Rev. Ollie Jones

Mar 222015
 

Audio Sermon


 

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

The Collect

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sermon

Let’s pray. Sisters and brothers, holy partners in our heavenly calling, consider this: Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him. … He is faithful over God’s house as a son. Let us, you and I, hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope, as we - gathered here — are indeed God’s house.  (From Hebrews 3:1-6Amen.

It’s time to say adios to you. Today marks the end of my time serving the risen Christ alongside you here at St. Paul’s.

And, I have a small confession to make today. It’s my habit to crib the opening prayers for my homilies from the Bible, from something in the day’s reading.  When the reading is from St. Paul, that’s easy: he starts most all his letters with “Grace to you, and peace, from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a straightforward greeting in the Lord; it offers grace without – immediately — demanding something in return.

But “Hebrews?” It’s a whole lot less colloquial. People who know these things say it’s written in a more finely-wrought dialect of classical Greek than the rest of the New Testament. It quotes extensively from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. Finding a suitable opening prayer takes some digging. The prayer asks more of us – “hold firm to confidence and pride.”

The writer wants to explain something to us, to show us the hidden connections, to prove to us the holiness of Jesus. See? he writes. This Jesus is definitely a high priest, but he’s not like the high priests of Herod’s temple on Mount Zion. His high-priestly status – connected to Melchizedek who shows up feeding Abram in Genesis —  predate and transcend the Levitical order of temple priests. Jesus isn’t in it for the personal glory, but out of obedience to God in heaven. Here it’s the suffering of Jesus that makes him obedient, and his obedience that completes him and makes him the perfect source of salvation. It’s all very idealistic. It’s all about perfection.

The writer of Hebrews appeals to the idealism we’ve inherited from classical Greek culture. He talks to our yearning for perfect transcendent patterns tying everything together. He wouldn’t have said, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds.” He would have said, “the plan of God that perfects all understanding will fill your hearts and minds.”

Through Jeremiah the Lord said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

The writer of Hebrews would say that the route to our hearts is through our reason – that to discern the ideal perfection tying things together is to “get it” —  is to have the law written on our hearts.

Now, that’s a legitimate path to walk on our journeys to God. But it’s different from St. Paul’s path. Paul’s all about the paradoxical struggles of the life of faith. He says, “it’s foolishness to Greeks and scandal to Jews, but we proclaim Christ crucified.

In all three readings today, we see that tension between Hebrew and Greek that difference between experience and idealism, between flesh and spirit. In all three readings we see the yearning to unite those two. “The day is surely coming,” says Jeremiah, when we won’t have to learn or teach the law because we’ll already know it.  In Hebrews, Jesus’s high-priesthood is more perfect, more ideal, than the priesthood of the Jerusalem temple. In the Gospel reading, the Greek visitors come seeking the perfection of Jesus in the temple.

So, who am I and who are you? An idealist, seeking the highest and most perfect path? Or the one who finds God’s grace in broken places and trouble?

We can walk either the path of idealism or the path of paradox in our journeys to God. Some days we follow Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Other days, we proclaim Christ crucified.

Some days we pray prayers for order like today’s collect “Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise”

Other days we proclaim Christ crucified. Walter Wangerin, a mid-20th-century columnist and pastor, told this story. When his son was eight, the boy had the habit of shoplifting comic books. His father reasoned and cajoled him, explaining the virtues of honesty, of kindness to the shopkeeper, and of staying out of trouble with the law, but the boy kept on stealing. Finally the father decided he had no choice to spank the boy. He did so, very ritually, and then fled to the next room in tears. The boy stopped stealing after that.

Years later, when the boy was packing to leave for college, the father overheard him and his mother talking about his collection of comic books. She said, “you didn’t stop stealing them until Dad spanked you,” and he replied “I didn’t stop because of the spanking. I  stopped because I saw Dad crying.” Wow. The holy perfection in that family’s path is completely from God!

In our reading from John, the Greek visitors want to see Jesus. They want to lay their eyes on this great teacher. They respectfully approach him through Philip, one of their own. Perhaps they have the idea that personally witnessing him will fill them with clarity, and cause the ideal law to be written on their hearts.

And Jesus’s answer to them is yes, and.  His yes – a yes of transformation – carries the Greeks beyond idealism and the Hebrews beyond righteousness. It carries Paul beyond proclaiming Christ crucified to Christ resurrected. He transforms weakness into strength, paradox into certainty.  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” he says of his coming violent death. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” In his anguish and death he conquers death. He gathers together into one the paths of idealism and paradox, and overcomes the power of violence and darkness. You and I receive the grace to follow our varying paths – foolishness, stumbling blocks, Paul, Hebrews — with the assurance that Jesus gathers us all to himself in his death and resurrection.

I’ve been talking about different paths this morning, and how those paths lead to God. As you surely know, this is my last Sunday with you all here at St. Paul’s. The time has come for me to follow a different path from you. I do so with the assurance that your future paths and mine are gathered together at the cross and the empty tomb.

The church places a peculiar demand on her ordained servants. When we leave the service of a particular congregation, we are expected to say goodbye and separate ourselves. This isn’t easy for me; I love you people and I will miss you.

In the past few Augusts I’ve gone to a training session offered by the Willow Creek association of megachurches. Various megachurch pastors came and spoke about their plans to retire — slowly. “I’ll preach once a month and do baptisms.” One of them actually said, “It will be hard to step away from all the work I’ve done to build this church;” Then he caught himself and said, “Jesus built this church.” A lot of these megachurches started in the 1960s and 1970s, and many of their pastors are facing times of transition. One wonders what will happen to those congregations should the pastors hang on. Will they be confused about who they follow? I hope not.

Our church traditions, both Episcopal and Lutheran, have this demand that we preachers say goodbye and separate. It’s a good policy. It matters to the health of the church. It has played a part in creating a church that lasts for centuries, not just decades.

It’s necessary. Why? Because the church follows Jesus. The church does not serve people like me. When we preachers say goodbye gracefully, we do just a little bit to remind ourselves and the church that we follow Jesus. We also make it a little easier for our fellow preachers to do their work faithfully.

So I must say goodbye. Thank you for the privilege of serving Christ crucified and risen alongside you all here on High Street. I am grateful for your company on the path towards God from Advent 2010 until now.  I love you and I will remember you until our paths are gathered together again in Christ.

Grace to you, and peace, from the one who was, and who is, and who is to come.  Amen.

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 Foolishness / Scandal / Paths to God. Sermon for March 22, 2015  Posted by on Sun, 22-Mar-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Foolishness / Scandal / Paths to God. Sermon for March 22, 2015
Mar 202015
 

St. Paul’s Church uses the free (open source: free as in free speech; free as in free kittens) digital signage system called RiseVision.  RiseVision’s in the so-called “cloud” and works with various Google services.

This system delivers digital sign content.

It uses four sources of up-to-date information to present an engaging display.

  • St. Paul’s online Google Calendar, shown here.
  • A slideshow stored in Google Apps, to which Deb Hay has access.
  • A daily bible verse, provided by the ELCA in an RSS feed.
  • Weather, provided by RiseVision.

If your Google account (@gmail.com or @stpauls-nbpt.org) has access to RiseVision, you can go to their web page and log in. Once you’ve logged in, you’ll see a menu offering

  • Presentations — screen contents: the design of the stuff on the sign screen.
  • Gadgets — the modules used to present particular information, like the calendar.
  • Storage — we don’t use this.
  • Displays — There’s one display for the sign in the Great Hall. If you add another sign, you add another Display.
  • Schedules — Governs what Presentation appears when on a Display. We have one Presentation for general use and a second one for when 12-step groups use the Great Hall. The Schedule shows which Presentation should be used when.
  • Settings — Stuff like the street address and time zone.
  • Users — A list of users who can access the RiseVision service to control digital signs.

There’s online documentation for all this. The RiseVision team is making great strides improving in 2015.

How does the actual digital sign work?  It’s a TV set, connected to a media player gadget. The medial player uses WiFi to connect to the building’s network, so it can access the RiseVision server. You can read about the Tronsmart Vega S89 media player  used at St. Paul’s Church here. It was bought based on price. There’s a remote control for it, as of late March 2015 stored in a box in the tv closet in the library.

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 Electric Signs at St. Paul’s  Posted by on Fri, 20-Mar-15 Contributing Comments Off on Electric Signs at St. Paul’s
Mar 152015
 

Sky Zone

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 Sky Zone Trip  Posted by on Sun, 15-Mar-15 News Comments Off on Sky Zone Trip
Mar 082015
 

Audio Sermon


Readings

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

We’ve just read Exodus 20. This passage contains the well-known Ten Commandments. They don’t come up often in the lectionary. So, let’s wonder together about these commandments today. They wield plenty of influence in our culture. We see interpretations of them everywhere, including the one on our altarpiece on the wall of the chancel here. They sometimes turn up in courthouses and other buildings of the civil authorities, notoriously in the Supreme Court of the state of Alabama. We’re tempted to use these words to judge one another. We sometimes use them sometimes to convince ourselves we’re better than other people.

Jesus calls us, his followers, away from that self-righteousness. He calls us to live with repentance, always to turn our hearts towards God’s realm of justice, mercy and peace. We’re called to live as if God’s realm is here now, in the midst of the realm of this world.

Just as we’re called to repent because God’s realm is drawn near, we’re called to wonder what it means to actually do that. Just as we’re called to take up our cross and follow Jesus, we wonder what that means short of placing a heavy four-by-four across our shoulders and lugging it up a hill to a gallows. Is that what these Commandments are about, teaching us what it means to take up our crosses and follow?

We wonder. Are the commandments squares on a ticket we must get punched to gain admission to God’s realm?  That is, no doubt, a deeply ingrained interpretation. And it’s true. Look at the display on the altarpiece. (Notice the words are second-person singular – addressed to each of us personally, not collectively.)

No other gods before the LORD.  No idols. No misuse of God’s name. Remember the Sabbath. Honor your parents. No murder. No adultery. No stealing. No lies against your neighbor. No coveting anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Surely, when (not if) we fall short of following these rules, we turn away from God’s realm. These rules are indeed important to living by doing justice, and loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. This list-of-rules interpretation is good. But at the same time it’s hard enough to follow that it tempts us to self-righteousness in those rare days when we do succeed at following all the rules.

The story doesn’t end there. These words of the Lord offer more than the list of rules.  In fact, the Lord spoke more words than the posted list of rules – on our altarpiece and in the Alabama courthouse – recognizes.

Can you spot the differences between the words on the wall and the words we just heard? …

Well, the very first words are missing from our wall. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  Before any insistence that you or I do anything, we’re reminded of God’s redeeming action on our behalf.

What else? How about honoring the Sabbath? Is it a question of personal piety? Yes, and more. What does the Bible text have that the short list of rules leaves out? “You shall not do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your cattle, nor the stranger within your gates.”  As good and life-giving as our devotion to God can be, these words point beyond personal piety to justice. All creation gets to rest. Rest for our guests, animals, employees, and children is just as important as rest for ourselves. If I deny rest to others, it’s the same as claiming divine power for myself.

You get the point. There’s a lot more to these divine words spoken to Moses than a behavioral punchlist. Let’s sidestep the temptation to simplify them and instead invite these words to point us to the mystery of life in God’s realm.

The first and last commandments tell us how to think! They offer us ways of shaping our hearts and minds. The first commandment says “no gods before me.” The last says “no coveting your neighbor’s spouse, house, servants, livestock, or any thing that belongs to your neighbor.”

The rest of the commandments offer us disciplines – ways of behaving to shape our hearts – that way.

  • When we refrain from using idols and from misusing God’s name, that’s a way of remembering to place God first.
  • Allowing ourselves and those in our power to rest reminds us that it’s God, not us, that gives us life. In the same way, honoring our parents reminds us that we don’t live for ourselves alone.
  • And significantly, we shape our hearts by refraining from acts of violence – killing, adultery, stealing, lying – against one another.

Let’s reflect for a moment on how radical these commandments are. Let’s look at the strong challenge this holy shaping of our hearts offers to our human nature, and to what we hope for.

What does it mean to covet our neighbors’ stuff? There once was a hungry customer and an impatient waiter in a busy restaurant. The customer looked at a nearby person’s meal and said, “I’ll have what he’s having.” The waiter grabbed that plate, put it in front of him, and said, “are you happy now?”

“I’ll have what he’s having.” That’s coveting. It’s contagious. It’s strange when somebody rejects that way of life. There’s a man who sometimes comes to eat here at Among Friends. He’s homeless; he sleeps in a tent when it’s cold. A couple of years ago somebody persuaded him to sign up for the lottery to get an apartment at the new YWCA apartment house, and his name was drawn. But he looked at the apartment, and said “No thanks, I don’t want to live here.”  It’s a nice apartment, in a nice neighborhood. But he wasn’t having what his neighbors were having. He’s an example of somebody who lives the tenth commandment. I confess that’s baffling to me.

A pastor named Paul Nuechterlein pointed out that to “covet” is to catch desire from our neighbors. We all do it. We want stuff not because that stuff is, in itself, life-giving, but because our neighbors already have that same stuff. Throughout history we’ve seen that eyeing our neighbors and wanting their stuff leads to all kinds of misbehavior: smearing their reputations, stealing, seducing, and even murdering them, to get it. The thing we want is even sweeter when we grab it from somebody else. Our impatient waiter understands human nature pretty well.

Large parts of our economic culture are built around this contagious desire. How can we possibly say “no” to wanting what other people have? Doesn’t that disrupt commercial culture? What would life be like if coveting wasn’t part of human nature? Police officers wouldn’t have much to do. The whole advertising business would be pointless.

If we all suddenly started living the tenth commandment, it would be as St. Paul said: a stumbling block and foolishness to the world. We’d stop catching our desires from each other. We’d stop transmitting desire to our neighbors. That would make room in all our hearts for catching our desires from God.

This contagious disease of coveting will be cured. In that great and glorious day we can live into God’s promise made through the prophet Jeremiah. “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” We won’t need to have our ten-commandment tickets punched any more.

In the meantime, let us do our best to remember that the Lord our God continually leads us out from the house of slavery. Let us not use the Lord’s commandments to judge and enslave one another, but instead let us invite Jesus his son into our hearts to sweep away the clutter, tear down the old temple, build the new one, and make room for the Spirit of peace and love blow freely between us. Amen.

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 Catch our yearnings from God, not each other: Sermon for March 8  Posted by on Sun, 8-Mar-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Catch our yearnings from God, not each other: Sermon for March 8
Feb 082015
 

Audio Sermon


 

 

Grace to you, and peace, from God our creator, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. –Mark 1:29-39 (NRSV)

Why does Jesus tell the demons to keep silence? Let’s wonder about that together.

This Gospel passage is right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. According to Mark, Herod’s soldiers have just arrested John the Baptist. Jesus has just finished his forty days in the wilderness. He called his disciples a few days before. And now it’s a Sabbath day afternoon in Capernaum. He was teaching at the synagogue. We heard that the congregation …

were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

And now they’re hurrying over to Simon and Andrew’s place, for a Sabbath night supper. This passage sets the scene for Jesus’s earthly ministry.

We, Mark’s readers, get to see Jesus’s saving work at two levels at once. Mark shows us his day-to-day work with his disciples and the people of Galilee. He goes about urgently proclaiming the good news of God, teaching, healing the sick with a word or a touch, and freeing people of their demons.

The second level is the epic confrontation between God’s realm and the demons. The demons know exactly who Jesus is –fully divine. They know their game is up and they’re defeated.  We can tell they don’t want to give up without a fight.

As readers we are witnesses to that apocalyptic ministry: Mark shows it to us clearly. At his baptism, we, and Jesus, see the heavens torn apart and the Holy Spirit descend upon him. With Jesus we witness Satan hassling him and angels waiting on him in the wilderness. We see, with God’s eyes, his confrontations with the demons.  But it’s not so for the ones Jesus is with – his disciples, Simon’s mother-in-law and the people in the crowds. They sense something big is going on, but don’t really get it.  And that’s the point. Jesus tells the demons to be silent.

Much later, as the temple veil is torn apart, and Jesus dies, the centurion in charge of his crucifixion squad says “Truly this man was God’s son” (Mark 15:39)  Only then, in the shadow of the cross, is the mystery of his divine work disclosed.  His victory and his strength come from his weakness.

So we have two levels. Both the human and divine levels of his ministry break taboos. At the human level he went from teaching in the synagogue to breaking the purity code. He takes a sick woman, not his relative, by the hand, and helps her up: observant Hebrew men don’t do that. She responds by serving food to the strangers in her house: observant Hebrew women don’t do that. She breaks the taboo of family privacy and honor. Together they show that perfect love conquers fear.

It’s hard for us to grasp how conspicuous and radical this taboo-breaking must have been at the time. Here’s the nearest thing I can think of: Some of us remember seeing the 1987 photograph of Diana (the princess of Wales) shaking hands with an AIDS patient. They followed Jesus’s example in that photo. She and that man, whose name is known only to God, broke the purity code. Together they showed that perfect love conquers fear. That photo changed a lot of hearts. In the human level of Jesus’s ministry, there’s no conflict. Nobody loses when those taboos are broken.

The divine level of his ministry breaks taboos too. At the divine level, however, the world sees them as win/lose taboos. The demons called Jesus “the Holy One of God.” That was blasphemy to the Hebrews and treason to the Romans. The demons are right. They’ve already lost. The Roman emperor, and Herod, and the temple priests, face the end of their age and their stranglehold on power. At the divine level, Jesus’s authority makes the demons recognize him. And that, in Isaiah’s words, “brings the princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.”

So why does Jesus compel the demons to be silent? Why doesn’t he force them into a great showdown after supper right there on Simon’s front stoop? With our eyes of faith we see no doubt that he will prevail.  So why not?

Let us remember the message he preaches on the human level: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” His message is to you, and me, and to the people of Galiliee. He’s inviting us to look into our hearts, to turn away from the realm of this world and toward God’s realm, and to believe. Like the disciples and the people of Galilee, we know something’s up but we don’t quite get it.

If Jesus invites us to witness an apocalyptic battle, the good news will be drowned out. We’ll be swept up in a vast drama, and we’ll lose sight of our own hearts. With great relief we’ll embrace the role of spectators in a drama that’s bigger than us. And his call to “repent and believe in the good news” demands my full participation, and yours.

This kind of thing is unfolding here in Newburyport right now. Last December some local teenage boys created an online video. In it, they took turns saying rude and hurtful things about another teenage boy. Their subject happens to be a Jew, and some of their words were virulently anti-Jewish and personal. This was bad, 20th-century bad. It demanded action. It demanded education. It demanded repentance.

How does a community like ours, who really hope to live as if God’s realm is drawn near, cope with this kind of thing? We have a choice as a community and as individuals. On the one hand, we can turn it into a cosmic battle between good and evil. We can treat the boys who made the video as if they were evil. We can blame them, shame them, punish them, and so convince ourselves that evil stands defeated.

On the other hand, we can find a teaching moment in the incident. As bad as it was, it’s not only about those young people. It’s about us all. It’s a mirror we can hold up. We can see ourselves and our community reflected in it. If we’re honest, we know we all struggle sometimes with bigotry, fear, and hostility to people who are different. This kind of incident invites us all to repent and believe in the good news.

Rabbi Avi Poupko met with those boys. He offered some teaching about the faith and history of the Jewish people.  Our local commission on diversity and tolerance is planning a forum – a public conversation – with the hope that knowledge will foster understanding, and understanding will let love in, the perfect love that casts out fear.

Where is the struggle between good and evil? Maybe it’s on a cosmic battlefield, or a courtroom, or even the opinion page of the newspaper. But it certainly is in my heart, and yours, and our neighbors’.  Jesus’s choice to silence those demons is the heart of his ministry. The demons, and the principalities, and the powers, are accustomed to great, dramatic power struggles.

Jesus’s carries out his divine-level ministry by refusing those struggles. He knows it’s too easy for the rest of us if we can just choose up sides. Instead, he goes about among us healing, casting out demons, and calling us to repent and believe in the good news.

It’s my prayer that you and I can follow him without the distractions of cosmic battles, and invite him to turn our hearts toward the realm of God.

Amen.

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 Quiet, demons! Jesus is changing our hearts! Sermon on Mark 1:29-39  Posted by on Sun, 8-Feb-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Quiet, demons! Jesus is changing our hearts! Sermon on Mark 1:29-39
Jan 182015
 

Grace to you, and peace, from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Coming up on March 24th  is the anniversary of the murder of Oscar Romero in 1980, 35 years ago. He was the bishop of El Salvador. A soldier walked into a worship service he was leading, lifted up a rifle, and shot him down as he stood at the communion table accepting the offering.

The military silenced him because he spoke up for the poor of El Salvador. He was murdered for drawing peoples’ attention to an uncomfortable truth about his culture – the poor and the peasants were hated, feared, exploited, and murdered by the people in charge. And, his life and death draw my attention, and yours, to uncomfortable truths about our culture: the military force that silenced him was financed and supported by the US government out of fear that communism would take hold in Central America.

You may have heard the words of this prayer of confession. “We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.”

What’s up with this repentance for the evil done on our behalf? The United States government supported the military and paramilitary force that murdered Saint Oscar. Personally, I find that fact to be uncomfortable. I wish I could say “they were afraid of communism so they killed him.” But his murder was evil done on my behalf, so I must say “We were afraid of communism so we killed him.”  Here’s the question: can anything good come from me and you, accepting our share of guilt in the silencing of Bishop Romero. Will it make a difference to the life of the world we repent of our part in 35-year-old murder?

It’s fair to ask “so what?” if we repent of those events a generation ago. How will that change their lives? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that things can’t improve without awareness, acceptance and action. We know life is changing for them and us. Even if we, as a culture, resist this change, it’s still happening.

Our reading from the book of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-20) teaches us about a time when peoples’ lives were changing whether they liked it or not.

The prophetic mantle is passing from generation to generation. It’s a time without much holy inspiration, when “visions were not widespread.” The service of Eli’s family has come to a dead end, and Samuel’s service has hardly begun: he’s a boy. At the same time everything is changing in the land of Israel. The rule of the judges is ending, and the rule of kings – Saul, David, Solomon – is beginning. The old ways are sustainable no more, and the new ways are still a mystery.

We hear the wonderful story of the boy Samuel hearing a voice speaking in the night. It’s the LORD speaking to him but he doesn’t realize that. So he pesters his old and ailing master Eli, who groggily tells him, “go back to bed” a couple of times. Finally, it dawns on Eli what’s going on – that the Lord is trying to get young Samuel’s attention.

And he does the right thing. He encourages Samuel to open his ears and his heart to the word of the Lord. Then he encourages the boy to be a prophet – to open his mouth and speak the Lord’s truth – even though those words carried the Lord’s condemnation of his own family’s service. Those harsh words make our ears tingle. “The iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” Ouch. Eli’s family has made a terrible mess of things and so they’re done. It’s time for new leadership.

The account of Samuel succeeding Eli is helpful to us because we, too, live at a time when everything is changing. Like the boy Samuel, we live at a time when some of the old ways of doing things have come to a dead end.

March 24th is the anniversary of Saint Oscar’s murder. Something else is happening that day. It’s the day that our city here begins to forbid one-use plastic shopping bags. Now I know, that may sound like a bunch of woo woo “save the whales” foolishness. It sounds absurdly trivial compared to the murder of a good bishop. But it isn’t. Seriously.

The systematic oppression of people in Central America that led to Saint Oscar’s death is about the evil done on our behalf. So is the wasteful use of plastic. The biological situation is clear: massive quantities of plastic are getting into the ocean and being swallowed by sea creatures. This junk is showing up in fisheries in the bellies of wounded fish. An area of the North Pacific Ocean the size of Texas is gathering plastic trash. It shatters in sunlight, so it blocks light from the ocean but can’t be scooped up with nets. Cleaning up the mess appears to be an impossibly vast task, even given an unlimited budget. It’s an iniquity that “shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” And you and I are members of the culture – today’s house of Eli if you will – that is making this mess. Ouch. It’s an uncomfortable truth.

Feeling guilty about our part in it won’t help. But, our house of Eli, like the one a long time ago, seems to be coming to a dead end. We have come to a time of change, whether we like it or not.

What do we do now? We can say to ourselves “it’s silly to ban plastic bags” and go get our groceries in Amesbury or Rowley. We can say, “there’s nothing I can do about this by myself.” That’s actually true. There isn’t much you or I can do individually. Dealing with these vast problems is very much like trying to purchase God’s favor by doing good works. God’s favor is so much vaster than our ability to purchase it that the very idea is absurd. So what can we do?

In our Gospel reading (John 1:43-51) we hear a moment of hopeless cynicism from the Nathanael the disciple. He asks “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That’s an understandable attitude given the Roman occupation of Galilee. He’s aware of his culture’s situation.

But then Philip says, “come and see.”  In spite of the situation, Nathanael accepts the invitation. He comes, and he sees. In that moment, Jesus also accepts him.

And finally Nathanael acts on Jesus’s acceptance of him. He embraces the grace and the hope Jesus offers.

And so it can be for us. Our house of Eli is finished. Like those wild people of Corinth we’ve been treating ourselves, each other, and the world, like there’s no tomorrow.

We can’t buy our way out of this mess. Not one of us can redeem the world by our own actions. Trying to change the world motivated by regret and guilt is a path to cynical hopelessness.

What can we do? We can listen to the prophets – the young Samuels – of our time. We can encourage them and support them like Eli did.  They’ll make us aware that the world is changing.

We can accept the situation. We can behave the way St. Paul suggests in our Epistle (1 Corinthians 6:12-20) by living like tomorrow will surely come. We can do what Nathanael does and accept the hope made flesh in Jesus.

And then, in response to that hope, we act. We can face the future with hearts of freedom, rather than guilt. We can gather at Jesus’s table to gain strength, not just solace. We can go forth into the uncertain future renewed, not just forgiven.  Awareness must precede acceptance. Acceptance gives us the hope to act. And act we must, for the life we hope for has already begun and will endure forever.

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 A New Thing: Sermon for Jan 18th, 2015.  Posted by on Sun, 18-Jan-15 Sermons Comments Off on A New Thing: Sermon for Jan 18th, 2015.
Dec 252014
 

Why are we here this dark Wednesday evening?

Listen to these words…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Those are John the Evangelist’s words announcing the birth of Jesus. We’re here this evening to re-enact, celebrate, and re-member that birth. More than two thousand years on, we remember it as a one of-a-kind birth unlike other births. We celebrate it as a divine and holy birth. Our children re-enact it for us here.

We also re-enact, celebrate, and re-member it as an entirely human event, in which we all share.

We’re here because we yearn to be part of that event. We yearn to share in the surprise of those shepherds, in the awe of those first witnesses to that little child’s new life.

This child is the long-awaited one, who’s called “wonderful, counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace.” Even his given name, Jesus, means “savior.” Don’t we imagine that the birth of such a one should happen in a clean and comfortable room in a grand building? Don’t we expect a team of skilled midwives to be there encouraging and caring for his mom? Don’t we expect trusted scribes to be there recording the great event?

But we know that’s not the way it happened. Not at all. The circumstances of this singular birth are anything but great. In 1865 a poet called William Dix asked,

Why lies he in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?

Mean estate, indeed! No midwife encouraged and helped Mary, just her teenaged fiancé. The other witnesses to this new life were shepherds, domestic animals, and some traveling foreign scholars.

Why lies he in such mean estate? It’s a question we wonder about as we contemplate Jesus. He was both Prince of Peace and a vulnerable newborn baby. At his execution the officer in charge of his Roman tormentors proclaimed, “surely this man’s the son of God.” Why?

Through the ages faithful people have wrestled with this question. Why do such divine power and glory emerge from this mean estate? How can this be? I wonder. I hope you wonder too.

Angel and Shepherd

“Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy!”

Here are some words to wonder about. Angels – God’s messengers – came and greeted the unlikely participants in this lowly birth. What did the angels first say to the people they greeted?

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife.”

And to the shepherds at night, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy.”

Do not be afraid. Do not fear. Fear not.

Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds all needed to hear those words. They all lived uncertain and fragile lives. In their world, Caesar Augustus claimed the title “Son of God” for himself. Caesar’s soldiers and tax collectors took whatever they wanted from people like them. They lived lives full of fear.

And people in our world live lives full of fear too. Shepherds near Bethlehem make an uncertain living today, just as they did then. Many moms give birth in dangerous places. We all are subject to unpredictable human principalities and powers, just as Jesus and his parents were. We all have good reasons to fear that unpredictable human power. And, some of us are, ourselves, agents of that human power. We cling to whatever power we have, from fear.  And, I daresay, we’re here because we yearn to live without being ruled by fear. We yearn to turn away from human fear toward divine life. We hope to live rejoicing always in holy power, majesty, and awe.

We’re here as witnesses to that power, majesty, and awe. We’re here because lesson of the stable and the manger is the lesson of the cross. Holy life springs forth from the most unlikely places, like an innkeeper’s stable. Holy strength comes from the heart of human weakness. The witnesses to that holy life are unlikely people: traveling sages, shepherds. Most unlikely of all, the witnesses are you and I. We’re here to rejoice that we’re in that company of witnesses to that life.

John put it this way. That “life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

May that life, the light that shines into this fearful world, shine in your heart this night and forever. Happy Christmas!

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 Fear Not! Homily for Family Christmas Eve Service 2014  Posted by on Thu, 25-Dec-14 Sermons Comments Off on Fear Not! Homily for Family Christmas Eve Service 2014
Dec 072014
 

Audio Sermon


May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Today’s readings —  Isaiah 40:1-11 and  Mark 1:1-8 — both mark  the beginning of physical and spiritual journeys out of exile, out of captivity, and away from violence towards peace. That’s good news. We need some signs of new beginnings. We yearn for signs of hopefulness.

Our world is in trouble. Violence seems to be gaining the upper hand over peace.  El Salvador, Staten Island, Ferguson, Cleveland, Jerusalem, western Iraq, Yemen, you name it. There’s violence in many places.

Please forgive me; I’m going to talk about some unpleasant facts this morning. I confess I sometimes ponder all that violence and wonder whether there’s any hope for peace.  The violence has been going on for ages, and yet it seems new.

Photo El Salvador By Oliver Jones

The garden at UCA where the four Jesuit teachers, their housekeeper and her daughter were murdered .

Take a look at El Salvador. It’s been a quarter-century this month since soldiers murdered four Jesuit university teachers, their housekeeper, and her child outside their home on the campus of the University of Central America. That civil war ended and a beautiful rose garden was planted in their memory. But the violence didn’t end. People live in fear there. The lucky Salvadorans — yes the lucky ones — have enough money to send their children into uncertain exile. The less lucky ones simply do whatever the gang boss in their neighborhood says. If they can afford it they buy protection from the violence.

There’s violence here in the USA too. Next Sunday marks the second anniversary of the massacre at the primary school at Sandy Hook. Some of our cities – Chicago, Detroit, even Lawrence and Boston – are plagued by gang warfare just like El Salvador.  How can we find any hope for peace?

As a culture, we in the US try to assure safety and peace for ourselves. School shootings and gang violence make us want to do that. So do all kinds of less dangerous crimes. As a culture, we’re looking to our soldiers and police to guarantee our safety from the violence of the world.  We, as a nation, are in our own kind of exile from the world, surrounded by the people we hope will protect us. We want them to shield us from the dangerous people by fighting violence with violence. It seems necessary for us to do that. It’s certainly necessary to restrain evildoers.

But it’s not working very well. The violence seems to be escalating. Just take a look at the evil done on our behalf lately. Police officers, doing what they were trained to do, have notoriously caused the deaths of John Crawford in Ohio, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in Staten Island, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Recently, people have raised their voices to demand that the police be held to account for these deaths, and that’s right.

Still: this may be hard to hear, but it’s true: their deaths and their families’ grief are visible examples of the evil that’s being done on my behalf, and your behalf. The actions of those police officers are signs of the fear and the exile you and I live in, with our whole society.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I don’t believe the people in those incidents, victims, police, or families, are personally particularly evil. I don’t believe you, or I, bear personal guilt for these peoples’ deaths. It would be nice if it were that easy, but it’s not. In the parable of the sheep and the goats we heard from Matthew a couple of weeks ago, Jesus said

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him.

All the nations. It would be easier if we, and if Jesus, could pin the blame on some single person. But it’s nations – tribes – who stand together to be judged before the throne of glory.

We’ve gathered ourselves into tribes, into nations. Out of fear we’ve exiled ourselves from tribes and people who are different from us, and by doing that we’ve exiled ourselves from God’s realm of justice and peace. The signs of our exile are evident. Folding the newspaper and turning off the TV won’t make those signs go away. It’s unpleasant, but it’s the truth.

In the midst of all this, there is good news for our nation, and for all the nations. Can we open our ears to hear it? God’s saving words, spoken by Isaiah, come stealing into this exile of ours. Those same words came stealing into the Babylonian exile of the people of Jerusalem in 540 BC or so. In their sixty-some-odd years’ absence from home, those exiles had claimed the illusion of peace in their new surroundings, just as you and I claim that illusion in our surroundings.

And the grace-filled words of the Lord, the words of redemption and comfort, come stealing in. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid.”  And then the prophet tells the people that the road – the highway of the Lord – is to be repaired, and made ready for their return from exile.

It’s the road from violence to peace, from bondage to freedom, from sin to forgiveness. The prophet invites the exiled nation to walk that road together.

There’s one condition, though, and it’s a challenging one. It’s also the road from pride to humility, away from human strength to God’s strength. “The people are grass, the grass withers, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

To walk along this road is to be changed. To use the words of those lamenting the recent death of Mr. Brown, the people – then and now – must all come to this road with our hands up.

To use the dying words of Mr. Garner, to enter onto that royal highway we must be willing to cry out,  “I can’t breathe.”

Mike Kinman is the dean of the Episcopal cathedral church in St. Louis, near Ferguson Missouri, where Mr. Brown lived and died. He wrote a letter where he invited us all to consider how we walk along this royal highway, out of exile and back to God’s realm of peace and justice. He wrote these words.

We can approach this journey as tourists — consuming the experience as it comes to us on TV and social media.

We can approach this journey as missioners — and have as our goal to make the world a better place. These both have their place. Particularly, I believe there is a mission aspect to what the present moment calls us to.

But I want to suggest Christ calls to approach this journey as a pilgrimage — to have as our goal to be changed ourselves.

We come to God with our hands up. Without God, we can’t breathe. But God’s word of peace and justice will stand forever.

The good news continues in our reading from Mark. The world’s situation was much the same in the time of Jesus as it is today. City people were divided against country people and tribe against tribe. And still, people from all over knew they needed to be changed, personally and collectively. They went out all together! They went out to confess their sins (“Hands up!”). John dunked them all in the water of the Jordan River (“I can’t breathe!”) and washed them clean. He pointed them to the Way of the one greater than him, the way of Jesus, and invited them to walk that Way together.

Can we be quiet and hear the graceful word of God stealing into our exile? Can we trust God enough to allow God to use the sorrow of our country’s, and the whole human family’s violence, to invite us to put our hands up and admit we can’t breathe without God’s Spirit.  Can we walk that royal highway out of our violent exile to the realm of God. Can we walk as pilgrims and risk being changed?

With hope beyond human hope, with confidence, I pray for the strength and courage to walk that road together and be changed. For the life of the world is at stake. Amen.

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 “Hands Up!” “I can’t breathe!” on the bank of the Jordan. Sermon for December 7. 2014  Posted by on Sun, 7-Dec-14 Sermons Comments Off on “Hands Up!” “I can’t breathe!” on the bank of the Jordan. Sermon for December 7. 2014
Nov 262014
 

These are the readings from the daily Revised Common Lectionary for Wednesdays. For a short worship service like the ones we have at St. Paul’s, it’s appropriate to choose just one of these readings.

This material is taken from suggested daily readings from the Consultation on Common Texts.

Advent

Wednesday December 3, 2014  Psalm 79   Micah 5:1-5a    Luke 21:34-38

Wednesday December 10, 2014 Psalm 27  Malachi 2:10-3:1  Luke 1:5-17

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 Psalm 125  Malachi 3:16-4:6   Mark 9:9-13

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 (Christmas Eve)

Christmastide

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 Psalm 148  1 Kings 3:5-14  John 8:12-19

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 Psalm 110  Exodus 1:22-2:10  Hebrews 11:23-26

The Season After Epiphany

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 Psalm 69:1-5, 30-36 Isaiah 41:14-20 John 1:29-34

Wednesday, January 21, 2015  Psalm 86 Genesis 16:1-14 Luke 18:15-17

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 Psalm 46 Proverbs 8:1-21 Mark 3:13-19a

Wednesday, February 4, 2015  Psalm 102:12-28 Job 6:1-13 Mark 3:7-12

Wednesday. February 11, 2015 Psalm 6 Job 30:16-31 John 4:46-54

Lent

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 (Ash Wednesday)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015  Psalm 77   Proverbs 30:1-9  Matthew 4:1-11

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45  Jeremiah 30:12-22  John 12:36-43

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 Psalm 84   Ezra 6:1-16  Mark 11:15-19

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 Psalm 107:1-16   Isaiah 60:15-22   John 8:12-20

Wednesday, March 25,2015 Psalm 119:9-16   Haggai 2:1-9, 20-23   John 12:34-50

Holy Week

Wednesday, April 1, 2015  (four choices) Isaiah 50:4-9a   Psalm 70   Hebrews 12:1-3   John 13:21-32

Easter

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24  Song of Solomon 3:1-11  Mark 16:1-8

Wednesday, April 15, 2015   Psalm 135  Isaiah 26:1-15   Mark 12:18-27

Wednesday, April 22, 2015   Psalm 150  Proverbs 9:1-6  Mark 16:9-18

Wednesday, April 29, 2015   Psalm 95   Micah 7:8-20  Mark 14:26-31

Wednesday, May 6, 2015  Psalm 80  Isaiah 65:17-25  John 14:18-31

Wednesday, May 13, 2015   Psalm 93  Deuteronomy 11:18-21  Mark 16:19-20

Wednesday, May 20, 2015   Psalm 115  Ezra 9:5-15  John 16:16-24

Pentecost

Wednesday, May 27, 2015  Psalm 104:24-34, 35b   Ezekiel 37:1-14   John 20:19-23

Trinity

Wednesday, June 3, 2015  Psalm 20   Numbers 6:22-27  Mark 4:21-25

Time After Pentecost

Wednesday, June 10, 2015  (Proper 5)    Psalm 74  Isaiah 26:16-27:1 1  Luke 11:14-28     or    Psalm 108  1 Samuel 9:1-14  Luke 11:14-28

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

 

(Further readings can be found at http://www.commontexts.org/publications/dailyreadingsb.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

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 Wednesday Evening Prayer readings  Posted by on Wed, 26-Nov-14 Ministries, Renewing Comments Off on Wednesday Evening Prayer readings
Nov 162014
 

Audio Sermon


Grace to you, and peace, from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thank you for a wonderful St. Paul’s Church Fair! It’s always good to see so many people crowding into St. Paul’s to rejoice in the great deals – in your generosity and abundance. And it’s good to see our community putting our hearts, minds, souls, and strength together into this wonderful project.

Jesus said, “For the kingdom of heaven is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, `Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, `Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, `Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, `Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, `Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, `You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ” —  Matthew 25:14-30 NRSV

Today’s Gospel reading tells the story of our fair’s stuff – the  merchandise we sell. Jesus offered us a good metaphor for our work in the fair. One person donated five books. Somebody else bought them. She put some money into our church treasury and joyfully took those books home to read them. So, like the five talents of the parable, those books’ value has more than doubled.

Another person donated two warm sweaters. They went to a family from Haverhill who were recently burned out of their apartment. So those sweaters have more than doubled their value, like the two talents.

And then, there’s that outgrown child’s coat, buried in the back of a closet someplace, that didn’t make it to the fair. Sometime soon it will go into the trash.

I once saw a machine that shreds trash for the incinerator. Since then when I hear the Gospel words “wailing and gnashing of teeth” I think of that noisy violent machine. It doesn’t care whether the thing thrown into it is a warm coat or a dirty paper plate. It reduces everything to nothing but fuel for the incinerator. That’s the fate of the old coat – to be no longer a coat.

This analogy to our fair is one way, and a perfectly good way, to read this parable. Jesus entrusts various assets to each of us. He gives us all kinds of assets:  Time, Relationships, Health, Wealth.  I’m sure you can think of other kinds of God-given assets.

What kind of gifts do you understand that God has given you?  …  Wisdom. Wondering. Grace (forgiveness).

What makes those gifts worth something? Sharing them, giving them to other people, receiving them from other people. Hidden in the back of your closet, they’re worthless. Flowing, moving, they build up God’s beloved community. The lesson of the parable is that Jesus yearns for us to use, not hoard, our assets.

The kingdom of heaven is as if we give away, and gratefully receive from each other the gifts we’ve been given.  Gifts shared have limitless value. Gifts hoarded are worthless. That’s true, that’s all good, and the St. Paul’s fair is a wonderful way for us to put that generosity into action.

But still there’s something deeply troubling about this parable. First of all, in biblical times the value of a “talent” was epic  – some say it was a skilled laborer’s wages for a thousand days. In our terms the parable would say “a million dollars,” not a “book” or a “coat.” The material stakes are very high.

For another thing, the treatment of the third servant is harsh. The master doesn’t symbolically shred the buried talent – the hoarded million dollars – into worthless rubbish. It’s the fearful servant who’s the worthless rubbish, not just the hoarded wealth.

That’s hard to hear for us.  It tempts us to believe we’re worthless hopeless rubbish if we’re afraid to take risks. It tempts us to believe that we’re better than the fearful servant. You and I would never bury the treasure entrusted to us, would we? That’s for the other people. Right? Not really. If we’re honest with ourselves we admit that we’ve done that many times. Ouch.

It’s even worse. When we hear this it tempts us to think we can purchase the love of God by doubling God’s money, by being shrewd stewards of God’s abundance. It makes us want to buy our entrance into the joy of the master. But we know that God’s love is greater than our ability to buy it. The psalmist said it:

Our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he show us his mercy.

So, let us be very careful about reading this parable through a modern commercial stock-market or hedge-fund lens. Double our money, earn God’s love? No.  Reading it that way will confuse us about where our treasure lies and cause us put our hearts in the wrong place.

To see the transformative power of this parable, let’s look at it in another way. Jesus’s – and Matthew’s — first audience lived under the yoke of the Roman imperial occupation.

Jesus taught this parable in the shadow of the cross, shortly before his death. Matthew’s readers lived in the immediate aftermath of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. The occupying army just took whatever they wanted from those people. They would have been very wise to believe this about their masters, even if they didn’t often say it out loud:

Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid.

It would have been pointless and dangerous for a first-century slave to take risks for his master. Pointless, because if the slave succeeded, the master would just grab the proceeds. Dangerous, because if the slave failed, the master would punish the slave brutally.  So the third slave was, by their conventional wisdom, the one who did the right thing.

There’s a book called Why Nations Fail written a couple of years ago by James Robinson and Daron Acemoğlu,  economists who teach at Harvard and MIT.  They studied some present-day and historic civilizations.  Throughout the history they studied, ordinary people in extractive cultures serving masters who “gather where they do not scatter seed” struggle with imagination. They have trouble imagining taking risks and being generous.  They’re uncomfortable receiving transformative generosity and they don’t know how to dream of giving it.

For example, El Salvador has had an extractive economy since the time of the conquistadors. Our partners at Foundation Cristosal see these struggles in the people they work with.  In the village of El Carmen they have problems with their water supply. But it doesn’t make sense for Cristosal just to pay a mechanic to go and repair their pumping station. Instead, the people living there, as they learn to imagine living with enough clean water, also can imagine learning to maintain their own pumps.  They are gaining a vision like the first two slaves in our parable, who claimed the wealth they were given and put it to good use. They’re creating a community water company to ensure that they can care for their own needs.

To grasp just how transformative today’s parable is, let’s try to hear it as a way to overturn conventional wisdom to show what the realm of God is really like. To use St. Paul’s words, suppose the master in the parable was of the night or of darkness. In that case, when he returned he simply would have grabbed the wealth back from his slaves. He might have punished the ones who took risks. Enter into the joy of your master? No. No. The smart slave would have been the fearful slave.

But, in the realm of God, the master trusts the slaves, and rejoices when that trust is returned. The one who doesn’t trust the master already lives in darkness. For the people of Jerusalem this parable overturned conventional wisdom in an astounding way.  And it does that for our world today.

The realm of God starts with this radical truth: God trusts you and me, and rejoices when we return God’s trust. Let us hope and pray that we, together with the people of El Carmen, and all the peoples of the world, can return the trust of God. The greatest asset we have is trust. That flowing river of trust is justice, and that ever-flowing stream of joy is righteousness – the justice and righteousness of God’s realm realized in Jerusalem, in El Carmen, right here, and everywhere. Trust God, for God trusts you. Amen.

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 God Trusts Us; Can We Return the Trust? Sermon for Nov 16, 2014  Posted by on Sun, 16-Nov-14 Sermons Comments Off on God Trusts Us; Can We Return the Trust? Sermon for Nov 16, 2014