Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pentecost 22-B: A journey of faith

Proper 25 Lectionary: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126 ; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Today’s reading from the gospel of Mark is the conclusion of a very long and patient teaching by Jesus which Mark begins describing in chapter 8. On this journey, Jesus is helping his followers understand their own blindness so that they can be opened to the enlightenment that comes from God alone.

This is Jesus’ final journey, so he’s preparing the disciples to be bearers of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to the whole world. But this salvation - what it is, who it’s for, and how it will happen, isn’t anything like they are expecting. It isn’t much like we have come to expect either, so this lesson is as important for us now as it was for the disciples then.

(See the MAP insert in the bulletin)

The journey begins in the northern part of Israel with the story of the feeding of the 4,000. A crowd has gathered and they have nothing to eat. Jesus has compassion for them because they are hungry (actually and spiritually), and tells the disciples to feed them.

With what? All we have are a few loaves and fish. But their faith in Jesus and willingness to obey, even in the face of evidence that it’s impossible, makes way for God’s abundance and grace to be manifest.

Next they head for Dalmanutha (near Magdala) where Jesus is tested by the Pharisees. Frustrated by their blindness and lack of faith, Jesus decides not to stop and engage with them. His time had not yet come.

So they head to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. On the way, the disciples realize they forgot to bring bread and worry that Jesus will be upset with them. Jesus asks them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? ...Do you have eyes, and fail to see?” (8:17-18)

So, on they go to Bethsaida where Jesus cures a blind man, but the cure isn’t immediate. It takes a couple of tries. Sometimes our faith and our spiritual sight take time to happen.

They continue north to Caesarea Philippi. This is where Jesus asks the disciples who people say he is, and Peter responds: ‘You are the Messiah.’ (8:29) Jesus affirms Peter’s revelation but sternly orders the disciples not to tell anyone.

NOW the time has come. God’s promise of salvation is about to be fulfilled, but it isn’t what anyone is expecting: Jesus says, “… the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders …and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (8:31) Salvation in Jesus won’t be a regional military victory, but a world-wide, eternal reality and it will happen in a most unexpected way - on a cross.

Peter forbids Jesus to speak like that and Jesus rebukes Peter: “Get behind me Satan! …If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (8:33-35)

A quick stop at a nearby mountain for the transfiguration, then they go on to another healing – a boy whom the disciples were unable to heal. Frustrated again, Jesus gets direct: “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you?” (9:19)

Then he teaches them for the second time, “the Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”(9: 31) Mark tells us that at this point, the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but now they’re afraid to ask.

Southward they go through Galilee to Capernaum and the teaching continues. In Capernaum, you’ll remember, Jesus caught the disciples arguing over who was the greatest among them. So Jesus offers a teaching which upends their expectations about the rich, the powerful, and the insiders.

In the kingdom of God ALL are welcome, including the least, the powerless, and the outsider – and he makes very clear what the insider’s responsibility is to the outsider: if your hand, that is, one of your members, causes one of these who is new in their faith to stumble, cut that hand off.

Onward they go to the region of Judea… As usual, crowds form and Jesus stops to teach them. Here again the Pharisees test Jesus, asking about divorce. Jesus contrasts the hardness of heart of those who crush faith and life with rules against the tender innocence of dependent children. All who wish enter the kingdom of God, Jesus says, must be like these children.

Then they run across the rich young man whom Jesus held up as an example of how hard it will be for one who is secure and self-reliant to enter the kingdom of God. As you remember, this teaching astounded the disciples whose expectations are finally beginning to crumble. Jesus repeats his teaching about salvation in the kingdom of God: “many who are first will be last and the last will be first.” (10:31)

Next Mark tells us about James and John asking for a place of honor when Jesus is glorified. By now you can almost hear Jesus’ sigh. He knows they’re still thinking in terms of military victory, not eternal salvation. I can’t promise you the honor you seek, Jesus says, but I can tell you that “The cup [of salvation] that I drink you will drink [too].” (10:39)

The rest of the followers, whose blindness also persists, are perturbed. Why should they get such a great honor? Patiently, Jesus repeats (yet again!) his teaching about salvation in the kingdom of God: “…whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. …” (10:44)

Finally, they arrive at Jericho, which is about 15 miles north of Jerusalem. The journey draws to a close much as it began, with the healing of a blind man: Bartimaeus, who was sitting on the side of the road – or as we might say it – who was ‘sidelined.’

When Bartimaeus hears Jesus coming near, he cries out for mercy. Even when “members” of Jesus community order him to stop, Bartimaeus keeps on asking.

Mark tells us that Jesus stood still. Hearing Bartimaeus’ cry for mercy, which is a call that hopes for relief from suffering, Jesus stopped what he was doing – he stopped the journey - to engage with him. This being the conclusion of the journey, however, Jesus sends his followers to bring Bartimaeus to him. He sends the disciples to do what every modern church member is called to do: invite IN those who are sidelined, powerless or dependent, saying, ‘Be of good cheer, because Jesus is inviting you to come.’

The disciples lingering blindness didn’t prevent them from leading Bartimaeus to Jesus. And there, Bartimaeus is made whole. So are the disciples, because that’s how God does things.

As Bartimaeus’ sight is restored, both his actual and spiritual sight, the same is true for the disciples, who broke open their habitual and learned boundaries in order to welcome Bartimaeus IN as a follower of Jesus on the way.

Mark’s gospel continues with the beginning of Jesus’ passion story. We, however, will stand still here, and ponder this powerful journey and what it means for us as followers of Jesus Christ.

It means that although our expectations of salvation and the kingdom of God may be off we can expect that Jesus will be as present and patient with us on our journey as he was with the disciples in their journey.

It means that we, like Jesus’ disciples, answer God’s call to us recognizing that we possess some lingering blindness, knowing that our blindness won’t prevent us from leading those whom the world has sidelined to Jesus who is their source of healing, restoration, and wholeness.

It means that when we are faithful, when we hear the call for mercy from the Bartimaeuses in our world, and answer them, we know that THEY and WE will be made whole.

It means that we, who are followers of Jesus Christ, are called to be like him and respond with mercy, that is, with motivation to relieve their suffering.

It means that relying on our faith, we maintain a willingness to obey even in the face of evidence that it’s impossible, so that we can make a way for God’s grace and abundance to be manifest in the world.

We’ve experienced this recently in our mission work at the Shepherd’s Table. As you know, we’ve begun Life Skills classes between breakfast and lunch. We asked our guests a question similar to the one Jesus asked Bartimaeus: ‘What would you like us to do for you?’ And they answered us.

We’ve offered everything from drying and using herbs to reconciling a bank statement. An exciting new development is that now we are working on becoming an off-site G.E.D. location for Cleveland Community College. Nearly 20 of our guests have already signed up!

It’s important for us to ask the question that Jesus asked Bartimaeus because 1) it honors the dignity of the one being served, and 2) it acknowledges that our lingering blindness may lead us to think we know what those who are on the sidelines need, though our efforts may actually be a stumbling block to the fuller restoration God is waiting to give – to them, to us, and to the world.

Let us pray together the Collect for the Holy Spirit (BCP, 251): Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened for your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pentecost 20B, 2012: Seek the Lord and live

Proper 23 Lectionary: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

As many of you know, I am the child of a recovering alcoholic. In fact, I’m my Dad’s A.A. baby which means I was conceived and born in his sobriety. I grew up immersed in the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon. I knew my Dad’s story well, having heard him tell of his descent into a prison that was truly hell for him and for everyone who loved him, and how though A.A. he found life and freedom again – one day at a time.

My dad was and still is very active in “the program,” as he calls it. Growing up we often awoke to find some guy asleep on our couch, “drying out” Dad would say, especially around the holidays. I don’t ever remember feeling like they were intruders in our home or our holiday. We knew somehow, that we were modeling for them what family was (imperfect as we were).

My Dad was a tough guy – a street kid from Washington Heights in NYC. He was a boxer in the Navy and a pretty aggressive businessman. But I learned more about sin and salvation, about non-judgmental compassion and service to God from Dad’s ministry to those alcoholics than from almost anywhere else – including church.

I thought of this as I pondered our lectionary for today which calls us to examine what we believe about sin, goodness, good works, and salvation, and it asks us to be honest about it.

The Old Testament reading from the prophet Amos offers a simple message: “Seek the Lord and live.” What is there to seek besides the Lord? Ourselves, and our own desires.

When we do that, the prophet warns, we lose our way and head into destruction, and what the consequences of that looks like are clearly described by Amos. But is isn’t just our own destruction the prophet warns us about. When our attention is focused on ourselves, on our own desires, our own will we do harm to others as well. Ask any alcoholic

Many people approach the Old Testament, especially the prophets, as if they are threatening:
do the right thing or be wiped out by a vengeful God. I watched a documentary last night about a Christian sect whose leader preaches mostly about hell which he says is “a literal hell, with literal fires burning right now.” (Now ‘m not making a judgment here about what he believes. He could be right.) But he goes on to say, “I was saved, because I didn’t want to die and go to hell.”

In that same documentary, I learned of a place called St. Patrick’s Purgatory, which is believed to be a portal into hell. It’s on an island in Ireland, and pilgrims still go there to fast, make sacrifices, and do penance in hopes of avoiding hell in the next life. The legend says if you go there three times you will never enter into hell.

I confess that I cannot understand salvation this way. I can’t understand becoming a follower out of fear rather than in response to the overwhelming Love of God.

When the prophet Amos says, “Seek the Lord and live” he’s saying that God, who is Love, is the source of life. The breath of God, the spirit of God gives us life. What can exist outside of the will of God? Who can live unless God chooses to breathe life into us?

“Seek the Lord and live.” Our life is found only in God who is gracious, and when God’s grace is upon us, the works of our hands are prospered, that is, we are given to good works.

In order for the graciousness of God to be upon us, we must, as medieval mystic Meister Eckhart said, detach from all else – from ourselves, from our wills, from our desires. We must turn our attention from what we want, from our goals, and seek only what God desires… what God wills.

But that’s hard to do. We live in a world which constantly tells us that we should want to be happy, beautiful, successful, and adored. We live in a world where “true love” is found buffet-style on reality TV, where body plastic has become the norm, where apprenticeships are won by the most manipulative and deceitful, and where personal value is calculated by the number of followers one has on Twitter or the heftiness of one’s bank account.

The message is: more is better. More stuff. More clout. More blessing. It’s an addiction in its truest form, and it isn’t so different for the rich man in today’s gospel story. A faithful believer, the rich man asks an honest question of Jesus – how can I be sure I will inherit eternal life?

Jesus answers like a rabbi would: ‘You know the commandments… don’t murder or commit adultery… don’t steal or bear false witness… don’t defraud… and honor your father and mother.' Isn’t that an interesting group of 6 of the 10 commandments Jesus chose to highlight?

And anyway, who can tell me… what number was the “thou shalt not defraud” commandment? It wasn’t. Jesus interpreted the “thou shalt not covet” commandment (# 10) for this rich man, who probably didn’t want much of what his neighbors had.

‘But I’ve kept these commandments from my youth,’ the rich man tells Jesus. I’ve lived a righteous life. See how blessed I am.

Jesus looks at him, looks deeply into his heart, and sees the sin there. Our Prayer Book says, “Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God…” (Catechism, BCP, 848) And as Paul Tillich says, sin is the state of being that separates us from God. Like this rich man, we can obey all of the rules and still sin.

So Jesus looks deeply, thoroughly, lovingly at this man and offers him a balm for his deepest suffering: freedom from his sin.

“There is one thing you lack,” Jesus says to him. ‘Detach from your stuff – from the symbols of your happiness, the evidence of your blessing. Give to the poor – empty yourself and your life of all that distracts you. Then come and follow me.’

Or, as Amos said it, ‘Seek the Lord and live.’

Mark tells us that the man was shocked by what Jesus said, and that “he went away grieving because he had many possessions.” It doesn’t say the man didn’t do as Jesus asked, only that he left deeply saddened and distressed by what God had asked of him.

I think most of us have this same kind of response when we get real about what God is asking from us… partly because God’s desire for us is so radically different from what the world teaches us to desire for ourselves; and partly because it’s just plain hard to detach.

After his encounter with the rich man, Jesus turns to his disciples and helps them detach from an idea that is a hindrance to their understanding of and service to God: the notion that living righteously will bring God’s blessing and living sinfully will bring God’s curse upon our lives.

Jesus says to them, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" This totally unhinges the disciples, who wonder… ‘if one whose life is clearly blessed by God can’t enter the kingdom of God…’ “Then who can be saved?”

Peter responds like the rich man did. ‘But Jesus, we’ve done that. We’ve left our homes and our families to follow you. What else do we need to do?’

And Jesus assures them, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be rewarded for your faithfulness, here in this life and eternally. But remember, it is God’s way, God’s will that is at work here so it may not look like or be like you’re expecting.

There are many who think they will be first in line to the kingdom of God because of their goodness or their good works, but they will be last because God knows the sin that lives in their hearts. And those who know their sin and stand humbly in the presence of God, those who willingly hold the last place in line will be the first ones welcomed into the kingdom.

Good works cannot save us. Following rules cannot save us. Only God can save us – and God has done that already in Jesus Christ because God loves us.

Our salvation doesn’t make us sinless. It makes us forgiven. It makes us free.

I close with the Prayer for the Victims of Addiction because it applies to all of us: O blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost their health and freedom. Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from them the fears that beset them; strengthen them in the work of their recovery; and to those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen. (BCP, 831)

Note: The icon used as illustration is an 18th century Russian icon of the prophet Amos (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church,Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia).

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pentecost 19B sermon by Deacon Pam: How hard is your heart?

Proper 22 Lectionary: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

When Mother Valori asked me to switch Sundays with her, I thought "Yeah!I've won the lectionary roulette! I won't have to preach on 'cut off your hand, cut off your foot'...Then I realized "Divorce! I got divorce!"

As I prepared for today, as I read through commentaries and lectionary discussions and sermon helps, I was struck by how many of them advised that I run, not walk, away from this lectionary, saying things like:

"Most will try to avoid preaching on this Gospel lesson, and who can blame them; we know you don't want to talk about this lesson from Mark, talking about this teaching on divorce is fraught with difficulties and the potential for misunderstanding." But at the same time some of those same folks said "but you must, you must, especially if the lessons are read aloud in your church-you must."

So what's with these seemingly divergent thoughts?

I think in part the writers felt it had to be addressed because it's difficult to put something like that out there and not say something about it. It's similar to part of the Gospel from last week that I've already mentioned-the part about cutting off your foot or your hand - it's not a lesson you can ignore or skip over. Whether you like it or not, you going to have to deal with it.

I think the writers were also thinking about the typical church family. Think about Redeemer for a second.

Some of us are married, some are divorced and some are divorced and re-married. Some of us are single and long to be married. Some of us, because of sexual orientation, can't get legally married-or divorced-in most states, yet have the same relationship issues as any married couple. Some of us dealt with it in our families of origin as children when our parents decided to divorce. It would be hard to find someone that doesn't have some relatable experience, whether in one's own life or that of a friend or family member.

And it is important to talk about it because of how this passage has been used by the church to judge those who have gotten divorced. I have certainly thought a great deal about people I am familiar with, people I know and care about, who have been wounded, have been marginalized, often in God's name, because of divorce.

Divorce was an issue in Jesus' day as well. Keep in mind that marriage, and divorce, have changed a great deal and looked much different then than now. Some religious leaders taught it was legal for a man to divorce his wife only in cases of infidelity; others felt is was lawful for almost any reason. While we don't know definitely if it was what they believed or if they just wanted to 'set him up' so to speak, the Pharisees who approached Jesus to test him were referencing the latter teaching.

They were referring to a passage in the 24th chapter of Deuteronomy that states if a woman does not please her husband, if he finds something objectionable about her, he could write a certificate of divorce and send her away. Notice the man can divorce his wife; women were not allowed to divorce their husbands under Mosaic law.

It is thought by some scholars that when Jesus mentions women divorcing their husbands in his later discussion with the disciples, he was either referencing Roman law or, the explanation I prefer, he was upending culture and law and making women equal with men.

Divorce in Jesus' time was devastating for women; at best, as this law demonstrates, women were treated as second class citizens and at worst, as something less than a human. They were treated like possessions, acquired by their husbands through the legal contract of marriage. They were powerless and they were always the victims of divorce. Because women were largely dependent on their husbands, divorce left them with almost no economic options.

Jesus' answer back to the Pharisees is less about the legality of divorce and much more about the attitude and state of their heart. He points out that while they are correct about the letter of the law, the law is not reflective of the will and heart of God but is rather a concession by Moses to human failings and human desires.

Jesus' teaching was designed to protect the "least of these" in a system where they were dismissed for the slightest provocation and to point to the real problem - hardness of the human heart. If their hearts weren't hard, Jesus is saying, there would be no need for a law permitting them to send their wives away when they became too old or sick or feeble.

And while we can be quick to feel righteous and think how terrible this practice was, we can be guilty of the same thing - in our intimate relationships, in our families, with our friends and with those in the world about us. How many people have we dismissed - perhaps in our hearts and minds, perhaps overtly - because we found in them something we didn't like, something we found objectionable, something we found displeasing. Hardness of heart wasn't just a problem in Jesus' day and isn't an issue only in marital relationships!

Think about all the things that are reflections of our own hardness of heart...

Are we insensitive to the needs of others? Do we justify not helping because we feel we've given enough and it's time for them to do it themselves or turn to someone else?

Do we fail to love and show hospitality out of prejudice and fear toward those who are different from us?

Are we carrying around resentments and anger that are killing us, poisoning our relationships and eroding our trust because we refuse to forgive someone who has hurt or disappointed us?

Have we turned a deaf ear and closed our hearts to the thoughts and ideas of those who have a different point of view? Have we allowed them voice and a place at the table with us?

Have we narrowed our vision of what God asks of us? Do we refuse to open our hearts and minds, to step into the fuller life and deeper love to which we are called? Do we criticize and find fault with the ministries of others, perhaps out of fear God might be calling us to do more as well?

It is easy to pass judgment, isn't it? And it's so easy, so tempting, to let our hardness of heart, and that of those around us, go unchallenged.

Judging the decisions others have made and especially using those decisions against them, whether we are talking about divorce or something else, is not what God calls us to do.

Jesus stood with and for those on the margins - women, children, the sick, the mentally ill, the poor, the hungry, the other, the alien. As his followers, that is our call as well - to soften our hard hearts and to show through our words and our actions that we believe the kingdom of God belongs to all.

Let us pray.

O God,
take away our hardness of heart,
our disappointment, our despair, our greed, our aloofness, our loneliness,
our hatred and our fear.
Help us to see our own errors
and not to judge those around us.
Open our eyes which are often blind to the needs of others.
Strengthen us and fill us with your love;
teach us
to use our power with care.
Bring new life where we are worn and tired and
forgiveness where we are are wounded.
May your thoughts become our thoughts,
and your ways become our ways.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pentecost 18B, 2012: ALL Christians are meant to be prophets

Proper 21 Lectionary: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Moses said: “Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!" (Num 11:29)

My former bishop, The Rt. Rev. Bob Gepert, was fond of saying that all Christians are meant to be prophets. Bp. Gepert said this often and he meant it.

I remember that the first time I heard him say this, it shocked me a little and I found myself thinking, ‘Surely not everyone is called to be a prophet.’ I immediately thought of the Scripture verse that tells us that we are given gifts so that some of us will be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” (Eph 4:11) Though I was a bit shocked at first, I also felt deep down that he was right, so I’ve spent some years pondering this.

In general I try to avoid comprehensive statements – the kind that include the words ALL or NONE, ALWAYS or NEVER. But I think I’m with Bp. Gepert on this one. All Christians are meant to be prophets.

All followers of Christ are meant to be inspired teachers and proclaimers of the will of God…which is what being a prophet means. In order to do that, all Christians must be intentionally formed in our faith and encouraged to mature in that faith.

Regardless of our age, we all begin each leg of our journey of faith as “little ones” – people who are new or young in our faith. For those of you, like me, who began in a different faith tradition, do you remember what it was like learning Episcopal-speak?

I remember once being told that what I needed was in the narthex and having no idea where that was. I had been a Christian all of my life, but was, at that point, a “little one” when it came to being an Episcopal-flavored Christian. With time and continuing exposure to the Episcopal way of things, we find our rhythm and learn the language, customs, and perspective of our tradition.

For all Christians, a continuing involvement in a community of faith also enables us to see evidence that God grants gifts to everyone and often uses the least likely (in our estimation anyway) to serve, or to open the door to a life of faith for someone else. This is something the people of God have long struggled with: being as inclusive as God would have us be.

This is illustrated for us in our Old Testament reading. Moses complains to God that leading these people is too much for him. I love how Moses makes his complaint (I can relate): “Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child…” (Num 11:12)

‘It’s too much for me,’ Moses says. ‘If this is how you’re going to treat me, Lord, just kill me now!’ So God tells Moses to choose seventy from among the people who can help him lead. ‘Meet me at the tent of meeting,’ God says, “I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you.” (Num 11:17)

Moses obeyed, and brought the seventy to the tent of meeting. When the spirit of God rested on these chosen ones, they began to prophesy.

While Moses and God were making this new support staff, two men who weren’t at the tent of meeting also began to prophesy – in the camp where everyone else was. These men were Eldad and Medad and the Scripture tells us that the spirit of God rested on them too.

But someone ran to Joshua, who was one of Moses’ chosen 70, to tattle on Eldad and Medad. Joshua, in turn, asked Moses to tell Eldad and Medad to stop, but Moses, who was spiritually mature, wouldn’t hear of it and replied: “Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!"

We see Jesus’ chosen ones dealing with a similar problem in the same way in our gospel reading. John asks Jesus to stop a stranger from casting out demons (which, by the way, the apostles had just failed to do earlier in this chapter). Make him stop, John says. He isn’t in our membership book.

Jesus’ response is radically inclusive, and crystal clear. “Don’t stop him,” (v 39) Don’t stop anyone who is manifesting the love of God.

Then Jesus turns and issues a very stern warning to the community of faith gathered there. ‘If any of you who have been around awhile, impedes a “little one,” that is, someone who is new or young in their life of faith, from using their gifts and manifesting the love of God, there’s gonna be trouble.’ Sounding a bit like Mickey Blue Eyes, Jesus warns: ‘You would be better off being tossed into the chaos waters wearing a cement overcoat. Fuggetabowdit.’ (Just kidding! There’s no record of Jesus ever saying 'Fuggetabowdit')

The next part of Jesus’ teaching isn’t a recommendation for self mutilation. Jesus is speaking to the community of faith as a body – and this may be where St. Paul derived his use of that metaphor for the church.

‘You are one body with individual members. If one of you (say, the hand) sins – remembering that to sin is to separate from God – cut it off.’ In other words, if one among you inhibits the community from manifesting the love of God, or causes the community to separate from the presence of God, “cast [that one] out, for the sake of the [whole] community.” (Source: © 1996-2012 Chris Haslam)

So the two sides of this coin are: Be inclusive - don’t stop anyone from manifesting the love of God /and/ Be discerning – do stop the one who interferes with the community as it works to grow in faith and manifest the love of God through its members.

This is a tough teaching, but it’s true… and it’s important.

We are blessed at Redeemer that God has brought to us a diversity of people who bring a diversity of gifts. And I commend the people of Redeemer for making room for everyone to use their gifts to manifest the love of God.

Some who are chosen to serve in ministries here may seem like surprising choices at times. Others are not even in our membership book! But Redeemer is living what our Lord is speaking today, because at Redeemer, ALL are welcome to manifest the love of God through their gifts.

So I guess there are two comprehensive statements I am comfortable making now:

1. ALL Christians are meant to be prophets.
2. At Redeemer, ALL are welcome to manifest the love of God.

Let’s pray.

Open our hearts, Lord God, to your grace and truth; fill us with your life-giving Spirit and make us your prophets. Grow us in our faith and help us to live in peace with one another in our community, that we may love others in the power of your Holy Spirit and manifest your love in our world. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Adapted by Mother Valori from the Baptismal prayers, BCP, 305)