Saturday, June 20, 2015
Proper 7B June 21, 2015 Our country has been reeling this week since a gunman opened fire on a bible study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I have seen outbursts of horror, outrage, anger, and fear, as we all seek to find some sort of meaning in such a senseless tragedy and as we as a society yearn for a meaningful conversation on how we might prevent such acts of violence and hatred in the future. One of the gifts of our tradition, I have found, is our lectionary—a systematic process for reading most of the major portions of Bible in a three year period. We are fortunate to have the lectionary because it provides us with a way to have conversations with scripture and our lives and our world that aren’t subject to the whim of the preacher. Our gospel today is not one I would have chosen to give us good news in the light off the Charleston shooting, but in spending some time with it, I believe it has a great deal to offer us in that way. It is a passage that confronts fear, and fear is what is at the heart of such hatred, such tragedy. So I’ll begin our conversation with the gospel today by asking you to think about this question: Do you think the disciples are more afraid before Jesus’ stilling of the storm or after? Think about it for a minute. The gospel clearly indicates that they are terrified during the storm. They are so terrified that they wake the sleeping Jesus with a frantic question: “Do you not care that we are perishing?” And Jesus wakes up and calms the storm, and then he says to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Notice what Jesus does not say here. He does not say, “Do not be afraid,” even though that is a prevalent refrain all throughout scripture, especially when people are encountering God or God’s messengers. In this instance, Jesus is not rebuking the disciples because they are afraid. He knows that there is much in this life to be afraid of: isolation, pain, illness, meaninglessness, rejection, losing one’s job, money problems, failure, illness, natural disasters, senseless acts of hate, and death. “Have you still no faith?” he asks them, because in and through faith we learn and hold fast to the reality that while there is much for us to fear, those things do not have the last word. God is mightier than any of those, even death, and God’s promise through the person of Jesus is that even when we do endure the fearsome things, God does not abandon us to them. God is with us, and God’s power is such that God can redeem even the most horrible, fearsome acts. That’s the disciples fear before the calming of the storm. But what about the question I asked you, “Do you think the disciples are more afraid before Jesus’ stilling of the storm or after?” Did any of you think that they might be more afraid after? Why? What would the disciples have to be afraid of after Jesus’s calming of the storm? I read a book several years ago that I was just reminded of recently. It’s the book Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. In the beginning of this book, the main character and narrator, Reuben Land, tells of the apparent miracle by which his father saved his life when he had just been born. He reflects on how often we tend to domesticate miracles, using the word to describe all manner of things that merit our attention and appreciation but that are not, finally, truly miraculous. He then goes on to press that distinction: “Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It’s true: They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing up out of the grave — now there’s a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time” (Peace Like a River, 3). Then comes the part that is especially pertinent to us today, both in light of our gospel reading and in light of the shootings at Emmanuel. “Quoting his sister, Reuben says, ‘People fear miracles because they fear being changed.’ Which is the source, I think, of this other kind of fear that stands somewhere between a holy awe and mighty terror: the fear of being changed. And make no mistake, Jesus is asking the disciples to change. In this very moment he is drawing them from the familiar territory of Capernaum to the strange and foreign land of the Garasenes. And he is moving them from being fishermen to disciples. And he is preparing them to welcome a kingdom so very different from the one they’d either expected or wanted” (David Lose at www.davidlost.net) When the disciples experience the miracle of Jesus’s calming the storm, they are confronted with a choice. The rest of Reuben’s quotation gets to the heart of this: “People fear miracles because they fear being changed,” he says, and then continues, “though ignoring them will change you also.” The disciples are offered the choice of allowing themselves to be transformed by this new encounter with Jesus, or they can refuse. But they cannot stay the same either way. So, what do you think is the miracle that confronts us in this moment, as individuals? As a congregation? As a society who has witnessed horrible acts of hatred and un-comprehendingly generous forgiveness from some of the families of the victims? How is God encountering you and calling you to the other side of the lake, to change, to a new and different imagination about what it means to be a people of faith in our particular community and circumstances?
Sunday, June 14, 2015
3rd Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 6B June 14, 2015 And Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” We’ve all heard it---the Sunday school lesson where someone brings in a mustard seed and shows us just how small it is and tells us about how our faith is like that—if we have just a little bit of faith then God will take it and use it and transform it into something so much greater: “a new creation,” is what Paul calls it. And I’m not disputing that. But what if…this parable isn’t so much about us and our faith but is about the Kingdom of God, as Jesus suggests. What does that even mean? What might that look like? And how might we participate in a mustard-seed-like Kingdom of God? Y’all remember that sermon I preached about kudzu not too long ago? Well, did you know that the mustard plant was practically the kudzu of Jesus’s time? It was essentially a weed, although it was a weed with a nice smell to it that sometimes could be used as a spice or medicinally. But really it was a crazy-growing weed like our kudzu. Wild mustard is incredibly hard to control, somewhat pesky and even a little bit dangerous, because once it takes root, it can take over an entire planting area. That’s why mustard was very seldom found in a garden in Jesus’s time but was more often found growing wild and overtaking the side of an open hill or abandoned field. “With what can we compare the kingdom of God…? It is like a crazy growing plant that no one would willing plant in their garden, which takes over, supplants, and preempts previous gardening agendas…” Here’s what Biblical scholar John Dominick Crossan has to say about this: “The point, in other words, is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three of four feet, or even higher. It is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom of God was like: not like the mighty Cedar of Lebanon and not quite like a common weed, [more] like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover properties. Something you would want in only small and carefully controlled doses—if you could control it.” (The Historical Jesus pp 278-279) It’s a little bit hard to hear this isn’t it, because we just know it’s going to shake us up too. The Kingdom of God is abundant and verdant; it is wild and uncontrollable; it is unexpected and it is rampant. It is a message of hope that we are invited to share this day and beyond. In the next few months, we are going to be talking about mission. About the mission of St. Columb’s. About the mission of every baptized member here. And this is a great place to start—with this image of the Kingdom of God. Because part of our mission is to participate in this wild, abundant, rampant Kingdom of God that is already at work and growing lusciously all around us. But the first thing we have to do is to pay attention to it. So, I have a challenge for you for this summer. I want you to seek out, to look for those little places in your world where you see the Kingdom of God infiltrating, taking over, bringing hope and abundance. I want you to look for those places where you sense that God is at work, even though it might not be particularly obvious or particularly grand. And I want you to take pictures of it and post them. Post them on our Facebook page with the (hashtag) #kingdomofgod. Email them to the church office so we can post them on our website. Print them out; share them with people and tell the stories of the Kingdom of God that you are encountering. We’ll do this over the whole summer, and then in August, we’ll collect them and display them all together in one place to kick-off our conversations about mission. I challenge you this week and beyond to look for, even anticipate the Kingdom of God in your world. Pay attention to it, seek it out, and pray about how God is calling you to be an active participant in aiding its unexpected growth. (Inspired by David Lose’s reflection “Mission Possible” June 10, 2012 at www.workingpreacher.org)