Aug 282016
 

 

Have you noticed how often Jesus uses meals and the feeding of people to teach about his mission?  In today’s Gospel Jesus suggests that his host, the Pharisee, should change his guest list and instead of inviting his family and friends, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  Probably these suggested guests would be strangers, or perhaps they would be known to the Pharisee as the social pariahs of the community – likely, they would not be people with whom the Pharisee would normally be friendly.

Now why would the Pharisee take Jesus’ suggestion? After all, Jesus is asking him to do something that the Pharisee would see as not being in his best interest. To invite the needy, the poor, the sick to dine??? It simply was not done.  It was one thing to give alms to those in need; it would be quite another to invite the lowly into one’s home for a meal. It would be the equivalent of committing social suicide and depending on who was invited, it would also be violating the religious laws of the day — laws the Pharisees, who were not bad people – tried very hard to honor.

In recent Gospels, Jesus has been calling for a new order as his time on Earth has been coming closer to its end. He wants a new way of relating to each other through compassion and service to all people, including the outcasts of society, to be embraced by those in power.

Two weeks ago, I preached about another occasion at which Jesus told people that their accepted way of life, their social norms, the status quo, needed to change. In that sermon, I referenced a text that reminded us that Jesus’ missional agenda of compassion, mercy and justice actually can change the status quo, that the status quo can be shattered when we live into the Gospel. And now, in this week’s Gospel, Jesus is once again exhorting and prodding those in power and authority, the least likely to change their way of life, to participate in shattering the status quo. He calls for a way of life that totally would alter how their society functioned and would result in turning the world upside down. We see Jesus again being a troublemaker – or, another way of saying that is: Jesus was being Diaconal.

Why is that diaconal?  As you know, Deacons are called to be servants, and we are also expected to be troublemakers, and pests. Martha and I thought that given the examples of Jesus as troublemaker found in recent Gospels that I would take the opportunity to try to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked about the Order of the Diaconate. What a Deacon is, and isn’t in the Episcopal Church.

I’m not surprised that there are questions about what a Deacon is….since St. Paul’s has never had a Deacon as a member of the clergy before.  Actually not many churches in the diocese have had Deacons…. there are 180 worshiping parishes, plus all of the other types of places clergy serve in this diocese, with about 600 active and retired Priests and there are only 33 Deacons.  So there are a lot of people in the Diocese who have not worshiped with Deacons.

First a little deacon history, since one question I’ve been asked is when and where deacons came from. The first commissioning of Deacons, 7 of them, was done by the Apostles shortly after the crucifixion and resurrection and is told in Acts 6.  Then as the early Christian church grew, each church had a bishop as its shepherd……but then there weren’t a lot of churches, so each could have its own. Deacons assisted the Bishops, including taking the consecrated bread and wine from the church to homes where small groups of Christians gathered. Later when the number of Christians increased, the number of churches grew and the order of Priests emerged so each church could continue to have a shepherd — a Priest– and the Deacon continued to serve as the Bishop’s emissary to the increased number of parishes. Around the 14th century the number of Deacons declined in the western church, as the order of the Priesthood grew. And it wasn’t until, in the 19th century the order of Deacons actually was restored, beginning in Germany and among Roman Catholics in the late 20th century, eventually evolving to the current day Episcopalian Deacon’s.

As Deacons today in our faith tradition, one of our primary functions is still to assist

Bishops – I will periodically be called away to go to another Church and serve as the Chaplain to one of our Bishops, as I was last Palm Sunday. At times we are called away from the parish to serve in other diocesan functions when the Bishop determines.  For example, the Bishop asked me to serve as the Diocesan Coordinator for disaster preparedness and response through Episcopal Relief and Development at the National Church, and a few weeks ago, I was called to serve on a Sunday at the Convent of St. Anne’s.

I often have been asked when I am going to take “the next step” to be a Priest — but there is no next step – this is it – the permanent diaconate is a full, and equal order, with the priesthood. It can get a little confusing for laity because Priests are Transitional Deacons for 6 months before they are ordained Priest. The calls are similar but not the same.

A related question I’m often asked is what is the difference between the Priest and the Deacon?  One way to think about the similarities and differences of the 2 orders is to use a visual cue of both the Priest and the Deacon at the altar and door. Then, see the priest being primarily at the altar as a sacramental shepherd to the parish and spiritual overseer of the parish.  Then see the Deacon being primarily at the door as a bridge to the community and a messenger who stands between the world and the church, with one foot in each, interpreting the church to the world and the world to the church. In the messenger role the Deacon sends the Gospel out into the world and then by being a nudge, brings the problems of the world back into the local and wider church.  Many Deacons are bi-vocational, that is, we serve in the church as Deacons and have a job in the secular world. In part that is because in order to bring the problems and issues of the world into the church, we need to be in the world, even if not of the world. It also is important for many of us to be bi-vocational, since as Deacons, we do not receive any pay or have access to benefits from the parish, or from the Diocese. That is, in part, why unfortunately, you will see very few young Deacons.

While Deacons are called in the name of Jesus Christ to serve all people, we are called particularly to serve and care for the poor, the ill and the powerless and the lonely. That is a traditional role for deacons, and we do that in parishes and in community settings. For me, the community I serve outside of the St. Paul’s community is through Dinah’s House  and through Episcopal Relief and Development.

A word here about the Rector and other clergy in a parish. Make no mistake, even though the two orders are equal orders, the Rector is in charge of the parish. It wouldn’t matter if instead of having a deacon as a second clergy person, this parish had a second priest as clergy, it would still be the Rector who would be the clergy person in charge of the parish. Deacons and other clergy serve at the direction of the Rector, primarily as a support and to assist in the raising up of the ministry of the Laity. However, it is the Bishop, on the recommendation of the Archdeacon, who decides which parish we are assigned to, whereas Priests are called by the parish. And while the Rector serves the Vestry, I serve directly under my Bishop, not the Rector or the Vestry. It can be sorta tricky for some, kind of like multiple matrix relationship, but I think Martha and I have figured it out pretty well.

The visible role of Deacons inside the church is most often seen in the liturgy and I will be writing in some detail about each of these liturgical pieces of the Deacon’s ministry in Constant Contact and The Labyrinth, but for now let me just mention them briefly. We preach and we administer the elements at communion. We proclaim the Gospel, prepare the altar for the Eucharist and we restore the altar after communion. We give the dismissal at the end of the service. In addition, most Deacons lead the Creed, begin the Prayers of the People and bid the Confession. We do not give absolution, give sacramental blessings, or consecrate the Eucharist because we are not sacramentalists and that is not our call, though we do have specific roles in each of those sacraments. By canon, or church law, we can do full services with Eucharist from reserve sacrament, and in various circumstances, we can lead all of the worship services through the liturgy of the word, and can perform most of the elements in weddings, funerals, baptisms.  However, Bishop Alan has told us at this point he does not want us to do all of that – remember that there are over 600 active and retired Priests in the diocese and only 33 Deacons? – so he, understandably wants us to continue to focus on the truly diaconal elements of our calling, at least for now.

As we vow at our ordination, we willingly and joyfully take on the responsibility and privilege of serving the world and the church. And it’s not just that we serve poor, sick, powerless and lonely individuals, we also have to bring about changes to the broken parts of social systems that cause and allow so many people to be powerless and pushed to the edges of our society. Addressing structural evil in our society is a huge piece of what Deacons are to do as servant and as messenger. Whether the systems that need to be changed involve ridding our society of the evils of any of the isms, are about wage equality, speak to food availability, highlight access to healthcare, or address gun control — and unfortunately the list goes on —- the Deacon’s ministry, is called upon to sing out about structural evils in our world and to work toward making changes to the status quo, when needed.  That can make things uncomfortable for parishioners and vestries — and truth be told, for the Deacon also — at times, as it did for the Pharisees in today’s Gospel. We are to try and be the conscious of the church, to stir up the hearts and the minds of the faithful, to make trouble, to constantly be nudging – as Bishop Alan says we are supposed to be pests.  (My mother says I’m good at being a pest.)

While that may be what Deacons have been set aside to do through our ordination, Jesus makes it clear that we are all to speak to those issues. And he tells us all how to be the troublemaker through today’s parable and shows us how throughout his ministry.  So let’s everybody go out and be trouble makers — but as we are told so often in Luke, let’s do it with love, and care and compassion.

In Joy and Peace—go make trouble.  Amen

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday August 28, 2016 The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Sun, 28-Aug-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday August 28, 2016 The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 222016
 

Once , in an on-line sermon discussion, another preacher shared this story about his recent trip to a hospital emergency room:

I was waiting my turn to see the emergency room doctor when a young mother came through the doors with her child, maybe three or four years old. The little girl was crying and her mother was holding a bloody handkerchief over the little girl’s mouth. She looked around frantically for someone to help and rushed to the desk and said, “My daughter’s been hurt and I need to see…” She was cut off in mid-sentence, “You need to take a seat and wait for one of the clerks to sign you in.”

“But my little girl was hit in the mouth by a…” She was interrupted again. “Please take a seat ma’am, someone will be with you shortly.”

Just then, the ER doctor walked in and said to the woman at the desk, “Shame on you… this little girl needs help right now!” He motioned to the woman and the little girl and led them to an examining room.

Briefly, (and guiltily) I wondered when my turn to see the doctor might come, but — if I live to be a hundred years old, I wonder if I will ever see another time when a person’s pain so clearly wins out over the system’s protocol.

In our reading from Luke this morning we run up against a similar dynamic, only in the context of a synagogue of Jesus day and the protocol is about keeping God’s Sabbath command to Israel.  In this Gospel we meet two bent people – one bent outwardly and one bent inwardly. Two bent people were very much intertwined.  The woman who is bent physically is very much in need of healing, and comes to worship in God’s house where she encounters the synagogue leader who is entrusted with tending that house, and who reveals his inward, spiritual bentness by announcing that no healing will be available there on the main day of worship, the Sabbath.  Together they are bent around an interpretation of a command that does not fit the situation they are in.  They are not so different from those in the modern day emergency room.

Most human institutions begin with the mission of serving people, but many end up mired in policies and procedures that are wielded in such a way as to demand service from those they first set out to serve.  I am not preaching against rules and policies and procedures – they have their place, but Jesus example reminds us that compassion should trump rules.  Compassion should always be the foundation of rules.

In another synagogue, in Nazareth, at the outset of his ministry, Jesus stood up and read a passage from the prophet Isaiah which he indicated would be the embodiment of his ministry.  The Isaiah passage was about being anointed to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to any who were oppressed.  That included those who were oppressed by physical ailments and those who were held captive spiritually.  Where ever Jesus observed religious law taking precedent over compassion, he hammered against that rigidity and sought to release the true spirit of those laws.  The spirit of the Sabbath law is that the Sabbath was created for the good of the people, not people for the good of the Sabbath.

We all need Sabbath – time to rest in God’s rejuvenating presence. Maybe that gets expressed through a relaxing walk outside, or curling up with a good book, or engaging in a hobby that delights us.  Or maybe it looks like going to an afternoon ballgame with some friends from church.  But as one writer puts it,  It is hard to see the dragon that has eaten us.  Culturally speaking the dragon that has eaten us is the 24-7 dragon. The one that keeps everything open and available longer but seems to rob us of more of our down time each year.  The Gospel is definitely counter cultural in this regard.  The pertinent Sabbath message of this Gospel for our age seems to be that we have gone too far in the opposite direction from the rigid Pharisaical interpretation Jesus met in that synagogue.  We have lost the rhythm of a regular, weekly Sabbath slow down, where compassion for ourselves and for others is our goal.

Fourteen years ago now, when our family arrived in Germany, where we lived for 4 years, I found that stores were closed on Sunday, and by 8 pm most evenings.  This took a bit of adjusting, and there were several Sundays we lived without milk or bread until we got the hang of the weekly slow down.  Once I got used to it, I discovered that it is not a bad thing to be forced to not be able to run errands one day a week.  And I am sure it was good for the store clerks too, who did not have to work Sundays and late into the evening.  I am not necessarily suggesting that we in the US should return to that system, but I do think we should consider what we lost in giving up that sort of predictable slow down each week.  How are we to reclaim Sabbath in our culture?  It seems to me that is a topic worthy of some faithful consideration.

As a priest, I am particularly concerned with how we embody Sabbath in our way of being church.  This morning’s Gospel made me think of a woman who once told me about how she had left the congregation she had attended for many years and gone to a neighboring one because she felt so overburdened by the responsibilities she taken on in her home church.  After being in her new church for a while she realized how much she enjoyed watching all the actions of the liturgy at the altar.  This was, she said in marked contrast to the several years before she made the move, when she had spent the whole liturgy each Sunday on her knees, head down, praying hard about all the parish responsibilities that rested so heavily upon her shoulders.  But  in the back pew of  her new parish – where she had intentionally not even signed a visitor card –  in blissful anonymity – she could stand tall and once again drink the liturgy into her thirsty soul!  Like the woman in the Gospel lesson, she became unbent, but had to leave a congregation she had been part of for a very long time to find that healing.  I don’t know how her story came out – whether she was able to find balance in her life in her home parish or if she joined the neighboring parish.  Hers was an extreme example, but not the only story of church burnout that I have heard or witnessed in my years as a priest.

What if on Sunday morning, we all felt like that woman in the back pew of her new church?  What if we could enter the doors and find a zone of peace, a haven from the overdrive mode of our culture?  What if walking through the doors of the church on Sunday meant that for the next couple of hours we could focus more fully on the wisdom, delight, healing, and faithful challenges God is longing to impart to us, without as much distraction from our church, home and work “to do lists”?  And what if, after worship, we only did what was absolutely necessary as far as church business during coffee hour, and spent the majority of the time getting to know each other better?  What positive consequences might that have?  Might we feel a little less bent? My guess is that it would deepen what is y already a very strong and loving faith community.  Of course, we would not want to become rigid about any of it.  But practicing Sabbath more consciously as church might also help us practice it more consciously in the other arenas of our lives.   And that could have a wonderfully blessed ripple effect in our bent and weary world! In the name of Christ. Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday August 21, 2016 The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Mon, 22-Aug-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday August 21, 2016 The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 152016
 

 

When Martha told me the dates she would be on vacation, I said I’d preach the first Sunday after her return — so that she wouldn’t have to jump right into writing a sermon at the same time she was getting into the swing of being back.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  Martha graciously thanked me for volunteering and we went on to other issues. And then some weeks, later when I started preparing for this sermon, I read the Gospel appointed for today! My offer to preach no longer seemed like such a good idea.

This Gospel is known as being one of those Gospels that many preachers try to avoid – it can be difficult and risky to preach about.  Now you all know that I am fairly new at preaching — and to be honest — this was not a Gospel we had addressed for preaching in any way, shape or form at school, much less studied it.  The Jesus in this Gospel does not seem to be the loving, peaceful, forgiving Jesus that we find comforting and full of hope, even if at times he is unconventional and can seem extremely complex and what he says difficult to understand.  In this Gospel, we read, among other disconcerting points, about Jesus’s message of bringing division among people rather than bringing peace, and it strikes many folks, as the opposite of what he taught  —  and certainly not in line with the examples from his life of love being made manifest through his actions.

This Gospel does not paint a picture of the Prince of Peace.

t this point in Jesus’ ministry, he is on his way to Jerusalem, where he knows he will soon be killed. He knows that the choices he has made, the risks he has taken, the teachings he has taught will end in his death. He knows, that unlike the water with which John the Baptist used at his baptism, he will soon be baptized by the fire of his crucifixion…. He is very focused on his Earthly mission and is feeling the pressure of helping humankind understand how important that mission is. He knows that his time is short, he is feeling the pressure of his time on Earth running out, AND he is losing patience with those who don’t recognize the importance of his mission and who don’t feel the time rapidly slipping away.

He says he is stressed, stretched to the point of breaking. He sounds a tad angry to me, or at least frustrated, with the apparent inability of folks to understand that it is time to decide what they think about him and about his teachings and it is time to take action: to resolve to follow him, or not.  He uses the family as his example about division because the family is considered the microcosm of his time’s social reality — everything is understood in relationship to the family, to that core, that center of their social reality. And so he says in this Gospel, in what would be very clear to the people he is talking to – even if not to us – choose!  Choose what you are going to do! He is saying, even if it means division among your family, even if your parents don’t agreeChoose!  He is saying, take a stand and live your life according to my teachings – even if your spouse doesn’t make the same choice!  If your children don’t agree and go a different way, even then, — it is time to decide if you are going to follow me, so make a choice – because my time is short.

Making the choice to follow Jesus would not have been easy. The Kingdom of God he proclaimed represented a new order, a new way of relating to each other through forgiveness and reconciliation. As we have been hearing all through Luke, he calls for compassion and service to all people, including the outcasts of society. It involved extending God’s Kingdom on Earth through love and peace…and letting go of the need to rule through might and wealth. Yet those who were invested in what was then the present order, those who were in control, who ruled — would resist this new coming Kingdom, for it spelled an end to what they knew and what they had grown accustomed to.  So it makes sense that Jesus — though coming to establish a loving and peaceful kingdom, instead could bring ruptures and divisions. When values clash and differ, divisions all too often are the result.

Now I don’t for one minute think that Jesus’s purpose was to cause families to break or split apart. However, I do think he is saying to his listeners in the first century and to us in the twenty first century, that it can be hard, even scary to be a Christian, and that following Christ can have consequences that aren’t always soft, comforting and pretty.  One contemporary commentator I read asked a question that struck my heart  —  He asked, “Is the relative ease of the Christian life in this land the result of cultural acceptance or, is it because we fail to live into the Gospel Jesus announced?”  Let me repeat that, “Is the relative ease of the Christian life in this land the result of cultural acceptance or, is it because we fail to live into the Gospel Jesus announced?”  Shane Claiborne, one of the persons interviewed by Krista Tippett for her latest book that a group of us have been reading and discussing every other week here at St, Paul’s, said something similar.  He said that mainstream churches are not keeping the younger generation in attendance from  their time in the church as a child into adulthood because we don’t dare them with the truth. It isn’t because we’ve made the Gospel too hard, but because we have made it too easy.

But if Jesus’ call to a new way of relating to each other stirred up divisions during his time on Earth and that of the early church, (and we know it did because we read about it happening later in the Gospels) what does choosing to follow Jesus  do in today’s world? In the short time I’ve been serving here, I’ve seen the members of this congregation relate to one another with care and love. St. Paul’s Church already does a great deal for the needy and the disenfranchised. Great work and important work ranging  from providing meals for those in need, helping the cold pay for utilities to be turned on, sending clothes to needy children in Haverhill and to refugees in New Hampshire, to having a robust outreach ministry to the people of El Salvador — St. Paul’s is there.

But what would our congregational life look like if we embraced Jesus words even more and stretched our already stretched congregational budget to care more fully for the poor?  What might our personal lives look like if the choices we make about how we interact with others, how we live in community, how we vote, what we do with our hard earned money and how much we give to St Paul’s to use for God’s work  changed?  — changed  a lot or even just a little — by being based even more firmly and strongly on Jesus’s teachings.  Would it cause conflict in our families?  And beyond our individual families, we certainly are seeing divisions occur in our communities as the nation as a whole discerns how we are to deal with the less fortunate in our society.  If we expand our vision to include looking at the Kingdom of God as a family, we clearly can see divisions in today’ world exemplified by the wars and strife and terror around the globe being fought in the name of religion.

Jesus’s teachings can cause the society to become topsy-turvy in our world, in our day, just as it did in his time on Earth.  As another text I studied in preparation for this sermon said, “Jesus’s missional agenda of compassion, mercy and justice shatters the status quo”.  The status quo can and will change when we live into the Gospel.

Jesus was, and is, a troublemaker. The more I thought about this Gospel, and contemplated Jesus from the point of view of his being a troublemaker, the more I realized that in this Gospel we see a very real example of Jesus in the Deacon’s role.

How is this message Diaconal, you may ask?  Because those of us in the Order of Deacons in the Episcopal Church are called, as I think most of you know, to be servants, but also we are called to be real troublemakers. Usually people describe us as nudges, since that is a tad “nicer” than being described as a troublemaker.

A number of you have asked me what being a Deacon is about — what it is and what it isn’t, and I’ve been asked to do a bit of explaining about that.  Well, the week after next I will be proclaiming a Gospel from Luke in which Jesus will again be teaching about his missional agenda and prodding those around him to change, to act, to grow his Kingdom.  He will again become a troublemaker.  Martha and I thought it might be an opportunity to address some of those specific questions about Deacons that have come up. So, in that context I will try to answer the questions I’ve been asked and invite you to send me any questions you have but haven’t told me about yet – so I can try to address them too.

Meanwhile, over the next two weeks, I ask that we all watch for those situations that present themselves as opportunities for each of us to examine the choices we make.  And let’s look at the decisions we make in the context of Jesus’s missional agenda and ask ourselves if the decision we make is in concert with that mission?  If not, why did we choice that decision?  Would it have caused a rift, were we trying to avoid conflict?  Was it just too hard at this time?  Whatever the situations, whatever the decisions we make, let’s all try to be aware of our choices and be intentional about our action.  Let us all prepare our hearts to receive and open our ears to hear the Holy Spirit as we grapple with making our choices.  And let us all pray for guidance and strength as we respond ——–  and maybe we can consider being at least a little bit of a troublemaker as we decide and respond.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday August 14, 2016 The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Mon, 15-Aug-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday August 14, 2016 The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 102016
 

Parable of the Rich Fool

By Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

 

“Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’

Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?'” (12:13-14)

You can picture it…. Jesus has been teaching for some time about the Kingdom of God. Suddenly, someone in the back calls out and interrupts the whole group with a shouted question. Not a question, really, but an insistence that Jesus straighten out the man’s legal affairs. It was rude, out of place.

The man who called out sounds like a younger brother who doesn’t feel he is getting his due. Inheritance in Israel was devised to keep land in the family, rather than let it go to other tribes or individuals.

“When he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.” (Deuteronomy 21:16-17)

“If a man dies and leaves no son, turn his inheritance over to his daughter. If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it.” (Numbers 27:8-11)

The first-born son would receive double the inheritance of any of his younger brothers, and would serve as the patriarch of the family and executor of his father’s inheritance (Greek kleronomia), especially the land.” The younger son wants the estate divided so that he gets a share, but that will reduce the amount of farmable land for the landholding as a whole. The elder son would likely rather continue as it was under his father, all the brothers farming the land and supporting their families with it, rather than dividing it up into smaller and smaller pieces which each would independently control.

Since the Mosaic Law did not specifically cover such an instance, the younger son had a right to take the matter to court, usually formed by the elders in his village, who would rule on the issue. In addressing Jesus as “teacher,” probably Aramaic Rabbi, the man is trying to get Jesus, as a well-known rabbi, to act as a judge in this property case. In Jesus’ day the title “Rabbi” was used of honored teachers, but it was not until the Second Century that men were ordained into the office of Rabbi, and the role of judge or arbitor was more prominent in their position.

Jesus questions the man rather directly, as one who has interrupted him and made undue demands. He asks the man who has appointed Jesus judge of this case. Jesus uses the words “judge,” Greek krites, “one who reaches decision, passes judgment, a judge,” and “arbiter,” Greek meristes, “divider, arbitrator.”

Jesus isn’t questioning his own role as Judge of the Living and the Dead (2 Timothy 4:1). He is questioning the man’s motives. First, look at what the man says, “Tell my brother to …” He has the temerity to command Jesus and tell him what to do. Second, he has already decided what he wants, and now is looking for a judge who sees it his way. Instead of going to the approved legal structure of his neighborhood. He is trying to get Jesus to take jurisdiction over the case. Jesus will have nothing to do with it, and rebukes the man’s inappropriate overture. Jesus’ mission now is to teach the Kingdom of God, not to judge petty probate cases.

“Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ ” (12:15)

Jesus uses the occasion as a “teachable moment.” The man’s desire is obviously for possessions, so much so that he will presume to tell Jesus what he must do to accomplish this desire. You can almost hear him say, He owes it to me! I deserve it! There’s a lot of anger here, a lot of resentment. Something not unknown in families negotiating assets in inheritances.

Is a desire for justice wrong? No. Is it wrong to sue for one’s financial rights in court? No. God is a God of justice. But the motivation here is more than a call for justice. The man seems a bit consumed with the inheritance. He interrupts an honored speaker to make his point publicly in front of the crowd, instead of speaking to Jesus privately. Something else is going on in his heart. Jesus labels it “greed” and warns his disciples against it with a saying, and then with a memorable parable.

The Greek word used for “greed” is pleonexia, ” ‘greediness, insatiableness, avarice, covetousness,’ literally ‘a desire to have more.'”[7] This is a different word from Greek harpage, “robbery, plunder, greediness” used to describe the Pharisees’ heart in Luke 11:39. In that context greed involved taking away what belonged to others; here it is a desire for more. Our English word “greed” is defined as “excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness, avarice, an excessive or insatiable desire for wealth or gain.

Notice that Jesus warns not just against greed, but against “all kinds of greed” (Greek pas). Greed takes all sorts of forms, and is easily hidden. Since greed is defined by excessiveness, how much is enough? How much is too much?

The temptation to greed requires vigilance, hence Jesus’ warning words, “Watch out!” (Greek orao) and “Be on your guard” (Greek phulasso, “watch, guard … guard against, look out for, avoid.”). The concept of greed is first identified clearly as the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17). Covetousness is the desire for something that one doesn’t have a legitimate right to, something which belongs to someone else.

After warning his disciples against greed, Jesus gives the reason for this warning, “because a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (12:15). This is one of Jesus’ themes we hear throughout. “Man does not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3).

When you think about it, Jesus’ word to his First Century disciples is a radical statement even in the Twenty-First Century: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” This runs contrary to they way our society thinks and values and lives.

  • Rich people are more successful in life than poor people.
  • Wealthy people are more important to the society than poor people.
  • Well-to-do people are more sought after to serve on civic boards and commissions, since they bring status, money, and because they presumably have wisdom.
  • Well-off people are more believable in court than the poor.

Success in our culture is calibrated largely in terms of quantity — quantity of degrees, wealth, salary, perks, possessions, publications. We are an ambitious people, we are trained by our society to want more, to strive for more, be goal directed. Not always a bad things at all, by the way.

But Jesus says, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (12:15). And that means we must choose to change, or choose to cover our covetousness with piety in order to convince others, and hopefully ourselves, that we aren’t really covetous when we are.

In an agrarian society where most in the villages were subsistence farmers, agricultural success is a natural example for Jesus to use.

“And he told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.’ ” (12:16)

This is a story about a hypothetical rich farmer. Jesus’ listeners knew of rich farmers. They could grasp this immediately. It sounds like his own land, though he may have purchased or leased land from his poorer neighbors. The ground is said to have “produced a good crop,” Left unsaid in Jesus’ parable is God’s grace in causing the land to bring such a good yield.

“He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.'” (12:17-18)

Though his crop is plentiful, the size of the harvest has created a pleasant problem — lack of storage. Archeological excavations have revealed four devices for storing grain: jars, pits, silos, and rectangular storehouses. Since the rich farmer plans to “tear down” his storehouses, these are probably silos or perhaps rectangular storehouses. The most common type of above-ground granary unearthed in Palestine was circular, with openings below the almost flat root so that the air could circulate. Stairs on the outside formed a kind of ramp up which the grain was carried before being poured in at the top.

The rich farmer’s insistence that he tear down his current granaries indicates that he did not want to build on his fertile land, but rather put larger granaries in place of his present ones. His abundance, of course, is far greater than what he needs for his own household. So instead of dumping his grain on the market during a good harvest year, he aims to hold the grain for the future when he can get higher prices. He is a shrewd agribusinessman.

Jesus doesn’t fault him on his agricultural acumen, but on his independent attitude.

“And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ ” (12:19)

The man actually believes that his riches will now insulate his life from hardship. God isn’t in the equation at all. The man’s focus is squarely on goods rather than God. In truth, we may be a bit uncomfortable with the man’s portrayal, since many of us are working for just such a scenario when we can take life easy, relax after a period of hard work, not have to scrimp, and spend our lives in some security and well being.

And the opposite scenario, poverty is no guarantee against greed. In fact, poverty can be a breeding ground for a lust for money or envy. The writer of Proverbs recognizes the dangers as he prays,

“Give me neither poverty nor riches,

but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much

and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

Or I may become poor and steal,

and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8-9)

After the man has congratulated himself on his good fortune and his guarantee of a pain-free life for the future, God speaks.

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ ” (12:20)

“You fool” is Greek aphron, “foolish, ignorant.” The word is also used in Luke 11:40 directed towards the Pharisees. Is the word justified? Of course. Anyone knows that he cannot guarantee his own future. To pretend that you are able to do so is a myth.

“This very night your life will be demanded from you.” The idea here is that our life is not in our own hands, but in God’s hands. He is in charge. Our lives may be taken at any moment.

We can and should “improve upon” our talents, our natural abilities, by training and practice, but we cannot take credit for having them. Everything we have been given is a gift to be used to serve God. It is not a permanent possession of ours, but it belongs to him. Your talents, my abilities, a person’s family position — all these are gifts from God. If we use them as true servants for him we use them rightly. Unfortunately the rich man’s focus was on himself — “what you have prepared for yourself” — not on God. And so in the parable God chose that night to take back what belonged to him in the first place.

“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (12:21)

How will it be? Sudden surprise. Anyone who can’t understand that he is a mortal creature, and that a Higher Being has created him, is a fool. An educated fool, perhaps, but still a fool. But there comes a day of reckoning. The wealth of our bank account or reputation or career high points or family or friends mean nothing. The only question is now: Is he, is she, is that person rich toward God?

How do you become rich toward God? In the Gospels we see a contrast between laying up treasures in heaven vs. laying up treasures for ourselves. Consider what Jesus says about laying up treasures in heaven:

In the following passages Jesus says:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

Matthew 6:1-18 speaks about doing our pious acts in private so that the Father who sees what we are doing in private may reward us. This is immediately followed by Jesus’ words about storing up treasures on earth vs. storing up treasures in heaven (6:19-21)

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

So far as Jesus was concerned we lay up treasures for heaven by humbly living for him now. Giving to the needy, praying, doing good deeds, helping others. These are not “brownie points” that we redeem before God but rewards in themselves for a life lived with God. They lie in contrast to selfish actions which accrue to our earthly wealth. Greed will not get us to heaven, or give us peace.

In many ways greed is akin to idolatry — erecting and worshipping a false god, in this case, the god Mammon.

“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person — such a man is an idolater — has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:5)

How do you deal with greed? How do you resist its deceitful siren song? If a jury of your peers were to examine your life, and bank accounts, and every action, would they believe that you are strongly motivated (even primarily motivated) by money or a greed that sets you apart from a life with God? Are you poor and does wealth mock you, and take you away from God? Are you wealthy, immersed in luxury and oblivious to the needs of the poor and our common humanity? Do you act as if the money and goods you store up will guarantee your retirement and ultimately life itself?

The passage asks us to question ourselves. Do we? Do I?

 

 

 

In faith let’s offer this prayer

“Father, the sin of greed is so chameleon-like. It hides under many guises. Forgive me for my greed, and keep my heart owned by you. Set my Christian brothers and sisters free from their bondage to greed. Show us all how to keep money in its proper place, in a godly balance in our lives. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.”

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday July 31 2016 The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Wed, 10-Aug-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday July 31 2016 The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 102016
 

Here is the outline of the sermon given by The Rev. Brian Raiche

Luke 11: 1-13

Do Not Be Afraid

Prayer: 

+ May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be ever pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Introduction:   Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Beautiful– but Jesus has never ridden a ski lift to the Top of Mount Hood.

FEAR

Fear of Heights:  Mount Hood.  Ski lift. Panic Attack? Hold on to that bar!

I can’t get back on that thing…. You have to hike down this mountain- Me?  Hike down a mountain? That cured my fear of heights.

Fear is not only one or our deepest instincts, it is generally one of our most constant companions in life. We fear all kinds of things.

Irrational Fears: heights; crowds; driving over a bridge; leaving the house; dirty hands; Went around the room- we’d get an interesting list!

Some are Common place: fear bad health; making ends meet; losing a job; what people think of us; will our children turn out ok.

Fear of change-

Q: How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?
A:10. One to actually change the bulb and 9 to say how much they like the old one.

Fear has little tolerance for risk and the unknown- prevent our spiritual growth and improvement in the quality of our lives.

Cure:

Antidote: Reading from Hebrews:

Faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen.

Faith is an antidote to fear. If you feel assured then fear disappears.

“Ok, I’m not going to die on this ski lift”- anxiety settles down.

Example: There is much to fear

Fear: The world is an awful place; bad news; racism, violence. True

Faith: Faith is a way of seeing. World has problems, but it is still a beautiful place. Many loving and caring people- many are religious

WORRY

Some people are born worriers. They worry about what happens if something doesn’t work out right. They worry about what happens if it does work out right.

How do we deal with worry? Live in the now. So much humor, joy, and happiness go unnoticed because we lose touch with our present reality. We walk around and lose focus. People who worry tend to live so much in the future and the past that they miss the present moment.

EXAMPLE OF GOOD SHEPHERD

Eucharist: Perhaps you have come this morning with a great deal of worry. Worry about your relationship or marriage, worry about money or a job. Real situations that give cause to worry, but we need to be able to take some time and live in the present moment.

If you live in the present moment, you would have heard Jesus tell you, “do not be afraid.”

If you are focused on what you are doing after church, you will miss the great opportunity present to you here and now. A chance to rest with Christ, break bread, and be transformed. Try not to think of what you will be doing when you leave church, try to think about what you are doing here and now.

1) Word:         Present to the Word- God will speak to you.

For me:  Do not be afraid.

 

                        Many other sermons this morning….

 

  • Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Star Trek Sermon

 

  • Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

 

  • Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

 

  • If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.

 

  • For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Another great sermon)

What do you treasure in life? What do you value? Our relationship with God?

 

God is trying to talk to you- mind is busy with other thoughts- hard to listen.

 

2) Table:        Fast food- ok.  We’ve come to dine.

Present to the moment at hand. Come forward to the Eucharist- be present to what you are doing. Be present to who you are.

Christ is present to us in the Word we share, in the Bread we Break, and in the community that has gathered here. If we become to focuses on what happens next- we miss Christ in the here and now.

Good Shepherd- worry about what will happen there when I am present with all of you here. “Live in the now”

Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday August 7 2016 The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Wed, 10-Aug-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday August 7 2016 The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost