Archives for October 2012

Bible Study: 24 Pentecost, Proper 27 (B) – Nov. 11, 2012

Discussion Leader: Erin Jean Warde, Seminary of the Southwest

“Then Jesus called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’” (Mark 12: 43-44)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Psalm 127 (or 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Psalm 146); Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

1 Kings 17:8-16

In this text, Elijah has been sent to Zarephath, and in this place he encounters a widow. He finds her at the gate, making her both literally and figuratively in the margins of society. In 1 Kings a continual theme is that God overcomes drought and famine to assert power over the natural world, in such a way that questions the sensibilities of the people. This is no different. Elijah speaks to the widow and asks her to feed him, and she explains that she has such little food that after eating it with her son, they would still die. Elijah empowers her and sends her to feed the three of them, with the promise that she can, through the power of God, offer this meal. Not only does he ensure that they will be fed once, but he also ensures that the jar of meal will not empty until God’s power is shown to the earth in the form of the end of the drought. Elijah brings to the widow a prophecy of abundance in a scarce land. Where the world may offer death, Elijah promises that God offers the provisions that ensure life.

Psalm 146

This psalm sings praises to Yahweh, while also in the third verse juxtaposing the power of God to the power of earthly rulers. The psalm proclaims, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” The psalm continues by taking readers back to the first showing of God’s power, creation, in verse six. The exclamation of the power of God shown in creation gives way to praise of God’s power on earth, a power shown through the means of justice for the oppressed and food for the hungry. To show the far-reaching extent of God’s power over the world God has created, God is defined as a God who sets prisoners free, heals people of their earthly infirmities, welcomes the stranger, shows compassion toward the orphan and the widow and defends the faithful people of God.

Hebrews 9:24-28

In this reading from Hebrews, the reader is reminded of the power of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, which has offered grace to creation: past, present and future. Christ “did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands,” because the power of God is not from this world. Christ was present before God in God’s kingdom, and from that place intercedes for us, by offering us the power and presence of God-in-Christ. The work of God through Christ has transcended time and ended death. Death was ended not only for Christ, who was resurrected, but for the whole of humanity, because God has promised a savior who is sent “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Mark 12:38-44

In this text, the writer of Mark juxtaposes a story about the hypocrisy and false witness of the scribes with a story of a widow who gives her most honest offering. In verses 38-41, Jesus teaches against those who serve God, yet reap earthly rewards for doing so. This seems to go along with Jesus’ teaching that the first in the kingdom of God shall be last, and the last shall be first. The “places of honor at the banquets” are not for the people of God; the people of God are last on earth, and ushered first into the kingdom of Heaven. Earthly authority has no bearing on whether or not a person will receive the glory of God on the last day. Continuing in verse 41, the gospel writer tells the story of a poor widow giving a penny, which is “everything she had, all she had to live on.” Again, like in the reading from 1 Kings, the power of God takes a place of scarcity and transforms it into an offering of abundance. The widow is faithful, and she doesn’t give out of scarcity, she gives out of the abundance that she believes will come to pass through the faithfulness and power of God.

Bible Study: 23 Pentecost, Proper 26 (B) – Nov. 4, 2012

Discussion Leader: Anne Thatcher, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’” (Mark 12:28-31)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Ruth 1:1-18 and Psalm 146 (or Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Psalm 119:1-8); Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34

Deuteronomy 6: 1-9

In this passage we are commanded to love one another. This is not a recommendation or piece of wisdom. There is no disclaimer such as “if you feel like it” or a promise of reward such as “if you want others to love you.” This is not a helpful Tips for Living list. In fact, this entire passage is full of command words: hear, love, keep, talk, recite, bind, fix, write. This is about action. This is a call to live in ministry, not just chitchat about it or theorize. LOVE. Not “like,” not “spend time with.” LOVE.

What does that look like? We are so resistant to being commanded to do things, and yet, if this were not a command, would we take it as seriously? Would we truly understand what Jesus is telling us to do?

What would your life look like if you reminded yourself with every interaction that you are called to love the individual, regardless of who they are, where they come from? Love, regardless of the quality of your interaction, regardless of your expectations. Love, regardless of your feelings, opinions, and beliefs.

Psalm 146

This is a psalm of thanksgiving and the traditional format in a thanksgiving psalm is followed here: personal praises, followed by general praises, then a meditation on God’s justice. This meditation provides comfort for the individual because it rests on the historical evidence of God’s faithfulness to his people. It ends with the promise of God’s commitment to his people forever.

When times are difficult, when things are not going the way I hoped, when I feel that God is not answering my prayer, I unconsciously follow the pattern of this psalm. I start thinking about all that God has blessed me with up to this point in my life, the beauty, the surprises, the moving of mountains that I thought would never shift. And in that new perspective my frustration or disappointment seems less, for if God can move mountains, what is one small task in comparison? If God created the sea and all that is in it, what is my small request? Who am I to doubt God’s power? In these reflections I find great comfort in knowing that God’s promise is forever, there is no time limit, no condition upon which it will change. Never-ending love.

Hebrews 9:11-14

There is a criticism here of the traditional sacrificial offerings; they no longer qualify as a way to redemption. What are the sacrificial offerings in your own life that you keep going back to, that you offer to God as a way of making amends or asking for forgiveness?

Quitting smoking, losing weight, no more gambling,
ceasing use of alcohol or drugs, working less,
better money management, more exercise, marriage counseling,
stopping the practice of various vices

Are you living as if these changes will buy you God’s forgiveness?

Mark 12:28-34

We are called to love, but it is a love in and through Christ, not human love. In his book  “Life Together” (HarperOne, 1978), Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that “human love makes an end in itself” while “spiritual love is bound solely to the Word of Jesus Christ … because spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother.” Our love for others must come through God, for our own personal love will get in the way, it will be too full of humanly desire and agendas. And yet this does not begin with the loving of others through God, it begins with loving God fully – loving God with every essence of our being, with heart, soul, mind and strength.

Is there someone in your life whom you find disagreeable? What happens when you view them through God, as God’s creation, rather than through your own filter?

Printing

How to print sermons and resources from the Sermons That Work website

Looking for ways to print sermons and resources from the Sermons That Work website? Now there are several ways to do it.

Sermon and Bulletin Insert Printing

Each sermon and bulletin insert will have a link at the bottom. If you click the link, the document will come up in a new window (make sure your computer allows that by checking the pop-up settings). The documents are in .pdf form and you should be able to print from the new window or download it onto your computer. You can also right-click on the link and tell it to open a new window or tab.

Copy and Paste

The method that gives you the most control over how the printed sermon will appear is to copy the content from the web page and paste it into a blank word-processing document, such as Microsoft Word. Once you have saved the text as a Word document, you can reformat it in any way you’d like.

For further instructions on how to copy and paste from a web page to a text document, see e-How’s  “How to Copy a Web Page to Word.”

Use the Print Icon or Print Menu

On the page for each sermon, article, review or resource, there should be an icon of a printer. If you click that, you will be able to print that page. Alternatively, you can go to the menu in your browser and select “Print,” which automatically prepares the entire web page as a ready-to-print document.  Be aware, though, that both of these options creates a document that includes all of the navigation at the top of the page, as well as the comments section and advertisements at the bottom of the page.

Transcending all that is ‘thrown down’, 25 Pentecost, Proper 28 (B) – Nov. 18, 2012

1 Samuel 1:4-20 and 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (or Daniel 12:1-3 and Psalm 16); Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

On August 23, 2011, Louisa County, Virginia, was rocked by a magnitude 5.8 earthquake. We expect such seismic activity along the Pacific coast but rarely think about it happening elsewhere. Earthquakes in Virginia are rare; however, due to the geological nature of the Eastern Seaboard, the quake’s shocks were felt as far away as Florida and Ontario, Canada. It was particularly sad, not just for Episcopalians, but for many Christians, to see the damage this quake did to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, better known as the National Cathedral. Who could have envisioned the pinnacles of the towers crashing into the pavement below or great towers completely twisted? The earthquake only lasted 10 to 15 seconds, but in that time a tremendous amount of damage was done. Who could have imagined it?

“Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’” Jesus was referring, of course, to the greatest building project of his day and time – Herod’s temple in Jerusalem. This massive renovation began around 20 BCE and expanded the temple mount complex far beyond what King Solomon had envisioned. While the temple itself was completed in less than two years, the outer structures and courtyards took about 80 years to complete – only to be utterly destroyed in 70 A.D. by Roman legions under the command of Titus, the son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian. It would have been hard, if not impossible, for the disciples to imagine the complete destruction of such a massive building – the most holy place of the Jewish faith.

We, too, can scarcely imagine a time when the important places and structures we know and love will be “thrown down;” however, we have witnessed a glimpse of such destruction in our own day with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11. Catastrophic destruction leads to collective trauma and lingering anxiety. But even if the structures are not literally “thrown down,” it is still difficult to ponder that even the place where we worship today will one day be in ruin. It is the folly of humanity to seek permanence in the things of this world, and yet it seems to be our nature. Perhaps it is our deep angst in knowing our own mortality that leads us to build structures of many kinds: buildings, ships, corporate businesses, political empires, families. God has placed a deep-seated need to create something that will transcend the finitude of our earthly lives.

Jesus’ teaching today reminds us of the impermanence of all the structures of this world: “All will be thrown down.” Jesus cuts straight to our desire for immortality with these disquieting words – words that echo the great prophetic tradition of the Jewish people. No doubt this raised the anxiety of the disciples who press him for answers of “when will this be?” They press him for signs of the end. In Jesus’ day, and even to this day, there are plenty of people who look for signs, as if knowing when the end will come will somehow change its coming. Our faith and science tell us there will be a time when all things will come to an end; does knowing exactly when it will happen really give us any mastery over it?

Jesus does not give specifics as to when the end will come, nor does he tell them exactly what will happen. He tells them there will be upheavals of many kinds, but he clearly says these are the beginnings of the birth pangs – not the signs of the end of all things. The things that Jesus describes – war and rumors of war, famine, earthquakes – were all occurring in his day and still occur today. We might wonder when the birth pangs will be done.

Certainly, as Mark wrote this gospel in the shadow of the temple’s destruction and amidst severe persecution of the Christian community, this disquieting apocalyptic narrative seems to fit the unrest of his time; but what about us, living in the relative comfort of the United States in the 21st century? While we have relative comfort compared to Mark’s community, we do live in a highly anxious society where the messages we hear all around us center on being afraid: Be afraid of terrorism; be afraid of the economy collapsing; be afraid of losing our jobs; be afraid of losing our health; be afraid of losing our economic security; be afraid for our children’s future; be afraid of rejection. The list is endless. We are afraid that our neatly constructed lives will “all be thrown down” so we live in captivity to that fear, and when we live in captivity to fear, we never really live!

In the larger context of Mark’s gospel, these words from Jesus come just before he enters Jerusalem to be crucified. These words about the destruction of the temple and upheavals to come are a prefiguring of his own death – the very destruction of his own body. “All will be thrown down” is a promise that all things of this world will fall apart, disintegrate and die. However, within the broader context of this chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus reminds us that our job isn’t to know exactly what will happen, how it will happen, or when it will happen; rather our job is to be faithful, patient and keep awake, because God is working out the plan of salvation and has not abandoned us. It will be all right because God is in charge.

This isn’t to say things will be easy and that hardships and suffering won’t befall us. It isn’t an empty optimism promising things will get better for our lives; they may or may not. It is a promise that God is in charge regardless.

Christ promises us that things will be all right because God has the last word. When death on the cross appeared to be the end, God had the last word at an empty tomb. Throughout our lives, we will experience death and resurrection many times over as the neatly arranged structures of our lives are thrown down. These apocalyptic words of Jesus remind us to hang on and to place our trust in something more than ourselves, our possessions, our relationships, our health, our capacities or our intellect. It is to place our ultimate trust in the One from whom all of these things come. It is to accept our finitude and mortality in a radical trust of God’s unchangeable grace and goodness so that we might be freed from the captivity of anxious fear and finally live fully and freely as God’s beloved children.

 

— The Rev. Anjel Scarborough is priest-in-charge at Grace Episcopal Church in Brunswick, Md. She and her husband are the parents of two teenage daughters. She can be followed on Twitter @ReverendMom and blogs at innumerablebenefits.blogspot.com.

Do you see what I see?, 24 Pentecost, Proper 27 (B) – November 11, 2012

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Psalm 127 (or 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Psalm 146); Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

In two weeks, on the day after Thanksgiving, department stores and radio stations throughout our nation will begin their round-the-clock auditory avalanche of Christmas carols. You may find the constant repetition of “Silent Night” a soothing reminder of “the reason for the season”; or it may annoy you to the point of giving you a headache. But whichever position you take, if you are Anglican, you know that the appropriate liturgical time to begin caroling is during the Christmas season, not Advent. You know that during Advent, we sing hymns about our longing for the birth of the Savior and our faithful vigil as we wait for God’s light to shine in the darkness.

For Anglicans, the “official” singing of carols begins on Christmas Eve. On that holy night, we will gather in parishes across the globe, acknowledge the end of Advent – the end of the long wait – and give voice to the lovely songs we know by heart. We will sing “Away in a Manger,” “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Joy to the World” among others.

There is another Christmas carol that, though it’s known by the title, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” begins with the question:

Said the night wind to the little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite …
Do you see what I see?

In this Sunday’s gospel reading, we find Jesus taking a break from hours of engagement and debate with an array of people who sought to trap him in his own words. But he brilliantly escaped the traps and turned the questions back on the questioners. He dazzled the crowds and his own disciples with his wit and truth-telling. He called out those who were complicit in a corrupt political and religious system. He gave kudos to a scribe who demonstrated wisdom. He taught the crowds and then, after all that hubbub, “he sat down opposite the treasury and watched.”

But Jesus didn’t people-watch merely to entertain himself after putting in a long day at the temple. He focused his attention on those who were putting money into the temple treasury.

When he turned his gaze to that place, who did he see?

He saw a woman who was apparently invisible to everyone else around her. A woman who was invisible to the wealthy folks tossing their spare change into the tall jars that held the offerings; invisible to the crowds who had just listened to and delighted in Jesus’ teachings; invisible to his own disciples who had wandered off, who Jesus had to call over and say, “Look! Look there. Do you see what I see?”

It’s no accident that Jesus saw the widow and made her visible to those who were ignoring her. Sprinkled throughout the Bible there are scores of references to widows. In many of those verses, we find God either commanding God’s people to care for widows or castigating them for failure to enact justice and compassion on the behalf of widows.

Women who had lost their husbands held a special place in God’s kingdom because, though becoming a widow did not automatically mean a woman would become impoverished, the absence of a husband made her immeasurably more vulnerable to that fate. When Jesus, only a few verses before he sat down to watch the action at the treasury, warned the crowds against rapacious scribes who devour widows’ houses, he was describing a reality of his day and time. A woman without a male protector could be forced into debt more easily by the legal and economic system.

Understanding a little about the poor widow’s social context gives us a different entry point into this story. Typically, Christians are taught that she is an outstanding model of sacrificial giving. But here’s a funny thing: Jesus doesn’t praise her or her offering. He doesn’t claim that we should all follow her example of giving. He doesn’t use her offering to deliver a sermon on the virtues of tithing and stewardship. He doesn’t deliver a lecture on the importance of supporting church operating budgets. Rather, Jesus notices her and comments on her participation in a society that had turned its eyes away from her plight.

It’s instructive to bear in mind that God keeps a watchful eye not only on widows. In most of the verses about how we are to treat them, two other categories of people are usually mentioned: orphans and strangers or aliens.

Exodus 23:9 – “You shall not oppress a resident alien.”

Leviticus 19:34 – “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the house of Egypt.

Exodus 22:22 – “You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.”

Deuteronomy 24:21 – “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.”

Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.”

Do you see what I see? There is a special place in God’s line of sight for people whose economic and political power is slim to none.

It is not always easy or comfortable to see who God sees. For when we open our eyes to the suffering of others, we also come face-to-face with our own complicity in systems that maintain our comfort while keeping “widows, orphans and strangers” in their place, out of sight and out of mind.

We don’t want to see the non-unionized immigrants who work in America’s fields and slaughter houses. We don’t want to see homeless people on city sidewalks as we make our way to the football game or the theater. We don’t want to see the children who in live in group homes around the country because they’ve been removed from violent families and are considered unadoptable.

But however difficult it is, we cannot ignore Jesus when he calls us over to sit with him for a moment and watch. Watch who participates in the life of our churches, our communities, our schools, our politics and our economies. Look into the dark corners of the world for the people who are in need of food, clothing, shelter, decent wages, a helping hand, an advocate, a friend. See the people who stand on street corners and speak only through messages written on cardboard signs.

And then don’t simply observe. Help those who we see.

Call over other people and ask them to open their eyes too. Go and talk with those who are hidden in plain view. Ask them about their lives. Ask them how we might partner with them to create hope and new life wherever there is misery and death. Demonstrate that God’s way is not the way of oppression, but the way of justice. Show them that God is love.

Two days before he was arrested and crucified, at a time when he could have been drawing his attention inward to ponder his own fate, Jesus sat in the temple and watched. He invited those he loved to watch with him, to acknowledge one woman who was otherwise lost in the crowd.

Do you see what I see? God became manifest in Jesus not only to offer us the beautiful gift of eternal life; God became manifest in Jesus to bring to our attention those who are invisible. God walked among us to help us direct our gazes toward those who may not have a great deal to celebrate this season. And God not only placed a star in the sky to light the way to the manger, God placed a light in our hearts and minds that we might learn to see through the eyes of Christ.

 

— The Rev. Christie M. Dalton is a deacon for regional ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. She lives in Winston-Salem, where she is also a development officer for Wake Forest University School of Divinity.

Daring to ask questions, 23 Pentecost, Proper 26 (B) – 2012

November 4, 2012

Ruth 1:1-18 and Psalm 146 (or Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Psalm 119:1-8); Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34

Isn’t it interesting? In our gospel reading today we learn that “after that, no one dared to ask him any question.” What an opportunity they wasted!

Several times throughout the gospels we hear that people didn’t want to ask any more questions. Sometimes it was the Pharisees, those few who wanted to trip Jesus up, who backed away out of intimidation perhaps, or anger at being caught out themselves. Other times it seems that ordinary people decided not to ask any more questions. Were they confused and content not to push the issue? Were they afraid? And if so, why?

The discussion in today’s passage was not a scary one. Jesus was not talking about angels separating wheat and chaff, the chaff to be burned. He wasn’t allowing an evil spirit to go into a herd of pigs that then raced off the bluff to be drowned – nothing like that. Today Jesus is talking about love, and the greatest love of all, the love between God and God’s people – the love of neighbor for neighbor. What could be more comforting than learning about how we should live in love? They should have been full of questions. They should have been asking for examples of how we could love our neighbor more and how we could love God more. But they didn’t. Isn’t that sad?

At the beginning of this passage, we hear that Sadducees were disputing with one another and evidently they were asking Jesus questions. This was a very normal way that religious leaders of that culture learned and taught. A group of rabbis would sit together discussing and debating about various points in scripture and law. They would pose many questions to each other – think back on the time when Mary and Joseph found the young Jesus in the Temple. He was sitting in on just such a discussion and he was being praised for his learning. We see here that a scribe was listening to Jesus’ answers and realized that Jesus answered the questions posed to him very well. So the scribe had a perfect right to ask his own question: “Which commandment is the first of all?”

We all know Jesus’ answer by heart. “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I wonder if Jesus smiled to himself when the scribe told him that he was right and then referred back perhaps to Amos or Hosea by saying that these two commandments were more important than burnt offerings or sacrifices. The scribe didn’t realize he was complimenting God! What did he think when Jesus told him he wasn’t far from the kingdom of God? It was after that short discussion that no one dared ask any more questions.

Perhaps the scribes were put off by the mention of the kingdom of God. Perhaps it made them think of their own preference for being an important part of the temple worship, the sacrifices, the collection of money. Perhaps they weren’t as interested in loving one’s neighbor as themselves. We don’t know if that’s the case, because we aren’t told; but something made them back away from a conversation about love.

What we also need to remember is that the word love in this context is not the kind of love we too often think about today. Loving with the whole heart isn’t the emotional, huggy-kissy kind of love we find on greeting cards or in advertisements. Loving with the heart in that day first of all meant being loyal. So Jesus was talking about being loyal to God – to God’s laws – to the promises of the covenant the people made with God. Included with being loyal to God was being loyal to your neighbor. Because they knew their scriptures, the Jews knew that being loyal to their neighbor meant that they would care for their neighbor, fight oppression, feed the hungry, make provision for the poor, the widow and the orphan. No one would have a surplus where others were going hungry. Maybe the Sadducees were afraid that if they asked any more questions, Jesus would point out to them that they were not doing too good a job as religious leaders in showing others how to care for those in need.

Remember, though, we don’t know why they didn’t ask any more questions. What we might need to consider in this passage is whether we might have asked any more questions. This is one of those passages that most of us could recite by heart. I’m certain we’d all like to think of ourselves as the scribe – asking Jesus a thoughtful question and being praised for our own interpretation of his answer. And yes, of course, there are those days when we do understand and work toward being even more loving – loyal – in our relationship with God and with others in our lives. But we must also be honest in considering when we aren’t. In today’s culture, we don’t like to talk about sin, our own personal sin or the sin we see in the world. We may not think about this “loving my neighbor as myself” thing when we don’t particularly like that neighbor or we are against a particular issue or we don’t want “that kind of person” coming to our church or moving into our neighborhood. The poor are no longer in far-away countries, they are – sadly, too often – us. A recent survey tells us that one in five Americans live in poverty, and even worse, one in four children live in poverty.

Maybe, just maybe, the Sadducees didn’t want to ask any more questions because they were afraid of being overwhelmed with Jesus’ answer about what they, as religious leaders, must do to show their loyalty to God and neighbor. Maybe we’re overwhelmed with all the needs in today’s world – needs of our own for our own families. There is really too much to care about. It would be an impossible burden for one person, but for all of us together, there is a chance. We need not to be afraid to ask any more questions. We need to ask more. We need to ask more people to work together with us. We might need to be willing to ask for help for ourselves. If we truly believe the two great commandments are important in our lives, then we should be like the folks in today’s passage. Be like the Sadducees – talk to others about what the scriptures mean to you. Question and think about what God is calling us to do about the kingdom of heaven that is here already if we just live into it. Dare to ask God questions and then listen for the answer. Dare to ask each other questions about how we can live out these two great commandments. We can dare to do this because we’re not alone. God has promised to be with us. There is no reason to fear.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is vicar of Petrockstowe in the Torridge Team, Diocese of Exeter, North Devon, England, and is the publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal focused on lectionary-based preaching and ministry.

Lazarus, come out!, All Saints’ Day (B) – November 1, 2012

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

“Lazarus, come out!”

You can hear the sternness of Christ’s voice as he commands his servant with a loud voice, powerful enough to bridge the gap between life and death. Lazarus was not just some person living in the area whom Jesus had never met. Jesus knew Lazarus personally, and he loved him deeply. Lazarus was a close personal friend of Christ’s. When Lazarus fell ill, his sisters, Martha and Mary, immediately sent a messenger to Jesus to inform him of the impending death with the expectation that Jesus would save their family from this pain immediately. After all, this is the same Jesus who has healed complete strangers from every multitude of pain, deformity, and disease. Surely he would move quickly to save somebody that he actually knows and loves. But Jesus does not react in the manner in which anybody close to him would expect. Instead of dropping everything and making haste to get to his friend’s side, Jesus continues what he was doing and waits. Both Mary and Martha believed that Lazarus was on his deathbed, and Jesus knew that Lazarus was dying, but he waited.

Four days after Lazarus died, Jesus finally showed up in Bethany. You can only imagine the scene on that day. Martha and Mary are deep in their grief and they are sobbing at the loss of their beloved brother. When Jesus enters the house, one would expect that his reception was not a pleasant one. The sisters were upset, and they lashed out at Jesus by saying that if he had actually cared enough and come right away, then their loved one would still be here. They were angry; they were grieving; and they were distraught.

Instead of caving into their distressed words, Jesus asks to be taken to the tomb. Upon arriving, Jesus orders that the tomb be opened, and at this, he was rebuked by Martha. Lazarus had been dead for four days. Unlike today’s mortuary practices, there was no embalming of the body, nor was there any air conditioning in order to preserve the body for any length of time. In those days, when somebody died, they were placed within the tomb as soon as possible, and the door was sealed. The stench of the tomb after four days would have been too great. But Jesus again ordered the tomb opened, and the family finally obeyed him and had the stone rolled away. The stench that came out of the tomb was horrendous and did cause a number of people distress.

“Lazarus, come out!”

Ignoring the comments from the gathered people, the stench from the open tomb, and the sly comments, Jesus said a short prayer to our Father, and then commanded Lazarus with a loud voice; projecting not just his confidence in the miracle that was being performed, but with great authority. In just three words, Jesus was able to dispel the notions of death, proved the power of God, and exposed himself, yet again, as the only Son of God.

The scriptures do not tell us what Lazarus was doing during those four days, nor is there an interview with Lazarus to find out. Although it would satisfy our human curiosity to find out, the most important thing is that, even after death had overtaken him, Lazarus still obeyed God’s command. Jesus proved that he had authority both in this life, and in the next. That is an important thing for us today.

Martha and Mary were distraught over the death of their beloved, and yet they put their human feelings and emotions away and obeyed the commands of Christ. Lazarus, although he was dead, also obeyed the commands of Christ. What would happen in our lives if we put aside our human emotions and simply obeyed the commands of Christ?

Just a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus say to Peter “get behind me, Satan, for you are setting your mind on human things and not divine things.” Peter knew the prophecies of the Messiah, and had, what he felt, was a good understanding of what was going to happen when the Messiah arrived. When Jesus spoke of what He was going to face in Jerusalem, these facts did not mesh well with the human perceptions, and Peter immediately rebuked his Lord. Jesus knew God’s plan in full detail and he knew what had to happen in order to fulfill this plan.

And like Peter, Martha and Mary had their beliefs about the Son of God, and when Jesus did not respond in the way they expected, they too had fallen. You see, in Hebrew theology the fourth day of death was important. According to Hebrew beliefs of death, the spirit hovered near the body after someone died for three days. On the fourth day, when the spirit saw the face of the deceased turn color, the spirit would leave, never to return. At that point this existence ended and life was no more. In fact, the priests of the temple in Jerusalem believed death in this world was the end. They did not believe in an afterlife at all. When Jesus finally had arrived, Martha and Mary believed that their brother was gone, never to return. But they also believed in Jesus enough to obey his commands.

And that is what separates the saints from the sinners. Today, as we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we are honoring all those who have come before, all those with us now, and all of those yet to come who have obeyed the commands of God at all costs. Today we are celebrating not only the canonically recognized saints, but also those who have not been canonically recognized. As Christians, we hold these saints in high regard, and we have named our churches in honor of their Godly work. For example, many of us can look to Saint Francis of Assisi as an example of how God’s love extends beyond human beings to all creatures of creation.

As humans, we oftentimes have neglected to realize the true humanness of these saints and instead revere them as living nothing but holy lives. The truth is these men and women were just as human as you and I. All of them were, are, will be ordinary people. They just had extraordinary lives – extraordinary lives because they set their minds on divine things and obeyed the command of God at every impasse.

We all believe in the resurrection of the body, and we all know that one day, like Lazarus, we too will hear Jesus commanding us to “come out.” Like the saints, we too can live an extraordinary life if we only obey every command that Christ gives us. When our worship ends today, if you listen intently enough, you may just be able to hear our Lord standing outside these doors calling each of us out into the world – out into His world – to spread his message, to fulfill God’s plan.

— Christopher Zampaloni is a postulant seeking Holy Orders through the Diocese of Western New York. He currently serves three churches: Church of the Good Shepherd, a Native American mission in Irving, New York; St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Silver Creek, New York; and the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown, New York. He and his wife Carolyn live within a Native American community on Lake Erie.

Bible Study: 22 Pentecost, Proper 25 (B) – Oct. 28, 2012

Discussion Leader: Colin Mathewson, Sewanee

“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” (Mark 10:52)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) (or Jeremiah 31:7-9 and Psalm 126); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Slowly the lectionary is making a turn toward the final days. The Season after Pentecost ends with the vision of Christ the King, who comes to render judgment and restore God’s kingdom in its ultimate fullness on earth. Appropriately, Advent begins with a similar sense, for we wait in joyful anticipation for Jesus’ first and second comings! Today’s text recounts a restoration for God’s people after the horrors of Jerusalem’s destruction and Babylon’s exile. Not only will a remnant be allowed to return, but even those we might otherwise leave behind are included: the blind, the lame, and the pregnant. What’s more, the Lord now claims a fatherly love for the scattered flock, hinting at a deeper intimacy that Christians would later come to experience in the Incarnation. The hope this passage evokes refreshes all those to whom it addresses.

Psalm 126

The psalmist who penned these verses perhaps read Jeremiah’s text minutes before. How do you experience God’s salvation in light of the pain, anxiety, and turmoil in your life and in the life of the world? As we weep, do we remember to bring along the seed for next season’s harvest? What joyous mystery to witness our teary water irrigating the fields of our healing redemption!

Hebrews 7:23-28

The term “sacrifice” seems to have faded from of our day-to-day vocabulary, reserved now for somber announcements of the human tolls of our overseas wars. Yet the concept is integral to our worship and theology. In the text above, we consider the difference between the daily temple sacrifices of Jewish high priests and the Paschal Lamb who is broken for the sins of the world.

The Jewish provenance of Christianity is unmistakable and inescapable. Instead of glossing over the tension within the New Testament between Jews and Christians, or the scribes and Jesus, we ought to engage these texts with a gracious and critical eye. Such was the approach Jesus took, as a faithful Jew, in confronting the theology and religious practices of his time. He cared so much for the traditions of his ancestors that he sought, through the Holy Spirit, to share his relationship with the Father and its implications with all those whom he met. Our embarking on a lifetime of study to avoid anti-Jewish preaching and teaching may be a sacrifice, but it is a worthwhile one.

Mark 10:46-52

As a bystander that dusty day, it’s easy to imagine the feel of cringing embarrassment as Bartimaeus makes a fool of himself in order to catch Jesus’ attention. Did Jesus hear him on the first or second shout and keep walking? Were others vying loudly for a healing moment as well? There is paradox here: Bartimaeus, newly sighted, follows Jesus’ growing company on its triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This looks, sounds, and feels a lot like Jeremiah’s vision of return and restoration. The people’s hopes are shattered, however, by the brutality of crucifixion. Only resurrection could possibly convince such despairing folk that God was still with them, and would be, until the end of the age.

Throwing off the cloak, 22 Pentecost, Proper 25 (B) – Oct. 28, 2012

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) (or Jeremiah 31:7-9 and Psalm 126); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

“Throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, we may imagine the cloak was given to Bartimaeus by his mother. Giving him the cloak was one thing she could do for her son, for whom she always felt a mix of grief and pity, a sense of guilt too that she had given birth to a beautiful baby boy, who was also, forever, indelibly, unfortunately blind.

She and Bartimaeus’s father, Timaeus, had rejoiced when her birth pangs began – exulted that they would soon meet this product of their love. They had decided that if this baby was a boy, they would name him after his father, so his name would mean “Son of Honor.” They couldn’t know the irony at the time.

When Bartimaeus was born, their rejoicing turned to mourning. Ten perfect tiny fingers, yes; ten perfect tiny toes. That his lungs were strong they knew when he wailed for the first time, taking in big gulps of air here in the world outside his mother’s womb.

But then, they noticed: his eyes covered with a white milky film that did not clear; not with the midwife’s compresses; not with the prayers of the elders; not with the breaking of his mother’s heart and his father’s tears. Their son was blind.

This Son of Honor would know the indignity of begging. In fact, on the street they didn’t even call him by name. He was known as “a blind beggar” or just “the blind man.” His lot in life, his lone contribution to society, was to be the recipient of others’ charity. His one purpose in the eyes of others was to be the vehicle by which others fulfilled their religious duty to give to those less fortunate than themselves. He would serve as a reminder for others of their own good circumstances. “There but for the grace of God go I,” he would hear people remark as they walked past him.

“Alms for the poor,” he would shout out to them. “Have mercy on me, poor blind Bartimaeus!”

His cloak was his most important possession. Made of wool, thick enough to warm him on cool mornings and in the evening after sundown, his cloak was his blanket, his covering, his one constant companion. He was such a familiar sight by the roadside on the way out of Jericho, wrapped in his cloak, it had become part of his uniform, his identity. When he could hear passersby coming, he would quickly unwind it from his shoulders and lay it out in front of him to catch the coins people dropped for him. After the crowd passed, he would push the cloak’s frayed corners together in order to gather up the coins that collected in its center. The cloak was dusty from using it like this, but Bartimaeus didn’t mind. The smell of the dust and wool brought comfort to him when he wrapped the cloak tightly around him again, a tangible reminder that someone had cared about him once, enough to give him this gift. He had had the cloak so long, he couldn’t really remember his life before it, couldn’t imagine his life without it.

And then, one day, everything changes. Bartimaeus sits, fingering the fraying threads of a hole forming in his cloak, his chin lifted, eyes open but unseeing, listening. A large crowd approaches. Such a crowd is nothing new on this busy road, and yet there is something different: an urgency, excitement. Bartimaeus strains to sift one voice from another, strains to hear what people are saying as they come closer. He hears voices mingled, the fragment of a story, a strain of a song. And then one word, a name: Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth. Bartimaeus has heard this name before. He has heard the man by this name has the power to heal, to make whole, to make dreams come true, to make Bartimaeus’ own dreams come true, his dream of freedom, a life free from begging, a life where he can live fully into his own name: Son of Honor. A life where he can lift his head high, square his shoulders, set his own course, go wherever he desires.

Bartimaeus cries out, his voice dry and raspy, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Be quiet, beggar!” a voice close to him snaps. “Quiet down.” Someone tosses him a coin. “Keep quiet.”

But Bartimaeus cries out again, his voice gaining strength, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And then he hears it. A man’s voice, up ahead, saying, “Call him here.”

More voices close by, “Take heart, beggar. Get up. He is calling you.”

And Bartimaeus does the one thing he had never before imagined being able to do. He throws off his cloak.

He throws off his cloak.

In that moment, he is like the trapeze artist who trusts that the strong man whose arms are outstretched to catch him will do just that. He trusts that the air through which he sails suddenly untethered is not nothing. The air is the place where a new thing can begin. The air is the substance through which he travels to meet the man coming toward him, whose grasp is strong, whose timing is perfect, who knows Bartimaeus and what he needs, but will give Bartimaeus the honor of allowing him to name his own desire.

And so, standing cloakless – he feels almost naked to tell the truth, but like a new being, a newly birthed person – Bartimaeus stands before Jesus and says, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Jesus replies, “Go; your faith has made you well.”

Bartimaeus remembers the word spoken, like a distant dream. Jesus had said it: “Go.” Bartimaeus, you are free to go. Where you want. Go.

But Bartimaeus realizes that he does not wish to go. He wants to follow. To use his gifts, all of them, including his newly found sight, for something, not just for himself. He is freed to follow. And Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way.

Years later, when the disciples told the story of their friend Bartimaeus, they joked about their own blindness, their inability to see the significance of who Jesus was, even when he was standing right in front of them, plain as day. They laughed, because they had missed it so often, and this blind man, Bartimaeus, could see clearly who Jesus was without even laying eyes on him.

They told Bartimaeus’ story because Jesus left them with a challenge. Jesus would not always be with them physically, in plain view. They would not always be able to see him. But Jesus promised to be with them, to be known to them in the breaking of bread, in the sharing of the Word, in friend and stranger. He told them to use the eyes of their hearts to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself. He told them to use the eyes of their hearts, because there are many kinds of blindness.

There are many kinds of blindness, and we all bear a cloak of some kind. We all carry something with us or within us that we cling to, that is part of our identity, that brings us comfort, that it is hard to imagine our lives without.

In throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus embraces the new life he knew Jesus could give him. He knew that the security, comfort, usefulness of his cloak would be replaced by something much bigger, much better, more permanent. Bartimaeus never goes back to get his cloak. He never retreats to its familiarity. He just follows.

Jesus calls to us too: “What do you want me to do for you?”

 

— The Rev. Amy E. Richter is rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Md.

Bible Study: 21 Pentecost, Proper 24 (B) – Oct. 21, 2012

Discussion Leader: Jeannie Babb, Sewanee

“Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:44)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Job 38:1-7, (34-41) and Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b (or Isaiah 53:4-12 and Psalm 91:9-16); Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

In today’s Old Testament reading, God responds to Job’s questions about suffering. The whirlwind (and other storms and natural phenomena) appear in scripture to signify theophany. The lectionary has only treated us to Job’s problem (Propers 22 and 23) and God’s response. We have been spared his friends’ lengthy attempts to justify why a righteous God would allow a good man like Job to suffer financial ruin, painful chronic illness and the deaths of all his children. The other men in the story have attempted to answer for God. The whirlwind sets the words of God apart from the previously uttered earthly arguments about Job’s situation.

From the outset, God is clear about what sort of conversation this will be. The phrase “Gird up your loins like a man” suggests preparing for battle – but this battle will be a rhetorical one. It will not be the longed-for dialogue where Job would question God (31:33). Rather, “I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”

God first challenges Job regarding creation. The depiction of God spreading a plumb line and laying a cornerstone may be poetic metaphor, or sarcastic ribbing as indicated by the phrase “Surely you know!” Try reading the verses in different tones: humorous, light-hearted, arrogant, angry and gentle. Which tone best fits the phrasing?

What kind of divine creator/sustainer is depicted in these verses?

Does the passage imply there are things Job should be able to tell about God, just from looking at the world around him?

Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b

This passage in Psalms almost sounds like a reply to the rhetorical questions asked in today’s passage from Job. The congregation recites a few of the wonders of God’s creative process in the second person. As in Job, God is envisioned physically constructing the world as though it were a building or a dynamic art installation. Again God is depicted directing and corralling the waters, which obey commands. Vivid imagery depicts the water fleeing at God’s rebuke – even running uphill – and closes with a reference to the flood:

You set the limits that they should not pass;
they shall not again cover the earth.

God the creator is also God the sustainer and protector, providing limits and boundaries.

Hebrews 5:1-10


The author of Hebrews uses the metaphor of the high priest to describe the nature and salvific acts of Jesus. The depiction is interesting, since Jesus was not a priest at all, much less high priest. Many Christians base their understanding of Judaism (rather than their understanding of Jesus) on this passage. The author’s intent is not to expound on Judaism, but to explore the nature of Christ.

The priest offers up gifts and sacrifices for sins. According to the passage, what did Jesus offer up?

The priest is able to be compassionate because he is weak. Does the passage present Jesus as weak or sinful? If not, what is the parallel to the priest’s weakness?

Mark 10:35-45

I always want to find some way to redeem the enormous blunder made by James and John in this passage. Surely, they couldn’t mean what they seem to mean, couldn’t be asking what they seem to be asking. According to Mark’s chronology, Jesus has made it abundantly clear that his mission includes torture and death. He has already rebuked Peter harshly for trying to thwart that calling, telling all the disciples quite plainly that following him requires a wiliness to suffer the same painful, ignoble fate that he himself would suffer.

Then in last week’s gospel reading, Jesus had to set the disciples straight about their thinking on authority and honor. They argued, as they walked, about who would be the greatest in the coming kingdom. “Greatest what?” one wonders. The greatest sufferer? The first martyr? Jesus pauses to flip their world upside down (“Whoever wants to be first must be last and the servant of all”) before going back to the main message: What’s coming is death.

In today’s reading, it happens again. This time we aren’t given anonymous disciples participating in covert talk. Rather, James and John openly ask to be honored with the best seats in the house. Again, Jesus takes the time to correct both misunderstandings: (1) This is about death, not glory; and (2) leadership in this movement requires serving, not ruling.

It is easy to focus on how obtuse the disciples are, but Christians today ought to focus on the second issue rather than the first. We already believe that Jesus is going to die near the end of this story. We get that. What are we going to do about the other?