Jesus and the disciples were at the temple and some people commented on the beauty of the temple: "how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God," The temple was a large stone building. If you’ve ever seen the National Cathedral with its beautiful stone sculptures and stained-glass windows, you can understand how these people felt. Another example is our Capitol Building. These buildings are made of very heavy stone, as was the temple. I can’t imagine either one not ever being there. Given the technology of Jesus’ day, it’s even easier to understand how the people could not imagine the temple ever being destroyed.
Yet, Jesus said that the temple would be destroyed. An then Jesus continued his observations by speaking of the disasters that will come in the future – “Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues;”
All of these things have happened and are happening now in various places of the world. Yet, here we are – alive and well in Austin, Texas. It’s really hard to comprehend this level of destruction when one has not experienced it.
We can believe that nothing in the world is permanent. But we can understand that life is cyclical – we have all experienced good times and bad times. As we go through difficult times, we reach out to God seeking consolation, strength, and answers. Jesus said, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Buildings are not permanent, but God’s love is. When I was studying Old Testament at the Iona School for Ministry, our instructor advised us to look for God’s “steadfast faith” as we read through the books. That was good advice as we slogged through the wars, the evil kings, leaders and armies doing remarkably horrendous acts in the name of God. However, throughout the readings, there was a clear message that God loved and cared for his people. He bemoaned the times when his people turned their backs on Him and chose to worship other gods and not live according to His Law. He rejoiced when the people returned to Him and chose to live in righteousness and justice according to His Law. He never abandoned his people, even though they may have felt like he had.
Righteousness in biblical terms is about living in right relationships – with God and with each other. Righteousness is about supporting one another. It means helping friends, neighbors, and even strangers, as they go through hard times.
It’s about going to Houston with a boat to help rescue people stranded by the floods caused by hurricanes. It’s about putting on work boots and picking up hammers, nails, saws, and other tools to help people rebuild their homes after the floods.
It’s about sitting with a friend who is mourning the loss of a spouse. It’s about giving respite for someone who is caring for a loved one. It’s about giving a homeless person a bottle of water and a $5 HEB card.
It’s about cheerfully doing chores around the house. It’s about holding back on that cutting remark that would “feel so good” to say. It’s about listening carefully to one another, especially when we disagree, so that we can work at solving problems peacefully. It’s about challenging violence in any form and to stand with others who are treated unfairly.
The Letter to the Thessalonians talks about this. In the excerpt we read today, it’s about doing one’s fair share for the community.
The author of this Letter to the Thessalonians remarks on the “believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.” At one level, the author is specifically talking about those who are taking advantage of the community by not working and contributing to the community funds. The Rev. Edward Pillar, in his commentary, suggests that this idleness is about not adhering “to these traditions of righteousness, justice, truth, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.”
He further points out that the key to this passage “is to be found in the very last phrase: ‘Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right’ (2 Thessalonians 3:13).” … There is then a call to work, but to work for righteousness. To work hard so that the traditions passed on by the apostles, based on the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, might become a reality within our communities and society.”
The traditions of righteousness to which we reaffirm our faith are summarized in the Baptismal Covenant. The five vows which we promise to do, with God’s help, would enable us to live in righteousness – as individuals, as a community, and as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
In the words of Bishop Daniel Martins, of the Diocese of Springfield, “The gracious rule of Christ brings together people of every race, nationality, social status, taste in music or food or drink, and a variety of politics without demanding that those personal attributes or proclivities be laid aside. We are one in Christ, even as we cherish our particular customs.”
In Isaiah’s prophecy, we are given a vision of this unity. A vision of community where the members have differences and live together in peace.
" The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent-- its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord."
Thanks be to God.
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.
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