDATION of stewardship, the part of the definitions that says, “entrusted to one’s care.”

Our faith in Jesus tell us the stuff we have is not our own – as we pray in our communion service in our offertory prayer:  “Merciful Father, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us – our selves, our time and our possessions, signs of your gracious love…”

All our “stuff,” indeed all we ARE, comes from God.  Period.  We are not the creators of our lives, of the people we are, of the talents and gifts we have, or of the possessions we hold.

The widows knew this, and they were content to give the very last parts of “all of it” back to God from whom it came in the first place.

Stewardship, for us who are disciples of Jesus Christ, is about how we use what GOD HAS GIVEN US as individuals – our SELVES, our time and our possessions.

The first widow had some scraps of food and the talent to cook – so she fed God’s prophet.  The second widow had some money – not a lot, in fact quite a little, but gave all she had for the running of the Temple.  They gave what God had given them, what God had entrusted to their care.

These passages challenge us in two ways.  First of all they challenge us to take a look at our lives – to reflect on WHAT has been entrusted to our care.  What has God given to us?  It’s unique to each individual – there are no blanket answers except that which we find in our offertory prayer – our selves, our time and our possessions.

Since I hate to point fingers and talk about “you,” I’ll use first person pronouns…  Who am I?  (First of all a child of God – but after that…)

What kind of person am I?  What drives me in life?  What gives it meaning?  What brings me joy?  What has brought me sorrow?  What are my struggles and my successes?  This is my SELF.

Then, what do I do with my SELF?  How do I act in the world?  How do I treat those around me?  What talents do I bring to the table in any given situation?  How do I use those talents to serve my self or to serve others?

And what do I do with the stuff I’ve accumulated – my money I’ve earned and the things I’ve bought with it?  Am I generous or stingy?  Does my stuff really make me happy, or am I accumulating stuff just to keep up with the neighbors, or to try to fill some deep-seeded sense of emptiness?  Do I control my stuff, or does my stuff and the desire for stuff control me?

Heavy questions.  Questions that require us to take a deep look at ourselves and how we live our lives.  And the answers will change as we go through life, because we are ever-changing creatures.

If the first challenge presented to us in these readings is reflection, the second challenge we’re given is action.

widow of zaraphethWe know how the widows acted.  The widow of Zarapheth was convinced she and her son were dying of hunger and thirst – she told Elijah she was going to prepare a “last supper” if you will, for her and her son.  Her words sting:  “As the Lord your God lives” I’m going home to prepare the last food I have “for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”  Elijah asked her to have a little faith and share her last food with him, which she did, and it became FAR from her last supper.

 

widows-miteThe widow of the Temple obviously had a tough life if all she had left was two coins.  But she took what she had, and gave it to God, or back to God – and Jesus remarks that her monetarily small gift was worth much more than all the others.

 

After our reflection, what will be our action?

Once we answer the question, “Who am I?” the next question is, “What will I DO?”

What will I do with me?  What will I do with all the gifts, talents, personality and stuff that I have been entrusted with by God?  As with the answers to the first set of questions, the answers to these will also change throughout our lives.

Of all that God has given me, of all that has been entrusted to me – what will I give back?

Of course we can never REPAY God for all the gifts we have been given.  I mean, how could we repay God for giving us our very lives, now and forever?  We can’t.

Our offering, our stewardship, is merely our way of saying THANK YOU to God for everything we are.

So, I guess this sermon is really presenting us with homework – to reflect on who we are, and to decide how we are going to act out our “thank you” to God FOR who we are.

May God be with each one of us in this life-long process of discipleship – and stewardship – of all that has been entrusted to us.

AMEN.

 

21st Sunday after Pentecost

21st Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 10/18/15)

first reading:  Isaiah 53:4-12

Psalm 91:9-16

Hebrews 5:1-10

Mark 10:35-45


Have you been paying attention to politics lately?  The national democratic party just had their first debate this past week.  The Republicans have already had two.  I have to be honest – I haven’t watched any of them.

It’s a dirty business most of the time.  People are focused on doing whatever they have to in order to GET power, then doing anything to KEEP it.

This profession, often referred to as “public service,” is often no public service at all, just “self-serving” for those in it. They may be in leadership positions, but they’re not leading, they’re “lording over,” more interested in the power than in serving.

Jesus describes our situation pretty well when he says, “among the Gentiles… their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.”  

He reminds power-hungry James and John, along with the jealous disciples, that they are held to a different standard.  He reminds power-hungry James and John, along with the jealous disciples, that the world’s definition of leadership and God’s are two VERY different things.

Jesus says those who are leaders must lead by serving, to be an example of service, putting themselves LAST, so that others in the community can be built up.

Now, it’s easy for us to point our fingers at the politicians.  But what happens when we stand in front of the mirror? It’s so easy to point the finger at someone else, what do we see when we point the finger at ourselves?

About this passage, the late scholar Donald Juel wrote,

“In the shadow of the cross we get a brief glimpse of a new community – in which relations are not governed by power and status, but by service and hospitality for those without status.”¹

Jesus wasn’t just saying, “If you want to be a great disciple/evangelist/pastor/bishop, act this way” – he was talking to ALL of us.  He wasn’t just talking to leaders – he was talking to believers.  He was talking not just of those in authority over others, although that was certainly an important part of it – he was talking to ANYONE who wants to follow him.

He was talking about the way you and I relate to one another as brothers and sisters.  He was talking about the way in which we are to relate to one another and the world around us.

So what do we see when we look in the mirror?  Do we see a “lord it over” boss, or a “servant?”  Do we see OUR lives as lives of service to Jesus?  And not only to Jesus, but to the Church?  And not only to the Church as a building or an institution, but to the PEOPLE who make up the Church – and to the people even outside the Church?

Jesus gave his disciples a little sermon here about what leadership is among us – how it is to be different than it is “out there.”

He tells us, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

But what does this look like?  Once we hear Jesus’ call to be servants, how do we live that out?  How do we make sure that we’re not like those Gentiles so long ago?  If we follow Jesus’ teachings, if we follow him in faith, then we also try our best to follow his example.

How did Jesus show himself to be a servant?

We know that he associated himself with those who society judged as unworthy – lepers, the possessed, women (including those of “ill-repute”).  His inner circle consisted of fishermen and tax collectors – not exactly professions high up on the social ladder.  He was always challenging the social and religious status-quo by being with the people he was with.

004-jesus-washes-feetNO ONE could say Jesus lived in a bubble.  He was constantly popping the bubbles, challenging his followers and religious authorities to see beyond their notions of what faith and worthiness were, and what “belonging” meant.

And in the process he got dirty.  He made mud pies to heal a blind man (John 9:6), he spit and put his fingers in a deaf man’s ears and touched his TONGUE (Mark 7:33).  And on the night in which he was betrayed, before he took the cup and gave thanks, he washed his disciples’ dirty feet.  And of course, he died on the cross.

These are extreme examples, but they show us the lengths to which Jesus will go to love us – and the lengths he calls us to go to love one another.

What that means for us is that there are no tasks, no jobs in the Church or in our communities that are “below” us. What that means for us is that there are no people who are “beneath” us.

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cooks in the kitchen

Last night our congregation hosted the first dinner/fundraiser we’ve had in years.²  It was wonderful.  Most of the people who were setting up and cleaning up, cooking and serving the food were council people.  Those in leadership were literally serving others.

I don’t know any of us who worked last night who aren’t dog-tired today, but it’s a good tired. The tired that comes from serving others, from serving the Church.

Jesus first served us, and calls us to serve one another.

cleaning up

cleaning up

What our individual service looks like is different for each person and our abilities:  volunteering at (or donating to) the food bank, giving someone a ride to the doctor, a phone call to someone who’s struggling,  a kind word to a stranger, or even making a desert for the spaghetti dinner.

We often forget it’s not only the grand gestures that are important – most of the time it’s the little things we say and do that mean the most.

What it boils down to is loving neighbor in word and deed.  Remembering that we are no better or worse than anyone else.  Treating ALL people with the respect and dignity they deserve as children of God.

AMEN.


¹Juel, Donald.  Mark: Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament.  Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1990, p. 149.

²This was not a fundraiser to pay our bills.  Our congregation has a fund we use to help those in our congregation or community who are experiencing crisis.  We raised money so we can give it away…

 

20th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

20th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 10/11/15)

first reading:  Amos 5:6-15

Psalm 90:12-17

second reading:  Hebrews 4:12-16

gospel reading:  Mark 10:17-31


We live in a broken world.  We live in a broken society.  We live broken lives.

We spend a great deal of time running away from this simple fact.  We spend a lot of time trying to deny it.  We spend  a lot of our resources trying to fill the holes in our souls.  We do this to our detriment, because the denial makes it hard to truly heal.

Our readings today speak to this reality, and what we can do, and what God DOES, to bring that healing to us.

The main example of our collective and individual brokenness given in our readings today revolve around money and/or possessions.  This is a very touchy subject for many of us, which is why the prophets and Jesus himself spoke so frequently about it.

In Amos, the people are told to seek the Lord and live.  But seeking the Lord involves caring for neighbor, which the people have NOT done.  They have been most concerned with storing up treasures for themselves – building houses and vineyards, and they “trample on the poor.”

In Mark, we have the famous story of the man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus’ classic line:  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Jesus challenges the man to give up everything that’s important to him in order to follow – and the man just can’t do it.  He, like most of us, is very attached to THINGS, and the security that finances provide.

These readings point to one of our main weaknesses in life – the power of money and possessions.  We are more tied to our stuff than we are to God.

It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t quote the first commandment to the man – “You shall have no other gods,” because as it turns out, THAT is the one he couldn’t keep.

I don’t know many of us who can.  It’s human nature, sinful nature, that we are driven to accumulate.  But in the act of our accumulating, we end up depriving others.  As Amos writes, we trample the poor.

But we need to be careful when we look at these passages.

My aunt Helen loved the camel saying, mostly because she grew up poor, lived with not a lot, and worked hard till she was in her 70’s, being a housekeeper for rich people.  She loved this verse because she envied rich people.  She loved this verse because it somehow made her feel better about herself for NOT being rich.  She loved this verse because she saw it as an equalizer.  And that’s too bad.  SHE MISSED THE POINT.

But just like Jesus looked on the rich man and LOVED him, Jesus loved my aunt too, despite her misunderstanding – because with God all things are possible.

What I see God doing in these readings is challenging us to examine our priorities – to find what it is within ourselves that keeps us from giving ourselves completely to God.

1st commandmentMoney is easy.  It’s easy for us to say these readings are about money.  And they ARE about money.  But they are also about the first commandment, the one the rich man couldn’t keep – all the “other” gods we put before the Lord.

They are about anything that leads us to be shocked and leave Jesus grieving, because we cannot give up what we value over him.

Money/wealth/possessions are just the easiest to talk about because they’re the easiest to see.  But our readings are also about the things INSIDE us that hold us back from a full relationship with God – things like:

  • hatred and prejudices, or envy or holding grudges – all the things that keep us from loving our neighbors,
  • things like finding our self-worth through our jobs,
  • or from who we associate with,
  • judging ourselves based on how many facebook friends or retweets we get,
  • or how beautiful or “in shape” we are.

Jesus tells us to give it all up.  All the outward worldly signs of blessing or success, all the attitudes and feelings we use to judge ourselves and others.  They mean nothing to God.

They mean nothing because they cannot get us ANYWHERE in our relationship with God.  Because “for mortals it is impossible.”

We’re stuck.  Each and every one of us.  Thanks be to God, Jesus didn’t leave us with the impossible task.

For while Jesus said it’s impossible for us, he added, “but not for God; for God all things are possible.”  Thanks be to God!

It IS possible through Jesus to inherit eternal life, and not only that, to have God with us here and now through the power of the Holy Spirit.

God looks on us and loves us, even while we cling to our worldly stuff.  God looks on us and loves us, even while we grieve our inability to love God, one another, and ourselves as we should.  Praise God that God doesn’t hold it against us when we fail – because we fail all the time.

This is why it’s so comforting for me to soak in these words from Hebrews – “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…”  We “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.”

God who loves us KNOWS we are broken.  God who loves us UNDERSTANDS our brokenness.  God who loves us gives us grace for healing that brokenness.

There are times in our lives, when even the thought of that healing seems too far off, but remember – for God, all things are possible.

AMEN.

 

19th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

19th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 10/4/15)

first reading:  Genesis 2:18-24

Psalm 8

second reading:  Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

gospel reading:  Mark 10:2-16

***today’s sermon is a bit shorter than usual to accommodate our blessing of the animals liturgy


So – here’s what’s before us today in our readings:  the creation of the first people and animals, the beauty of creation, being put in charge of that creation, Jesus’ suffering – and marriage, divorce and children.

Here’s what’s going on in our world:  a refugee crisis not seen since WWII, yet another mass shooting, local food pantries struggling to keep up with the need, and our little blessing of the animals.

Wow.  Where to begin?  It’s too much to tackle everything in detail in the few short minutes we’re here together.

What I DO see as a kind of common thread, and perhaps a message for us to ponder, is found in our Psalm and reading from Hebrews.

The psalmist praises God and God’s creation, then shows our place as humans in relation to it.  The psalmist writes:  “You have made [human beings] little less than divine; with glory and honor you crown them.  You have made them rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet…”

The writer of Hebrews quotes this passage, then adds, “Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control.”   But ALSO adds, “As it is we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we DO see Jesus…”

We’re given a hierarchy, if you will, in these readings.  God is creator, Jesus at the right hand of God, the angels, US, then the rest of creation.

God’s intention is for creation to be subject to you and me.  It’s not perfect yet, and when it’s not then, “we do see Jesus.”

What does it mean to have creation subject to us?  What does it mean that God has left us in control?  And how does our relationship to one another figure in?

Again, the writer of Hebrews tells us “we do see Jesus.”

Jesus is our model.  Jesus is our guide.  Jesus is our teacher.  Jesus shows us the way.  Jesus IS the way.

So how does Jesus lead?  How does he lord over us?  What does he do with the power he has at the right hand of God?

He uses that power to love, to serve, to show mercy, to sacrifice, to give his life.

This is how We need to do it.  We don’t bully the earth, we don’t throw our power around, and we certainly don’t bully each other.

The world in which we live is broken.

Broken because of political fighting which brings death and suffering caused by our desire to get and keep power. Broken because of our inability to see that God has put creation under our feet, NOT so we can stomp on it and pummel it, but so that we can tend it – to SERVE it, so that it may serve us and future generations.

Broken because of selfishness and greed and our amazing ability to take one another for granted and ruin our relationships.  Broken because we allow violence of all kinds towards one another – violence in words and fists and guns – that maim and kill our bodies and souls.

Broken because our neighbors down the street and across the globe are homeless and hungry, so much so that our food pantries can hardly keep up.

Jesus charges us over and over again to love one another, to care for one another, to forgive one another.  But many times we don’t do a very good job of it, in our dealings with people across the ocean, across the street, and in our homes.

Today in worship we are celebrating the place of our animal companions in our lives.  We’re acknowledging them as gifts that God has given us.  We acknowledging that God cherishes them because God created them – them and every creature on land and in the sea and sky.  There is nothing wrong with this.  It’s a beautiful thing.  It reminds us of OUR job to take care of them.

But let us not forget that while God has given us this calling to love and care for them and all creation, it is also our calling to love and care for one another.

To be in the broken world, as broken people.  But broken as we are, we DO see Jesus.

We see Jesus, who in his great love for us became broken himself.  We see Jesus, who through his love and suffering frees us from the power of sin.  We see Jesus who calls us to himself, who grants us mercy and grace and forgiveness and love and blessing.

We see Jesus who lifts us up when we fall, carries us when we’re tired, strengthens us when we’re weak.  We see Jesus, who, through our calling to love and care for each other and all creation – sends us out to also act in the same way towards each other.

We see Jesus who is the light in the darkness of our lives and of the world.  We see Jesus who forgives us when we fail.

Thank God that when we win, and especially when we LOSE, we see Jesus.

AMEN.

The light shines in the darkness

The light shines in the darkness

 

17th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

17th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 9/20/15)

first reading:  Jeremiah 11:18-20

Psalm 54

second reading:  James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

gospel reading:  Mark 9:30-37


When I was growing up I often heard the phrase, “Children are to be seen and not heard.”  Usually this was said to me because I had appeared to someone to overstep my bounds.

I always hated that phrase.  As a child I felt like it shushed me – shut me out of the conversation.  As an adult I know phrases like that are all about de-valuing.  As a child, my opinion didn’t count.

I know the adults around me loved me, and they didn’t consciously mean me harm, but they counted my thoughts and words as UNWORTHY.

But at least my presence was acknowledged and valued.  In the ancient world in which Jesus walked and preached, children were NOTHING.  Forget about “seen and not heard,” they weren’t even supposed to be “seen.”  Children had no status, and were viewed as little more than property.

Now, even since my childhood, the place of children in our society is much greater.  One could argue that we’ve become “child-centric.”  It seems for parents now, that the world revolves around our children.  Our lives are planned around their activities and needs.

Sometimes, I must say, their desires supercede our values.  Worship and faith community life take a back seat too often to sports or clubs.  Or when our need to have our kids think we’re cool us takes precedence over common sense – like parents who allow their kids to have alcohol at a party at their house.

So in our child-centric culture, Jesus’ act in our gospel reading today can lose its punch.

Remember the status of children in the world in which he lived.  Nobodies.  Nothings.

He uses a child to illustrate his point – that the one who wants to be first must be last – must be a SERVANT (the Greek equivalent of a waiter).

The disciples were oblivious to almost everything that Jesus was trying to them.  He was preaching about suffering.  They were arguing about who was the greatest.  Jesus, as with everything else he said and did TURNED THINGS UPSIDE DOWN.

“You want to be great?  Then be last.  Do you need a visual for what that looks like?  Take this worthless child, and welcome him or her IN MY NAME.”

If we look at this reading too quickly we think it’s just a quaint picture of Jesus telling the disciples that children are important.  We need to get back to the SHOCK the disciples must have felt at that moment.

They still wouldn’t get it, not until after the resurrection.  After all, don’t we say, “hindsight is 20/20.”  But we, brothers and sisters, have the advantage that they didn’t.  We can ONLY read this knowing what came after.

So Jesus tells us to welcome the worthless, the nobodies, the powerless.  Ok, so he doesn’t directly command us to do so, but he baits us.

“Whoever welcomes such a person in my name welcomes ME – and whoever welcomes me… welcomes the one who sent me.”

When we welcome the worthless, we welcome Jesus, and when we welcome Jesus we welcome God who sent Jesus into the world for you and me.

Who among us doesn’t want to welcome Jesus?  Who doesn’t want to welcome God?

Well, since we’re gathered HERE, in this place this morning, my guess is that most of us DO want to welcome Jesus and God – into our community, and into our hearts.

So what does that look like?  What does Jesus putting a child in his arms THEN, look like for us NOW

I’ll talk about who the “children” are, but first I want us to focus on ourselves as welcomers – and then bring it back to the children.

Number one, ego has no place among us.  Let there be no arguments among believers about who is the greatest.  There is only ONE greatest, and he washed his friends’ ugly dirty feet on Maundy Thursday, and died on a cross as a despised criminal on Good Friday.

Two, Judgment also has no place among us.  If we want to welcome Jesus among us we welcome ALL those who society as deemed unworthy – the nobodies, the worthless.  If we want to welcome Jesus among us, we welcome those who WE also have deemed unworthy – because for as much as I might say judgment has no place, we still do it, me included.

It’s sin – this compulsion we have to look down on others, to rate ourselves as better than some.  We’re bound to it. We can only confess it, and cling to Jesus’ grace for us, unworthy as WE are.

Because, in the end, that is OUR relationship with Jesus.  In the end, WE are that child Jesus took in his arms.  WE are the nobodies, the unworthy, the worthless.  In bondage to sin, unable to free ourselves.

None of us like to think of ourselves in that way, but there it is.  Between what we have done, and what we have left undone, we’ve got nothing to bring to God.  We’ve got NO case for deserving GOD’S welcome to US.  We’re guilty.   We may not look like it.  Our worthlessness may be hidden by nice clothes or a fancy car.  But we can’t hide it from God.

It’s a radical, shocking thing this love of God.

We have received tremendous immeasurable grace from Jesus – grace that takes us from hell to heaven, grace that welcomes us and gives us the courage AND humility to welcome others.

This is the life Jesus has given us.  His love breaks down every wall our sin puts up.  His love calls us to love others, and welcome them into this wonderful broken community of grace.

We welcome because Jesus welcomes us.  We welcome, knowing that as we do, we welcome God.  And it starts and ends with God’s shocking grace.

AMEN.

15th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

15th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 9/6/2015)

first reading:  Isaiah 35:4-7a

Psalm 146

second reading:  James 2:1-17

gospel reading:  Mark 7:24-37


For vacation this year I spent two weeks traveling around the western area of our country.  I saw some amazing sights – marvels of God, the power of water, the genius of the Native people in living with their environment.

But I also witnessed evil genius.  I also witnessed the power of self-destruction.  I also witnessed greed and egotism on one of the grandest scales I’ve ever seen.

My family experienced the Grand Canyon, Arches, Mesa Verde, and Bryce Canyon National Parks among many other places – and our journey ended in Las Vegas.

I could go on and on about feeling God’s power and majesty in creation – but my thoughts after pondering the readings for this morning are more with Las Vegas.  And those thoughts aren’t near as nice or clean or beautiful.

What we have in our readings this morning are hypocrisy, beggars, and not listening to what Jesus says.  That seems to sum up Las Vegas pretty well.  Except it’s not that easy.

The nickname most of us know for Vegas is “Sin City.”  But after being there a mere two days I came to see it more as “SAD City.”  There were people, including me, who walked past homeless folks on the streets.  There were people bent on self-destruction.  Activities that given the right frame of mind and context are fun and life-giving, but are taken to such extremes that one can only wonder why more people don’t DIE there.

At first I wondered why the pool was only four feet deep and closed at 8pm, then I saw how people were behaving at the pool at 6pm and I knew.  The casinos are open 24 hours.  I only saw them by 9am, but even at that hour they were filled with people staring at their machines with desperation as their cigarettes burned in their fingers.

All in all I felt an overwhelming sadness for these folks, and ANGER too – at the “higher ups” who were benefiting from people’s addictions and desperation.  Evil geniuses that profit from our greed and compulsion to stake it all for the chance to win big.  Anger at the old women who were trying to push “baseball cards” of young “girls for hire” into my husband’s hand as the two of us walked past.

But I only saw there on a grand scale what I see around me in my daily life on a regular basis.

James, in our second reading, calls out our hypocrisy.  Our tendency to play to the money crowd, our accumulation of things, our hoarding of stuff, while we see our neighbors suffering around us.  Jesus himself acknowledges our baser instincts, our attraction to exclusion, our need to think of ourselves as better than others, when he calls the Syrophoenician woman a “dog.”

And we, like the crowds in Jesus’ time, are just as incapable of listening to his words.  To them he said, “don’t tell anyone,” but they couldn’t contain themselves and told EVERYONE.  To us he gives the new commandment to “love one another,” and the mission to “teach all nations,” and what do we do?  We keep it to ourselves, happier to share the latest gossip than our faith, insulted by the instruction of the Church to give of ourselves, our time, and our possessions.

What are we to do when confronted with our sin?  What are we to do when we realize what a mess the world is – and OUR part in making it and keeping it that way?  What are we to do?

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

We’re stuck.  We are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves.

WE ARE THE SYROPHOENICIAN WOMAN – unworthy of anything, even the smallest crumb that falls from the table – from THAT table [pointing to the altar] especially.

Depressing isn’t it.  In our “do it yourself” culture, none of us want to hear that we “can’t.”  But there it is, like it or not.

Well, as much as I might not “like” it, I’m also eternally grateful that I’m not left to work out the mess of my life, or anyone else’s, on my own.  I’m grateful I don’t have to rely on my own strength of character or righteousness to get on God’s good side.

Jesus has done all that and more on the cross.

He didn’t give his life for us because we’re good or noble.  He went to the cross for us precisely because we’re NOT. We don’t deserve a place at his table, we don’t even deserve the crumbs from it – yet he invites us, every one of us, to feast on his love and forgiveness.

We are beggars – yet he lifts us up and gives us a place of honor.  We are beggars – yet he carries us through our deepest pains.  We are beggars – yet he gives us hope beyond this life.  We are beggars – yet he gives us strength to meet the day ahead.

We may not be able to do anything to save ourselves, thank God.  But now that we ARE saved, we beggars have a LOT of work to do.  Sure we screw it up.  We fail.  Sometimes we make a real mess of things.  But it doesn’t keep us from working – because we are FREED from the bondage of all our mistakes.  Jesus sees us fall, picks us up, and sends us out again.

That freedom is tremendous, indescribable.  Jesus may have healed the woman’s daughter, he may have healed the deaf man – but how much MORE has he healed and given to you and me?

We go to the casino empty handed.  Not one coin to put in the slot, and yet the owner himself comes up to us and says, “You’ve broken the bank.  You get it all.”  What would we do?  Jump for joy!  Hug everyone around us!  Drinks for everyone!

Jesus does so much more than that.  We get MORE than money – we get our LIVES.  We get LOVE.  We get to SHARE that love without losing any for ourselves.  We get HEAVEN.

HOW can we keep that to ourselves?

Let’s not.

AMEN.