Weekly Sermons from St. John’s in the Wilderness
St. John’s Church in the Wilderness sermons are supplied weekly on Sunday evenings. Please stop by the church during our regular Sunday service to hear The Word in person! All are welcome.
Epiphany January 2022 Matthew 2:1-12
We give you thanks for your beloved child, Jesus,
who you made known to the magi from the east,
who knew of him only what the silent stars could tell.
You have drawn us again to his feet and in him we have found the fulfillment of all our searching.
I want to start this morning by taking a short poll. First: How many of you still have your Christmas Tree up? Second: What do you have on the top of your Christmas tree, a star or an angel. How many of you have stars on top of your tree? How many of you have angels? The reason I asked the first question is: Christmas, from the Christian perspective isn’t truly over until January 6th or Epiphany, the day we traditionally celebrate the visit by the Wise Men. The reason I asked the second question is: I think there are two types of people. Some are star people and some are angel people.
Biblically, the Angel represents those who had been waiting for the Messiah, for a sign from God, for a long time, like the Shepherds. They knew what the Angel meant when he told them about a Savior, a Messiah. They remembered the old prophecies. They remembered with anticipation.
And the Star was for those who were still searching, those still unsure, those still with questions, those on a quest to find out about this mystery and message from God wrapped up in human flesh and swaddling clothes.
A friend reminded me that God sent both the Angel and the Star because God always meets us where we are… Now back to todays Gospel message…[Some FB jokes first – or wisdom?]
Long before telescopes and computers, people named the stars and charted their long journeys through the heavens.
These early stargazers noticed patterns and consistency in their movements. Perhaps we can imagine they felt the stars were part of a greater story, and that the stars had the power to influence events on earth.
Early books of the Bible testify to the power of stars in the life of ancient people. Job mentions three constellations: the Bear, Pleiades, and Orion. Childless Abram goes out at night and hears a promise from God that he will have many children, as numerous as the stars. Stars are said to “Sing together” and “shout for joy” in the Book of Job, and Psalm 147 tells us God names the stars and determines their number. Clearly, the stars held meaning for the ancient people of God.
In our Gospel reading, we see wise men coming from the east, following a star.
It is not clear to a modern reader how they knew this rising star announced the birth of “the king of the Jews,” as the connection between the rising star and the birth of a king is shrouded in mystery. What is even more strange, perhaps, is how everyone in the story—especially Herod—just rolls with it, accepting the wise men’s account of the star and the birth of the king. In fact, King Herod takes the wise men’s astronomical report so seriously that he drops everything to search for, and eliminate the baby.
There are dozens of theories on where the wise men originated and how they knew so much about stars; the Greek word used in Matthew’s gospel is Magi, a group of learned scholars who advised kings by interpreting dreams and astrology. While much about the wise men is unclear, what is clear is that these men are not Judeans, but Gentiles. They are bearing witness to a cosmic event of astronomical proportions: the birth of a baby—though nobody seems to know exactly where he is. We can imagine their shock when they discover that Herod is clueless about where this baby was located. Surely, King Herod would know if a king were born in his kingdom. It is in this detail that we can see how foreign these wise men are; they are seemingly naïve, unaware of the dangerous politics of Judea and unaware how different this new king will be from other kings.
They are simply seeking the king whom the star announced. They follow the star until it stops over the place where Jesus was. It’s so simple. While it may seem mysterious and strange to us to follow a star this way, it is not strange for them. It is simply how they understood the world. It is simply how they found Jesus.
We must be open to the many ways people find Jesus, especially the ways that people different from us find Jesus.
The Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the manifestation of Jesus to the peoples of the earth. Just as every human culture is unique and different, the ways in which different cultures find and understand Jesus will be different, too. We cannot predict or assume how the diverse cultures within our own communities will find Jesus. We must be open to all the ways the Spirit leads people to our Savior, Jesus Christ. The vision John sees in his Revelation contains all the diversity of the human species: “And there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne.
Before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”
They are all worshipping Jesus, celebrating the new life they have found in him. Like the wise men who watched the star stop over Jesus and were overwhelmed with joy, the people in John’s vision are overwhelmed with joy in the presence of God.
Today, we are a community of people from many different backgrounds and places, gathered in the presence of Jesus. This itself is a miracle. This means that there is hope for a better world. This means the good news that Jesus died and rose again is a story for everyone, no matter how far they have come to find him.
So, rejoice today that the wise men followed the star and found Jesus. Rejoice today because we found him, too. Amen+
January 2, 2022 NEW YEAR PRAYER
Almighty God, grant that as we begin a new year we may let go of the pain, frustration and exhaustion we have experienced in 2021.
By the might of your Spirit lift us to open our hearts to see the world in new and positive ways. Reach out to heal the broken, increase our patience and refresh our spirits.
Give us faith, hope and love. Grant this we pray in the name of He who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, in glory everlasting. Amen+
Christmas 2 C January 2, 2022
We thank you that you became present among us in your Son, Jesus, he was made perfect through his sufferings so that he might be a merciful high priest,
faithfully reconciling your people to you. +
There is a traditional Italian story about an old woman named La Befana who was the most renowned housekeeper in her village. She would happily spend the day with her broom sweeping the floor, cupboards, and front step. The neighbors all knew her home was spotless. One day as she was sweeping, she was interrupted by a knock at the door. When she opened it, she saw quite a sight: three strangers looking travel-worn but well-to-do. The first one said that they had traveled a long way. The second explained that they needed somewhere to rest and heard that her house was the most hospitable in the village. The third told her the strangest thing of all: they were following a star.
Old Befana eyed them warily. She had lived alone for a long time and was cautious. They did not look like robbers, more like scholars or wealthy merchants or possibly royalty of some kind from lands far away. Hospitality was important and so she invited them in to stay. She showed them where she slept and they settled in, falling asleep immediately.
In between sweeping, Old Befana checked on the strangers from time to time, wondered why they were following a star.
When they finally awoke in early evening, she offered them food and drink and asked them her questions. They told her they came from the East and were following a star that would lead them to a newborn child who was the king of the Jews, and who would be the king of all kings. The strangers wanted to reward her hospitality by inviting her along to find this child and bestow gifts upon him.
Old Befana had been so caught up in their story that she dropped her broom in surprise. To travel with three strange men following a star? It would not be proper! Besides, who knows how long it would be before they found this new king. She shuddered as she pictured it and told the strangers kindly, but firmly, No, thank you, and wished them luck.
When Befana went to sleep that evening, she tossed and turned as she dreamed of the strangers, the star, and a baby bathed in light. When she woke up the next morning, she could think of nothing but the strangers, their story, and their invitation. All the time she spent thinking about that little king so much that, at last, she had a change of heart and decided to follow the strangers after all.
That night, she set off on the road with her broom in one hand and gifts tucked in her apron, looking for the light of the star.
The three strangers that both the legendary Befana and our Gospel story’s King Herod encountered were not kings, but most likely Persian or Babylonian experts in the occult, which in Matthew’s time would have been astrologists and interpreters of dreams. This wouldn’t have been odd in the ancient world, as astrologers prophesied the birth of other prominent rulers, such as Alexander the Great, from what was written in the stars. Prophetic dreams happened to Gentiles and Jews alike – as we see in the Gospel of Matthew, as well as in the Old Testament. Both the star and prophetic dreams reveal God’s presence in miraculous ways that call those who experience each to act in faith.
The star which the three men follow becomes a bridge between the pagan astrological hopes that invite the Gentiles into God’s story and the Jewish Biblical promises of a Messiah from the star out of Jacob in Numbers 24:13.
Two disparate worlds, aligning in one same goal: hope for the future. Matthew reminds us that even from Jesus’ birth, we see walls between races and cultures breaking down. The Gentile magi are seen to have what is a common occurrence in Matthew’s Gospel—the ability to be obedient to God by literally and figuratively following the light – while King Herod, the chief priests, and scribes serve as foils to show the unbelief of some of the people to whom Jesus was sent.
Matthew consistently relates everything back to Jesus’ future story and puts it in the framework of the ongoing story of God. The worst sin in Matthew’s Gospel is the hypocrisy of the Judaean leadership, which King Herod portrays well in his sneaky and murderous intentions when engaging with the trusting Magi. It also forebodes what will happen later to Jesus.
This interpretation is appropriate both to Matthew’s era and the community to which he writes. There are two claims to kingship: the one in this world, which Herod is keen to retain, and the divine kingship which Jesus represents. The wonder which the Magi see and interpret translates into faithful action as they seek to pay homage to Jesus, while Herod scrambles in fear and plots murder.
If the Magi were from the East – meaning the Babylonian empire in this context, consider what a long journey they would have had to make. It echoes Abraham’s obedience to God in traveling from Ur, in modern-day southern Iraq, all the way to Egypt and back to Hebron in the Promised Land of Israel. What would compel not just one person but three to follow a star in the sky on such a dangerous journey so far from home? Like Old Befana, would you have joined them?
We have been living through a global pandemic for almost two years. Our journey has been long and we do not know when the end will be in sight. We are tired of wandering through the wilderness, all the anchors which used to hold us in place uprooted, setting us adrift. Adapting daily to new information and ways of doing things is tiring. Personal losses, whether through death, a job loss, or other changes, deplete our emotional reserves. Many wonder why God would allow this to happen, and some have lost their faith in God. This is where our story and that of the three Magi converge.
We are not lost. We are traveling toward something greater than ourselves and Emmanuel – God with us – is as close as our breath. As Christians in this broken, hurting world, we can act now to reach out to our neighbors and offer hospitality of the heart. We have what the Magi and Matthew’s community had: hope for a better future in Christ. Like them, we follow the star that brings us to Jesus, and, in knowing Jesus, we change course, going home another way. Life will never be the same as it was before the pandemic. There is a quote often attributed to Carl Jung that was actually written by Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch Renaissance humanist theologian: Bidden or unbidden, God is present. The Magi did not know God in the way that the Judaean people did. Yet God’s sign compelled them to become part of God’s hopeful story. In our Book of Common Prayer, the Christian hope is defined as living with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world (p. 861). God is doing a new thing even now, and we are all invited to be part of the unfolding hope. Will you follow?
Declaration of Grace / Absolution
Through his suffering, Christ has become our high priest,
offering sacrifices to God to atone for our sins.
It is his presence that saves us,
for in his love and mercy he redeems us
and lifts us up.
We thank you that in your love and concern for us,
you became present among us in your Son, Jesus.
Though he was hunted at birth and forced to flee as a refugee,
he was made perfect through his sufferings
so that he might be a merciful high priest,
faithfully reconciling your people to you.
Commission & Benediction
Go now and give praise for all the Lord has done.
Put your trust in Christ; weep over the world’s grief and suffering,
and with Christ, offer yourselves to God for the healing of the world.
And may God give you strength and glory;
May Christ Jesus be proud to call you his brothers and sisters;
And may the Holy Spirit lift you up and carry you onward.
Christmas 1 December 26, 2021
We give thanks O God, for through your beloved Son, you have given us power to become your children, and marked us with the seal of your Holy Spirit, so that we might live for the praise of your glory.
Tis the season to be jolly! we sing at parties and at church events. Then, on Christmas, we read: What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. It is a message to Christians in every age, from the very beginning until now. It is also a message to those who dwell in winter in the northern hemisphere each year at Christmas.
Wherever in the world that Christmas falls on us, whether at the darkest or the brightest season of the year, we have either been in or are in deep darkness, as the world continues to turn. Darkness always finds us, as does Christmas, a season of light.
For those in the northern hemisphere who find ourselves in winter, it is, perhaps, one of the times of year that we feel our bodies the most. We shiver in the cold. Our hands feel like ice when we come inside. The darkness outside often manages to make its way in, weighing down our bones and making us feel like going to bed at 6 p.m. Stack on top of that a lifetime of grief we may all experience, and this time of year can be one of the most difficult for many of us. We miss loved ones that we have lost, we miss times gone by, and even as children, we dread the day when this joyful season will pass us by, and we will be left with dark days for the rest of winter.
Tis the season to be jolly?
Christmas is also a time of high expectation. We expect our trees perfectly trimmed, gifts wrapped in beautiful paper, and lights hung just so.
We expect our family members to get along, food to be perfect, snow to fall just enough to be pretty but not enough to cancel our travel.
If you are much older than four years old, you know Christmas never works out perfectly. You don’t always get what you want — in gifts or in seasonal perfection.
And maybe Christmas night didn’t work out perfectly. Maybe the turkey or the pies got burned. Maybe you didn’t get what you wanted under the tree. Maybe Uncle Sam brought up something offensively political at the dinner table. Something might have even caught on fire. Our perfect holidays are never… quite… perfect.
Christmas is the season when we find our Savior wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a feeding trough, in a stable.
If it is not a perfect holiday for you, just keep in mind that the first Christmas was far from perfect. The reality of that night was quite likely far from the story that the Christmas carols tell us, of a silent, serene night with angels singing. Were there angels singing, according to the Scriptures? Yes. Was the night serene? Maybe. There was also animal dung. That didn’t make it into the songs.
There was scratchy hay and two exhausted parents who had traveled a long way, including a mother who had just given birth after a long trip. There were shepherds who had likely spent many days in a row working. There was dirt and blood and hay. And yet. In the midst of that holy mess, there was a Savior. The God of heaven took on human form – not as a prince born in a palace of privilege – but as the son of a poor carpenter and his young fiancé in an occupied land.
He was born not in Jerusalem, the holy city, but in Bethlehem, a small village whose name means house of bread. So, if your Christmas is not perfect — if it is far from perfect — remember that the first Christmas was quite a literal mess, too, and God was there. If God was in that stable, and we believe God was, then God is with you in your mess, too.
If you are missing someone that you have lost, if your family is full of conflict or not present at all, or if the turkey burns or the lights go out, or if seasonal depression just has you down more than usual this year, you are not alone. If your Christmas feels like an absolute disaster, remember that Mary probably thought the birth of her first child was quite an exhausting ordeal, too.
You are not the first to have a difficult Christmas, if that is what you are having, and you are not the only one here who is enduring one. You are not alone. It is in the midst of disaster that the Savior appeared and is appearing. The message of Christmas is simple: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Here is what those who are most responsible for making Christmas happen, and for making it perfect, if we’ve been doing it long enough, they know: even if everything goes wrong, went wrong, is going wrong, Christ is born among us, still. Ever since the Church settled on celebrating the birth of Christ in December there hasn’t been one Christmas where the baby Jesus didn’t appear, where we all decided collectively that it just wasn’t going to happen this year. Not even in 2020.
It was still Christmas then, and here in 2021, it is still Christmas, again. Through every dark time, every war, every horror that humanity could imagine, it’s always still been Christmas
The Twelve Days have found us, every year. Christ has always been born among us.
A Savior has been born, even in the midst of a mess — especially in the midst of a mess.
God was born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough. It wasn’t clean or shiny or neat or serene or probably really all that joyful at the time. But still, a Savior was born among us. Still, God is with us.
Christmas has come to us again. Love and light have come to us, have shined on us, again. And the darkness will not overcome it.
Tis the season to be jolly, indeed.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Today, as the family of God, regardless of anything that we do or have done or will do or will experience, Christ is born among us again.
And that is all the perfection, or jolliness, or light that we could ever need. Thanks be to God. Amen+
Pentecost 17B September 19, 2021
Declaration of Grace / Absolution
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God
and submit yourselves to God’s ways
and God will draw near to you in mercy.
We give thanks for your Son, Jesus,
through whom you showed us
that true greatness is known in servanthood,
and that the way of wisdom is found in childlike simplicity,
putting aside selfish ambitions
and walking in the ways of peace, mercy and humility.
Commission & Benediction Go out, clothed in strength and dignity.
Submit yourselves to God and resist the devil.
Delight in the Lord’s teaching,
open your hands to the poor,
and let your actions arise from the wisdom of God.
And may God draw near to you and strengthen you;
May Christ Jesus teach you the ways of simplicity;
and may the Holy Spirit fill you with wisdom
and make your fruitful in peace and righteousness.
Pentecost 17B Sept 19, 2021
We give thanks for your Son, Jesus, through whom you showed us that greatness is known in servanthood, and that the way of wisdom is found in childlike simplicity, walking in the ways of peace, mercy and humility. +
Who here wants to be first of all?
Who here wants to be powerful?
Who here wants to be a leader?
My guess is that most of us have some ambivalence about answering yes to any of these questions. Unlike the kindergartners who immediately raise their hands and shout, Me, me! when the teacher asks Who wants to be first? most of us are hesitant to claim our desire to be first of all. Like the disciples of Jesus, we are reluctant to admit that we are even concerned with questions of greatness, much less having aspirations in that regard for ourselves. Some of us have been taught that it is wrong to want to be first, to want to be powerful. We’ve learned that we should want to be last, to be powerless servants.
As a society we’re critical of those who do aspire to position of leadership. It may be OK for kindergartners to want to be president but not for most adults. Grown-ups who seek leadership positions are suspect. They must be power-hungry or egomaniacs. They must want to get rich. So we test them, watch them like hawks waiting for them to fail. We belittle them in jokes, cartoons and editorials.
One reason we’re suspicious of people seeking power is that so many in powerful positions have used power to hurt others.
Too often we have seen power used to increase personal wealth. To often powerful people protect the interests of at the expense of the less powerful. Who wants to be first? Well, no honest person, no one wants to be associated with the greedy, the dishonest, and the abusive.
Conventional wisdom has it that even if you are reform-minded, an honest soul out to change the system, you wouldn’t get very far without having to compromise your integrity.
You know the saying Power Corrupts, well here even Jesus seems to agree. At least that’s one way to interpret today’s Gospel. We shouldn’t want to be leaders, we should aspire to be servants. We should focus on welcoming other powerless people, (like children), into our community. But who wants to be last? Who wants to be powerless? A servant of all? Who wants to grow a community of the poor, the weak, the other?
Perhaps here we can be more honest. Very few of us aspire to humbleness. We may not be opposed to starting out on the bottom rung of the ladder, but our aim is to come up a little higher! So, we are left with a dilemma.
How can we reconcile our longing to be powerful, to affect change in our world, with our suspicion that power is bad; that even our longing for power taints us in some way, and then aligns us with the ungodly. Let’s take another look at the Gospel for today.
One way to read it is that Jesus does not want his disciples to be great. He has just finished telling them for the second time that he is going to be betrayed and killed Not an image of power and triumph.
Jesus discerns they have been discussing who is greatest. He sits down and tells them greatness is bad. Better to aspire to be a powerless servant like he was. However, there’s at least one other way to interpret these passages. Notice that Jesus does not actually say that greatness is bad.
It’s the disciples who worry their discussion was out of line when they decline to confess to Jesus that they had argued with one another who was the greatest. Jesus knew greatness was an issue for the disciples. He knew they were afraid to understand his predictions of his own betrayal, death, and resurrection. He senses they are concerned about who is the greatest; that they’re conflicted about their interests and desires concerning their own greatness. And so, taking advantage of this teachable moment, he calls them together to talk about it.
He does not say, whoever wants to be first is a bad person, is greedy, power-hungry and corrupt. Rather, he simply offers guidance for anyone who wants to be first. Do you really want to be first, to be great? Well to be truly great, here’s what you have to do.
The desire to be first itself seems to be affirmed as natural. Jesus does not even comment on it. What Jesus does discuss is the paradoxical path to greatness. If you want to be first, you must be last of all and servant to all.
What can he mean? It is OK to want to be first as long as you never act on that desire? If you want to be first in life, stay very quiet, don’t yell, don’t raise your hand, just walk to the end of the line. Sooner or later the teacher will see how good you are and reward you.
Others have been taught that what Jesus meant was that they will be rewarded in this life or the next for always serving others first, for disregarding their own needs, even in the face of psychological and physical abuse.
The problem with these interpretations is that they do not take seriously the context for the teaching Who wants to be first.
What if we understood that Jesus was giving advice to leaders in the church – the twelve and all those to come — who would continue to embody Jesus’ earthly ministry? That being, if you want to be trusted community leaders, and ensure ethical standards are not compromised, if you want to be one of the great ones, put your own interests last.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting your own voice to be heard. Just be sure that all others have a voice when you use yours.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve your financial well-being, just be sure that you attend to the financial well-being of the rest of the community first.
Being a good leader, a great leader, must mean being a servant to all — to the poor as well as the rich, to women as well as to men, to Jew as well as to Greek, to children as well as to adults. And it is a child Jesus uses to illustrate what he means about the exercise of power. A great leader, the most powerful one in the community will receive a child, not as a dependent, not as an obligation, but as an equal, as a co-leader.
Jesus says, by welcoming anyone in Jesus’ name, especially the least powerful in the community, we are welcoming Jesus. And whoever welcomes Jesus is welcoming God.
It’s OK to want to be first, to be a leader, to exercise power, as long as you welcome everyone into your community, as if each one were your savior, you can become one of the Great Ones. +
Pentecost 16B September 12, 2021
Declaration of Grace / Absolution
No one knows all their faults
and none of us have brought sin under complete control.
But Christ is not ashamed to identify with us.
In his own suffering love, he offers us his life.
We give thanks for your anointed one, Jesus,
who suffered rejection as one of us,
and who now lights a fire of renewal that will never go out,
as he calls us to take up the cross
and follow him on the road to resurrection.
Commission & Benediction
Go out with your minds set on the things of God.
Take up your cross and follow Jesus.
See to it that the words of your mouths
and the thoughts of your hearts
are acceptable to God and enlightening to all.
And may God make the holy Word known to you;
May Christ Jesus lead you in the ways of sacrificial love;
and may the Holy Spirit set you ablaze with divine wisdom.
Pentecost 16B September 12, 2021
We give thanks for your anointed one, Jesus, who now lights a fire of renewal, as he calls us to take up the cross and follow him on the road to resurrection. +
Here’s a take on the question Who is Jesus?
Have you ever been asked that? Or have you asked it of yourself? Or, ask is this nonsense?
It would seem, after 2,000 years of Christian history, we should not have to ask. We might add that it’s obvious – Jesus is our Lord and Savior, the son of God, the second person of the Trinity to whom we pledge our faith through the creed every Sunday.
Still, the question presents itself to us today: Who is Jesus? St. Mark takes us back to the very heart of the gospel. It was a critical time in Jesus’ relationship with his followers, a moment when the truth of what God was doing in and through Jesus came into focus. An encounter that clarifies once and for all the answer to the question Who is Jesus?
For each of us – and in every generation – an understanding of who Jesus is cuts to the core of our personal faith. What Peter and the others experienced, so long ago, is what we go through again and again. As we decide if we’re willing to act on what we say. To match what we believe with how we follow Jesus in the actions of our lives.
Today we find Jesus with his disciples in a decisive moment of teaching, and a gut-wrenching reality check. Near the end of his public ministry, Jesus sought an evaluation of its effectiveness. And he needed his closest allies to understand, really understand, what God was doing in and through him, to know where it all led, for the sake of the world. He asked the disciples what people were saying about him. Who was he in their eyes? Well he received several answers: John the Baptist? Elijah coming back to life again, or maybe a modern prophet? But that’s just the warm up. Jesus really wanted to know was who his disciples thought he was. Peter, always quick to act spoke boldly: You’re the Messiah. Peter had come to understand him as the one who would fulfill God’s promises, the one whom God would send to save the world.
So, Jesus may have thought: So far so good.
But then again, he also knew they didn’t fully understand what he meant. Jesus knew that Peter and others thought about the meaning of Messiah according to the old order. They saw him as the one who would usher in God’s deliverance, as a mighty warrior. One capable of returning Israel to independence, to be free from Roman oppression.
The truly revolutionary nature of what Jesus was doing required him to continue to teach, and perhaps test them further – to tell them what it meant for him to be the Messiah, and what it would take for the world to be saved. He revealed that understanding which would result in the events of Holy Week – his trial and death, before rising again.
Proving that he really didn’t get it, and with his usual impetuousness, Peter responds by reprimanding Jesus. He didn’t like what he heard. It didn’t fit his view of how God would save the world. Imagine how much it must have troubled Jesus to be treated this way by his most trusted follower. So challenging was this rebuke, Jesus had to take the strongest of measures to make sure he was not misunderstood.
He called Peter Satan insisting Peter’s view was one of human thinking and not of God.
Jesus might have expected this. It’s probably why he told the disciples not to tell people about knowing him as the Messiah. They would have more trouble understanding than the twelve. Those who had to know that the gift of God in him – the love, grace and forgiveness poured out through him – would come at a price, to Jesus and his followers.
To follow Jesus, to walk the way of God, would require going against the most basic urges of human nature. It would require that they deny their own needs and desires. Speaking words they would only truly grasp after his death. They would have to take up crosses of their own, like the one he would bear on his way to die on the cross of Calvary.
It wouldn’t work to focus on saving one’s life – that would be the surest way to spiritually lose it. Every world value pale in comparison to what one can have in living a life with God.
That is the nature of who Jesus is.
That is what it means to know him as Savior. That is what it means to follow him in the way of God. That is how it becomes personal. That’s how we match what we say we believe with how we follow Jesus in the actions of our lives. To say that Jesus is our Savior is to follow him willingly into salvation.
Today’s gospel reminds us to deny ourselves – to lose self, to let go of the ego, – to put ourselves aside for the sake of greater values. It is giving up ourselves for others, in ways of sacrifice and unselfishness.
It’s giving up particular interests -or time – or possessions when God’s purposes require it. It is letting the will of God take the place of our own will. It is putting God, not ourselves, at the center of life. It is, in the words of the Baptismal Covenant, renouncing all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God.
The figurative cross we carry following Jesus represents the price we pay for Christianity. The cost of discipleship, the way we remain connected with God, answers the question Who is Jesus?
Though the answer – the response of losing our selfishness for the sake of God – is highly personal, because we don’t act upon it alone. We are lucky to be able to carry crosses in the company of a faithful band of followers of Jesus.
We stand beside one another as we meet Christ at the Eucharist. where we relive Jesus’ sacrificial death.
Together we gain sustenance for the difficult challenge Jesus sets before us, as we eat and drink with him and of him.
We take what he is into our bodies, and into our spirits as we become renewed and empowered by the spiritual energy that is Christ.
So empowered, we go forth into our weekdays, and workdays, into the world as we act out the answer to the question:
Who is Jesus?
Pentecost 15B September 5, 2021
We give thanks for your son, Jesus Christ, through whom your love and healing mercy is now sowing in us the seeds of faith, that we might bring forth a rich harvest of good works. Amen+
Something different this week, as I want to begin with a reading that may capture the spirit we see and hear in the Syrophonecian woman’s response to Jesus.
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
Sweetcakes, God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes (Kaylin Haught, God Says Yes to Me, from The Palm of Your Hand, 1995).
The Syrophoenician woman tells Jesus, Guess, what? Jesus. God said yes to me. God said yes to me when God tore open the heavens. God said yes to me when God decided to show up in the wilderness rather than in the temple. God said yes to me when you came here instead of spending all your time in Jerusalem. It’s okay to be me, so get over yourself, Jesus.
There is really no story like this in the Bible. Well, the one exception might be Moses getting God to change God’s mind.
This morning’s Gospel lesson is the story of the Syrophoenician woman who claims the privileges of a dog to beg for Jesus to help in healing her daughter. We see Jesus reaching across prejudice, across lines of insider and outsider, and healing the daughter. Before that, in last week’s lesson, we learn what really makes people unclean is what comes out of their mouths, not what goes in. Mark shows Jesus changing religious rules to include more people, opening communication where there was deafness and denial before, creating new possibilities for relationship.
But this woman does more than get Jesus to change his mind — she rocks Jesus’ world. She gets Jesus to admit for what and whom his ministry is all about. She gets Jesus to see God for what and who God truly is.
Jesus’ experience with the Syrophoenician mother is an unusual story because he experiences a critical shift in his awareness. Because she is a Gentile, he harshly refuses her request to heal her daughter. He actually insults her. Yet she persists and counters his insult. Then Jesus changes his mind. The woman tells the truth. And when the truth gets told? Worlds change. Her world changed. Same for Jesus. He tried to escape it, tried to escape notice (Mark 7:24). Because of her the rest of his ministry cannot be the same.
We may think we want our world to change, but do we really? Because when our world is about to change it takes preparation, getting our head around it, getting used to it. Life, obviously, will never be the same again. We won’t be able to go back to the way it was, before.
We often remain where we are because we convince ourselves that it takes a lot less effort to live lives of falsehood than to muster the energy to move from lies to honesty.
Telling the truth takes risk. It takes courage, so much courage. So we don’t speak the truth. We stay silent. Bite our lips. Wait for the right moment, which, by the way, never, ever comes. We remain in made-up worlds, in illusions we’ve created that are carefully and strategically segmented from the truth we desperately want to live.
This is true in our personal lives and it is true in our pastoral lives. You do not need me to tell you just how true this this. Just stop and think about this for a minute. Please.
The lies you live. The truths you are afraid to tell. Tell yourself the truth.
If Jesus needed to be told the truth of the Gospel, God knows (literally) we do as well.
Because that’s the first step in uttering the truth to others. And we need these days, needs to speak about the difficulty of truth-telling and the difficult truths.
All too often truth is side-lined, to make the church, or the call to proclaim the Gospel, look better than it is. Truth-telling is 100% and absolutely essential, in part because the church itself cannot live into the fullness of the Gospel, when exclusionary power structures exist, says the woman from Tyre.
When the truth is suppressed, when your truth is suppressed, it is right then and there that assumptions take over. It is critical to name the truth, to put it out on the table for all to deal with rather than to maintain our current practices of ignorance or pretension.
Because when you are accustomed to hiding the truth, overlooking it, it becomes almost impossible to discern truth from falsehood.
Truth-telling is hard to do and hard to hear — and will be resisted, sometimes only at first, sometimes perpetually, even exponentially. But that is when the truth has to be heard for the sake of empowering the other. This is one of the most powerful promises of this text.
She tells the truth so that others can then say, so that I can say:You have just told my story! Thank you! The truth, in part, has to be told and has to be heard so that you know and others know that you are not alone.
The process of truth-telling is essential, regardless of any issue we use to divert the promises of God.
Those who are entrusted with the privilege of giving voice to God’s love, must be held accountable to that which the Gospel in its fullness proclaims.
When voices are sidelined, when presences are questioned, when presentations of the Gospel are called into question because the source is an outsider, like the woman from Tyre it is never, ever just about us, but also about God.
When our imagination for God’s hope is undermined by our lack of imagination, that is when God becomes less than God.
The Syrophoenician woman tells the truth about God and in doing so helps us imagine that truth for ourselves. +
Pentecost 15B September 5, 2021
Declaration of Grace / Absolution
When we fail to keep even one point of God’s law,
we become accountable for all of it,
but God’s mercy triumphs over judgment,
setting us free and giving us a faith that is active for good.
We give thanks for your son, Jesus Christ,
through whom your love and healing mercy
reached beyond the bounds of our prejudice,
and who is now sowing in us the seeds of faith,
that we might bring forth a rich harvest of good works.
Commission & Benediction
Go now, and invest your lives in the works of faith.
Make a name for yourselves for generosity and compassion.
Fulfill God’s holy law
by putting love into action as eagerly for others
as you would for yourselves.
And may God be your defender and provider;
May Christ Jesus dispel all that disturbs or disables you;
and may the Holy Spirit make you rich in faith
and loving and merciful in action.
We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
In the name of Christ. Amen.
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