Category Archives: Sermons

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.