Today's lessons are very somber. The despair expressed in Jeremiah and the Psalm remind me of an event in a television show. Some of you may remember the television series of the 1990s – “Touched by an Angel.” Three angels were assigned to connect with people in distress to let them know that God loves them and hasn’t forgotten them.
One episode that stuck with me was about a young woman who escaped persecution by the Chinese government. She had to make a choice about saving her brother by returning to China. Her return meant that she would be imprisoned and tortured. The very last scene showed the young woman on her knees preparing to be whipped and the angel wrapping her arms and body around her like a shield. The angel and the young woman suffered the pain together.
Jeremiah and the Psalmist are voicing their pain. The first words that we hear from Jeremiah are:
My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
The people of Judah were conquered by Babylon and they were exiled. It was a time when Judah lost everything – the land, the sacred temple, and their king. The Babylonians had authority over everything: government, property, religion, business. The peasants and slaves remained, but the people who could subvert Babylon's authority were exiled to Babylon. Jeremiah was mourning for the loss of Judah.
Let’s take a moment to understand the history. When Saul died, the kingdom was split into two: Israel and Judah. Israel contained 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel. Judah contained the other 2 tribes.
The kingdoms of Israel and Judah were ruled by David and then his son Solomon. After that, they were ruled separately. Israel was conquered by Assyria (~740 BCE) about 150 years before Judah was conquered by Babylon (~597 BCE). The conquest of Judah, which included Jerusalem, was about six hundred (600) years before the time of Jesus.
The Psalm is lamenting the same loss – the conquest and exile of Judah:
1 O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance; they have profaned your holy temple; * they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.
6 Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you * and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob * and made his dwelling a ruin.
The destruction of Jerusalem, including the holy temple, meant that the people of Judah had no home or power. In addition, the destruction of the temple signified that God was homeless as well.
Continuing the somberness of today’s lessons, the gospel parable talks about how a man faces ruination. His employer learned how the manager was squandering his property. He confronted him and demanded an accounting of his property and fired him.
The lesson and Jesus’ comments are complex at best. But what if we focus on the loss that this manager is facing? His whole world is falling apart.
Immediately before this story, the gospel tells the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal son and the manager share the characteristic of wasting away their gifts – the son his inheritance and the manager his position of honor and trust. The two men make a decision to repent and improve their lives. The son to stop living as a beggar. The manager to avoid becoming a slave or a beggar.
Jeremiah and the Psalmist also wanted their situations to change. Today’s reading of the Psalm ends with the Psalmist asking God for salvation:
9 Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name; * deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name's sake.
Today's readings lead us to recall our deepest moments of despair. We all have had difficult times. Some of us have even faced life-threatening experiences. At those times, we may have chosen to submit to despair or tried solutions that offered no peace.
At some point, we found the sanctuary of peace and protection in God. Using the words from a Forward Day by Day meditation: When we shout to heaven, as Jeremiah and the Psalmist did, God hears our cry. From the deepest pits of our lives, God lends words of comfort and leads us out of the wilderness into pastures of peace—where springs of love restore us.
That deep wellspring of love is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the letter to Timothy, the author says: "5 For there is but one God, and one man who is the mediator between God and men: Christ Jesus. 6 For he gave himself to death as a ransom for the salvation of all"
The good news of the gospel is that, yes, God hears our pleas. Our pleas for help, for deliverance from our afflictions, for forgiveness of our sins. Our Lord knows our hearts and our desire for repentance of our sins.
In the Gospel of John, we have the most famous and familiar saying: "16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but have eternal life.”
And in the next verse – “17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save him through him."
Yes, there are times when we're in pain. Yes, we are sinners. Yes, we waste away our gifts. Yes, we weep when we feel alone and abandoned. Yes, we repent time after time after time.
And in the middle of all that pain and despair, God is with us. Yes, the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the strength to survive our afflictions and overcome our problems. Jesus Christ gives us hope and the possibility of a new life. Through the power of the resurrection, Jesus makes it possible to become the person that God created us to be.
Thanks be to God!
Effective, Sunday, October 13; after taking a straw poll amongst members who attend both
the 9 am and 10:30 am services; and in light of our recent survey results; the service hours are
going to be changed. The first service; will begin at 8:30 am instead of 9:00 am. The second
service will begin at 10:45 am instead of 10:30 am. We are going to give this a try until the end
of the calendar year.
The third service, 1:00 pm, will stay the same.
Don’t forget, Daylight Savings ends on Sunday, November 3!
Why the change?
A few months ago, all in the church were invited to participate in a general congregational
survey called Holy Cow (company name). The purpose was to help identify who we are, who is
our neighbor, and what is God calling us to do during this time of transition. These survey
results are some of the sources of information for the task force that is currently crafting our
Parish Profile. This process, this profile, is one of the steps towards calling a new Rector.
A valuable response to come out of the survey is the desire for adult Christian Education
(Sunday school) on Sunday mornings. The existing worship schedule does not allow for such
a time slot. By changing the early service to 8:30 am and the second service to 10:45 am; this
allows a solid 45 minutes on Sunday morning for adult education (9:45-10:30 am).
Very important, this new schedule still allows time for coffee and fellowship. The main parish
hall will continue to be available for snacks and sharing. The classes will be held in the vestry
meeting room of the parish hall. The program is to have a series of classes that will be a series
of two to three Sundays; yet, each Sunday standing on it’s own as far as subject content.
The first two weeks will be with Fr. David Beer leading a discussion on Celtic Spirituality. The
next three weeks will be through a symposium called The Work Of The People (TWOTP). This
will be a discussion on gratitude, gifts and abundance led by Diana Butler Bass, an American
historian of Christianity and a leading voice in progressive Christianity (via streaming).
This has been a year now of many changes and transitions for this congregation; not to
mention my arrival on April 1 as your Interim Rector.
My prayer for all is that you continue to keep your hearts and minds open to the movement of
the Holy Spirit throughout this congregation. God has a plan!
By virtue of our Baptism, we are disciples of Jesus Christ. The question that I pose today is: How are we doing? How are we doing as disciples?
Are we as persistently loyal as Elisha was? He was Elijah’s protégé. Elisha knew that it was his destiny to continue Elijah’s ministry.
Elijah, Elisha, and the prophets – they ALL – knew that Elijah was going to be taken up to God. The prophets in Bethel and Jericho asked Elisha - "Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?" And every time, he replied– "Yes, I know."
Every time Elijah said, “Stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on” to the next place, Elisha sworw his allegiance to God and to Elijah and refused to go away.
In Elisha’s persistence in staying with Elijah and asking him for an elder son’s inheritance, he was persitently loyal to continuing Elijah’s prophetic mission.
In 1st Kings, chapter 19, we learn something about Elijah’s mantle and Elisha’s call to be his disciple. Elisha was plowing a field when “Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him.” When Elijah was taken up in the whirlwind, his mantle fell to the ground and Elisha picked it up.
In today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus challenge three people who declared their desire to follow Jesus. In the exchange with these people, we learn about three other characteristics of discipleship: A willingness to take risks, a willingness to make a commitment, and the ability to focus.
I can imagine the enthusiasm of the first person’s declaration of “I will go wherever you go!” But Jesus replied –"Foxes have caves and birds have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." Before today, I did not quite understand what that meant. But in my study for preparing this sermon, I found a commentary, written by Dr. Mikael Parsons of Baylor University, that explains it well.
He said -- "To follow Jesus, the Son of Man who -- unlike "foxes" and "birds of heaven" – 'has nowhere to lay his head' .. is to embark on a journey that may involve alienation..." Jesus was saying that there was no guarantee of shelter – “nowhere to lay his head” and that one may be rejected. Remember, at the beginning of this account the people in the Samaritan village already refused to receive him. When we make the choices that demonstrate our devotion to Christ, we may experience rejection. To be a disciple means that we need take risks, to step outside of our comfort zone.
In the other two exchanges, Jesus points out the need to make a commitment and to focus on the mission to “go and proclaim the kingdom of God." One way to understand the response of “let the dead bury the dead” is to look at it as an illustration of the need to not be distracted by events over which one has no control.
Jesus said, "He who puts his hand on the plow and keeps looking back, is not fit for the kingdom of God." The phrase about “He who puts his hand on the plow" was a saying that was very familiar to the people of the time. The plowman who does not focus on what is ahead runs the risk of cutting a crooked or shallow furrow.
Disciples need to focus on the mission of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God means that all people are restored "to union with God and with one another…"
According to our Catechism, the mission of the Church is to do just that – “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (BCP, 855) Furthermore, “The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.” (BCP, 856)
So far, I’ve talked only about what’s required of us disciples. Commitment, focus, persistence, risk, rejection. It sounds like the life of a disciple is hard. But we can to look to St. Paul for words of hope and encouragement.
Throughout his letters, Paul talks about the Spirit-filled life – life in Christ. In his letter to the Galatians, he says that when we choose life in the Spirit, we reap the fruits of the Spirit – "22love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control."
And with these fruits, we are nourished and encouraged to continue committing our lives to Christ. It becomes easier to stay engaged, to focus and be persistent in the mission. These fruits strengthen us to take the risks and suffer rejection.
Iranaeus of Lyon, a bishop of the 2nd century, described life in the Spirit in this way: “For the glory of God is the human person fully alive; ----- and life consists of beholding God. -----For the vision of God which is made by means of the creation, gives life to all the living in the earth, ----- much more does the revelation of the Father, which comes through the Word, ---- give life to those who see God.”
The Glory of God is found in us as we keep our vision of God in front of us. When we remember that all of creation is a gift from God, we can see God wherever we go. With that vision, we can fulfill the mission that God had given to each of us – to be his disciple.
When we renew our Baptismal vows, we answer every examination of commitment with: "I will, with God's help. "
Well, can we be faithful disciples?
Yes, we can with God's help.
Let us accept Christ’s commission to humble ourselves to fulfill the mission of unity with God and one another.
Maundy Thursday – what is it? The answer can be very detailed. For the moment, I’ll focus on the question that I am often asked. What does Maundy mean? Maundy is a short way of saying Maundatum – which is a Latin word for commandment. On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Last week my husband, a friend of ours and I went to the Summit on Race in America at the LBJ Library. We heard from people who commit their lives to fulfilling this commandment to love one another.
The conference was extremely inspiring and informative. During the conference, I heard the stories, reflections and exhortations of elder statesman of the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s. I heard the young movement leaders and activists of today sharing their worries and their desires and hopes for a more just society. I was inspired beyond measure by the work being done on behalf of the marginalized members of our society.
As I listened and learned, I was struck by the realization that I was hearing the Gospel Message. The Gospel message of sacrifice and hope, death and resurrection. The Gospel call “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”Here were people who heard the call and chose to pick up their crosses, to make the necessary sacrifices, with the hope that their contribution will lead to truth and reconciliation of all people.
Tonight, we are also called -- to not only be with Jesus as he moved toward the ultimate sacrifice, but to also pick up the cross of our distressing times of division and disparity.
Every Maundy Thursday we remember two other elements of Jesus’ last night with his disciples -- the Last Supper and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.
According to Dr. Lindsey Trozzo, a faculty member of Princeton Seminary: The act of foot washing in the ancient world symbolized not only humility but also hospitality.4 In a culture where friends reclined at the table to eat, usually after long and dusty walks, foot washing was an essential step in inviting others to the community feast. The job was a dirty one usually reserved for lowly servants, but it was extremely important. To wash someone’s feet was to recognize them as a welcome guest, to remove any barriers that might keep them from the table.
But there’s more to the act of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Let’s pay attention to some of the details that are easy to miss. John makes a point of saying,“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table...” Jesus’ action was embedded in hisknowledge of who he was, that he was empowered by God and was soon returning to God.
Jesus explained that the disciples must also be prepared to humble themselvesand serve one another. “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
This is a call to follow Jesus in his ministry – To do as I have done to you. To Love one another as I have loved you. To join Jesus in fulfilling his mission.
The Gospel of John focuses on the relationship of Jesus with God. This Gospel proposes that Jesus’ overall mission is to open up [this] unity with God [so that it would] be shared with the world at large.
Through the act of washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus is inviting them to share in this unity with God. Remember what he said to Peter, when Peter objected to havinghis feet washed. He said, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."
Dr. Trozzo writes, that “The Prologue of John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18) revealed that Jesus’ work in the world was to lead the way to God, to show the world the God they had not been able to see, and to reconcile the world back to its original unity with God.
Jesus was uniquely equipped for this mission because of his complex and mystical unity with God (1:1, 18).6 The story of the Foot Washing continues the trajectory [toward the cross], inviting the disciples into this unity and empowering them to fulfill God’s mission for the world after Jesus’ death.
The disciples are called and commissioned to fulfill God’s mission. This call did not end with the disciples. This call continues through us, the people of the church.
Our catechism in the Book of Common Prayer explains quite plainly that our mission, as members of the Church, “is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” We are commissioned through our Baptism.
“How does the Church pursue its mission? The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
When we come forward for the ceremonial foot washing, we are choosing to share in the mission of Jesus Christ. We are accepting the commission to be Christ’s messenger. We are choosing to live into the Gospel message.
If you come forward to participate in the ceremonial foot washing, imagine that Jesus is pouring water over your feet and wiping them dry. Imagine yourself becoming united with Christ in that moment. United in the mission to love one another.
As I mentioned earlier, we live in a time when division, derision, exclusion, and dishonor appear to be acceptable behaviors. Let us choose to oppose this norm by joining Christ in the mission of reconciliation and love. To be of “the same mind ... that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, ... humbled himself and became obedient” to God’s will.
Let us accept Christ’s commission to humble ourselves and be obedient to our Baptismal Covenant: “to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons. To strive for justice and peace. To respect the dignity of every human being."
- Deacon Vic
Maundy Thursday – Year C
Thursday, April 18, 2019
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas