Your place at the table
A sermon preached on the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 17 Year C, RCL)
at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, University City, San Diego
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
(Link to Sermon audio here)
- Baseball game – Somerset Patriots vs. Lancaster Barnstormers
- Whenever I had been to a baseball game before I thought I had got the gist of what was happening, plus I have always enjoyed the atmosphere.
- Sat with Director of Sales and Director of Marketing – both from Boston and Red Sox fans.
- As the game progressed, listening to these very extroverted and loud Red Sox fans it was clear I had no clue what was really going on.
- Before my eyes there was a completely different story unfolding, one that involved coaches waving their hands, team tactics, pitcher and catcher interaction.
- If I left the ballpark with just the headline final score I would have missed the completeness of the whole event.
- It was like being the Captain of the Titanic. The part of the Iceberg that I could see above the water was just a small part, the much larger real danger was unseen below the water.
- Many of the teaching stories of Jesus are like this.
- Not least the gospel reading of today.
- If we take the reading at face value we get a great lesson in how we should be humble and it is from the position of humbleness that we are truly open to receive God’s gifts, gifts that will exalt us, and make us eternally rich in blessings.
- We can unpack the lesson a little further and see that this is not really about who sits where in a meal, or about not doing things in order to receive something back. We can see that Jesus was painting an eschatological picture of what God’s eternal kingdom is like, how things will be when God’s kingdom is fulfilled. How the meal that Jesus is invited to is in fact the heavenly banquet that feeds each and every one of us not only at that end time but also today, and every day of our lives.
- But I want us to dig a little deeper. I invite you to wrestle with the text.
- Rob Bell – Velvet Elvis. Bible is a living document that must be reinterpreted each and every time that we read it.
- If we take it as a historical document and it becomes static in time then it becomes more and more irrelevant with each and every day that passes.
- What is the bible? It is a collection of different books, books recording history, books of poetry, books of law, books of prophesy and so much more.
- But it was written in a specific time and times change.
- That does not mean the bible becomes irrelevant.
- It means we need to reinterpret the lessons of the bible for our lives today.
- This is not new.
- Unless you are the author of a particular bible text you are an interpreter and all you can do is interpret the text.
- Example Love thy neighbor (Mark 12:31) – what is love, who is thy neighbor, who decides what an exception is. We are interpreting all of the time.
- We need to wrestle with the text.
- Each and every story in the bible has a lesson plan and we need to discern what the lesson plans are and then apply those lesson plans to our lives today.
- This does not limit the bible – it expands it, it causes an explosion of possibilities because each time that we read a text it can tell us something new because each time we read the bible we bring a new situation to the reading.
- When we say that we teach the bible – that really means that we wrestle with the text and reinterpret it for today.
- So where does that leave us with today’s gospel reading? Lets do a little bit of wrestling.
- Let’s try and put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes. What would have been important, what would have been significant.
- On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.
- We miss the fact that Jesus went for a meal at the leader of the Pharisees. That group of people who were constantly trying he trip him up – and they were watching him closely.
- Why did Jesus do this? Why did he go there and teach his lesson. Couldn’t he have done it in a safer place?
- Why did he choose to go and interact with the very people who were trying to trip him up. Who were constantly arguing with him?
- Because that is where his message needed to be heard.
- So when we interpret that bible reading today, for us, what does it say to us.
- We need to be at the table. Both in the world, in the community and in our own lives.
- We must engage those who do not always agree with us.
- That table is our relationships, it is the things that effect our lives, it is issues of social justice.
- There are those who say that as Christians we should keep ourselves to ourselves.
- Not be active in the world around us.
- But that is not the model of Jesus.
- Jesus went to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath.
- If we wrestle with this text then it becomes just as much an instruction to engage in the world and with the world with all that is good and bad than it is about humility, the banquet of God’s heavenly kingdom or anything else.
- Where and what is your table? Are you scared to go there?
- May be it is a family situation that you would prefer to avoid, maybe it is speaking out for the vulnerable of our society, maybe it is speaking the truth that we know people do not want to hear.
- But Jesus calls us, he invites us to take our place at that table.
- In our epistle, the letter to the Hebrews, which really is more of a sermon than it is a letter we are reminded that God will never leave or forsake us, and with confidence we can say “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”.
- Jesus this morning is teaching us that we need to take our place at the table, not matter how uncomfortable that may be.
- The bible is alive, it is speaking afresh new to us today.
- Will we go with Jesus to the house of the leader of the Pharisees, share in a meal with them, and do the work of sharing Christ’s gospel. Jesus warns us that there may be no earthly reward, for a true invitation is given with no expectation of repayment. The reward comes from God, who invites us to His table, and always as the guest of honor.
Discerning God’s lesson plan
A sermon preached on the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 16 Year C, RCL)
at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Palm Desert
It is great to be here this morning. Thank you to Fr. Lane for the invitation and thank you to you all for allowing me to share in this time of fellowship and worship together. I value the chance to visit with friends and make new friends to build and to strengthen relationships, because building relationships and sharing the gospel of love is what we do. So thank you.
I started reading the texts for this morning a couple of weeks ago and a number of ideas about what we could explore together popped into my head but no one single thought seemed to peculate to the top of my mind. By the time Monday of this week rolled around I had plenty of ideas but no narrative so I did what I always do in such situations. I turned to God and started a conversation with him. I prayed for guidance and that the Holy Spirit would help me discern what I would talk about.
I have a confession to make. Just after praying that prayer I was driving a hire car in Minnesota and got a speeding ticket. I’ve never had a speeding ticket in my life and getting one, was most unnerving for me. As I sat in my hotel room that night I kept asking myself ‘why me?’ and ‘if only I hadn’t have been travelling so fast’ but the conversation kept coming back to the same answer. You broke the law. Speeding laws are in place to protect people’s safety and no matter the excuse that I could come up with I broke the law, I put others in harm, I was wrong. Reflecting and praying on the situation I heard God telling me that the readings this week are all about the role of law. God had answered my prayers and gave me direction for this morning. Never ignore anyone who says be careful what you pray for.
So often when we read scripture it is easy to take a negative view of the Jewish laws. That negative view is so often projected onto the leaders of the temple or of the synagogues. The priests and the Pharisees. I wonder if we stop often enough to consider why the laws that Jesus so often seemed to rebel against were in place. If we did then maybe this would allow us to see the upholders of the law from a different perspective.
One of my favorite musicals of all time is Les Miserables. I am sure that you know the story. Jean Valjean, a convicted thief is released on parole from his work-camp prison but weighed down by the requirements of his parole ends up breaking his parole and escapes to a new life, with a new identity and becomes a model citizen. The police chief, Inspector Javert however tracks him down and constantly tries to apply the law and re-imprison Jean Vajean. It is the policeman who is seen by the audience in a negative light, ignoring the good works and reformed nature of Valjean’s character. But when we stop and think, Inspector Javert was in reality only doing his job, applying the law as it stands, law which had been put in place for very good reasons. But that is not how we remember him, we remember him as being obsessed with applying the law no matter how unfair the law was.
And so we come to our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus is in the synagogue and is questioning what appears to be the Sabbath laws again. Please note that this is not some random story. Three times in Luke we see a similar situation and similar stories are found in Matthew and Mark. And when we hear themes repeated in scripture it is a good indication that the message is important.
The leader of the synagogue was upholding the law. He was upholding one of the Ten Commandments.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
Exodus 20:8-11 (also Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
You don’t get much clearer than that. And for all eternity we have given this guy, the synagogue leader a hard time for obeying the word of God, the Ten Commandments. To the reader today it seems like Jesus has wandered into the temple and questioned the basics of the Jewish faith. It seems like Jesus was paying no attention to the law. It seems like everything was on the table. If that is the model of faith that we should use, then then surely everything is open for rewriting and the bible becomes no more than a historical document that is becoming more irrelevant with each and every passing day.
Well that would only be true if we take a simplistic understand of the events in our Gospel reading today. Many of you may well be teachers and are used to writing lesson plans. A document that lists learning goals. Those learning goals can be the same from year to year but each time you teach to those goals in a classroom the lesson comes out differently. Isn’t that what we should be doing with the bible?
What is the lesson plan behind the commandment to keep the Sabbath Holy? The people of Israel had been slaves in captivity for many years and now they find themselves free. For years they were told what to do, when to do it, with no rest and no time to worship their God. So God orders them to set aside time to rest, to make time to worship. Their lives had changed and they needed some structure. The lesson plan was give yourself time to give thanks to your creator, your God and in giving thanks you will be blessed. Somewhere down the line that gets molded, changed, adapted to be the Sabbath is Holy and you may do nothing on that day. The lesson plan had been corrupted.
And so Jesus comes in to the Synagogue on the Sabbath. He is not breaking the law, he has come to teach, he is obeying the law. But he sees a woman bent double for eighteen years bound by an ailment. She is also in the Synagogue obeying the law, she has come to worship. She is obeying the law but she is unable to fulfill the lesson plan. Her ailments keep her from resting, she is in constant pain. Her bonds of pain keep her from standing tall and praising God on high.
So Jesus takes the lesson plan and realigns the law with the lesson plan. In order for this woman to experience the freedom of rest that will enable her to worship the Lord, to experience the Sabbath in her life, she needs to be freed from those bonds of her ailment. She needs to be freed from the pain she needs to be cured. The healing that Jesus offered on the Sabbath was not significant because it broke the Sabbath it was and is significant because it enabled that woman to experience the Sabbath in her life. The original commandment was never really about taking rest on a specific day it was about making time for God. Time and history had taken a specific application of a lesson plan and made it law, and the law itself had become more important than the goal it was meant to protect.
And so my friends, what does this mean in our lives today? It means that the bible must be a living document. Rob Bell in his book Velvet Elivis says that the bible must be alive and it must be re-interpreted each time that we read it. It is full of lesson plans that are explained through the recording of history, through books of law and through the writings of prophets. It is not the stories themselves that are important it is the lessons that they contain.
Reinterpreting those lessons will make us write new laws and tell new stories. When we do that then we can truly do the work of living out and sharing the gospel. We can look into the world around us and see lots of other examples of that woman bent double for many years because of an ailment. Today that woman is an orphan and victim of war, like Omran Dagneesh whose photo was beamed around the world this week. That young Syrian boy pulled out of the ruins of his home after it was bombed and destroyed. Sitting in an ambulance staring out in to a world that is full of hate. What can we do to free him from the bonds of war that torture his life. What can we do to give him a Sabbath?
Or maybe our woman bent double in pain is a friend or a family member that we know who is bound by the chains of addiction, who is held down from reaching their fullness in God through poverty, fear, oppression or prejudice. What can we do to give each and every one of them a Sabbath?
Jesus got the lesson plan, he saw the woman barred from attaining God’s goal for her, and he acted to put it right. Will you join me in trying to do the same? Let us study Holy Scripture to discern the lesson plan and God’s goal for us. Let us open our eyes to our life, the community around us and the world in which we live to see our brothers and sisters in need. Then let us act, and if that means changing some of our traditions or even some of our laws then so be it. Fred Craddock wrote “If helping a stopped woman creates a crisis, then a crisis it has to be”.
In all that we do as Christians may we discern God’s goals for us, may we actively seek out those in need and may all of that – lead to action.
A sermon preached on the eighth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 10 Year C, RCL)
at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, University City, San Diego
(Link to Sermon audio here)
- Last sermon at St. Peter’s after the Orlando shooting.
- Lamented that I already had a stock sermon on gun violence.
- Now we come together after another week of gun violence.
- Unnecessary killing of human beings, of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
- God is weeping and we weep with him.
- The words of Deuteronomy are hard.
- God had promised the people of Israel that he would restore them and shower them with blessings, and make all things well. He promises that promise is not far away. But today it feels very far away.
- It is a hard reading to accept.
- But God is close, he is walking with us, he is wanting peace and restoration of what he desirers the world to be.
- Gospel reading Good Samaritan.
- It is hard to be a Good Samaritan to those who kill, who are full of anger and full of hatred but that is what a Good Samaritan does.
- Good Samaritan – amazing story – The man presumably a Jew.
- Road from Jerusalem to Jericho just short of 17 miles and falls more than 3,400 ft.
- Josephus spoke of the road in the first century as desolate and rocky.
- Infested with robbers.
- Neither compelled to live in Jerusalem.
- Samarian – layman outside the pale of orthodox Judaism.
- What was he doing there?
- Two denarii – several days compensation to the innkeeper.
- Jesus put him on a dangerous road.
- Jesus is calling us to be on a dangerous road.
- College north wales – plan your journey.
- Now we rely on GPS and google maps.
- Charts the fastest route, avoids traffic, and redirects if there are any problems.
- Focused on the destination. We need to pay attention to the journey.
- May be good for driving – not so sure good for Christian life.
- We are called to think about the journey. About the path that we take.
- We are called to take that road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Rocky, hilly and even full of robbers.
- It is only when we get out of our comfort zone that we will find the people we need to meet.
- As Christians we need to embark on a journey that will take us to situations that will put us at risk and make us unpopular.
- In a few minutes we are going to Gather around Gods table.
- We need to be welcoming and invite all to that table.
- But we need also to go out and join other where they find their table.
- We need to go and stand in solidarity with the other.
- Menorah in the window story.
- We need to use God as our GPS so that we journey the road where he calls us to be.
- We need to pray.
- We need to put our prayer in action and stand in solidarity with those who the world tosses aside, we need to share the light of Christ with those who only want to cast darkness. Darkness has never been ended by more darkness only by light.
- I want to walk that journey, turn off the GPS of life, get out God’s Atlas and work out where he is calling us. Then I want to take that path – no matter where it goes. I pray that you will journey with me.
Good is weeping and we weep with Him
A sermon preached on the fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C, RCL)
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
Link to audio here
In the sound of music the Von Trapp children are taught that the true display of love is obedience. Neat and tidy, acting perfectly on command. A whistle from father, a clap of his hand is all that is needed for the children to snap into line and into the father’s perceived circle of love. What kind of love was that? I’m sure the children did love their father but under such strict and tight control was the pure, complete and faithful love of the children really allowed to grow?
God is not like Baron Von Trapp. I dare say that God is wiser. For he knows that true love can only be received when it is completely given out of free choice without any coercion and only when it is given deep from within the heart. But we are human, we are tempted by the world, by the promise of power, of status or the fantasy of any of a million of other temptations. God has given us free choice, so that we are truly free to choose and to love him. But far too often we use that freedom of choice unwisely.
In order to experience true love you must be prepared to be hurt by the consequences arising from the freedom to choose. And when that happens true love must bear the pain. Today God is weeping. As the funerals for the victims of last Sunday’s mascara at the Latin night in the pulse gay nightclub in Orlando begin to take place God is weeping and we weep with him.
Sometime in my training during the last three years someone said to me that as I got more experienced as a preacher that I would build up a library of sermons and at times I would be able to pull out an old sermon and recycle it for a new time. I’m sure that he meant a sermon on the trinity, one of our most favorite topics to preach on, but this week I was horrified when I was preparing the message for today. I remembered that I preached a year ago this weekend at St. Paul’s Manor. The Sunday after the shooting in the Charleston AM and E church. The reality that a week after my ordination I already had a stock sermon on mass shootings was devastating.
There has been too many shootings, too many times that we have been horrified, whether it be little children at Sandy Hook, youngsters at the movies in Colorado, worshipers a church in Charleston, or a young gay couple dancing in what should have been a safe place in Orlando, Florida.
As I got home from church last Sunday I saw an interview with a mother, Christine, desperate to find news of her son. Christopher Leinonen had been dancing at the nightclub with his boyfriend Juan Guerrero and was missing. His terrified and heartbroken mum pleaded for information and begged, for an end to deaths by assault weapons, for an end to hatred, for an end to violence. Both Christopher and Juan were later confirmed as victims of the shooting. Both were killed out of hatred. That hated has no place in our faith. Today, more than ever before we need to love deep enough and freely enough to stand and be counted. There is no room in our faith for hatred of others.
Paul writing to the Galatians in our epistle today says “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” And that promise lives on today. There is no longer black or white, young or old, republican or democrat, gay or straight. For all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
One of the things that I love so much about St. Peter’s is our prayer life. We are a parish that is active in prayer. God hears our prayer, but that is not enough. We need to understand and be open to be transformed through prayer. In prayer we invite the incarnate Christ into our lives and once he enters into our lives we are called to follow him. And every time we pray we are inviting anew Christ to be active in our lives. Prayer without action is incomplete. We offer our prayers to God, he hears and he calls us to action. In our free choice we can respond to that call to action or we can choose not to. Today I challenge us all, each and every one of us to choose action.
In our Gospel reading, a man is possessed by demons. So often when we read this story we look to the man, possessed by demons, as someone else. As the other. But maybe that possessed man is you or me. We don’t like to use the demon word. It reminds us of spirits, of things unknown, of evil. But when we think and study more about demons we realize that they all have some common characteristics. They take a person over, they drive that person away from society and away from those who love them, they cause a person to do things that they would not normally do. We have many modern day demons. Addiction, greed, self-promotion, hatred of others, selfishness, the list goes on. I would guess that if we honestly examine ourselves we all have demons that control us, that drive us away, that break our relationship with God.
But let’s remember the rest of today’s Gospel. Those demons recognized Jesus as God. Jesus did not shy away from talking to the demons. He took action and drove the demons out of the man. And through Christ, because of prayer we are called to action, we are called to face up to the demons in our life and in our world.
We are that demon possessed man. We have as much need to shout out to the Lord as he did. And when we engage with the Lord we can overcome our demons. It may not be instant, as was the case in the gospel reading, and it may not resolve itself in the way that we expected or even wanted, but we must place our trust in God.
Our society is also that demon possessed man, and the world in which we live in has need to also shout out to the Lord.
Are you ready, to bow down in prayer to the Lord, and being transformed by prayer, to take action?
What would Jesus do? Did Jesus just pray for the man possessed by demons? No, I’m sure he prayed but then he was moved to action.
God is weeping, the Holy Spirit is weeping and Jesus is weeping. The Holy Trinity is standing united as one with Orlando.
As people of faith, I pray that we offer our unconditional and free love to God. That we weep with him, that we fall down on our knees and pray. But in the giving of free love we will be transformed and called to action.
I pray that we recognize the demons in our own lives, not least the demons that hate others or stand silently by as others hate the world.
What would Jesus do? I don’t have an absolute guarantee of an answer, but from every example he taught us during his life here on earth he would not just stand by and let hatred rule the day.
Today we weep with God. Today we continue to deeply pray. Let us give our love freely to God, and in doing so be transformed by the power of his incarnation in the world and in ourselves and take action. Then we will be closer to making that mothers plea, for an end to gun violence and to an end to hatred, a reality in a world that is begging for love.
Christopher, Juan and 47 others died because of hatred. At this very moment people on this earth are living in fear, are being persecuted and are being killed as a result of hatred and violence. Hatred of the color of their skin, of their sex, of their origin, of their faith and of because of who they love. There is no room in our faith for hatred or violence. There is room for prayer. But in that prayer we are transformed and we are called to act.
Weep with God, pray to God, act for God.
Restoring the voice of those who cannot be heard
A sermon preached on the third Sunday after Pentecost (Year C, RCL)
at Good Samaritan Church, San Diego
1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)
A terrible storm came into a town and local officials sent out an emergency warning that the riverbanks would soon overflow and flood the nearby homes. They ordered everyone in the town to evacuate immediately.
A faithful Christian man heard the warning and decided to stay, saying to himself, “I will trust God and if I am in danger, then God will send a divine miracle to save me.”
The neighbors came by his house and said to him, “We’re leaving and there is room for you in our car, please come with us!” But the man declined. “I have faith that God will save me.”
As the man stood on his porch watching the water rise up the steps, a man in a canoe paddled by and called to him, “Hurry and come into my canoe, the waters are rising quickly!” But the man again said, “No thanks, God will save me.”
The floodwaters rose higher pouring water into his living room and the man had to retreat to the second floor. A police motorboat came by and saw him at the window. “We will come up and rescue you!” they shouted. But the man refused, waving them off saying, “Use your time to save someone else! I have faith that God will save me!”
The flood waters rose higher and higher and the man had to climb up to his rooftop.
A helicopter spotted him and dropped a rope ladder. A rescue officer came down the ladder and pleaded with the man, “Grab my hand and I will pull you up!” But the man STILL refused, folding his arms tightly to his body. “No thank you! God will save me!”
Shortly after, the house broke up and the floodwaters swept the man away and he drowned.
When in Heaven, the man stood before God and asked, “I put all of my faith in You. Why didn’t You come and save me?”
And God said, “Son, I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”
I am sure that many of you may have heard that little story before but it does serve as a good foundation for our readings this morning. I’m sure that the man spent a lot of time in prayer as the flood waters rose and did his very best to listen for God to tell him how he was going to save him. The problem was that he was listening for what he wanted to hear. He wasn’t listening for God to speak to him in unexpected ways. God did indeed speak but he was not heard.
How good are we at listening for the word of God? In our Epistle this morning Paul tells his readers about how he heard the will of God and how it changed his life. A dramatic change – from being a person who persecuted Christians to being an apostle and cornerstone of the early church. As Paul was walking along that road, no doubt he was thinking about his next scheme, his next plan to try and destroy the church. I am sure that he was not listening for God voice but he heard him. What a miracle that was.
I wonder, in our own journeys how do we respond to hearing God’s voice? When God calls us to do something different, something that is a little bit hard, how do we respond? Do we say yes, do we try and bargain or do we pretend that we never heard anything in the first place?
In our Old testament reading God called to the prophet Elijah and sent him, with very few details, to Zarephath. Elijah heard the voice of God and acted on his command. In the reading we learn of the mother whose son dies. That mother was a widow, she was the mistress of the house, and now her son was dead. What little status she had as a woman and a widow was maintained by her son – and now he was dead. Her voice had been silenced by a society that put no value on her being. But the prophet Elijah came and gave her voice back by interceding to God on her behalf, and God listened. And God listened. Many miracles happened that day. Restoring a dead person back to life was a miracle but also the fact that the silenced voice of the widowed mother was heard was indeed another miracle.
You may well by now recognize that our first reading and our Gospel today are essentially the same story but with different characters. Lets go back to our Gospel reading.
Jesus and his band of followers are entering town. You can imagine it. I bet it was quite a sight. People were excited by this man. We are told that the crowd was large. The spotlight was on Jesus. I often like to take myself back to biblical times and to try and imagine what it would have been like to be there. Sometimes I pretend that I am a reporter for the local newspaper – the Jerusalem Times. What would I have seen that day? I would have saw Jesus and this large crowd. That was the story of the day. Following this man was newsworthy. But then ,just as the crowd approaches the city gates a funeral possession emerges.
Out of respect the people in the crowd with Jesus may have lowered their heads and stepped out of the path. But no one was interested in the widow, the grieving mother. No one was going to give a thought of what her life would be like now. No one would feel the depth of her pain of losing her child. If I were there as a reporter there was no story in the boy’s death, the headline, the story was still Jesus.
But that was not the story that the gospel told.
The mother did not shout out to Jesus, unlike other gospel stories there was no plea to raise the boy from the dead. The pain that the mother felt, was kept inside. Her voice was silenced by the events going on around her. But Jesus heard the silent voice.
He saw her, and had compassion for her. He reassured her “Do not weep” he said. Then he transformed that grieving mothers life by returning her son to life. He gave the now living son back to his mother with unconditional love. No words of explanation, no list of tasks to be performed. Jesus heard the silent call, he responded, he acted on the voice that had been silenced. And that is the miracle of today’s Gospel.
And we are called to follow Christ to live the gospel in our lives today. Who is the grieving widow in our community?
Gabriel, and I have changed her name for reasons that will become obvious, is a seven year old girl who lives at Dorcas House, Vida Joven in Tijuana – the foster home that we support as a diocese. Her father is in jail, her mother was addicted to various drugs and her mother’s life spiraled out of control. With no one to turn to she decided to take her own life and jumped of a bridge whilst holding Gabriel who was little more than a baby at the time. Gabriel, survived, her mother did not. After being passed around different agencies she settled at Dorcas House where she now is safe, but without her parents and the lifetime scar of how her life began. Who will hear the voice of Gabriel’s mum? Or the neighbor down the street addicted to prescribed painkillers? Who will hear the voice of Gabriel as she grows up and questions the society in which she lives?
Who will hear the voice of the homeless veteran suffering from PTSD? Or the voice of a 12 year old factory working in India making cloths for our high street stores?
Our Gospel today calls each and every one of us to listen for that voice. It calls us to do everything that we can to let that silenced voice be heard.
If we open ourselves up to prayer and we listen for God’s prompting then I know we can hear those silenced voices. But we need to be open to hearing God’s voice in new ways. We need to be like Christ and look beyond the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives to see those in need around us.
In the words of our psalm this morning. God gives justice to those who are oppressed and food to those who hunger. As we leave here today, I pray that we will listen hard to where God is directing us to look and listen. I pray that we will do all that we can to give a voice to those whose voice has been silenced.
That is what Jesus did for the mourning widow, and there is no better example and guide for us than Jesus Christ our Lord.
My Lord and my God – Time to unlock the doors
A sermon preached on the second Sunday of Easter (Year C, RCL)
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
I want to ask you a question. Who believes that spaghetti grows on trees? Well I have to say that you are a bunch of doubters. For a period of time in 1957 a sizable portion of the British population believed that spaghetti grows on trees. Why? Why you may ask? Because they saw the evidence. On April 1st 1957 the distinguished and respected British broadcaster Richard Dimbleby narrated a documentary on the BBC which featured a family from Ticino in Switzerland carrying out their annual spaghetti harvest. It showed family members carefully plucking strands of spaghetti from a tree and laying them in the sun to dry. Spaghetti was not a widely-eaten food in the UK at the time and was considered by many to be an exotic delicacy. In the end it was an April fool’s joke, even the BBC can have some fun. However the fact remains that people basically wanted to believe, they saw and they believed.
On Easter morning, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty, she ran and told Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one that Jesus loved, and they went also and saw the empty tomb. A little while later, the risen Jesus appeared to Mary. Mary confused him for the gardener but recognized him when he called her by her name. Mary believed, she had seen him and she did what the Lord asked her. She went and told the other disciples. And now we pick up the story in our Gospel reading that we have just heard.
How do the disciples react to hearing that Jesus had been raised from the dead? Did they go out and proclaim the good news? Did they have a celebration to mark this good news? No. They huddled together in a room and locked the door out of fear. The reaction of the disciples to the news that Jesus had been raised from the dead was fear for what it meant and I’m sure that there was a good serving of doubt in that room as well.
What happened next? Jesus appears in that locked room. Now it would not be unreasonable to expect that he may be a little ticked off. After all of his teaching, after all of that time spent together, after being murdered on the cross, after being raised from the dead, he shows himself to Mary and asks her to tell them that he is alive. And all his disciples could do was to lock themselves away in fear. Was he frustrated by this response? No. Not at all. He comes to them with a blessing – Peace be with you. The disciples see Jesus, they see his wounds and they rejoice. Finally! Jesus empowers them with the Holy Spirit and sends them out into the world to live and share his gospel.
But Thomas was not there, he had not seen, and he had his doubts. I don’t think that he lost his faith, or that he did not believe but he had his doubts. And for this, for the rest of eternity he gets labeled Doubting Thomas. A name which I think is a little unfair. We have no evidence that his friends, the other disciples, had any different reaction to Mary telling them that she had seen the risen Lord. And I guess that if we search deep within ourselves then many of us may have doubts at times at some level. I know that for me, doubt can surface in the form of me questioning what I think or believe about a certain aspect of my faith. But that questioning helps me think and in the end makes me stronger in my faith.
So Thomas doubts, what does Jesus do? He appears to the whole group, this time including Thomas. Interestingly the other disciples are still in that same room. The door is unlocked but it is still closed. We are making progress. Jesus is still not flustered and gives Thomas the same blessing Peace be with you. But this time he goes even further in showing Thomas that he is real. He invites Thomas to touch him, to place his finger on the Lords body. That is all that Thomas needed, to see the Lord. He did not need to physically touch him.
All that he needed to do was to see the Lord. And now we see doubt turned on its head. Thomas replies My Lord and my God.
My Lord and my God.
Up until this point in our gospels Jesus is referred to as teacher, master or Lord. Thomas’s doubt is wiped away and he sees Jesus not only as his Lord but also as God. The divinity of Christ shines into his life. The response of Thomas is much more striking than the response of the other disciples the week before. He who doubted now saw God in the flesh.
Jesus’s response Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe is not a put down of Thomas and his doubt, but a blessing. It is a beatitude. It is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. It is an instruction to Thomas, to the disciples and to you and to me to go out and help people see our Lord and our God in the world and in our lives.
We know that is what the disciples finally did, they opened the door to the room that they were huddled in, we know that they went out and preached the Good News. In our reading from the Acts we heard how Peter and the apostles got into trouble with the Jewish council for teaching in Jesus’s name. If they once doubted, they now believed and being sent by the Lord our God, they did his work.
So here we are, one week after Easter. Are we like the disciples, huddled in a room with the door closed? We have been told that Jesus, our Lord and God is risen. We have seen Jesus at work in our own lives and in the lives of others. Now it is time for us to go out from the room and help others see Jesus in their lives and in the world around them.
How will we do that? How will you do that? When you leave this church, this room today, what can you do to help someone else see Jesus? Maybe they will see Him in an act of kindness that you show, maybe they will see Him not by your judgement but by your offer of a blessing. Where there is darkness, maybe you will bring light. There are so many ways that you can help people see Jesus at work in the world. But you need to go out and show them.
At the 5pm service last night we welcomed baby Edward into the Christian family in a joyous and happy baptism. Edward’s parents, Godparents and our whole community supporting Edward gave our promise to help show Edward Jesus in his life. I reminded all those present last night that it will be easier to show him Jesus when times are good. When he sees Jesus in the beauty of this earth, in this place that we call home. In the love of his family and friends. Everyone present last night made their baptismal promise and with that promise comes a commitment to try our very hardest to help Edward see Jesus when times are also hard. When he has doubts, when he is afraid and when he retreats into his own room just like the disciples did. Each and every one of us join those present last night, though our own baptismal promises, to show not only baby Edward but all who we come into contact with, the face of Jesus in their lives.
In spite of any doubts that we may have, if we believe, then Jesus will make himself known to us, he will bless us. And like Thomas, having seen Jesus at work in our lives and in the world we will come to call Jesus both our Lord and our God.
I am Judas Iscariot
Holy Thursday Homily given at
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar on March 25th, 2016
Maundy Thursday, all years RCL
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
I am Judas Iscariot. I have betrayed Christ. I will betray Christ again in the future.
Please be seated.
My second favorite musical, after Phantom of the Opera, is Victor Hugo’s Les Miséables. I love it when I can take someone to see it at the theater, especially when they have never seen it before. I watch in wonder as they fall in love with the music, the story and the performance. Sometimes though I am disappointed after the performance, when I ask what they liked most about the show? More than once I’ve been told that they like the spectacle, the music, the acting but they didn’t quite get the story. A big problem with the musical is that a key scene, critical to the whole story occurs in the opening few minutes of the performance. The time when you are still settling down, rustling in your bag for those mints or discreetly trying to work out how to take a picture of the stage without the usher seeing you. Whilst all of this distraction is going on you miss the part of the story when the bishop offers Jean Valjean forgiveness after he steels the bishop’s best silver-wear, and how the bishop freely forgives and offers the forgiven thief the remainder of his riches. If you don’t grasp that part of the story the rest of the musical is at best a good performance.
Tonight we remember the institution of the last supper. Today when we think back to that meal we know it was special, we know that it was a celebration of the Passover, but I wonder if we sometimes forget the significance of what was going on. Our reading tonight from the book of Exodus reminds us of why the Passover meal is celebrated. The Israelite’s had been keep as slaves in Egypt for many years. God had called on Moses nine times to go to Pharaoh and warn him of terrible plagues and other afflictions that would be delivered onto the land of Egypt if the Israelite’s were not set free. This tenth time however was different, it was a case of life or death. God, promised that he would pass over the land of Egypt and kill the firstborn of both humans and animals of anyone who did not worship the Lord. Those who did worship the Lord however were told to sacrifice a whole lamb and to mark the two doorposts and lintel of the house with the blood of the lamb as a sign of their devotion to God. The sacrificed lamb was to be eaten that night. The Lord promised to Passover houses marked with the lamb’s blood and spare the firstborn of that house. Faith in the Lord that night would be a matter of life and death. WE need to truly understand the story of the first Passover to fully grasp the significance of the meal that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night that he was betrayed.
Many years later, Jesus shared in the Passover meal with his disciples but he knew that he was the lamb to be sacrificed, for the freedom from sin and for eternal life for all of mankind. It was like Egypt all over again but the stakes were higher. Not only life and death, but eternal life or eternal death. For salvation and reconciliation of a broken people back to a loving God.
Knowing the pain and suffering that was to come, and not just human pain and suffering but pain and suffering for the whole world, Jesus did something that was extraordinary. He washed the feet of his disciples. Again it is easy to overlook the significance of this action. Masters, teacher, heads of household did not wash the feet of even their most valued guests. Not even servants did that. If a guest of a household was lucky the host would leave a bowl of water and maybe some soap for them to wash and bath their feet themselves. When Jesus put that towel around his waist he was breaking every social norm of the day. For us, it seems like a humble action, for those present it was like something never seen before.
But let us go back to our text, to the Gospel of John. Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Christ was already marked. John writes “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him”. Judas was already a sinner, Judas had danced with the devil. Jesus knew this. Again John writes “for he knew who was to betray him”.
Judas was already a sinner, Judas had danced with the devil. Jesus knew this.
But still, Jesus washed his feet. Aware of what Judas was about to do, aware that the devil had already been at work in him. Jesus washed the feet of Judas. Knowing what was about to happen to him, knowing that within hours he would be tried, flogged, half beaten to death, denied, and hung on a cross to die. Jesus could have simply passed on by and not washed the feet of Judas. But he didn’t.
We call today Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. The word Maundy means to command. Jesus gave a new command. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. Nowhere in the text does Jesus exclude anyone.
During the most significant remembrance of the Passover sacrifice. After Jesus had broken all rules and norms of society by washing the feet of his disciples. In the full knowledge of Judas’ betrayal. Jesus is crystal clear in his command. Love one another.
I am Judas Iscariot. I have betrayed Christ. I will betray Christ again in the future. By my actions, by my deeds, by what I have done and by what I have not done. Judas is not just some historical figure he is present today in all of our lives. We live in a world full of violence, we have been painfully reminded of that just this week with the attacks in Belgium. As I examine myself I ask the question ‘have I been a good advocate for peace?’ In our own country we have seen hatred, division and profiling increasingly enter into our everyday lives. As I examine myself I ask the question ‘Have I been complicit by my silence?”. In so many ways I am Judas.
But the good news is that Jesus commanded us to love each other. He washed the feet of Judas, he will wash my feet, sinner that I am. But he also commands me to get down on my knees and wash the feet of others, without exception. The feet of the rich and of the poor, of those who agree with me and of those who do not, of the Jew and of the gentile and of the roman centurion.
As we come to the holy table tonight and share in our communion meal, we remember that Jesus is sacrificed for us. For our sins.
As our feet are washed and as we wash the feet of others. We remember the command that Jesus gave, to love one another without exception. Jesus washed the foot of Judas, Jesus will wash my foot and yours and we will wash theirs.
A sermon preached on the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C, RCL)
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
(Link to the audio of the sermon – click here)
I want to share with you a story that our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry gave at his installation last year. I need to take you back to 1940’s, to a time when our armed services were still segregated, a time before Rosa Parks sat down at the front of a bus, a time when Martin Luther King was still in seminary, a time when it normal to treat black people differently. A young black couple we dating. The female attended an episcopal church, her boyfriend a different denomination. On this particular Sunday they decided to worship together at the Episcopal Church. This happened to be a Sunday when the Holy Eucharist was being celebrated, this was pre-1979, and when it came time to receive communion the girlfriend went up to the alter rail. The boyfriend decided to stay in his seat. He watched as his girlfriend knelt next to white ladies on either side of her, something that he was not used to seeing. She received the bread, and then to the boyfriend something amazing and unheard of happened. His African-American girlfriend received the wine from the same chalice that was being used for everyone one else. The same chalice that the white congregants were drinking from. He was amazed that such inclusive was being practiced. At that moment he decided to become a member of the Episcopal Church, the couple married and later had a son. That son, was our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.
Now when I tell you this story it may be hard for us to fully understand just how significant it was for a black woman to drink from a shared chalice with white men and women. But it was. I am sure that when that church first introduced the practice that the white men and women of the congregation would have been uneasy. I am convinced that the rector would have been challenged and sure that there would have been people, good people, who thought that he was committing some ungodly act. But that rector and the leadership of that church practiced dangerous love. They responded to the call of the gospel and of our scriptures to go out and work the love of Christ into the world.
That’s nice, we have learnt from it, that was back then.
I have a friend, who is a retired pastor, who ministered to people dying from HIV related illnesses in the early days of the AIDS crisis. Not many people supported him, many people found it easier to condemn and judge the dying than offer the hand of Christ’s dangerous love.
Our world is full of fear of those of other faiths. We are too willing to let the horrific actions of a few, taint our vision of millions of loving, good and honest Muslim brothers and sisters.
We live in a society where people still ask, do black lives matter?
Do we learn? Do we engage with those who society pushes to the margins? Do we actively go out and practice dangerous love? Yes we do, just look at the ministries that we have here at St. Peter’s. Helping Hands, Joy to the World Kinder Garden to name just a few. But as we gather our gifts for growth, as we celebrate 75 years worshiping here at St. Peter’s how will we practice and engage in dangerous love as we move forward?
In the Gospel reading that we have just heard Jesus is in his home town. Last week, our Gospel reading came from the same setting and we saw how pleased the people were to have Jesus with them. No doubt they were proud that the local boy had done good, no doubt they wanted to keep Jesus to themselves. But then we come to today’s reading. Jesus reminds them that no prophet was accepted in their home town. Sitting in the synagogue, that holy place, Jesus tells those people who love him that this was not the place where he needs to practice his ministry. I think that he meant this with all of his heart and said it forcefully. So much so that he not only upset those around him but he whipped them up into a frenzy so that they drove him not only out of the synagogue but also out of his hometown, running for his life.
Do not misunderstand me. The church is important. It is here that we come together as community, it is here that we come to be nourished by sharing in a Holy meal, it is here that we come to learn, to be energized, to be transformed. I like to think of the Church as a pair of lungs. Critical to all that we do. Every breath of air that we breathe in rushes through the lungs but then, and this my friends is important, that air is exhaled out back into the world. And so it is the same for us a Christians. We are drawn into the church, we are transformed by all that we do here but then we must return into the world. The breath of Christ, the breath of our faith the breath of you and me.
And so we go out into the world to love. How nice that the people who put together the lectionary then give us the passage from second Corinthians about love. Love is patient, love is kind, love is never envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…. You know how it goes. We use this passage so often. We look at it and so often we see a beautiful rose. It’s nice, it’s comforting, it’s all about love. Yes, but there is also another way of reading it. As we celebrate our first 75 years, as we build on the gifts for growth that God has given to us, as we look to the future. I invite you to consider the passage again but this time consider dangerous love.
Love is patient, dangerous love is often practiced before the world we live in is ready for it. When we look at the world around us, at the margins of our society and around the corner of our street, our interactions of love may be seen as revolutionary. We need to trust that we are acting in God’s time. We do not like waiting and often it is uncomfortable whilst we wait.
Love is kind, when you have a moment this week stop and think about what kindness actually is. Where in our lives is there room to offer an act of kindness to someone else? No doubt the world will carry on if we simply walk on by, but how much better our world would be if we put ourselves out and offered acts of kindness.
Love is never envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. When we practice Christ driven dangerous love we will find ourselves in uncomfortable places and it will be easy to wish for an easier path. But we are not called to spend our whole lives as Christians sitting comfortably, we are called to go out into the world and be like Christ. There are times when we will want to shout about the good that we are doing and sometimes if it helps the cause we need to do that, but our true recognition comes from God. God sees all things and knows all things and that is our reward.
I could go on. I pray that the next time that we hear this beautiful reading that we will hear the call to practice love, even when that love takes us to dangerous places. Jesus knew that he had to take his ministry out from his hometown into the world, he knew that the love that he practiced would be dangerous. Are you ready to follow him? 75 years worshiping in this place, many years ahead of us. We need to continue to go and show God’s love. And if we truly want to follow Christ, let us never be afraid to practice a bit of dangerous love.
Solomon’s Wisdom Helps Us Find God In Our Modern World
A sermon preached on Pentecost 12 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
RCL /Proper 15 / Year B
1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
A couple of months ago, Antonio and I were invited to a birthday celebration of one of our friends at a popular restaurant. When we arrived we realized that someone had forgotten to make a reservation and we were facing a ninety minutes wait before our group could be seated. Ivan, whose birthday we were celebrating, was not happy with this and made the decision that we should celebrate somewhere else. None of us had a problem with this as there were lots of nice restaurants in the area. So off we went wandering up the street to find a restaurant. A familiar pattern began to emerge. We would arrive at the front of a restaurant and everyone would get their smartphones out. Some of us read the yelp reviews, some went to the restaurant’s Facebook page or website. With so much information coming into us you would have thought that we would find the perfect restaurant. Not so. The information paralyzed us. We could not get group consensus. In the end we ended up an old favorite, a place that we had eaten at many times before. It is a pity that we didn’t have the wisdom to simply look inside the restaurant, look at the diners, were they happy? Was any food that we could see nicely presented? Was there a line? What was the ambience like? Information overload dampened our wisdom.
King Solomon, who we have just read about in our reading from the Old Testament seemed to have a desire for wisdom. We read that soon after coming to the throne, God came to Solomon in a dream and offered him anything that he wanted. I am sure that there were many things that Solomon could have asked for but he does something quite surprising. First he offers God his praise and thanksgiving
You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David.
Then he humbles himself and recognizes that God is the creator and organizer of all things in the world
I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.
Then finally he goes in for the ask!
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?
An understanding mind, the ability to discern. Surely that is a very good description of what is at the heart of Wisdom.
Of course in theological and academic debate there are some people who question the motives of Solomon. The royal court in Israel was a hotbed of political maneuvering, indeed even his own ascension to the throne is a political drama in itself. When we read the first two chapters of 1 Kings we are told the story of how his mother went to King David’s deathbed with the prophet Nathan to convince King David into making Solomon his heir and successor over the king’s older son Adonijah. Some people have argued that Solomon, even at a young age was a ruthless, calculating, vengeful leader, in many ways not unlike his father. That his request was far from a humbled, God fearing and heartfelt plea but more of a calculated strategic and power driven play.
There probably was elements of this in the reality of what happened. We will never know for sure as this is history and we can’t go back in time. I prefer to think that Solomon, was a little in over his head. He was made king unexpectedly, found himself leader of all of Israel, living in the shadow of his father the great King David. He was young, we do not know his exact age but scholars say anywhere from twelve to twenty. It must have been scary being in that position. He had withdrawn to a holy place to sacrifice a thousand burnt offerings. I am guessing that God came to him in his dream at the very moment that the young Solomon needed him most.
And there we have the pivotal point. God came to Solomon when he most needed it. As king over Israel, Solomon had all the earthly desires that he needed and much more, but he was lost. In that place of sacrifice he heard the Lord calling his name. He heard the call and the promise of the Lord and he responded.
His request for wisdom came in three parts. Firstly he asked “Give me an understanding mind to govern your people”. Solomon recognized that he needed to be transformed in order to be able to understand all of the requests that were being made of him. He asks, transform me so that I can go deeper than the facts, transform me so that I can turn facts into meaningful information.
Secondly he asks for the ability to discern between good and evil. Discern is such an important word and concept. To seek, to listen, to watch for – are all essential in achieving discernment. Solomon is asking God to see more than what is in front of his eyes, he is asking to see into the places that he does not normally look, to seek the truth where many dare not go.
Finally he says “for who can govern this your great people”. By this statement he is keeping God at the center of all he does. He is acknowledging that anything that he achieves is by the grace of God.
And so my friends, what does this mean to us? To you and to me? Solomon was a complex character, full of good and not so good. He had skeletons in his closest. He had done things that with hindsight he was not proud of. Does that sound like you and me? We are not that different, and in God’s eyes we have the same status, as a child of his, that Solomon had. God can and does come to each and every one of us. No matter what we have done, no matter who we are.
God can come but that does not mean we will see him or acknowledge him. Our lives are so full, full of everything, that the world can blind us to his presence. Sometimes it is in our darkest hours when we are search of God that we are able to find him but I challenge each and every one of us to consciously look for God in our everyday lives.
If we let him God will also grant us wisdom, but to fully harness the power of wisdom we would be well served to follow Solomon’s example.
We need to be transformed by our faith into a community that is understanding. Of course we need facts and information but facts and information alone do not build knowledge. When we read that a victim of human trafficking was the daughter of a north county family. We need to do more than accept this as a fact we need to develop an understanding mind that realizes that horrors like human trafficking can and do affect not only families close to the boarder, but is happening in our own communities. We need to use the information to develop responses in our own lives here in Del Mar.
We need to be able to discern the truth. Ask ourselves what in our lives is blocking us seeing God around us? Are we so overloaded on facts that we fail to see and hear the story. In my story about finding a restaurant, facts blocked us from discovering something new and we ended up back in a familiar same old place. I pray that we can cut through the distractions in our modern day lives to see a new reality. To discern where God is truly calling us.
Finally, let us never forget that God is front, center and all around. You may think that that is an obvious thing to say in a sermon but wisdom has shown me that sometimes we need to be reminded that God is the creator, God is the sustainer and God is the redeemer.
Engage Us – You May Be Surprised
I bet all of us have looked at an elderly person and treated them differently to how we would have treated them if they were 40 years younger. Often out of perceived kindness, sometimes as a result of our own prejudices and blindness, we have all fell into the same trap.
As regular readers here will know, Pam and I took it in turns to give the homily each week at St. Paul’s Manor. In the homily below I challenged the residents to consider how they think of homeless people. Nothing too strong, but something to think about. Afterwards one lady came up and thanked me for engaging her in the world around her. She said “Life is real, and I’m not dead yet”.
Words to live by.
Homily Second Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 5 Year B RCL Track 2
Genesis 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
I like a glass of wine, but in no way am I a wine expert. I would like to think that I can tell a good bottle of wine from a bad bottle of wine but I just can’t seem to experience the level of taste that some wine drinkers can. The other month I was at a wine tasting event and the leader of the tasting poured everyone a glass of wine. She told us to swirl the glass and then stick our nose deep (in the glass and take in a deep breath, savor the aroma and then, and only then taste a little of the wine to complete the overall sensation of the tasting. She asked the people in the group “what do you see in the wine?” “I sense strawberries” one lady called out, then from the other side of the room a gentleman shouted out “yes, yes but I also feel the first damp nights of the fall”. The woman standing next to me disagreed “no, no it is much more robust than that can you not taste the richness of the cherry throughout the body”. I was taken aback, I could not sense, smell or even taste any of those descriptions, I just thought it was quite a nice glass of wine.
Our gospel reading today is full of images to be sensed, to be seen, to be thought about, to be considered. Jesus is at the center of the scene. A group of his followers are gathered around him, clambering to listen to his teaching and keen to be in his presence.
Then we see the Jewish authorities, the scribes, who are getting uneasy about this man called Jesus who had taught in the synagogue like no one had taught before and who had the power to drive out demons. He had restored health to Simon’s mother in law and cured the leper. But he had gone further he had broken the Sabbath and the scribes were none too happy.
If this picture was not busy enough let us consider a third scene. In the version of the gospel that we just heard, which is from the NRSV translation, we read “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” So his family went out to restrain Jesus because they had heard that the crowd thought he was mad. We get a slightly different picture in the King James translation: “And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said he is beside himself “ a little bit gentler on both Jesus and his family. However the New Living Translation claims Jesus’ family believed that he had gone mad “When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him home with them. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.” The differences in these different translations is all very interesting and has been and continues to be an area studied in great detail by experts but taking a step back, no matter what translation you use there clearly is a group of people in the scene who think that Jesus has gone a little mad or crazy.
So there we have it. One scene and at least three images. The image of Jesus, the son of God, the person who people followed, were inspired by, the person who drove those same people to action. Then we have the scene where we see Jesus as a no good troublemaker, watched with suspicion by the authorities who thought that he was bad. And then we have a third image of Jesus, an image where people think that Jesus has gone too far, who is a little crazy or a little mad. Who do you see in the Gospel reading this afternoon? Is Jesus bad, mad or God?
Directly after these three groups of people are introduced to us Jesus addresses everyone present. “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Over the years many people have worried that they have committed the eternal sin and therefore can never be forgiven. I believe that often those very same people, people like you and me, carry around such a heavy load of guilt without truly knowing what the eternal sin really is.
Denying Jesus, the Holy Spirit or God himself is the eternal sin. When we look back at the Gospels it is easy to see Jesus and easy for us to stand back and say that we claim Jesus as our Lord and not as a mad man or an outlaw. But just as Jesus responded to the crowd that was gathered around him in the Gospel, he is just as much talking to us, to you and to me today, and he is asking us exactly the same question. “Who do you think that I am?”
We do have to wait until the second coming to answer that question. For Jesus and the Holy Spirit are here now amongst us. The challenge that we face every day is seeing Jesus.
I am sure that we have all seen a person that is homeless as we walk around Banker’s Hill or Hillcrest. If you look closely you will see that despite having very little a homeless person is more likely to help a person in need than many of us who are much better off. I believe that is an image of Jesus working through others. I have to ask myself a tough question. When I am rushing around the neighborhood and I see a homeless person approaching another person do I see the potential of seeing Jesus? Or do a see a mad or a bad person?
Maybe the fact that Jesus broke a few rules was not such a bad thing. Maybe the fact that he did some amazing things that made people think that he was a little mad was not such a bad thing. Maybe that is a guide for our lives today. When we see Jesus in the things that we do lets us not deny him. But having called to him “Jesus you are my savior, transform me to do your work” then our faith calls us to do something with the gospel, it calls us to action, to work for a better world reconciled to the love of Christ. And in doing so, maybe we will kick up a bit of dust and maybe people will think that we are a little mad. But we will do it with the blessing of our savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.