Author Archives: standrews

Sunday, September 9, 2018 – Proper 18

Proper 18, Year B, 2018
Kevin Gore
St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

If I thought coming up with five different sermons all addressing the bread of life discourse was tough…I should have looked ahead to see what else was coming up in the lectionary.  While this story of two healings by Jesus from the Gospel of Mark is often beloved by many for a multitude of reasons, and has definitely been picked apart in every direction by theologians, preachers, and academics, preaching on it in the real world is not necessarily my favorite activity.   I say that because this is one of those passages that really challenge our Christology.  We don’t get to know the inner workings of Jesus’ mind.  We don’t get inner monologues from Jesus in the Gospels, only what is said and done.  To many the first event in this portion today, referred to usually as the Syrophoenician Woman, is an indication that Jesus is not fully accepting of outsiders.  That in his humanity, the implicit bias of a first century Jew towards non-Jews leads him to initially refuse to help the woman’s daughter.  To me, this takes Jesus’ divinity out of the picture in a way that is not in keeping with a Christology that acknowledges Jesus as both fully human and fully divine.  So, to say that the Syrophoenician woman teaches Jesus to stop being racist is, I think, a bridge too far in the study or preaching of this passage.

The Gospels were not meant to necessarily be broken up in small bites throughout the course of a calendar year, but rather continuous narrative that draws the listener in and lets you see the arcs and themes.  This story comes right after Jesus has had the encounter with the Pharisees about the hand washing.  He has shown them that tradition and God’s law aren’t always the same, and when the traditions do not honor the laws of God then they are not worth following.  So here it almost seems as if Jesus is turning this around and acting the same way the Pharisees do.  He is not acting in accordance with his own teachings, but rather by the laws and customs of Jews regarding others who are ethnically different from them.  What I think is somewhat curious is that Jesus is in the region of Tyre, which is not populated primarily by the Jews, but rather by Hellenized Syrians, people who are ethnically gentiles in Syrian or Middle Eastern heritage, but culturally most resemble Greek society.  Jesus is actually outside his home country when he has this interaction where he is saying that the children of God, in this case the Jewish people, must be the ones to first receive the good news.  In some ways this makes the whole interaction even more incredulous.  Jesus is on the home turf of this woman, telling her she is second class to the Jews.  What is also curious about this is that in the grand scheme of things, Jesus isn’t saying that the Kingdom of God coming to be in this world is never for anyone but the Jews, but rather he has brought it to them first.  Often this is characterized as a flat denial of sharing the kingdom of God, but it isn’t, as Jesus says the children eat first, not singularly.  Now as I’ve said before, this culture is based in whether or not you can win intellectual arguments.  This seems to be another one of those. I’m not sure if Jesus is actually speaking from a standpoint of believing this woman to be a dog, that she and her daughter are not as worthy to receive the power and miracles that he has, or whether he is testing, whether he is trying to get at the root of her faith.  What is abundantly clear though is that how she responds is the catalyst for Jesus to act.  Jesus says, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.”  Jesus heals the daughter by driving out a demon, from an unknown distance instead of going to her house, because this woman has responded to his challenge and she has won.

Paired with this quick interaction, that is less descriptive than most healings in Mark is the healing of a deaf man.  Let’s start first with a little geography.  Jesus was in the region of Tyre, which is far Northwest from the Sea of Galilee.  We don’t know why he was there, but he was in fact a long way from home in Syrophoenician territory.  Now the gospel tells us that he’s returning from the region of Tyre by way of Sidon.  Here’s the thing about that.  It’s like going to Little Rock by way of Branson.  By any map, it doesn’t seem like that’s the way to get from Tyre to Galilee, unless maybe it’s by way of several river boats and land crossings.  What I’m getting at is that Jesus is going a bit out of his way to head deeper into Syrophoenician territory.  Again, some scholars speculate that after the encounter with the woman in the first part, Jesus decides to continue moving deeper into the land.  I’m not entirely sure he’s preaching though, as he is adamant that the man he heals needs to keep it a secret.  Which works as well as any time Jesus tells people not to talk about his miracles.  Jesus sighs, says the Aramaic word ‘Ephphatha’ which means, “Be Open”.  It’s an interesting word choice for the Messiah, heralding the Kingdom of God, wandering deep into Gentile territory, at first telling them that they are not to be first, that he has not come primarily for them, though he then casts out a demon, then to use the words, “Be Open” which are both fitting for the act of healing a deaf man, but also very descriptive of what Jesus is doing.  The Good News, the Messiah is indeed come for all.  For the Jews, for Syrophoenicians, for us, for the whole of Creation, Christ has come to free us from the bonds of death, and to show us the way to live into the Kingdom of God.

That word, Ephphatha, ‘be open’, it reminds me of something those of you who have spent any time in a Methodist church might be familiar with.  There is a campaign in the United Methodist tradition known as ‘Rethinking Church’ and one of its main slogans is, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors’.  While they are certainly putting that to good use, it seems very apropos to this gospel story.  ‘Be open’ says Jesus.  We work to make this an open place.  Our doors stand open on Sunday mornings, much to the chagrin of those who monitor the thermostat.  Our minds and our hearts open to welcome friends and strangers.  Those who have been here for many years, those who have come back after a break, or those who we are meeting for the first time, we are open to all who are seeking the Kingdom of God.  Be open.  There are entire segments of the population in this place, even here in Mountain Home, that don’t know we are here, that don’t know our doors are open on Sunday mornings to all.  You would be surprised at the number of conversations I have had in the last couple of weeks with folks who didn’t know there was a place for them to worship, who didn’t know that we are here with our open hearts, our open minds, and our open doors.

When Jesus commissioned the Apostles, he commanded them to go out and make disciples of all people.  It isn’t just enough for us to be walking in those open doors, it’s our job to be out in the world, in the farthest flung places we know, in the sort of places that make people ask us things like why in the world we went to Branson to get back to Little Rock, to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God.  The Gospel, the Messiah, salvation…it is for all, and it always has been.  Let the people you meet out in the world know that God invites them in through these open doors, that they too are worthy of the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  Ephphatha.  Be Open.

Sunday, September 02, 2018 – Proper 17

Proper 17, Year B, 2018 September 2
Kevin Gore – St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Hypocrites.  That’s a word we hear from Jesus quite a few times.  It’s used a little over 20 times throughout the four Gospels, usually directed at the most outwardly pious figures, quite often authorities of the Temple or the Pharisees.  Today’s Gospel is one of those times. It’s rather clear what
Jesus is saying, that these men who are questioning the disciples’ lack of complying with the traditional social norms expected around eating have focused too much on the wrong things.  Jesus is used to being questioned by this point, especially by religious authorities.  The intellectual culture of first century Palestine is one where being challenged and either winning that challenge or losing will continually shape your social standing.  But one can imagine that maybe Jesus expected more out of these guys.  If you’re going to try and challenge Jesus’ knowledge and authority in relation to Torah or the Laws of God, don’t start using customs and human traditions as your foundation.

You see, doing all that washing that is described in the Gospel of Mark is not mandated by God.  There is nothing in the Levitical laws, in the Ten Commandments, or anywhere else provided or inspired by God that dictate this.  The washing is entirely based in culture and probably is something learned over many decades of poor sanitation and disease.  These complex rules of washing probably have some inspiration in the laws of purity, but no matter how much some want them to be, they are not a part of it.  So it seems like Jesus is not having any of this line of questioning when he hearkens back to Isaiah referring to the people that are honoring God with their words and not their deeds, and as it is written, “teaching human precepts as doctrine.”  Now there’s quite the sticky wicket as we sit here today in this church, with vestments, with particular ways of doing things, of ways we approach the table for communion based in doctrine, and how we form our entire worship.

I’ll let you ruminate on that for a minute and return to Jesus and his teachings.  So Jesus continues responding to this inquiry about hand washing by speaking to the crowd at large and saying that nothing that goes into a person can defile them, but it’s what comes out that can defile a person.  I want to pause here and say that I’m 99.9% certain that this is entirely meant to be understood on a deeper level than literal.  We know that if you eat the wrong thing, if you ingest spoiled food or don’t wash your hands after you’ve been working with children or with those who are ill, there is a likelihood you are going to get sick.  So here Jesus is pulling apart two separate concepts that have been mashed together in Jewish practice.  We’re talking about sanitation and hygiene versus spiritual defilement.  The purity laws were taken to mean you were ritually unclean, but many of the purity laws are really formed out of a helpful guide to survive.  Pork, for instance, is forbidden by Jewish dietary laws.  It’s not because pork is spiritually harmful, it’s because in the ancient Middle East when these laws are formed, you have no way of preserving the meat that can absolutely guarantee you won’t get sick from eating it, let alone how difficult it is to raise pigs and not end up with some sort of parasites in the meat at that time.  The point Jesus is driving at here is that you can be the most ritually pure person in the world, but if you are not striving to love other people as God loves, then you are defiled by what you do.  Then Jesus continues to talk about what actions defile, but first….the lectionary omits verses!

I think by now you all know what I’m going to do when the lectionary omits verses!  I didn’t read it during the proclamation of the Gospel but I do want to cover it quickly.  Right after Jesus says, “but the things that come out are what defile”, verses 17 – 20 are omitted.  The author of Mark writes, “When Jesus had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles.”  Then Jesus goes on to talk about the evils that come from the human heart which defile.  This omission again might make the reading shorter, but it provides more depth to the narrative.  Even the disciples, the ones who weren’t necessarily observing all the accepted norms of washing aren’t quite able to wrap their minds around Jesus’ teaching.   I don’t blame them.  Jesus is pulling away centuries of cultural norm to get at the true meaning of something and sometimes that is hard for people to accept.

We see that so often in our own lives, which brings me back to that comment earlier about vestments and churches.  It was a bit tongue in cheek, because while it does walk a fine line between commandments of God and human tradition, these are not inherently things that stand in the way of following through with loving people, with walking in the way of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes, I dare say, they actually help remind us of that.  But peeling away tradition when it doesn’t conform to Jesus’ teaching, to the values that God calls us to, is actually really hard most of the time.  The basic truth is we fail at it.  We fail at it a lot.  Jesus has set the mark incredibly high and we’re probably never going to attain it.  We see examples of human tradition being idolized over the commandments of God all the time.  When children are torn from their parents, stuffed into cages, and abused by governments and we do nothing to stop it, traditions of nationalism and submitting to human authority has been valued over the commandments of God.  When we allow the hungry, the sick, the needy to die because helping them means giving of our own fruits, we have given up on the commandments of God.  When we don’t sell all of our possessions, give all the money to the poor, and live by the grace of God, we have not followed through with what Jesus commands us.  I’ll be honest with you, I really doubt that last one is ever going to happen for me.  Does that make me a hypocrite?  Well, yeah, kind of.

But kind of not.  A hypocrite is someone who is not genuine to what you see on the outside.  The term hypocrite isn’t appropriate for someone who fails to accomplish an unattainable goal, no matter how hard they try.  That is who we are as children of God.  I think I can be pretty sure that we will never be able to fully live in to the call of Jesus Christ until that end of time when we are all gathered together in the eschaton.  But we don’t get to just sit down and sulk that we aren’t going to accomplish the goal either.  We strive.  We work.  We try our best to tear away human tradition when it conflicts with the Kingdom of God, we acknowledge that human traditions, that denominations, nationalities, borders, corporations, profits, worldly power, that it is all not directly from God but formed through our experience as creation.  Not all of it is bad because not all of it asks us to abandon the way of God.  But not all of it is good either.  There are many things in our lives, in our cultures, in our human traditions that seductively throw stumbling blocks into our path to follow Christ.  If we are constantly striving to do better, to follow better, regardless of how badly we do it, then no, we are not hypocrites.  We are simply imperfect, and yet still we remain beloved by God.

It takes work, often times seemingly insurmountable work, to ensure we are not defiling ourselves with the evil intentions that Jesus lists.  They come in many forms and often it is harder to recognize them from what we think is right.  Just as there are always times we need to reassess if something is of God, when we find things that are not, we also need to step back and ask if it is being valued more than God’s ways.  Pride, slander, and folly are after all on that list.  This is hard work we have, following Jesus Christ and seeking to uphold the commandments of God.  There are so many human things that constantly get in the way.  Our choice must be to work at it even if we know we are ultimately going to fail.  We must hold to the values of the Kingdom of God in face of conflicting tradition.  Otherwise, if we are just here to pay lip service, if we are just hoping that our car is seen in the church parking lot or we are here to show off to our friends, then we are hypocrites and we will be called to account for that one day.  Go out and try your best.  Then try a little harder.  God commands us to love, and shows us through the life of Jesus Christ how to do it best.  God knows we are not going to be experts at it, but God also knows that in our hearts we are not hypocrites.

Sunday, August 26, 2018 – Proper 16

Proper 16 Year B 2018; August 26th
Kevin Gore – St Andrew’s Mountain Home

Those of you who have been here at any point in the last four weeks will know by now that Jesus is the bread of life.  Figuratively and literally.  Amen.

Just kidding!  There is actually quite a bit to say today to finish up this last of the readings from the Gospel of John.  We indeed have come to the end of the Bread of Life discourse, and over the last four weeks we have heard in our Gospel lessons a story about Jesus performing miracles and teaching.  The miracles were easy to swallow (pardon the pun) but the teachings have been less so.  Last week we dove into some of the history and theology around what it means for Jesus to be the bread of life, the bread and the wine to be the body and the blood.  It was important to acknowledge that we make room in this tradition for a wide array of beliefs and while we all come to the table with a different understanding of the Eucharist, we all know that somehow, someway, that is where we encounter the incarnate Christ.

A couple of weeks ago I was lamenting to fellow clergy that Lectionary Year B, the Season after Pentecost, is not the time to be newly ordained and working as the only preacher in a parish.  The Bread of Life discourse can at times seem very repetitive, and one begins to feel as if there is nothing left to say but continually repeat ‘I am the bread of life’.  But, I’ve also noticed a very subtle yet important story in this five week Gospel layout.  The Gospel of John is never very good at making things linear, so in this discourse it’s quite possible the whole conversation around Jesus being the bread of life is spread out through multiple events, not just immediately after the feeding of the five thousand or in the synagogue in Capernaum.  What this does lead to though is today’s pitch.  This is the highest, or perhaps lowest point in this narrative.  This is the revelation that comes from Jesus laying down the Truth about who he is, what he is, and what’s going to happen.

Today many of the disciples turned back.  This is where some of the group said, “This is just too much. I’m out.” and walk away.  The twelve stay, though I’m sure they have their doubts.  Doubts are not synonymous with lacking faith.  Doubts are not the same as not having any belief at all in who Jesus is or what he has come to do.  Let’s be clear about something.  Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ is not easy, and it’s not meant to be.  Even Jesus, in the garden at Gethsemane, prays for ‘this cup’ to pass him by if it be the Father’s will.  Even Jesus, who knows what is to come, knows how it must be done, reaches a point on that path that he hesitates at.  The truth of the matter is if you stay on the path of following Jesus, if you take to heart his commandments and live as best you can in the truth of the Gospel, people are going to shake their heads and turn away sometimes because for them it’s just too far.  When we put the values of the kingdom of God ahead of anything else in this world, we are accused of being too much, of perhaps undercutting the values of a particular country or culture.  Programs by churches to feed or house the homeless are attacked for bringing the wrong sort of people into affluent neighborhoods.  There are countless stories in this country alone where those who would remain firmly in the teachings of Jesus Christ have been taken to court or ridiculed for not bowing down to the other gods so many people would worship.

These lectionary readings this week, all taken together really paint a picture that is timeless.  They offer up reflections of the human condition at any age.  Joshua is dividing up the people, is telling them it’s time to make a decision.  Are you following the other gods or are you going to follow the one, true God?  Those gods that the people’s ancestors served might just as easily be translated today into the gods of popular cultural adoration.  Of extravagant wealth, or nationalism run amok, of war, of violence, of addictions.  They are the gods that our ancestors have always been seduced by, and I suspect that our descendents will also be tempted by.  That is the way of our broken condition, of our imperfect attempt at living out the Gospel.

Paul knows very well how difficult that is and will be until that last day.  In his letter to the Church in Ephesus, he gives them an image to hold on to in their spiritual battle for the Kingdom of God.  This image, which they are going to be very familiar with, is that of a soldier, not unlike the roman soldiers who they are constantly hiding from or at an uneasy peace with during the times of the persecutions.  But Paul is also very clear that this is in no way referring to physical armament.  Paul writes, “for our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness.”  These enemies to which we must gird ourselves with spiritual armor are the structures of power that lift up those who profit off human lives lost due to famine, war, pestilence, and plague.  To Paul this is the Roman government especially, to Joshua it is the doubt and struggles of the people who have wandered in a wilderness for forty years.  For Jesus it is rewriting the very core values of our most basic human nature that constantly struggle against the way which we, as Christians, are called to.

Let me say it again.  When we live out the way that Jesus calls us to, when we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to its absolute truest, when we show by word and deed what we believe God expects of us, there are those that will say, “this is just too much” and turn away.  Sometimes because it seems incredulous.  Sometimes because it seems too hard or not rewarding enough of a path.  But Simon Peter says it best, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” We have been shown the path, how can we turn away when we know in our hearts where God is calling us?

Today’s Gospel reading ends with verse sixty nine, but the sixth chapter of John has seventy one verses.  This chapter ends, “Jesus answered them (meaning Simon Peter and the twelve), “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray Jesus.”  Jesus chose all of them, even Judas.  Jesus calls us all to follow, knowing very well that we aren’t always going to be so good at the task.  Judas isn’t even the only disciple Jesus calls a devil in the gospels.  When Peter tries to talk Jesus out of going through with what he has already said must come to pass, that he must die, he says to Peter that very famous line, ‘Get behind me Satan!’

So here it is.  Jesus has called you.  Jesus calls you to a way lived in the values of the Kingdom of God.  Calls you to a life trying your best to follow in the footsteps of the God who became flesh, and for his actions against the powers and principalities of the world was beaten, mocked, and crucified.  God knows this is scary, is incredulous, is at times too much; but if we can take on that spiritual armor against the world, we might be able find it just a little easier sometimes taking another step when we fumble.  And in the end, we should also remember that the disciples that walked away from Jesus were still saved.  Our salvation is not based on our works.  Our works instead is acting on the call to living the Kingdom values that Jesus continues to offer us every single day we are here on this earth.

Take time in your day to think about the values of the Kingdom of God and where Christ calls you to re-imagine life.  If it seems like it’s too much, if it seems like it flies in the face of ‘conventional wisdom’, if you are tempted to turn away, you might just be on to something.

Sunday, August 19, 2018 – Proper 15

Sermon – Year B, Proper 15, 2018
Kevin Gore

Have you ever been talking with someone, or listening to a public speaker, and really liking what they are saying?  Feeling deep down that this person must be tapped in to a greater wisdom or a clearer understanding of life, or perhaps talking to you about ways to change life that seem so wonderful and right?  And then that person says something incredibly ludicrous and it brings you up short, thinking ‘wait, what?  What did they just say?  No thanks.  They can sell their crazy elsewhere.’

Well, that’s very much what the scene looks like in today’s Gospel.  Jesus is teaching the multitudes, talking to them about metaphorical bread of life and how he is that bread to the people.  This makes some sense to the people gathered.  After all, Jesus did just have the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, it’s near the Passover, life is really quite terrible at that time, and the people could very easily begin to see Jesus as their new Moses to lead them against a contemporary ‘Pharoah’, Herod their king.  In the midst of this discourse though everything comes to a screeching halt.  Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  I can just imagine a small gasp going up from the crowd, and everyone looking around at each other as if to say, “did he really just say what I think he said?”  Jesus continues to press the point, “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”  Even his disciples aren’t so sure about this anymore.  Not only does the concept of literally eating the flesh of a person and drinking their blood stand as inconceivable taboos in our modern sensibilities, to the first century Jewish people it is a gross violation of their purity laws.  If such a thing is inconceivable today, it certainly wouldn’t even be spoken of then.

Jesus does not back down on this. He reiterates it several times.  And notice that he says his flesh is the bread of heaven.  He’s not just saying ‘my body’, but ‘my flesh’.  That word is so much more visceral, so much more descriptive.  John’s Gospel wants to be very explicit here, wants no doubt about what this means, and what Jesus said.  This explanation is found in all of the Gospels at some point; in the Synoptic Gospels it is more poignant in the story of the Last Supper.  This description becomes the cornerstone of the principal act of Christian worship, and continues from the earliest days to today.  Regardless of theology or belief, this doesn’t change.

The emphasis changes.  I remember growing up in a nondenominational evangelical church.  When we took communion once a month, the emphasis was always with the words, ‘do this in remembrance of me’.  The Roman Catholic church is firmly rooted in its doctrine of transubstantiation…a long word to say that through a process not quite understood by human minds, the bread and the wine are completely changed into the body and blood of Christ.  They no longer contain any substance of bread and wine.  This theology is very much rooted in Aristotelian philosophy, but is where in the Western Christian Tradition, the different branches begin.  During the Protestant Reformations different reformers have varied explanations of what the bread and wine are.  Some say it is a memorial, like a token you keep of a departed loved one to remember them by.  Others say it is like an ember from a fire.  It is not longer the fire, but it still glows hot with the heat from it.  Others strip it down to a simple act of communal eating.

As technology advances in the modern world, so too theologians have to continue to rethink real presence.   From the idea of transubstantiation comes Transignification.  Modern Roman Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx uses the term to discuss the presence of Christ in the bread and wine in light of modern understandings of reality and physics.  In the Anglican tradition we often hear the term ‘consubstantiation’ even though it’s not official doctrine.  This says that the bread and the wine are indeed the body of blood of Jesus Christ, but are still of also the substance of bread and wine.

Hang in there with me…don’t go to sleep…this all does lead somewhere.  Let’s check in on our Orthodox brothers and sisters.  By the Declaration of the Synod of the Eastern Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem in 1672, “[Jesus is present] truly and really, so that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, the bread is transmuted, transubstantiated, converted and transformed into the true Body Itself of the Lord, Which was born in Bethlehem of the ever-Virgin, was baptized in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, rose again, was received up, sits at the right hand of the God and Father, and is to come again in the clouds of Heaven; and the wine is converted and transubstantiated into the true Blood Itself of the Lord, Which as He hung upon the Cross, was poured out for the life of the world.”  They are very, very clear that the bread and wine is only body and blood.  But the thing about this is there has never been a theological definition of how that happens.  That, my friends, is left to be a mystery of the most High God.

Now, Martin Luther wanted to make sure it wasn’t confusing and went so far as to say that when Jesus says, “my flesh” that this is not, “the sort of flesh from which red sausages are made,” “not flesh such as purchased in a butcher shop or is devoured by wolves and dogs” Luther taught that if you believed this was actually the body and blood, you had missed the point.  But then there is St. John Chrysostom; one of the early Church Fathers coming out of the 5th Century.  He wrote that is for those Christ feeds to, “fix their teeth in His flesh and to be commingled with Him.”  In the early years of Christianity, one of the charges leveled against Christians during the persecutions was that they were cannibals, based in what reports were coming back about all this talk of eating flesh and drinking blood.

So what about today.  Here in this church.  When we stand around that table and say the Eucharistic prayers, we remember, through the words of institution, ‘On the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”  We use language which has its foundation in the crafting of the 1662 prayerbook, to balance out both Protestant and Catholic doctrines.  We say ‘take them in REMEMBRANCE that Christ died for you, and FEED ON HIM IN YOUR HEARTS BY FAITH.  We walk a line between the two because what this comes down to is a simple truth: every person sitting in this room needs to decide how they approach this altar and what it is they are receiving when they come for communion.  In our tradition we will not tell you one or the other.  We will not decry that one is correct and the other heresy.  There are some Anglicans who have a very high theology of real presence to the point where they partake of the adoration and benediction of the blessed sacrament.  A service of prayer and adoration before a consecrated host wafer that you don’t touch or eat, only revere as the actual presence of Christ in your midst.   I have participated in that type of service.  I’m not sure it’s quite for me, but I have my own personal beliefs around the presence of Christ in the bread and wine.

I have intentionally been a bit overboard this week with quoting erudite sources on matters of Eucharist doctrine.  I wanted to show you the breadth of what exists and how far some people go to explain what is truly a mystery.  No matter what your belief is around the bread and wine, the most important thing you can latch on to is that God’s love, through the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, is physically remembered by us on a weekly basis when we sink our teeth into these little wafers.  Whether this is wafer or flesh, it is our weekly affirmation of our baptism, of our salvation, of our community.  This is the one moment in which we touch the divine like no other time in our day to day life; where we are at once fully reconciled with God and with those gathered around us for just a moment.  It is our momentary brushing up against the future Kingdom of God, the already and not yet.  So whatever your Eucharistic theology or piety, what matters is that you come to the table, you seek the sacrament of communion, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to take a little vision of God’s love out into our broken world once more.

 

The Rev. Kevin Gore, AF

Deacon-in-Charge

Sunday, August 12, 2018 – Proper 14

We are in week three of our journey through the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John.  We have two more weeks to try and grasp the nature of salvation in Christ and what it means that he is the Bread of Life.  No pressure.

At times though we are content to leave some things to be mysteries of faith.  That’s not necessarily bad. There are many aspects of the Christian faith that our Orthodox brothers and sisters are content to simply explain that it is a mystery.  In the Western tradition we are never content and so we send theologians and philosophers down rabbit trails trying to explain the truest natures of God. Which even from the beginning we know cannot be fully explained.  Yet they try all the same.

One thing that is not much of a mystery is that there are a couple of difficult parts to today’s Gospel and I want to focus on those, talk through them a but and offer some context, both literary and theological.  Now, anyone who was following along with me realized very quickly that I read more than what’s on your bulletin inserts. Let me explain that. The Revised Common Lectionary, the collection of readings laid out for use in many mainline Protestant traditions, has left out a portion of the Gospel.  I think this was done rather intentionally.

Left out are verses 36 through 40: “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

One of the reasons why this section may have been left out is that it is, taken with the rest of the discourse, theologically difficult to untangle from a very Calvinist understanding of Predestination.  One can begin to insinuate that only certain people are ‘drawn to the father’ as Jesus says, and those few are raised up on the last day. This is, of course, not what is meant by this passage, but it certainly has been appropriated in the past.  It could be that the editors felt it was simply repetitive in the discourse. But I decided to leave it in. I did this because it paints this scene with a broader brush. It lends depth to the conversation and interaction between Jesus and those gathered.

While not flipping tables in the temple levels of confrontational Jesus is making his feelings pretty clear here to the people gathered that their doubt and their questions are based in the same parallel to the people that were following Moses in the wilderness and no matter what God provided them, they asked for something more.  Jesus is offering a different path than the one these people currently live, but to grasp it, to understand that this is about more than just eating your fill sitting on the abundant grass is going to take some work.

Now, before I talk about more about what Jesus is calling us to, there is one other quick point to make.  It is always incumbent upon those that preach to address places in sacred text that have been historically problematic.  In this case I’m looking specifically at verse 41. “The Jews began to complain about him…” The Gospel of John can at times make us very uncomfortable in how it addresses the role of the jewish people in the narrative.  And this is one of those moments. The Gospel of John is written at a time when the early Christians were separating their identity from the other Jewish sects. They were emerging as something other than another group like the Pharisees or the Essenes.  So the author of this Gospel then is writing into it a clear distinction between the Jewish people and Jesus and his followers. It’s part of the reason that this Gospel also attempts to put the blame of the crucifixion on the Jewish people, but we will have plenty of opportunity to talk about that in a few months.

The other use of writing this way is that these nameless groups of Jewish people that are saying things like muttering against Jesus is more of a literary device that acts like the chorus of a classical Greek play.  It’s not to say these things aren’t being muttered about Jesus, it’s more to show that we don’t have a clear understanding of who said them, but it’s important to be said. I know that seems like a little bit of a segue, but as I said, it is the responsibility of a preacher to cast like on the sticky places in our Holy Scripture. Now, that muttering does really serve a purpose.  These questions could be rhetorical. Who is this Jesus who is saying he’s come down from Heaven? We watched him grow up. Joseph is his father. Surely he isn’t some celestial being!

They can’t accept this idea that Jesus, the Christ incarnate, the Logos, is sent by God for the salvation of humanity.  They are failing, as Bishop Larry put it so well last week, to see the good in what they’ve got right in front of them. Jesus is trying to explain to them that he’s like the manna from heaven, but that the result of eating this other bread is different from the bread of their ancestors.  The people that had gathered and were fed only felt satiated for a small time. When the next day came they were physically hungry again. What Jesus is teaching them now is not that following Jesus means you will never go hungry.

I have talked to you about abundance and how living into the abundance of the Kingdom of God is important in following Jesus.  So I don’t want it to get confusing here that Jesus is refuting that abundance. He’s not. What he is making clear is that he is greater than any miracle of feeding the multitude and that following him, taking into ourselves fully the path that Christ lays out for us is how we take hold of the faith of an abundant existence for all eternity.  He’s talking about being gathered into the loving embrace of God and on that last day entering into the joy of the eternal Kingdom.

Jesus knows that here in this world there is still suffering, and there always will be.  He knows that no matter how many times you feed the five thousand, they will be hungry again the next morning.  So the next step is to show them a path to an existence that will one day be truly free of all that strife. That doesn’t mean we don’t work to do those things Christ asks of us in the here and now.  Feeding people, reaching out to those in pain and need, those are effects of the Christian life. First we feed on the bread of Heaven, and strengthen ourselves with the Good News of Salvation and God’s love.  Then we reflect that all out to the world in the best, human, here and now ways we can. I dare say that is something you and I can always be working to improve in ourselves.

 

The Rev. Kevin Gore, AF

Deacon-in-Charge

Sunday, July 29, 2018 – Proper 12

Through the written word and the spoken word, may we hear the Living Word, our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This week our readings come from Proper 12, Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary.  The reason that is of any interest outside of being really into lectionary patterns, is that this week begins what is jokingly referred to as PANecost, or BreadTide, but is truly known as the ‘Bread of Life’ discourse.  The Gospel lesson from John serves as both a beginning and an end.  First, it is the climax in the buildup of the last several Sunday’s Gospel from Mark.  It serves as the dramatic high point in Jesus’ early ministry.  It’s also the beginning of what we will continue to explore for the next four weeks after this.

We will have the opportunity to exam what Jesus being the bread of life means in relation to salvation, to the Eucharist, and to our call as followers of Christ.  But today…John’s telling of the feeding of the five thousand.  Jesus takes those five barley loaves from the little boy, and the two fish, and feeds the multitudes, the crowd gathered.  Now, it’s tempting, so very tempting to take the easy road.  The slow pitch, and talk about feeding the hungry.  But, that would be phoning it in a little more than I’m comfortable with.  We already have many ministries here to reach out to those in need.  And as a congregation, I would say we aren’t necessarily a crowd that needs to hear about the importance of feeding the hungry.  There is something else though I think we can talk about from this story.  Something that I struggle with, I think most people do; something that I don’t have any easy answers for.  I only have questions, confusion, consternation, and lots of harrumphs.  When we look past the very basic elements of an act like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering those who are in need, we find something deeper, more elemental to the emotional and physical actions we take.  Something that, as a society, over the years we have lost more and more of, mostly to fear.  I’m referring to hospitality.

Now I realize that here in the South, hospitality is a little more present than the world I’ve come from.  It’s a little more expected and a little more a part of the fabric of polite society here.  But I think there is that formal type of hospitality and then there is the type of radical hospitality that Jesus shows us.

Let me offer a couple examples from the book Practicing our Faith, by Dorothy Bass.  A catholic priest was telling a gathering of friends about a time when he arrived in Israel late on a Friday afternoon, just as everything was about to shut down for the Sabbath.  Public transportation was no longer available, and the house where the people were expecting him was fifteen miles away.  So he picked up his suitcase and started to walk.  He did not get far before a family saw him and invited him to spend the Sabbath with them.  He accepted their invitation, and they all had a wonderful time.  When Saturday evening came, he found his bus and went on his way.  After the priest finished his story, a Jewish friend said that he had had a similar experience while traveling through Spain as a young adult.  One night, he got off a train in a village that was already asleep.  A little frightened, he approached the only lighted place. It turned out to be a monastery, and the monks received him gladly.  After his departure, he discovered that they had quietly slipped some coin into his pocket as he slept.

In both of these stories, we get glimpses of ancient traditions sustaining ways of life that shelter and nourish people, ways of life ready to receive strangers who are passing through.  The hospitality these two young men received came from communities structured with hospitality in mind.  In each of these places, hospitality was more than an individual act of kindness – it was sustained by a way of life.  What would happen in our society today if young men like these were wandering through?  Perhaps they would be fortunate and find a safe place to rest.  But they, or others not so different from them, might not.  Is there not a crisis of hospitality in our society?  It is tragically evident in the existence of a huge unhoused population, in the widespread hostility to immigrants, or those that we like to label as ‘different’.  But it affects almost everyone in less noticeable ways as well.  A stranger smiles, and we might be instinctively cautious of their motives.  In our retreat from hospitality, we find that even friends and relatives sit at our tables less often than they used to.

I am no stranger to this myself.  As an example, I’ve never picked up a hitchhiker. I saw many of them on my drive across the country to Arkansas. I’ve seen them around here too, as I drive around this area, to Batesville, to Little Rock.  After all the history of people being hurt by those using kindness as a trap, do you think I’ve ever stopped?  No, I haven’t.  And that’s why I say I don’t have any good answers, because the fear that is so basic to our survival, so instinctual to react to the horrors, darkness, and evil we hear of occurring in our world gets the better of me.  I’m not saying I’d ever encourage anyone to stop.  And yet, that is the same fear that we hear in the disciples’ voices in our Gospel lesson.  Philip says, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  How many times have we argued with ourselves about giving money to the person on the street when our rent or mortgage is due, or donating to organizations helping those less fortunate when we are struggling with our own bills.  How many of you have thought of just inviting them in to your own table?  I’ve certainly thought about it, but I’ve never actually done it.  My favorite grace, I take from the Celtic Daily Prayer book that the Northumbria Community publishes.  It’s entitled the Shabbat Grace.  It says Bless, O Lord, this food we are about to eat; and we pray You, O God, that it may be good for our body and soul; and if there be any poor creature hungry or thirsty walking along the road, send them into us that we can share the food with them, just as You share your gifts with all of us.  Now, granted, this grace is a little wordy, and not as easy to memorize, so I don’t use it as often.  But, I want to think that the words are eternal, that I really mean it now and always.  Because when we set aside our fear, our assumptions of scarcity, that is when we encounter fully the Grace that is God, that is Jesus Christ and the kingdom that is offered to us.

Instead, most of the time, that assumption of scarcity is what is most prominent.  We have to be always ready to give of ourselves, and give abundantly trusting in that Kingdom of God at hand.  To trust in that abundant grace.  In the tenth chapter of John (10:10) Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  That is precisely what Jesus shows us in the feeding of the five thousand.  Is this not, if anything, life abundant?  Now, granted, this isn’t a ‘water into the choicest wine’ kind of situation.  As I said previously this understanding of Grace is not a prosperity Gospel…far from those misguided teachings.  The feeding of the five thousand is with barley loaves, which, at the time of Jesus are not the delicious manna of heaven.  We’re not talking about artisan loaves from Grandpa Harps.  This is rough bread, the bread of the poorest people.  But not only is there enough to feed the people gathered to their fill, but twelve baskets of leftovers.  Remember, this is just after the disciples return from their going out.  This is still the time and point when Herod’s kingdom is failing to even so much as feed the people.  God’s abundance breaks out in the midst of perceived scarcity.  That is what the Kingdom of God is like.  Grace is more bread than you can even eat, when it seems like there won’t be enough, and to have so many baskets left over.  And it really stands out to me in John’s telling of this story that Jesus himself feeds the people.  In the other tellings he sends the disciples out with the food, but here Jesus, after telling the people to sit down in the grass, feeds them himself.  Some scholars will point to this as the moment of institution of the Eucharist for the Gospel of John, as there is no institution narrative in the last supper for this Gospel.  So here these people are sitting out on the abundant grass, it probably is waving in the breeze coming off the Sea of Galilee, and being fed in the abundance of the Kingdom by Jesus.  ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.’  We’ve heard that somewhere recently, right?

Somewhere in all of this confusion, consternation, in the midst of not having the right answers to the really tough questions, is God’s grace, is Jesus Christ showing us abundance.  Take that with you this week.  I can’t in good conscience tell you to pick up hitchhikers, or invite the people flying a sign in to your home, because I haven’t conquered that fear yet myself.  But I can encourage you to think about abundance, about grace, about the hospitality of the Kingdom of God and our way of Christian life that sustains such a practice.  Go out into the world with Grace and abundance in your heart, break bread with others, that there might be more than you can fill yourselves with.  Give thanks to God always for the grace that is given us.  Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  Take up your cross, go, follow Christ and live in the abundant Grace of the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, July 22, 2018 – Proper 11

Last week I talked about power, what it can do to those who take it, or are given it.  We heard about Herod, the disciples being sent out, and the great power in Jesus’ teaching of surrender and simplicity that he gives to the disciples.   There is a lot that happens in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus sends out his disciples, the story of how John the Baptist is killed is given; Jesus feeds the five thousand and walks on water. These are all major events in Mark’s narrative, so much so that the passages appointed for today seem to pale in comparison. Sure, Jesus heals many people in the end, but otherwise these excerpts seem to have missed the dramatic boat.  They have not however missed the teaching that the entire Gospel of Mark is pointed at.  Mark’s gospel likely comes from a time when the Roman Empire and the Emperor Nero where treating Christians as badly as Herod treated anyone he thought was a menace.  If the Gospel of Mark comes from slightly earlier, then it is Emperor Caligula, who was even worse.  To offer further context, the Gospel of Mark starts out as a purely oral tradition.  It is the shortest Gospel, and is easily told as a grand story over the course of a couple hours.  It was composed in a way that told Christians that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and what that Kingdom looked like.  It drew the lines clearly in the sand and showed the early Christians where they stood in relation to empire, and it continues to do so today.

In fact, the Gospel lesson today serves to advance the inauguration of the kingdom of God in Jesus.  It emphasizes Jesus’ identity as the true, divine shepherd, who will guide his sheep into the kingdom; and the nature of the kingdom, through healings that continue to disrupt the man-made structures of authority and economy of the world.  People are flocking to the great Shepherd, because all others like Herod, like Nero, like so many rulers over the ages have proven to be those shepherds that Jeremiah warns us about, those that scatter the flock.

And in case you have been reading your Mark during this season, don’t fret.  Though we take a huge leap in stepping over the feeding of the five thousand, we will come back to it next week, in our Gospel lesson from John.

To say there is a lot of shepherd imagery in the readings this week might be a little bit of an understatement.  That word is used in most of our readings.  The 23rd Psalm, one we know very well, even makes an appearance.  It was only a couple months ago on Good Shepherd Sunday where the 23rd Psalm showed up in our lectionary.  And yet, for a Psalm we know, for one most of us can recite, usually from the King James version of the bible, a Psalm that can be overused and begin to get a little tired; it helps to illustrate to us how scripture can be incredibly versatile.  Think about how many times you’ve heard it, and in how many different circumstances you’ve heard it.  It’s different when you hear it today, compared to the themes of Good Shepherd Sunday, compared to when you hear it at a funeral, or other places and times in life.  Our tendency can often be to say, ‘Yes, I know that one already.’  But the challenge is to ask what you heard differently at that time, in that place, listening with fresh ears.   Sometimes, like today, it is paired with other readings about the shepherding of God’s people.  Consider, that some of the images we are given throughout scripture, can mean different things in different times and places, like water for example.  The image of water in the 23rd Psalm is potent.  ‘He leads me beside still waters’ can’t you just close your eyes and see that perfect place, smell the freshness of it?  Water to us though means different things during the summer or winter, whether we are in droughts or devastating floods. When we ask for rain and get hail.  To the ancient nomadic Jews water meant something different altogether than what most of us can understand in relation to the very basic necessities of life.  Something that stands out to me a lot in this also is meditating on  ‘you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies’ and ‘my cup overflows’.  It makes me think about the abundant meal that we have in the Eucharist, one at which we share the table with all who come.  Which brings us right back to talking about the kingdom of God, and Jesus, the new shepherd who has come.

Following as it does the narrative of John’s beheading, this particular passage in Mark serves a continued indictment of Herod.  The people of God have become precisely what many of the prophets warned against, sheep without a shepherd, weakened and scattered and vulnerable.  So it’s no surprise that the people, in the longing for something better, greater, begin chasing after the true shepherd who they know will bring them into the Kingdom of God.  Jesus, moved in compassion for these lost sheep, “began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). The food for which the people hunger is the very word of God, and in so feeding them Jesus shows himself to be a shepherd “after [God’s] own heart,” feeding God’s people “with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). What is more, he shows himself to be the divine shepherd, the very Son of God in whom the kingdom will be fulfilled.

The crowds that follow and gather around Jesus, the healings and casting out of demons, the miraculous feedings are all signs that the Son of God is shepherding the people into God’s kingdom. Indeed, Jesus proclaims in Mark 13:27 that on the last day he will “gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” Mark is clearly identifying Jesus as the divine shepherd, who will gather his sheep from the places where they have been scattered.

We see such an intense snapshot of human need in our Gospel today.  Let’s set the scene for a moment, the disciples have returned from their journeys, they are sharing their stories, and still many more people are coming and going, things are so hectic that there isn’t even time to eat, so Jesus says, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  Jesus is trying to remove them to a solitary place to recharge.  But the crowd gets there ahead of them, on foot, and no matter where Jesus is at, as soon as he is recognized people are bringing him the sick, the lame, carrying them on mats and laying them before Jesus to be healed.  It’s important to remember how pressing the human need is at that time and in that place.

But it’s not just then that the need was so great, and now is not the only time when the World has seemed so dark.  It is a constant struggle in our existence to find the still waters, to relax in the green pastures.  It is our work, our common task as followers of Jesus Christ to roll up our sleeves and continue the work that Jesus was doing, trusting in our Faith.  That is how we follow the Great Shepherd.  We find our solace, our respite in the promise of the Kingdom of God that is at hand, and it becomes our job to offer that same healing to the world.  In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul helps us remember who we should extend this healing to.  He explains who the chosen are that get to be healed, comforted, fed, clothed, sheltered, to be gathered into Jesus Christ, the Holy Temple of God.  It often seems difficult for us to remember who those chosen are.  Who we need to serve.

It’s everyone in case you were waiting for a big reveal.

Jesus shows us what we should be doing, and Paul reminds us for whom we should be doing it.  We have to continually tear down the walls and barriers that we naturally like to put up.  We have to remember again and again that we are one body.  Paul writes, “(Jesus’)…purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.”

In the New International Version or NIV translation of the bible, the 23rd Psalm begins, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.”  Trusting in the abundance that is found as followers of Jesus Christ is precisely the point.  Seeing how blessed we really are, and offering that new perspective to everyone we meet.  It is our obligation to seek out those who do lack, and do what you can to comfort them.  This is not to say this is any sort of Prosperity Gospel.  That is not what Jesus offers.  This is a difficult path to tread, but it leads directly to the healing and restoration of all things in the Kingdom of God.

As the Celtic Christian writer Patrick O’Connell says, “As we all are called to our own unique expression of Christ-likeness, we all have our kind of shepherding to do.  We are apprentices – assistant herders to the Great Shepherd, each of us.  Or perhaps, and I fair know this is true for me, we’re His border collies…sheepdogs for the Living, Loving God.”

The Gospel of Mark continues to show us where we stand in relation to Empire, what it means to be a follower of the Great Shepherd.  Your work is to go out from this place and find ways to offer that restoration of soul to those who are hurting, to those who are sick, hungry, to those who are afraid.  Everyone needs some still waters from time to time, so let’s get out there and point the way.

Sunday, July 15, 2018 – Proper 10

 

Proper 10 – Sunday, July 15, 2018 – Sermon by Rev. Kevin Gore

This week the texts are incredibly rich, full of imagery, stories, lessons to be learned.  As I was reading through some of the commentaries on this week’s propers, I was surprised to see that one commentary was bold to ask where the good news is in the Gospel lesson, going so far as to suggest there may be none, but I would say…just maybe there is.

Let’s take stock of what we heard.  We have King Herod.  Herod is the kind of character that we crave in a story.  He’s the bad guy.  We’ve been taught he’s the bad guy…we know he’s the bad guy, it’s pretty obvious from his actions, his words, his moral compass.  He gives us the satisfaction of detesting the bad guy and letting us know where we stand in the age old struggle of ‘us’ and ‘them’.  We love being the ‘us’ to the ‘them’.  Herod though, is also a tragic figure.  We can see how desperate he is to hold on to power, to be King.  A desperation that drives him mad.  A hunger for power so great he murders his relatives and surrounds himself with sycophants.  A power based in the wealth he used to attain it, the blood spilled, and the intrigues wrought.  He didn’t really want to kill John the Baptist.  Sure, the Baptist was saying things against him.  Things that had a strong foundation in Truth.  But yet, there was something about listening to the Baptist that Herod liked, that drew him in, maybe even comforted him perhaps.  But through the manipulations of those he had gathered around him he was forced to behead John the Baptist.

So now the rumors are flying about this man Jesus .  These followers he has sent out to preach repentance, to heal the sick, and to whom he has given authority over impure spirits.  Our gospel lesson starts, “Herod heard about ‘this’.”  The ‘this’ the passage is referring to is Jesus’ sending out of the disciples that we had in last week’s Gospel reading.  Herod is terrified that this Jesus he is hearing of is in fact John the Baptist, back from the dead.  Though he is paranoid that John the Baptist has come back from the grave to challenge him again, to threaten his power by speaking out against him, he doesn’t even realize what’s really coming down the road.  Herod hasn’t a clue about the real power and truth of the events he is hearing about.  The power in the simplicity and surrender that Jesus has given the disciples in sending them out.  Fairly quickly Herod will find out that someone far more terrifying to him than John the Baptist, returned from the dead, is there to challenge the very concept of authority Herod has built his straw palace on.

Jesus sent out his disciples with nothing but their staves and the clothes on their back.  No food, no money, no bag, not even a change of clothes. But go, he said.  Go and preach repentance.  Go and heal the sick.  Rely on the hospitality and generosity of others.  This doesn’t sound  anything like Herod’s world that revolves around his game of power and intrigue. They are preaching repentance to a country of people ruled by the elite who use manipulation, control, any means of gaining power over another that they can.  This new perspective of repentance is a dangerous idea.  And not to steal from the next couple of weeks, but the very next thing Jesus is going to do in Mark’s Gospel after our reading today is feed the five thousand.  A very different banquet than the ones Herod is having.  This is a dangerous thing to do in an empire which rules through fear and control, and is having a hard time keeping the people fed while the emperor feasts in his halls.

People are struggling to survive, struggling to even access the most basic needs to preserve their dignity.  People are constantly on alert, looking over their shoulder, worried what the next royal pronouncements will bring, people are cowed by the empire, and it is no doubt tumultuous.  It’s not the first time in human history this has happened, and it turns out isn’t by far the last.

In fact while I am thinking about what life was like at that point in time, it reminds me very much of the divisive, fearful, and difficult place we find ourselves today in this country.  I want to be clear that what I’m about to say is not commentary of a political nature, but is simply my person experience, and that is I have struggled for the last 541 days, as I find myself feeling like the drawing of battle lines is always a necessity.  Feeling that there is no choice but to set up a defensive position to protect those I care about from the ‘them’ that seems to be emboldened.  To engage in rhetoric and argument, shunning those who refuse to agree or shouting down those who won’t change their mind.  And forgetting that no matter what this world looks like, no matter how dark it seems, that responding with anything but the love that Jesus Christ has called us to falls short.

Bishop Andy Doyle, the 9th Bishop of Texas, who I quoted last week, often publishes his reflections in a blog, and a few years ago he tackled the practice of Christian meanness on social media, from all sides of whatever imaginary aisle you want to create.  It made me realize that when we confuse our desperate desire to be right with our need to be righteous, the gospel ceases to be good news.  Which reminds me of Herod, a man consumed with being right, with being the top of the human fashioned power structure.  Of course, this is a very poignant example of a much larger lesson to be learned about how to wield whatever mantle of authority, or should we maybe say majority higher ground that we may find ourselves at in different points in our lives.

This week we also have Amos, a prophet who knows what power does to those who try to wield it.  Amos is reminding us that God’s word is God’s word, regardless of the status or office of the messenger.  The positions we have in life, the titles we attain, do not necessarily credential us to speak truth.  But they do socialize us to want to silence the outside voices…Lord have mercy on us, we do like our privilege.  We are always the most upset at our prophets when they seem to be questioning our own way of life, not when they question the actions of those with whom we disagree.  This is what happened to John the Baptist, it’s what will happen to Jesus, it’s what the disciples are risking; they are going out with the full knowledge of what happened to John the Baptist, going and preaching a counter-authority.  In reflection on the passage from Amos today, biblical scholar C. Clifton Black says, “When repentance is preached to this world’s princes, do not expect them to relinquish their power, however conflicted some may be.”

The good news is that no matter what position we find ourselves in, one of control or of oppression, of high ground or low ground, of majority or minority, we can choose to respond with the message of Love that Jesus has given us regardless of the response we may get.  We can choose to let go of our preconceived notions and nearly instinctual desire to be the alpha, and to instead love.  We don’t have to be an ‘us’ to the ‘them’.  We can be one body, one spirit.  The young adult fiction author Madeleine L’Engle says, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”  So as you go out this week, don’t look to be an ‘us’ to fight the ‘them’.  Be careful of how you treat those from the positions of power that you have in your life, and how you respond to the oppression of others.  That is not to say any person should ever have to bear having their dignity stripped away, it is only to notice how you respond.  Look to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, preaching repentance and Love to a broken world full of polarized and hurting children of God.

 

Sunday, July 8, 2018 – Proper 9

Kevin Gore
Proper 9, Year B, 2018
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Mountain Home, AR

Last week, I shared with you my reflections on the story of the hemorrhaging woman from the Gospel of Mark, and how that relates to our lives as followers of Christ.  I offered thoughts on how we should approach our walk with Jesus and how we can look for opportunities in our daily life to always be improving our expression of the values of the Kingdom of God.  I think it was a pretty good example of the type of scriptural reflection and exegesis you can expect from me.  It was an opportunity to say ‘here I finally am at St. Andrews and this is what I have to offer’.

I can think of no better way to follow that up than with what our readings have in store for us today.  This story from the Gospel of Mark, which is really two different stories taken together, offers a point for us to begin our more extended and ongoing conversations about what it means to live as Christians.  To ask why we bother to come to this place throughout the week, and most importantly to acknowledge that while we are here as one body, which shares one bread, we are not going to always be one mind.  I’m sure this is even more poignant considering what part of the country I have come from, and especially the ways in which the Gospel is interpreted where I studied for seminary.  Being challenged in one’s faith is, in part, the importance of the first part of the gospel today.

This very well known scripture, and often repeated to those who want to minister in the church that raised them up, gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ early work.  He is in his home town, teaching, healing, and going about his ministry.  But the people there look at him, and say, ‘Isn’t this Mary’s son?’, ‘Isn’t he the carpenter?’, ‘What could he possibly have to say about scripture?’.  Perhaps it is because he is young, comparatively.  Perhaps he is saying things that people don’t agree with.  But a very important piece of this is just simple human nature.  We probably have all heard the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt”.  It’s sort of the opposite of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.   One could argue the solitary benefit of a long distance relationship.  When we spend time with people, especially over years, when we watch them grow up or grow in to themselves, we can’t help but notice the bad along with the good.  It is our nature to find ourselves exhausted with the nephew who reminds us every Thanksgiving what being a vegan is, or the uncle that is consistently wound up by all the talk radio he listens to.  This is a reality, and while we might be a bit tongue in cheek about it, it is absolutely why the church does its best not to place clergy with the congregations they attended before ordination.  It is hard for people to see God at work when the familiarity of a person glosses over their gifts and highlights their rough spots.

So that’s what’s happening here with Jesus.  Some commentaries on this part of the passage wonder if the miracles Jesus is performing have just become too commonplace for his hometown folk.  They can’t see the wonders or hear the truths because it is no longer out of the ordinary.  Lamar Williamson JR writes, regarding this passage, “Our unbelief does not render God impotent, but when it is dominant in a congregation its dampening effect on the mighty acts of God in that time and place is evident and sad.”  Now I am certainly not saying that is applicable here.  Instead I am pointing to this as a possible stumbling block.  Part of our work as followers of Christ is to keep a renewed perspective on the Kingdom of God and constantly reawakening to its values.  Every morning when Luther would rise from his bed, he would declare ‘baptizatus sum!’ meaning ‘I am baptised’, and that is the sort of daily renewed energy we should put into living into this Kingdom of God that Jesus Christ has invited us to.

Renewal often needs challenge, and I want to acknowledge that.  As clergy, it is not my job as someone called to walk alongside you to offer platitudes, it is not my role to placate or play politics.  It is my job to help in that renewal, just as I hope you will offer it back to me.  You and I are not always going to agree on how scripture should be interpreted, what the Kingdom of God looks like, or what following Jesus in this particularly Anglican way is.  What we need though is the ability to share our ideas, our concerns, our fears, and our joys in ways that reflect the Love of each other that Christ commands of us.  That is my hope for my work here, and it is also my hope that you all will offer the same to me.

That brings me to the second piece of today’s passage.  The sending out of the twelve.  This is a really good juxtaposition to that first part about Jesus in his hometown.  It’s also apropos to our work.  Jesus sends the disciples out in pairs.  They do not go alone, and no one in particular is mentioned.  This is a communal effort.  After the rejection of his hometown, Jesus simply begins to call disciples and send them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal.  This is not work we can do alone.  Being a prophet of the Kingdom of God has always been a dangerous past-time, and that is still true today.  Speaking the Truth of the resurrected Christ and God’s love for the world is definitely not a chapter in ‘How to win friends and influence people’.  We must be in this work of the Kingdom of God together.  We cannot be tempted to do this work alone.  The Reverend Canon K. Jeanne Person has this to say, “If you do go it alone, you might end up like Don Quixote, whose passion subsumed his perspective. When Don Quixote and his friend Sancho see the windmills on the horizon, Don Quixote girds his loins to fight the giants on his own. When Sancho tries to warn him that the windmills are not the giants he should be fighting, Don Quixote casts him away….Then, as Don Quixote moves in, in full gallop, a windmill sweeps away horse and rider. They are sent rolling over the plain, in sad condition indeed. … If you go it alone, like Don Quixote, you might end up fighting the wrong giants. You might lose your perspective. You might get far flung, looking very foolish. You might also end up being crucified on a cross, with little import whatsoever.”

We are one body, because we all share in the one bread, and the one cup.  We stand in a line of saints and disciples who have walked and struggled with the path to follow Jesus Christ just as much as we do today.  We are constantly surrounded by challenges to the command to lose ourselves for the sake of Christ.  Told that there should be conditions on loving our neighbor as ourselves; conditions like race, conditions like orientation, conditions like man-made nationalities.  These and so many other reasons are offered for why we have to be careful how Christ-like we are to others, instead of what Jesus actually commands us to do.  We are tempted to take the easy road.  Even the disciples were.  Jesus knew that.  That’s why he tells them not to try to improve their accommodations in a town once they’ve stayed at a home.  That’s why they are asked to rely on the support and kindness of strangers.  To rely on the same loving hospitality we are called to in our lives.

For those following the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church through Facebook or Twitter posts, you may have seen The Rt Reverend Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, post Saturday morning the blessing that was used at the end of that morning’s mass.  These words are adapted from Bishop Phillip Brooks.  “Do not pray for easy lives.  Pray to be stronger people for the living of life.  Do not pray for mission or ministry that is equal to your gifts, talent, and treasure.  Instead pray for gifts, talent, and treasure to meet the mission or ministry that is before you.  For when you pray this way, when any mission is accomplished or ministry undertaken it will not be the miracle.  Instead, you will be the miracle.  And, every day you shall wonder at the grace, mercy, power, and love that has come from God through you.”

Jesus has called us to go forth into the world, whether that is abroad or these few square miles of the twin lakes region, to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, the healing love which God pours out continually for us, and the way to live into that Kingdom.  We are not called to this work alone, and it is my prayer that we will all go together.  It will not be easy, it will not be comfortable, but that is our mission as Christians, as followers and proclaimers of the risen Christ.

Fall Events

Upcoming Fall Events

You Will Not Want to Miss

  • Annual Blue Grass Festival & BBQ to Benefit Gamma House

  • Bridge Bash Volunteer Team

  • Blessing of The Animals