Lectionary: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Happy homecoming! I give thanks that ours is a happy church to come home to – it’s one of Emmanuel’s most attractive qualities.
Lectionary: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Happy homecoming! I give thanks that ours is a happy church to come home to – it’s one of Emmanuel’s most attractive qualities.
Lectionary: Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-5,13-17; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33
C. S. Lewis once said, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
Change is part of life. Granted, some changes are better than others and it can be hard to know which changes are good for us and which are not – but that’s where faith comes in.
Telling the people through the prophet Jeremiah (twice, to be sure we hear it) that God’s plan is not fixed, God says: I will change my mind. God’s mind changes in response to the changes that happen in the world around us and in response to us and our choices.
That’s amazing, isn’t it?
On the downside, this means that we can never fully figure out God’s plan - it’s a moving target. We can never be absolutely sure that we know what to do to get it all right - but we aren’t called to be right. We’re called to be faithful.
On the plus side, this opens to us an amazing truth: that what we do and how we live matters and affects the plan of God…or is that a downside? Not if we are like clay in the hands of our Potter - clay that is malleable on the wheel where it is formed and re-formed into a vessel of the Potter’s design.
If you have ever worked with clay, you know that you have to pound the clay and knead water into it (it’s quite a workout!), or else the clay is dry, rigid, and unusable. By the same token, if we choose to be rigid about anything in our church life, we have chosen to make ourselves unworkable by the Master Potter, who honors our choices, even when they are regrettable.
This metaphor of the Potter and the clay illustrates how intimately and actively God is with us. It also clarifies the trust we must have in the Potter, especially during the pounding and the kneading.
God has a plan of love for us and for the whole world. If we trust that, and if we trust God, who knit us together in our mother’s wombs and whose hand is laid upon us, we must be willing to let go of everything else – everything else - which is what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel from Luke.
Speaking to a large, enthusiastic crowd of followers, Rabbi Jesus says: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” You can almost hear the hearts of the people drop with a thud. Is God asking us to hate our family?
We’ll get to that. First, we need to hear the rest of this hard teaching.
There are many things we possess, are attached to, and place before God’s call to us: our families, our reputation, our independence. We can be attached to our secrets, our self-image, our way of doing certain church ministries… even our ideas about God.
Jesus says that to be a disciple we must give up all of these and trust in God alone. We must shift our priority of loyalty (which is how the word ‘hate’ translates) to God before everything and everyone else – including ourselves.
We do not come first. They do not come first. God and God’s will for all of us come first – and we must trust God completely when we are called to choose. Only then can we be Jesus’ disciples.
Once upon a time, I was sitting in quiet prayer and study when my rectory doorbell rang. My dogs went crazy doing their protective, dog-thing: lots of noise and running around. I answered the door confident that whoever was there had heard the ruckus and knew I had 4-legged protection if I needed it.
On the other side of the door stood a large African-American man in a uniform with a name tag. He introduced himself and launched into his spiel about a risk-free plan for controlling the cost of monthly gas payments. I interrupted his presentation and informed him that this was a rectory belonging to the church not me, and anyway, it didn’t use gas as a utility.
He looked over at the church then back at me and said, “Oh. OK. Are you the pastor’s wife or something?” I smiled and said, “I’m the pastor.”
I never know how news like that will go over, so I waited and watched while he decided how he felt about it. After a moment, he asked, “What is your mission?”
When I looked at him kind of blankly he said, “What do you stand for? What do you believe in? I mean, are you followers of Jesus Christ who said ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life?’”
He’d obviously never met an Episcopalian before!
Finishing the quote he started, I said: Jesus said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14: 6) Jesus also said, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me. And I will raise that person up on the last day.” (John 6:44).
It pays to know a few Bible verses.
We shared a short conversation on what we believe as Christians, quoting the Bible often and faithfully. Though we were obviously speaking from VERY different denominational perspectives, we were truly and wonderfully grounded in and united by the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
As we shook hands and said goodbye the man began to pray. His prayer covered me with holy love, and I received it gratefully. When he finished praying, we embraced. We were no longer strangers, but members of one family – Christ’s family – having been reconciled by the sharing of the Gospel.
I was blessed by my encounter with this man. It was an experience of oneness with God and another human being that broke down all divisions, all earthly barriers, and inspired me with hope. I made a mental note always to try to be open to the surprises of love God may send.
We are continually being formed and re-formed by God into disciples. As we grow and change at Emmanuel according to God’s plan for us, I pray we will be asking ourselves the same questions this man asked me: What is our mission? What do we stand for? What do we believe in? Are we followers of Jesus Christ?
I pray also that God will help us maintain our malleability so that we can be molded and fashioned into the kind of disciples who can be sent to create moments where oneness with God and another human being can be known and experienced, where we can inspire others with the hope that is the truth of the Gospel.
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts… Amen.
Lectionary: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.
Lectionary: Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
En el nobmre de Dios que es creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.
An interesting feature of our humanity is what is called, “selective attention.” The marvel that is our brain, specifically the visual cortex, filters out information deemed irrelevant.gorilla video from a 1999 study on selective attention. In this study,
Our story from Amos is about selective attention. It begins with a teaser about a basket of fruit, but quickly takes a darker turn with God saying: The end has come upon my people Israel.” Reading our sacred texts means being willing to prayerfully discern and share the Good News within it because it’s always there. So, where is in this story?
Remembering from last week that God is the plumb-line in the midst of the community, this story from Amos shows us that God sees what’s happening on the ground. God repeats, “I will never pass you by” which is interpreted to mean, I am in the midst of you I am in the midst of you (Ah, there’s the good news). Being in the midst of you, God says, what I’m seeing from you is not just, not compassionate, and not right.
Hear this, God says: [I see] you trampling on the vulnerable, and oppressing the powerless. I see you practicing deceit with predatory lending so that you can build your own wealth. I see you selling junk food and passing it off as nutritious.
I see all of what you are doing, God says, and though I am the true vertical among you, you don’t see me. So, I will watch and wait while you bring yourselves to the only end you’ve made available to yourselves: your own undoing. When it starts happening, you’ll realize how wrong you’ve been and you’ll look for me to save you, but you have made me irrelevant so you don’t see me.
The psalm picks up the theme of calling out the tyrants for their cruelty. “You love lying more than speaking truth. You love all words that hurt.” O that God would hear our prayer and demolish you utterly…”
I admit this Psalm has been my prayer for a while now. I am not God, but I see these very issues playing out in our world today, and if social media is any indicator, I’m not alone in this. My recourse, our recourse, is to pray – to go into the presence of God where our hearts can be moved from “demolish them utterly” to “I trust in the mercy of God for ever.(More good news)”
The story of Mary and Martha in our gospel from Luke is often discussed in ways that pit Martha against Mary in a competition for holiness. I often hear people say, “I’m a Martha” or “I’m a Mary.” The truth is, we’re all both. We all have our gifts to offer in our ministries, and there are times we must all stop and sit at the feet of Jesus for the renewal of our souls.
The other biblical stories of Martha and Mary illustrate that these sisters possess a great gift of hospitality. They are a team – and their home is a center for hospitality and friendship. Martha’s frustration in this story is that her teammate, Mary, isn’t doing her part, leaving the burden of the whole ministry to Martha who tries to hold it up alone, but finds herself bitter and resentful about it.
Jesus responds with a soothing: Martha, Martha… you are worried and distracted by many things, but there is only one thing that really matters. Look, Mary has chosen the good part. Jesus’ word was relevant for her and claimed her attention.
Why our translators changed the word here from ‘good’ to ‘better’ escapes me and is part of the reason we hear this as a competition. Mary didn’t choose a better part than Martha. When Jesus called Mary’s choice good, he was saying it was admirable, deserving of respect and approval, and he gave it all of that.
Jesus was clear that Mary’s choice would not be taken from her. Choice is a sign of our freedom. Mary had the right to choose for herself. We all do (well, maybe not so much anymore if you’re an American woman, anyway).
To all of us who are worried and distracted by many things, Jesus assures the Martha within us, and it sounds something like this: Y’all know me well enough to know that I don’t need a fancy dinner, just time with you and our friends in your home. Be still sometimes, all you Marthas. Just be with me. You have no praise to earn, no expectations to meet. You are already beloved. Come and be with me. I will fill your emptiness, restore your hope, and prepare you for your work in ministry. (Yet more good news)
As we head deeply into summer, we have the opportunity as a church community to rest and be restored by sitting at the feet of our Redeemer and listening to him. It’s easy to get distracted and busy preparing for the fall program year, or advocating for justice in our world, but Mary shows us that Jesus respects and affirms our choice of making time to sit at his feet and receive the one thing we need before we attempt to engage in our outward ministries.
It’s like breathing. We can’t breathe out our ministries until we have breathed in Jesus. It’s all about balance. We can’t just breathe in or out without passing out. We must have a rhythm of both.
This place is our center of holy hospitality. Each week we breathe Jesus in together. We make and share the holy food of Holy Communion with our friends and ministry teammates. Then, strengthened and restored by Word and Sacrament, we are sent into the world to love and serve in the holy name and loving way of Jesus.
There is so much injustice, insult, and damage to life out there, but if we try to serve without making time to sit first in God’s presence, we may end up doing more harm than good. So, for this moment, let us rest at the feet of our Redeemer, where we will receive the only thing that really matters. Amen.
Lectionary: Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.This week we collectively mourn the loss of life at the July 4th parade in Highland Park, IL. This latest
It certainly feels like that sometimes. Thankfully, peace doesn’t originate outside of us, but within, where God in Christ dwells, within us individually and within our parish community, so it’s always there for us, to restore us when we feel lost or afraid or alone.
As we come together in this holy place today, we shake the weariness of this latest trauma from our hearts and souls and enter our worship asking God to “mercifully receive our prayers… and grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do, and also… to give us the grace and power to accomplish them faithfully.”
What are the things we ought to do…?
This can be a problematic discussion because it can degrade very quickly into a set of rules or laws that delineate specific things we can and cannot do. In the context of church life, that can reduce us to living lives of freedom-less obedience to a changing landscape of laws architected by the powerful, because as history demonstrates, the rules change as those in power change. Sound familiar?
Thankfully, the rules also change as people grow in wisdom, grace, and faith. The fact that I’m standing here as your priest in charge is evidence of the church’s growth allowing for the ordination of women.
There have always been those among us who must know and clarify every instance in which any specific rule does or doesn’t apply. It’s how the 10 commandments morphed into nearly 700 rules to live by. There have also always been those who misuse the rules in order to thin the herd: if you disobey our rules, you’ll be cast out of our community, or worse yet, cast into eternal damnation.
What I don’t believe is that obedience to rules or traditions can lead us to eternal life. That path can only be found in the heart, which is what (I think) Jesus was demonstrating in today’s gospel.
The lawyer in this story asks Jesus: ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking what the law says. Familiar with the law, the man answers by quoting from Deuteronomy (6:5): You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.”
Right, says Jesus. Do this and you will live.
Luke says that the next question the lawyer asked was to justify himself, in other words, to affirm for himself that he is doing it right according to the law. Jesus answers with the story of the Good Samaritan.
You all know this story. At the end of it, Jesus asks which of the three men who saw the dying man was a neighbor to him. The one who showed him mercy the lawyer says.
Right again, Jesus says. Now you go and do likewise.
But the question remains: how do we know what we ought to do? How do we know when to keep the law and when to set it aside for mercy’s sake?
The answer can be found in the story from Amos. God provides Amos with a vision of a plumb line, which is, of course, a vertical reference line: heaven to earth. From now on, God says, this is us. We are forever connected and from that connection you will know how to go.
This ties into the great commandment Jesus gave us to love God with all we are – heart, mind, soul, and strength. It’s a love that gives God preference over us, our understanding, and our rules. To love God in this way is to choose to be merciful in every moment, in any circumstance, and to trust in God’s ultimate plan of love for the whole world even when that world is fraught with violence and destruction.
Another important point in the Amos story is that the plumb line is in the midst of a community. This isn’t about our individual relationship with God but our relationship to God as a community of God’s people.
Has anyone ever experienced a time in church when some with power or influence pressed their own agenda onto the community? They might have honestly thought they were advocating for what was best for the community but they also forgot that God’s plan is often more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20) and sometimes it takes time to unfold, and that time can be uncomfortable or costly.
The letter to the Colossians reminds us that there will be moments each community needs to endure patiently. We’re in one of those moments right now as many of us feel like we just can’t or don’t want to endure any more pandemic restrictions that continue to hinder our in-person parish life. But as a people called to show mercy, we must prioritize the needs of those among us who are at higher risk from the virus variants over our own desire to be done with this pandemic.
I hope it helps to know that we are currently working to find the both-and solution to this moment. Pray for us as we seek God’s guidance on this.
As a people called to show mercy, we must remember that action is required. The law of the time prohibited the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan from touching the dying man, but the Samaritan touched him anyway, bandaging his wounds and carrying him to a safe place where he could heal. He even paid the man’s rent. The Samaritan didn’t offer thoughts and prayers, he offered aid.
When we think about it, we know what we ought to do. Each of us individually and us as a community - we know. The real question is: do we have the will to do it?
It sometimes feels like we’re spitting into the wind; like there’s more to be done out there than we can do. When we feel like that, we must remember that our hope is in Jesus Christ whose promises are true. So, we do not despair. We act, shattering the categories the world has about those who are or are not neighbors worthy of our mercy and care.
Mother Teresa says, “There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.”
We are those people. As the body of Christ, the Church, we are never alone, and we’re nourished regularly by Word and Sacrament, which means our strength is never depleted. Never.
As we transition culturally from a generation that goes to weekly church services out of duty or obedience to the rules to a generation that dismisses (some even abhor) the institutional church and its rules, it’s important to remember that the body of Christ is now as it has always been – a community of people in whom God in Christ dwells. When the world looks at us, they should be able to see us doing justice, acting mercifully, and walking humbly with God. (Mic 6:8)
The church in every generation is faced with situations that cause us to look beyond our rules, traditions, and customs in order to respond with mercy; in order to grow in wisdom, grace, and faith.
I close with a prayer borrowing some of Paul’s words to the Colossians. Let us pray...
May we be “filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… May we be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may we be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to [God], who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (9-12) Amen.
Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62
En el nombre del Dios que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen.
I want to begin with a shout-out to Jae, our Organist-Director of Music, for the music he chooses for us every Sunday, but especially this Sunday. The hymns today are replete with phrases and concepts to pray with and ponder. I have done so this past week preparing for today and I commend them to you to enrich your prayers this week.
We pray that Teddy is continuously surrounded by the body of Christ wherever he is so that he is encouraged to discern his unique gifts from God, nourish them in the body and blood of Christ, and in his community of faith, so that he may serve God and neighbor, held in grace, prayer, and the power of love, all his days.
I want to hold up one phrase from our Sequence Hymn: “Where generation, class, or race divide us to our shame, [God] sees not labels but a face, a person, and a name.” (H-603, v 3) It connected immediately for me to our gospel story where Jesus has his “face set to Jerusalem.” Jesus was immediately personified for me. His labels of Messiah, Christ, God Incarnate – fell away and he became a face, a person, and a name.
Jesus had disrupted the status quo and the powers that be were about to set it back again – and he knew it. Yet he went anyway.
The phrase “setting your face” to something was a commonly used idiom showing commitment and resolve to do something. It’s one of several idioms used by Luke in telling this story.
Another one is: “to bury one’s father” which specifically refers to a son’s duty to remain with his parents to care for them until they die. This phrase offers a variety of ways to understand it. Given how Jesus teaches, it’s probably all of them, so let’s take a quick look at a few of them.
First, this might have been an excuse, ‘I’ll follow you soon, but not now,’ kind of like St. Augustine’s famous wayward prayer: “Lord, give me chastity and self-control, but not yet” as he continued enjoying his roguish lifestyle.
It may have been that Jesus was reminding his listeners that, "No ministrations could help the dead. [It is the] living [who] need… the proclamation of God's kingdom" as theologian James Horn said. Source: Horn, James G., Lectionary Bible Studies, "The Year of Luke," Pentecost 1, Study Book, (Augsburg-Fortress, 1976), 46. Jesus followed this admonition with a suggestion to go and proclaim the kingdom of God instead.
Finally, in response to the follower who wants to say goodbye to his family before he follows Jesus, Luke employs the idiom "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." That was a hard “no” from Jesus. A more understandable example in our time might be a driver who tends to turn around to check on those in the back seat while driving. That driver risks veering the car off the road and crashing, killing everyone in his car. That person wouldn’t be fit to drive.
The Spirit calls us to go where we are led not to look back and cling to where we have been. As much as we’d like to think we’re all good at multi-tasking, we aren’t. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. We can switch back and forth, some more quickly than others, but Jesus is asking us to stay focused on just this one thing: proclaiming the kingdom of God on the earth through Jesus, the Christ.
In Jesus’ time, the man asking about saying goodbye to his family would need their permission to go. Go where? Jesus said, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." No responsible elder would let a young man follow a prophet to nowhere. This might have been a face-saving excuse, or it might have been Jesus re-prioritizing a cultural-religious norm: not even family takes priority over God’s call on your life.
I remember when I finally decided to go to seminary, getting yelled at by family members who said I was being irresponsible asking Steve to leave his job, the kids to leave their friends, and risking financial ruin – all of which happened. But you need to know that my whole family supported the choice to risk everything to answer the call God had placed on me. It cost them a lot, but the choice was clear for all of us. This is the kind of choice Jesus is asking the man in the gospel story to understand.
May we always trust the Spirit, in all Her wild whirl-windiness, to empower us and lead us as we love and serve in the name of God who is Trinity in Unity. Amen.
(Invitation of the family to the font for the Baptism)
Lectionary: 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a; Psalm 42 and 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39