Message Archive

Sermons

21
Aug

Sabbath Balance

Isaiah 58:9b-14  Psalm 103:1-8  Hebrews 12:18-29  Luke 13:10-17

In the last months of my mother’s life, I came to understand the essence of balance. It seems that everything – physical, spiritual, emotional – everything keeps coming back to the essence of balance. As our earthly bodies grow older, it becomes more and more difficult to keep our nutrients in balance or to keep our fluid levels in balance. If we have too little fluid, we become dehydrated, a condition that leads to slow and certain death; if we have too much fluid, our hearts becomes congested and fail. If we try to force fluid into our bodies intravenously, our weakened systems cannot easily accommodate. We could say, death – physical death, spiritual death, and emotional death – is about loss of balance.

Similarly, Sabbath is about balance – balance of worship, mission, and rest; balance in honoring God, balance in honoring our neighbor, and, importantly, balance in honoring ourselves as essential elements in God’s Creation.

The fourth of our Ten Commandments addresses the essence of Sabbath: Remember the Sabbath Day, and keep it holy.

This Fourth Commandment is the pivotal commandment – the balancing commandment. Our first three Commandments from the Hebrew text of Exodus 20 address our relationship with God specifically. We shall have no other gods before our God; we shall not make for ourselves idols to be worshipped in the place of our God who is a jealous God; and we shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord our God.

On the other hand, Commandments Five through Ten address very specifically our relationship with our neighbor: We should honor our father and mother; we shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against our neighbor, or covet our neighbors’ possessions or relationships.

The Fourth Commandment, however, is pivotal in that it guides our response in our relationship with God and guides our response to our neighbor; and, it guides our personal needs for spiritual, emotional, and physical balance.

Remember the Sabbath Day, and keep it holy. Remember the Sabbath Day. How is it that remembering the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy keeps us balanced in our honoring of God, neighbor, and self? Do we honor this balance in our Sabbath Day worship? I hesitate to add, that the commandment says nothing of “worshiping” on the Sabbath. But it is Sabbath as defined by God that leaves time for our worship as well as our acts of mercy, and, importantly, rest from our earthly labors.

It is in keeping Sabbath that our eyes are opened to our need to see the reality of our own personal crippling bondage, opened to our need to draw closer to God for our own healing so that our eyes are opened to the needs of our neighbors around us who are suffering spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

Our Sabbath worship is not an end in itself. The clear message of this Gospel account from Luke is that keeping the Sabbath holy does not include shutting ourselves off from the needs of God’s creation. In fact, as our Sabbath eyes are opened to human need, our acts of mercy are necessary to the keeping of the Sabbath; and, our eyes are opened to the necessity of our own self-care as it relates to our call to mission and the honoring of our appropriate essential place as part of God’s sacred creation.

And, yes, God rested on the seventh day, and he intends for us to take time to rest in his presence – to breathe deeply into our souls the sweet breath of redemption.

Our Gospel account of Jesus’ healing of the crippled woman on the Sabbath includes Jesus’ chastisement by the leaders of synagogue for violating the Fourth Commandment by performing this healing. Did Jesus violate the keeping of the Sabbath by performing this act of mercy that freed this woman from the bondage of infirmity that had plagued her for eighteen years?

Sabbath is a divine gift, as was this gift of healing that Jesus, unsolicited and freely, delivered to this woman in the synagogue; Sabbath observance is not to be seen as a burden. Surely, God intends that we honor the Sabbath with rest from our earthly labors. But we honor the Sabbath on God’s terms, and we cannot keep this day truly holy if, in arrogance or complacency, we misuse or ignore this gift for purely selfish self-serving purposes – unbalancing the scales too much toward our selfish desires.

Tilden Edwards, the author of Sabbath Time tells us that we keep the Sabbath holy by “faithfully maintaining the balance among worship, play, rest, work, community, and ministry. The rhythm of Sabbath and ministry, Edwards says, is a rhythm that God provides to human life for its care, cleaning, and opening to grace.”[1] The way of life for one who remembers the Sabbath is a way of life that is “tested by scripture, tradition, and the fresh movement of the Holy Spirit in our time.”[2]

The Gospel message is that our time is not our own, and we are not to go through life with that mistaken assumption. Sabbath is a way of life – a divine gift from our God who loves us beyond our understanding; we accept this divine gift with even greater intentional graciousness than the graciousness with which we receive other treasured gifts given to us by those who love us.

In remembering the Sabbath Day, we experience the holiness of our relationship with God in concert with our relationship with our neighbor. Sabbath is a way of life – a holy balance that honors God, our neighbor, and our own place in that balance.

As we come as participants in the Holy Communion celebrated by Christ at the Last Supper with his closest disciples, Christ, in the same way, is present with us. We come with our crippled bodies and spirits to be healed by his mercy and, thus, to be the avenue of healing for others. It is the keeping of the way of life of the Sabbath – worship, acts of mercy, and rest. Sabbath is to be “a spring whose restorative water never fails,” to repeat the beautiful words of the prophet Isaiah; our Sabbath is to be the balancing restorative waters of our place in relationship with God and neighbor.

14
Aug

Peace and Division

Jeremiah 23:23-29  Psalm 82  Hebrews 11:29-12:2  Luke 12:49-56

Luke’s narrative describes the settings in which Jesus is speaking to the elite of His day on the behalf of those who are beaten down by society. And, in this way Luke speaks to the elite of the late first century, and to the elite from that time until today. We are the elite of today – Luke speaks to US.

As the advocate for the downtrodden, we perceive Luke as being a gentle and attentive healer. We treasure the warm feelings of the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and the angels singing of peace on earth to the lowly shepherds. These are the accounts Luke includes in the beginning of his Gospel – familiar celebratory words we love to hear every Christmas season. So, when we encounter words such as those in this morning’s Gospel lesson, we feel a little startled and hurt. “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

We had a clue of the changing tide for Luke some weeks ago in our lesson that spoke of Jesus’ face being set toward Jerusalem. We began then to realize that the crucifixion is imminent, drawing near much too quickly. Luke has moved on from his sweet stories of the Babe in the manger and the young boy left behind by his parents teaching in the temple. For today’s lesson at this point in his narrative there is urgency in Luke’s sharp tone. There is urgency in the need to take a stand – to make a decision.

Jesus speaks of the fire of judgment and the baptism of the Passion that is to come. He says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (NRSV Luke 12:51). But, the angels had said, “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.” We read it at Christmas; it’s right back here in Chapter 2.

To better understand the message, it helps to consider the difference between purpose and result. Remember, by the time these words are recorded Luke has had 50 years to digest the results of Jesus’ life and works, death and resurrection. Was it Jesus’ purpose to bring division to the earth or was the division rather the inevitable result brought about by Jesus’ confrontation with the evil of the world? How often as parents do we bring division to our households – not as a purpose of our actions but the result of our actions taken in the interest of safety, discipline, and a healthier future – the necessary result, we would hope, on the road to true familial peace? How difficult is it in this incredible summer heat to root out the weeds from our flowerbeds without damaging or destroying the flowering plants that are blooming along side with roots intermingled?

For the people of Jesus’ time, Caesar Augustus had brought a peace of sorts. His peace was known as Pax Romana – the Latin phrase for Roman Peace. Pax Romana is considered to have existed from the time Caesar Augustus became emperor in 27 BC and continued under his succeeding emperors until 180 AD. Pax Romana was an enforced peace that established social order and ended the aggressive Roman invasions. It was also a peace that defied any degree of unrest or dissent expressed toward the current Roman emperor. The Pax Romana was a frustration to Roman soldiers who felt that peace could exist only when Rome had conquered the entire known world. To Jews and Christians of this time period who worshiped the one God, the Pax Romana posed a grave threat when politics forced them to choose whom they would worship publicly as their ruler.

So, then, for many of these first century followers to whom Jesus is speaking, choosing to follow Jesus meant severe persecution, often death by political authorities or out casting by families and religious leaders.

Some 700 years prior the prophet Jeremiah warns of the danger. In our Old Testament lesson this morning the prophet speaks of God’s living word. ”My word is like fire, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” [NRSV Jeremiah 23:29] – division, not peace. In his interpretation of the Luke passage, the Bible commentator Fred Craddock uses the metaphor of two raindrops striking the gable of a roof at the same moment. The raindrops are divided by the point of the gable, and “that moment,” Craddock says, “could conclude with their being oceans apart.”[1]

Even today, as we take our religious freedoms for granted, making the decision to unite ourselves with Jesus Christ is not always peaceful. It often involves defying the current rulers of our lives. It can be a fearful decision. Daily, we learn of God’s people losing their lives as they pursue their mission in war-torn areas of the world and violence riddles areas of our country. Too often, the decision to follow Christ’s call leads to earthly death on the road to peace.

Few of us will face this extent of danger. What is it that we have to fear from our union with Christ? Would it mean giving up a vice that brings us great pleasure, being led by God’s will into an uncertain mission field or seemingly frightening ministry, or being divided from earthly things to which we feel a need to cling – maybe even family members or friends.

But, remember Luke’s sharp urgent tone. He quotes Jesus’ admonition to us to make an effort to settle our case with our accuser before we are dragged before the judge. Surely, if we had been accused of a crime, we would not neglect to craft our defense, investigate the allegations, and hire the best lawyer before going before the judge. Yet, we let our lives ramble on toward the judgment of fire that is to come without the same sense of urgency for preparation and decision.

Our Christian journey is filled with uncertainty. The deeper we delve into our faith, the more questions confront us. Yes, our Holy Scriptures have answers, but mostly the scriptures promote even more questions. If this were not so, we would read our instruction manual, consider ourselves knowledgeable of all there is to know about following Jesus Christ, put the book aside, consider our faith journey complete, and not give it another thought. Jesus Christ came to earth to cause us to confront our ambiguities – to question, to find little answers, to question some more, to keep searching, to keep seeking his guidance.

Yes, in our decisions there will be division, maybe even danger, but the end is peace – not an enforced earthly peace that squashes the division, but true peace. The writer of Hebrews speaks of the pain of discipline and the peaceful fruit of righteousness that is the result. Luke implores us to heed his sense of urgency – to not be dragged before the judge unprepared; to carry with us the words from Hebrews, “Lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” [NRSV Hebrews 12:1] – looking to Jesus for the true peace that passeth all understanding.

[1] Fred B. Craddock, “Luke,” in Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990) 166.

07
Aug

Do Not Be Afraid

Genesis 15:1-6  Psalm 33:12-22  Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16  Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” These words of Jesus to his disciples must be the most comforting words we could possibly hear from the lips of our Lord. “Do not be afraid.” Sit with that for a moment.

This instruction from God is the most frequent instruction we encounter in the Bible. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we read it more than 360 times, phrased a little differently but with the same meaning, “Do not be afraid.”

Over and over again, God implants this message in our hearts and minds so that in times of distress we will hear his voice saying, “Do not be afraid.” The message is a message of the need to trust – trust that God is keeping his promise to his people for all eternity. It is a message of believing – believe that it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom as Jesus reminds us in this morning’s Gospel lesson. It is a message of faith. Have faith that God our Father wants only what is best for us.

Throughout the Bible, faith is epitomized through Abraham; Abrahamic faith, has its own special definition shaped by the depth of Abraham’s trust in God – trust in our God who tells us again and again, “Do not be afraid.” And yet, even for Abraham, singled out and chosen by God as our first patriarch, life held little certainty. Surely, even Abraham was plagued with doubt; only faith could assuage his fear of the unknown territory into which God directed him.

In our lesson from Genesis 15, God in a vision to Abram says, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” And, Abram protests God’s admonition, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?” Three chapters preceding this one in Genesis, in His first encounter with Abram, God had promised to make Abram a great nation. The scriptures tell us Abram was 75 years old at that time. Then, again in Chapter 13, God had promised Abram offspring so numerous that they could not be counted. Here we are at Chapter 15, after Abram has endured a number of exciting escapades including rescuing his nephew Lot who was taken captive from Sodom.

Still, there is no offspring – no evidence of a great nation to come. Abram and his wife are approaching the ages of 90 and above. Surely there was little certainty in their minds that together they would parent a great nation of chosen people.

Abraham’s saga through the book of Genesis does not overlook his frailties, his humanity, and his doubts. But, through it all, Abraham continues to trust and it is his trust encompassed in his deep faith in God that is the message we are intended to receive. Our faith is not measured in quantity or quality. We are asked simply to remain faithful – to listen for the words of our Lord, “Do not be afraid.”

The message is faith that cannot be equaled within our human imagination – a faith in the words of God, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield.” For Abraham and for us, there is no certainty of the specifics of where this faith will take us, only assurance that God is our shield – only the words of our Lord, “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

The writer of Hebrews describes this faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Where do we find such faith? Where do we find this assurance in the face of the worst of our fears? Truly, we do not find this assurance in our own self-sufficiency or in the wealth and prestige that the world has to offer – the things that are seen.

There are some instructions: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” In other words be prepared; be awake; and don’t be hindered by your possessions – possessions that we cling to out of fear – possessions that we wrongfully believe will bring us security and certainty.

It is our responsibility to be prepared and awake, to help our neighbor be prepared and awake, to pray, listening for God’s voice, and to study his word daily, to give alms generously, to worship and praise God with our whole heart. Our faith is a gift, but we must open our hands to receive it.

Our beagle Sallie is a rescue who spent the first four years of her life in research. She was not abused; she loves people and other animals; but she obviously missed the formative years of being cuddled and petted. She is not a snuggler or a cuddler. And, like many dogs, she is horribly frightened of fireworks and thunderstorms. She is absolutely inconsolable from the first detection of a far-off boom. I try to wrap her in blankets and hold her close and whisper soft words of comfort, but she struggles to be free of being embraced; she remains frantic, consumed with fear, trembling uncontrollably. It is a heart-wrenching experience for us that she is unable to accept and respond to our assurances that we will keep her safe, that there is no need to be afraid.

Surely, Jesus’ heart wrenched when even his closest followers could not accept and respond to his promises of guidance and protection. Imagine the heartache God our heavenly Father feels when we cannot allow ourselves to believe and trust in his promise – when we cannot hear and respond to his words, “Do not be afraid.”

Throughout the Bible, God commands us again and again – Do not be afraid – the most frequent and, I am convinced, the most difficult of all God’s instructions. Following God’s call and remaining non-anxious in the face of day-to-day uncertainty or sudden crisis requires trusting, believing, remaining faithful as Abraham remained faithful. “You must be ready,” Jesus says, “for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” And, above all, “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

24
Jul

Prayer

Genesis 18:20-32  Psalm 138  Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)  Luke 11:1-13

Prayer is surrounding us from every side this morning.  It is prayer that is bold; it is prayer that is persistent; it is prayer that draws us closer to God.

We have just read of Jesus’ words of instruction on how we are to pray.  The prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer is from the very lips of Jesus himself.  This, in itself, is a testimony to the power of the Christian message – the very words from our Savior’s lips passed down through two millenniums from Aramaic into the impeccable Greek in which Luke wrote his account of the Gospel, to be translated into the Latin of the early Church, then, at great risk to the reformist translator, into the vernacular languages of Germans and Englishmen of the 16th century, and then, with the passing centuries into every language of worshiping Christians all over the world.

We are to pray boldly:  “Give us this day our daily bread.”  “Forgive us our trespasses.”  “Lead us not into temptation.”  We are not even instructed to say “Please.”

Think of the boldness of Abraham whom the Lord chose to be our first patriarch – the model of righteousness.  In our lesson from Genesis, Abraham stands before the Lord and speaks what we might consider the first prayer recorded in the Bible.  Boldly, yet respectfully, Abraham questions the Lord’s planned destruction of Sodom as judgment for the wickedness of the city,

“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

The Lord’s response to Abraham is a reflection of the Lord’s own sense of respect for the covenant they share. “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”  Abraham counters the Lord’s offer, meekly imploring the Lord not to become angry at his pleadings; he gains the Lord’s agreement not to destroy the city if 45 are found to be righteous.  Suppose 40 are righteous?  How about 30?  Even 20?  And finally, 10?  Yes, if Abraham can find ten righteous people in Sodom, the Lord agrees to forgive the entire city for the sake of these ten righteous people.   Abraham’s prayer to the Lord is meek, acknowledging his condition of dust and ashes, but bravely bold nonetheless as Abraham seems, step by timid step, to draw closer and closer to the Lord.

We draw closer, step-by-step, to the Lord as we follow Jesus’ instruction to ask, seek, and knock so that the door will be opened.  These are not three separate actions – asking, seeking, knocking, but a process of drawing closer and closer.  God doesn’t change; it is we who are changed by prayer.  God is always near to us; it is through persistence in prayer that we draw ourselves closer to God.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When people pray, they have ceased to know themselves, and know only God whom they call upon.”[1]  Our desires are reshaped into God’s desires as we delight in his will and walk in his ways.

Without prayer, we are much like a boat being tossed about at sea without any sense of direction.  Recognizing the need to ask for direction, we begin to pray persistently; we begin to seek direction.   Through persistence in prayer, we are guided to a secure spot where we can toss our anchor and begin to pull ourselves closer and closer to the safety of the shore.  Persistently, we draw ourselves closer to the shoreline until we arrive at the door.  We knock, the door opens, and we find ourselves in oneness with God.

We ask; and we continue to pray with persistence and our asking becomes seeking a clearer understanding of our relationship with our neighbor and with God – God, our creator and sustainer who wants only what is best for us.  Seeking further, we knock; the door opens so that we cease to know ourselves separate from God.  There is no “other,” we are united in relationship with God.

The great 20th century preacher George Buttrick sets up three scenarios concerning prayer:  First, if God does not exist, and our lives are solitary and uncivilized and short, then prayer is a dead-ending exercise of self-deceit.  Secondly, If God exists as some sort of clouded yet all-controlling force in our lives, then prayer would be a foolish empty expenditure of our energy.  But, in the words of the Rev. Buttrick, “if God is in some deep and eternal sense like Jesus, friendship with Him is our first concern, worthiest art, best resource, and sublimest joy.”[2]

A stolen quote penned in my prayer book that I keep at my bedside reads: “Prayer is an encounter with our dearest love, a longing for intimacy rather than a listing of wants and needs.”  There is an image planted in my mind of sitting face to face with Jesus, eye to eye.  Close your eyes for a moment and imagine that…  You are sitting face to face with Jesus.  Sit there in the silence and feel the warmth of his presence, note the compassion in his facial expression, see your own image reflected in his eyes.  Do you see your pain there?  He knows your pain.  Do you see there the reflection of your joys?  He knows your joys as well.  He is your dearest love.  He knows you; he knows your needs before you even know how to express them or ask his guidance in finding satisfaction for them….  Now, what will you say to him?  What will he say to you?

Ask, seek, knock.  The Lord honored his promise to Abraham.  Jesus, in his instruction to his disciples, uses the analogy of a parent and child.  None of us would give our own child a scorpion if he or she had asked for an egg.  Wouldn’t, then, our all-knowing gracious and loving heavenly Father give to us according to our needs – in accordance with his promise to us?  God wants only what is best for us.  He came to us in the human nature of Jesus Christ to affirm his covenant with us.

Persistent prayer is not repetitive asking; it is a process of moving from asking, to seeking, to knocking at the door that is opened to us.  Persistent prayer in not simply a listing of our wants, but a drawing closer into the fullness of God’s reign – the opening up of the Kingdom and our presence there beyond the opened door.

Be bold, be persistent to the point of recognizing your oneness with God, and don’t ever let anyone convince you that your particular prayer ritual is wrong.  My Aunt Lorraine, God rest her soul, always reminded us that she prayed for each one of us every night.  Some “wise theologians” would say that that is a useless “laundry list” of prayers.  I strongly disagree.  Aunt Lorraine could name all of her nieces and nephews, their spouses, and all our children.  I loved knowing that she lifted my name to God every night by her bedside.  There is a distinct warmth and closeness with those who pray for us and those for whom we pray.  We draw closer to one another in this way, and drawing closer to one another is drawing closer to God.

Prayer, like faith, doesn’t have a right or wrong way, it is not quality or quantity.  Just keep being faithful, and just keep praying.  And, if or when praying is difficult, we are blessed with our Book of Common Prayer, which we like to say prays for us when we cannot pray for ourselves.

Be bold – as Abraham was bold.  God can take it.  Certainly, God prefers our rants and ravings to our distant silence.

Be persistent – ask, seek, knock.

Be united as one with God.

10
Jul

Love without Fear

Genesis 18:1-10a  Psalm 15   Colossians 1:15-28  Luke 10:38-42

At some time or another, at some point in our lives, a stranger has ministered to us in an unexpected way. A stranger, loving without fear has come to our aid, maybe even risked major inconvenience, or risked his or her life. Every day, strangers, prompted by their love for a fellow human being, become Good Samaritans. You may not even know the details of the parable we have just read, but you know the definition of a “Good Samaritan.”

What makes the Samaritan of our lesson unique and, thus, this parable so sensational? It is important to understand that Samaritans, during the time of Jesus, were enemy outcasts .

In the early centuries of the Divided Kingdom – Israel to the north and Judah to the south – Samaria had been the capital of Israel. Ahab, King of Israel, and Queen Jezebel had built their palace there – towers of ivory and gold-leaf ivory décor. But, King Ahab and, particularly, his foreign wife Jezebel had introduced pagan religion and idol worship.

Time passed and the people of Israel drew further and further away from God. In the 8th century BC, the Jews of Samaria were taken into exile by the Assyrians from the lands north and east of Samaria. The city was destroyed and the northern kingdom of Israel ceased to exist.

In the centuries that followed a mixture of colonists from the vast Assyrian Empire would resettle the lands that surrounded the original city, and the entire region would become known as Samaria. By the time of Jesus’ ministry, Herod the Great had rebuilt and renamed the city, and only a small number Jews of mixed descent were settled in the area. These Jewish descendants claimed to worship God, but they were considered half-caste and they were despised by the Jews of Judea to the south and Galilee to the north. Class-warfare and mutual hatred festered. Jews of Galilee and Judea and the Samaritans in between avoided one another’s territories for fear of their lives.

To prevent becoming defiled or attacked in the land of Samaria, a faithful Jew, making a pilgrimage from Galilee to Jerusalem, was forced to cross the Jordan River, travel down its eastward bank, and cross back over to its westward bank near Jerusalem, perhaps at Jericho, a safe distance from Samaria.

Jesus, however, made it a point to pass through Samaria and we could list a number of accounts of his ministry there.

So, with this background, we return to Luke’s account of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer, one so concerned with strict adherence to the Law of God, asks the question of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus most often answers questions with other questions or with parables – He wants us to use our hearts and our brains to answer these questions for ourselves. And, so, this parable so loved and familiar to us serves as Jesus’ answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

The scene of our parable is the road between Jerusalem and Jericho where Samaritans were undoubtedly unwelcome and great cause for suspicion. A man has been beaten and robbed and left to die in the road. For whatever their reasons or rationalizations, a priest and a man of the priestly tribe of the Levites pass by the dying man. In fact, according to Luke, they move to the other side of the road emphasizing their intention to pass him by.

Rather, it is the despised Samaritan who stops to bring aid. He not only foregoes his mission in foreign territory while recognizing the inherent danger of being there to start with, but also he binds the injured man’s wounds, brings him to a place where he can receive continued care, and provides for that care with his own finances.

Can you sense the extreme nature of the paradox here? The one most despised by God’s people becomes the one who has the clearest understanding of neighbor and love for neighbor. His understanding and willingness to honor this most basic of God’s laws surpasses the religious elite who are charged with disseminating this very law that is the basis of eternal life.

Jesus’ message is simple: Our neighbor is the one who is broken and bleeding in the ditch who needs our care. And, our neighbor is the feared despised outcast. Our neighbors are those beloved to us, those who need us and those we need. Our neighbors are those who might say they despise us and those we might say we despise. God created us to be in relationship with one another; our neighbor is everyone.

So, the message is simple but not simplistic: We are to love everyone – everyone -who is our neighbor, and we are to love without fear. We are not to be inhibited in reaching out to our neighbor by our self-righteousness or our fear of inconvenience or exploitation.

These followers of the law such as the lawyer, the priest, and the Levite in our parable felt that their position as keepers of the law held them on a higher level, above the bleeding and broken. How surprising it was for the lawyer to admit that it was indeed the Samaritan who was the most genuine keeper of the law. Do you notice that he cannot even say the word Samaritan? He responds to Jesus’ question, “The one who showed mercy.”

God’s laws are our guide for how we are to live in relationship with one another – neighbor caring for neighbor. Jesus came to show us how God’s law is our guide. Jesus came to show us that God’s law is not for our own self-serving interpretation, but to guide us in loving without fear – assisting one another in encountering Christ and receiving that assistance with the same graciousness and with sincere appreciation.

All of God’s Law is encompassed in his command “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The Ten Commandments are more specific, but every guidepost leads back to loving God and loving our neighbor – loving our neighbor without fear.

03
Jul

The kingdom has come near to you

Deuteronomy 30:9-14  Psalm 25:1-9  Colossians 1:1-14  Luke 10:25-37

One of my favorite courses of study as an undergraduate was human nutrition. I am fascinated with vitamins and minerals. By the time I graduated, I could name and even spell the deficiency diseases and describe the gruesome symptoms of kwashiorkor, beriberi, scurvy, and rickets.

The primary symptom of rickets is brittle bones indicating a deficiency of Vitamin D. Except, vitamin D is not actually a vitamin, because the body can synthesize vitamin D on its own as long as we are exposed to an adequate amount of direct sunlight. Or, like true vitamins, we can get vitamin D in our foods, particularly fortified milk, or from supplemental intake.

This correlation between vitamin D and sunlight was established when it was discovered that rickets is more common in higher latitudes where direct sunlight is less and less available. In fact, multiple sclerosis is more common at higher latitudes due to more vitamin D deficiency. And, even though we are at relatively low latitude here in the mid Atlantic, it is important that we make an intentional effort to absorb direct sunlight so that our bodies can manufacture the necessary amounts of vitamin D. Accomplishing this adequate absorption of vitamin D means being outside exposing a good percentage of our skin to the sun with no sunscreen – the darker your skin, the more exposure you need each day.

This is not to downplay the need for good judgment as it relates to the dangers of over-exposure to the sun and skin cancer. But, the truth is, even fair-skinned people, particularly the elderly, are advised to have ten minutes of direct exposure to the mid-day sun. Nursing infants are most susceptible to vitamin D deficiency because we are so careful to protect them from the direct sunlight and because breast milk doesn’t contain vitamin D. The less sun exposure, the more we must seek vitamin D in our foods or vitamin supplements.

So, why is all this information so important? What good is vitamin D? Only if our bodies have adequate amounts of Vitamin D can we absorb calcium and use that calcium efficiently. Without vitamin D, even the calcium supplements we take are relatively useless – rejected by our bodies, sometimes even harmful; AND, without the calcium intake from food or supplements, our vitamin D production is without a cause. Ninety-nine percent of the body’s calcium is in our bones and teeth. Calcium allows for the good health of our muscles, nerves or hormones, and even our hearts.

Well, now, you are not here for a nutrition lecture – that’s a bonus for today from my first career. What does all this have to do with our responsibilities in the kingdom of God? This is your purpose here, to find out more about your presence and your responsibilities in the Kingdom of God. The truth is, God uses our human relationships and even our human bodies to help us understand the kingdom and our responsibility as catalysts for others in every town and place to sense the nearness of the kingdom.

Our Gospel lesson has a rather somber tone in relation to our need to avail ourselves to this urgent message that Christ has for us – the message that the Kingdom of God is near. We know that; how will others know?

It seems that we have just gotten started following Jesus as he teaches his disciples and other followers, as he heals the sick and the sinful, as he shares the parables that help us visualize the Kingdom of God. Yet, we learned from our Gospel lesson last week that, already, Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke tells us of only one journey to Jerusalem in Jesus’ adult life; that journey culminates at the cross.

Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem, to suffer and die knowingly and willingly for the purpose of overcoming death – becoming the one perfect and holy sacrifice for our salvation.

So, you begin to understand the sense of urgency in Jesus’ calling of the seventy to go before him and prepare the way. There is little time for exchanging pleasantries of conversation. There is not time for packing provisions for comfort or for gathering financial resources that will cover the cost of the needs of the seventy along the road. In this way, the seventy are totally dependent upon God’s omnipotent presence – they must trust that the crises they encounter will rest in the hands of God as they are sent out to every town and place that Jesus himself intends to go. And, their single purpose is to prepare those they meet to encounter Jesus.

When they are welcomed – when those they meet share in the peace they bring, the missioners are to accept the hospitality graciously. Being received graciously allows for the healing of the sick – the sick in body and spirit. To these who welcome them, they are to share the urgent message, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

On the other hand, when they are rejected, they are to leave the unwelcoming community with these words, “Even the dust of the town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”

Jesus says to the seventy, “’Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’”

We and those we encounter can receive this love just as we do the sunshine, and through it experience the nearness of the Kingdom of God. Or, we and they can turn away from the sunshine and suffer the gruesome and painful symptoms of spiritual deficiency.

The message is urgent: The Kingdom of God is near. As the Body of Christ – as we continue the ministry of the seventy – we are to be the Vitamin D that is the catalyst through whom the spiritually deficient hear the message of the Kingdom; we continue the missions of the seventy – preparing and making it possible for others to receive the message. Like the seventy, like the Vitamin D with the single purpose of preparing our body to utilize the calcium, our single purpose is to prepare others to encounter Jesus – to bring others into the sunshine of his love – to bring others into the experience of the nearness of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is near. The message waits in silence unless we pick up our cross and walk along with Jesus; the message waits in silence unless we bravely carry it into world where we may or may not be received; the message waits in silence unless we accept our role as the catalyst that nurtures the message – the sunshine, the Vitamin D that makes it possible for our bodies to utilize the calcium for our health and well-being.

Are we to be the catalyst of the message of the nearness of the Kingdom; or will we languish in spiritual deficiency as others around us do the same? The message is urgent; the Kingdom of God is near.

26
Jun

Face set to Jerusalem

1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21  Psalm 16  Galatians 5:1,13-25  Luke 9:51-62

I find myself being reminded frequently that there are many passages of scripture that we are not to “pick to pieces.” Our Gospel lesson is one of those. Is Jesus telling us that we are not to attend to our loved ones who are dying; we are not to take time to say our farewells to those we may never see again? I don’t think so, and most commentators agree. God created us in relationship and he expects us to serve him in and through one another.

In this case, perhaps Jesus is simply and rightfully calling our bluff on our rationalizations and procrastinations that inhibit us in answering our call to ministry. We are not to be distracted by rituals, even religious rituals, that stand in the way of true discipleship.

Definitely and more importantly, Jesus is being brutally honest about the cost of following him. Being a disciple of Christ is about miraculous healing and the salvation of sinners, but those are not window dressings; experiencing true healing and salvation in this world comes only at the cost of following Jesus to the Cross. We all have a call to ministry. God grants us the freedom to reject our call as did these Samaritans who rejected Jesus in our lesson. Jesus came to live and die as one of us; he wanted to be certain we knew that in accepting his call we accepted the true cost of discipleship.

It seems we’ve barely begun our Year C walk through Luke’s Gospel – Jesus’ birth, baptism, and ministry. In today’s lesson, Jesus is carrying out his ministry in this northern area of Galilee where he was reared as the carpenter’s son and where his ministry began. As we have read over the past number of weeks, he has restored life to marginalized Gentile non-believers; he has brought salvation to the sinful; and he has cast out the legion of demons from one so utterly possessed by them.

But, already, so early in his ministry, our Gospel lesson tells us that Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus knows that the days are drawing near when his ministry of healing the physically and spiritually sick and the calling of disciples to share that ministry will culminate in his being taken up in Jerusalem – taken up on the Cross, taken up from the grave, taken up into heaven 40 days later as he ascends to be with the Father. Already, Jesus has begun to warn his disciples of the journey to which he is called and the hardships that will beset them. From the start, Jesus wants us to know that following him means following him to Jerusalem – life lived under the shadow of the Cross. True discipleship is not cheap.

Jesus gives us the freedom to reject him or to fall in step with him on the journey to Jerusalem. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Lutheran theologian and martyr, tells us that the “cross is laid on every Christian;” and our first call is to “abandon the attachments of this world.”[1] Bonhoeffer offers the analogy of the small child who is sent to bed by his father. The child, in his own “wisdom,” presumes that his father sends him to bed because he is tired and the father doesn’t want him to be tired. However, the child rationalizes, he can overcome his tiredness just as well by going out to play rather than to sleep. Thus, he determines that he will go out to play and, in so doing, better fulfill his father’s desires for his wellbeing.[2] We laugh at this childish conjecture, but we too often do the similar thing in response to God’s commands for our calls to ministry and mission. So often, we second guess God; we rationalize a call that meets our own comfort level rather than Jesus’.

It is our single-minded encounter with Christ that brings about the death of these old selves that are fueled by rationalization and procrastination and attachments to this world. The Apostle Paul alludes to our old selves in speaking of our yoke of slavery to the desires of the flesh – our shallow worldly obsessions and distractions. And, our going down and our being taken up out of the waters of baptism speak of the death of our old selves. In the prayer of Thanksgiving over the Water, we thank God for the water of baptism in which “we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” [BCP 306]

Regarding this cost of discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer goes on to say,

Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise godfearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls (us), he bids (us) come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him or it may be a death like (Martin) Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ.[3]

Bonhoeffer is speaking of the death of our old selves, the death of our need for the shallow worldly powers and comforts that distract our single-minded focus on Christ Jesus our Lord.

United with Jesus, we set our face to go to Jerusalem. It is not an easy road; even the original disciples who shared Jesus’ physical presence did not find it easy; they stumbled and bumbled in spite of Jesus’ tireless efforts to prepare them.

United with Christ and one another, we come together in Holy Communion. So graciously, as we come to the Table, Jesus offers himself for us and to us. So graciously, as we come to the Table, he prepares us for the road to Jerusalem. So graciously, as we come to the Table, he guides our focus away from our worldly cares, toward trust in him. And, then, we pray the prayer of thanksgiving; the Rite II prayer expresses it most clearly, asking of our heavenly Father: “grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.” [BCP p. 365] Gladness and singleness of heart – our face set on Jesus and the road to Jerusalem – without looking back, without succumbing to worldly distractions and rationalizations and attachments.

We read in our Old Testament lesson of Elijah casting his mantle on Elisha who will take his place among the great prophets. Later in the narrative, Elijah will be taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire. Perhaps our being taken up will not be with the earthly fanfare and whirlwind of Elijah’s horse-drawn chariot of fire, but it will be equally sensational for each of us.

Jesus will know us and we will know him, because, together we have journeyed to Jerusalem.

19
Jun

Σοζο

Isaiah 65:1-9  Psalm 22:18-27  Galatians 3:23-29  Luke 8:26-39

There is a movie entitled Luther, produced in 2003 that encompasses the reform efforts of Martin Luther in 16th century Germany. Luther became one of the most famous Protestant reformers. The truth is, as a faithful monk of the Church of Rome, Luther’s intent was to push for reform of the Church of Rome rather than separate from it, thus, beginning a new course for his faith. Once excommunicated for his “radical” interpretation of the scripture, however, the seeds of Lutheranism were planted.

So, in this 2003 movie, there is one very poignant scene in which Martin asks an elder monk who is his mentor, “Have you ever dared to think that God is not just?” Martin continues, “He has us born tainted by sin, then He’s angry with us all our lives for our faults, this righteous Judge who damns us, threatening us with the fires of hell!”

After some thought, the mentor asks, “Martin, what is it you seek?”

Martin responds, “A merciful God! A God whom I can love. A God who loves me.”

Our Gospel lesson is an account of Jesus’ encounter with a man possessed by demons – a man that was surely considered tainted by sin and separated from the love of God – separated by the demons, not one demon, but legions of demons, who had cast him into the ultimate outer darkness. We know this man we call the Gerasene demoniac was in a land foreign to him; our lesson tells us that he was from the city and that he now dwelled in a place “opposite” Galilee. We know that he represented the epitome of uncleanness; he was naked and lived among the dead. We are told that he lived in close proximity to pigs, creatures most despised by traditional Jewish culture. Thus, the Gerasene demoniac represents for us the ultimate outcast – foreign, naked, unclean, despised – and possessed by legions of demons.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the demons possessing this frightful man caused him to fall down immediately before Jesus and shout to the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” The scriptures tell us of very few “healthy” individuals who fall down before Jesus and address him so boldly as the “Son of the Most High God.” Even most of those who believed Jesus to be the Lord were too fearful to display this faith so publicly.

But, the demons and evil spirits about which we read in the scriptures always recognize their greatest adversary. They are savvy to know their competition; they must be savvy if they ever expect to overcome that competition – their survival depends upon remaining in a position of most effective offense. Interesting, isn’t it, that these demons recognize Jesus’ power far better than we do? Isn’t that how they win us over and take possession of us as they did the Gerasene demoniac?

The demons that possess us, like the demons that possess the Gerasene, are relentless in their efforts to fight off the good that would send them back to the abyss. These demons are the “little voices” that speak in our heads drowning out God’s message that we are all ministers of the Gospel; they convince us we are inadequate in our efforts to be the Body of Christ – to be the Church serving in the name of Jesus Christ to all the world. The demons that possess us are in our anxiety over our finances, or our health, or our fractured relationships with others – anxiety that robs us of peaceful rest and clarity in discernment.

And, like these demons that possess the Gerasene, our demons know well their competition. They know how to entice us into complacency in our worship and daily prayers, to convince us to be indifferent toward the neighbor or family member who is suffering, to ensnare us into the comforts of selfish thinking. Above all, the demons are skilled in driving wedges that separate us from God, rendering us unable to believe with all our heart and mind that God wants only what is best for us. The demons that possess us seek to tear away bit by bit from that image of God about whom Martin Luther speaks – a merciful God – a God whom we can love – A God who loves each of us.

Our psalm speaks of the lion’s mouth and the horns of wild bulls. Most of us have not experienced the lion’s mouth or the horns of wild bulls in the literal sense, but at one time or another in our lives, demons have mauled us with the teeth of lions and gored us with the horns of bulls. And, we have begged liked the psalmist for the Lord’s salvation from these demons.

The Gerasene demoniac is the ultimate outcast, possessed by legions of demons. Yet, the demonic powers that possess him are no match for Jesus, the Son of the Most High God. Even the demons are well aware that they have encountered a power like no other power – a power far-surpassing their power – a power to save, a power to heal. Jesus speaks healing and salvation to this outcast in the country of the Gerasenes.

In most cases the Greek language in which the New Testament is written is more descriptive than our English language. There are words in the Greek for which we have no literal translations. For instance, the Greeks have a number of different words to describe the different aspects of love where we have only one word for love – a word that is overused and under-appreciated.

There is only one word in the Greek, however, that expresses healing and salvation. Where we have two words: “heal” and “save,” Luke uses the one word, σοζο, which expresses both at the same time. Thus, to be healed by Jesus Christ as this demoniac was healed is to be saved. Σοζο may or may not include our earthly physical healing; we are human after all. But, this healing encompasses all that is our spiritual healing – our salvation. There is only one word; the meaning is the same. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, we are healed of our demons and saved by faith. And, through the gift of this grace, we know that God is a God we can love and a God that loves us and wants only the best for us.

Martin Luther took the words of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which we read earlier, and marched forth into the 16th century Protestant Reformation. His message, for which he was excommunicated from the Church of Rome, is just as vital and relevant today as it was for Martin Luther in the 16th century and just as it was for the 1st century Galatians receiving Paul’s letter: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection have inaugurated the new age in which we are justified by grace through our faith in Christ. Yes, God’s judgment is real, but we are not to think of God as a God who demands that we earn our way into heaven, an angry God who focuses on our faults and dwells on punishment. As God’s law guided the descendants of Abraham prior to the birth of Christ, faith in the risen Christ now guides our right relationship with God and our neighbor. God’s laws have not changed, but we see them more clearly as our guide rather than as a catalyst for punishment.

In our Old Testament lesson we read the words of the prophet Isaiah who speaks the voice of God as he says to us, “Here I am, here I am… I hold out my hands all day long…”

God does not separate himself from us. It is we who allow the legions of demons to implant doubts, ignite our anxieties, and construct pitfalls in our path. Our God wants only what is best for us – σοζο – healing salvation. He wants us to know that he loves us, that he is a God we can love, and that we are healed by his grace.

Fathers, today is your day. This is the day we honor you; this is the day you reflect on the blessings and enormous responsibilities of fatherhood. God the Father is your model. God’s judgment is real, as a father’s compassionate discipline is necessarily real. God the Father wants only what is best for his children; so it is with our earthly fathers. Our earthly fathers know that we must suffer the consequences of our poor judgment and that we must learn from our mistakes.

It is the responsibility of our earthly fathers to bring us into the understanding of what it is to be loved unconditionally – as we are loved unconditionally by our heavenly Father. Our Heavenly Father wants us to know that he loves us, that he is a God we can love, and that we are healed by his grace.

12
Jun

Extravagant Love

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15  Psalm 32  Galatians 2:15-21  Luke 7:36-8:3

The god of Simon the Pharisee is a god who cannot endure sinners. Simon’s god has been boxed into a strict earthly purity code. Simon’s god apparently approves only of those that Simon approves.

Jesus enters the house of Simon the Pharisee. The absence of welcome is quite present. Hospitality norms dictated that a visitor entering the home from the hot dusty streets would have his head anointed with oil and be offered a bowl of cool water and a towel to wash and dry his bare blistered feet. We know Jesus is travel weary; we have read of his journeys from city to city healing the sick and restoring life in our lessons from Luke’s Gospel over the past several Sundays. As Jesus enters the home of Simon, Simon offers no such comforts; and it is clear that Jesus should not expect to be received or encouraged to linger, as would others of Simon’s social and religious status.
As if the setting was not uncomfortable enough already, in ultimate outrage, Simon observes a woman of the city well known for her sinfulness as she slips into his home and stands behind Jesus, then, apparently drops to her hands and knees at Jesus’ feet – “child’s pose” in Yoga language. Overcome by humility and gratitude, the woman is weeping. She loosens her hair – a disgraceful act for a woman in the presence of strange men; and she breaks open the alabaster jar of healing ointment.

Thus, in profound contrast to Simon’s lack of the bare basics of welcome, this lowly sinful woman pours out her soul as she pours out the soothing oil on Jesus’ feet, bathing his feet with her tears, and drying them with her loosened hair – a gesture of extravagant love. It is a gift of grace, and in this moment, this desperate woman exemplifies and experiences for herself the gift of God’s extravagant love. Is it the love that brought the forgiveness or the forgiveness that brought the love?

As an aside, if you look closely at these verses of scripture, you find no confirmation that this woman was a prostitute. And, quite coincidentally perhaps, it is in the next chapter that Mary Magdalene is named. Very unfairly, the early Church surmised the sin and the sinner to be Mary Magdalene, the prostitute. Searching the web for a depiction of Mary of Magdala, you will find quite alluring, if not pornographic, portraits of a voluptuously exposed woman with exceedingly long and thick curly red hair.
Whether the women are the same or two different, both exemplify God’s gift of extravagant love, both humbly and gratefully and equally received God’s immeasurable gift of forgiveness for their great debt of sinfulness.
Similarly, the great King David is brought low in the presence of God as he humbly acknowledges his sinfulness in the orchestration of the death of his loyal soldier Uriah. In an incredible feat of desperation, David orchestrated this death for the purpose of covering his illicit affair with Bathsheba, named in our Old Testament lesson from 1st Samuel only as “the wife of Uriah.” The prophet Nathan shocks David back into reality with his parable; David recognizes his sin, unforgiveable in the eyes of humans, only quenched by the extravagant grace of God, God’s extravagant and freely given gift of unsurpassed love.

The child born of this affair would die; later Bathsheba would again conceive, and this child would be named Solomon; he would grow into the great King Solomon who would build The Great Temple and be remembered for his humility and wisdom. There is no evil that God does not overcome in his time on his terms with his extravagant love.

This extravagant love cannot be earned. It is clear that David did not earn God’s love through his despicable acts of adultery and murder. Like the woman weeping at the feet of Jesus, was it the love that brought the forgiveness or the forgiveness that brought the love?

God created all that is, all that has been, all that will be; God created all in love. God wants only what is best for us, not because we have earned it. God wants only what is best for us just as others who love us want only what is best for us. We don’t reinvent love each time someone comes into our lives in whom we recognize great love.
God’s extravagant love is his grace-filled gift; we but have to open our arms and hearts to that extravagant love. That love bathes us in forgiveness and challenges us to spread that love and forgiveness. God came to earth in the human person of the Son, Jesus Christ, to show us how to love. If you have loved and been loved, you know that there is no human law or human word that can legislate or initiate love or even describe love adequately. You have to feel it, and all that you feel of love comes from God. If you do not believe in God, you do not believe in love. God is love; love is God.

In his letter to the Christians in Galatia, the Apostle Paul expresses God’s grace – this indescribable immeasurable extravagant love. Paul writes, “We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ,” justified by faith alone, Paul would say, “and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.” Paul reminds the Galatians they cannot earn their way to heaven through earthly means. Salvation/justification comes by grace through our faith in Jesus Christ.

These words in Galatians were the words that sparked the Reformation, dividing Christians from the 16th century until today into a variety of faith traditions throughout the world over this question of the relationship of faith and works and our misinterpretations of works’ righteousness and God’s “law.”

The god of Simon the Pharisee is a god who cannot endure sinners who do not abide by Simon’s strict interpretation of the law – those who, for Simon, must earn God’s love. Simon’s god has been boxed into a strict earthly purity code that condemns the sinner on earthly terms and grants love and forgiveness only to those who earn it. Simon’s image of God is a god who approves only of those that Simon approves.

Our image of God creates us. Is your god a god who is limited by earthly expectations – a demanding god who cannot endure sinners? Or, is your god a god of extravagant love – God who bathes us with the healing oil of forgiveness of our sins? And, is it this extravagant love that brings about our forgiveness or is it the forgiveness that brings us to our knees in the realization of the extravagant gift of love?

05
Jun

Other

1 Kings 17:17-24  Psalm 30   Galatians 1:11-24  Luke 7:11-17

In our Old Testament lesson from 1st Kings, the great prophet Elijah has been sent by God into enemy territory – the homeland of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who desire Elijah’s death. Prior to this portion of the lesson we read, there is drought in the land for which Elijah as a representative of God is blamed. Elijah, near death from starvation himself, seeks out the widow of Zarephath to share the tiny bit of food she has left. In faith and profound hospitality, the widow shares with the stranger Elijah and finds that her jar of meal and jug of oil are miraculously continuously refilled.

Yet, sadly, as the story plays out, the son of the widow of Zarepath dies; this son is the widow’s only hope for provision in this harsh landscape; again Elijah is blamed. But, through Elijah’s obedience to God coupled with his unquestionable trust, the life of the widow’s son is restored.

The two scenes illustrate the cooperative efforts of two unlikely companions in faith – a man of God whose life is under siege by ruthless enemies and physical scarcity; and a widow, unable to provide for herself in this ancient society, her fate held in the hands of neighbors who may or may not have the compassion to reach out to her. For Elijah, the widow is the “other,” and for the widow, Elijah is the “other.” Yet, in the acceptance of each one for the other, God makes his presence known in miraculous ways. The jar of meal and the jug of oil do not fail to provide.

Similarly, Jesus reaches out to a widow, restoring the life of her only son. As in the time of Elijah, a widow in first century Israel was among the most disadvantaged socially and economically. The death of her only son further compromised her ability to survive as a marginalized member of society.

Jesus had nothing to gain by acting on the widow’s behalf, in fact he subjected himself to the disapproval of the religious leaders who would condemn him for reaching beneath his societal status and declare him ritually unclean for coming in contact with the dead body of this young man. Jesus’ actions demonstrated a new understanding of God’s mercy – mercy that extended beyond the boundaries of the old law and societal norms – mercy based on the greater good of compassion – mercy that was intended for all – mercy intended for the “other.” Jesus died on the Cross because he took his mission to the “other”; Jesus is vindicated in the Resurrection, which is the confirmation of God’s mercy for “the other.”

And, it is a situation of complications with the “other” that has riled the Apostle Paul as illustrated in his letter addressed to the people of Galatia. The majority of Paul’s letters begin with thanksgiving and expressions of joy for the faith expressed by his previous companions on his journeys. Not so, in this letter to the Galatians; Paul is abrupt, obviously angry, even rude.

Paul journeyed through the area of Galatia on the first three of his missionary journeys. By the time of his letter, the house churches he had inspired have begun to spring up and thrive within communities of Gentile believers. Interestingly, Paul’s anger is likely directed toward the Judaizers – Paul’s fellow Jews – Jews who insisted that non-Jews first convert to the strict religious requirements of Judaism before they could be accepted among the believers and followers of Jesus Christ. Apparently, these Judaizers had traveled the areas of Galatia intervening and disrupting the spiritual health. Perhaps they were putting their own spin on the Good News brought previously to Galatia by Paul as he was guided by God through the communities of this region. We don’t doubt their faith and sincerity; perhaps they feared that Paul had set the standards too low, receiving those on the fringes, making acceptance into the Church too easy.

The Judaizers preached the requirement of human initiation rites as prerequisite for inclusion in the Body of Christ; Paul preached salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as the sole requirement for inclusion in the Body of Christ. The Judizers sought to enforce standards that separated them from the “other” – those they considered to be outsiders dependent upon them to find their way as God’s people.

Paul, on the other hand, emphasized God’s gift of salvation free to all who believe – free to all, free even to those outside the previously established earthly norms and barriers. Paul argued that he did not receive a gospel that was reconfigured to suit human earthly desires; Paul affirmed that the gospel he proclaimed was revealed to him by Jesus Christ himself.

The Apostle Paul, through his mission and ministry of Christ, reminds us that the Church is intended to be stretched to the margins. The Church is intended to be constantly going to the edges; we, the Church, are to make known the Word of Christ to those who make us uncomfortable with our selves. Here, we find our fullness in Jesus Christ.[1]

How appropriate that we are reminded of the intention that we be stretched to receive those on the edge during this seemingly endless political season. Somehow we have always been quite crafty at compartmentalizing our political activities. We can throw eggs and hurl nasty insults and verbally attack our neighbor’s character, feeling quite justified and remorseless.

Jesus’ only criticism was of those groups who felt justified in raising themselves up while seeking to exclude others from God’s gift of eternal grace. As people of God we share the common ground of Jesus Christ; this is where we begin; this is where we return; again and again, we come together to the common ground of Jesus Christ. With lowered voices and open hearts, embracing the “other,” we come to the fullness of Jesus Christ.

In the fullness of Jesus Christ, embracing the “other,” our jar of meal will not be emptied and our jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord reigns on the earth.