Love. It’s just that simple. Fr. Bedingfield, Jan 31st

January 31, 2016
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In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

         Last week we heard a little bit about what today’s Gospel would be.  Last Sunday we heard about Jesus’ return to Nazareth following the start of His ministry in Capernaum.  So in today’s continuation of that story, the initial love fest that the locals had with the returning preacher ends and conflict begins.  Jesus’ teaching that day turned out to be pretty hard for His listeners to hear.

         Jesus brought healing and love to the world, and yet in this instance nothing but discord and animosity followed his homecoming.  The reason for that is what is known as prophetic preaching.   Jesus preached a nine-word sermon that day: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  That was a prophetic word about what His ministry would mean.  And if He had left it right there, there would not have been any problem that day.  But there also would not have been a very important lesson taught.

         After Jesus’ sermon, He sat down and began to speak again.  In ancient Judaism, that meant that He was taking on the role of rabbi – or teacher.  Rabbis sat to teach their students and that is what Jesus was starting to do.  He told His listeners a couple of stories that were very familiar to them, but which made them angry in this particular context. 

The stories of the Widow of Zarapheth and the healing of Naaman were stories about God’s miraculous love.  At the end of a 3 ½ year drought, God sent the prophet Elijah to a widow and her son, who were about to die after running out of food and water.  Because of the widow’s faithfulness in following Elijah’s words, she and her son were saved.  It is a great story.  The problem is: at the time that that story took place, there were lots of Israelite widows who were starving; and God – through Elijah – saved only a gentile woman and her son.  The Jewish faithful understood this story as one about God’s gracious power and the power of the the prophet Elijah.  But they had never heard it where the emphasis was on God’s favor going to non-Jews.  And the same was true of the story of Naaman.  Through the prophet Elisha, God cured – and thereby saved – Naaman, who was a general in the Syrian army, suffering from leprosy.  Again, faithful Jews were not used to talking about this story with the emphasis on God’s favor toward a general of an army that was occupying Israel at the time. 

         When Jesus finished telling the stories with His particular spin, suddenly his words did not seem so admirable.  The people gathered in the Nazareth synagogue that day could not stand the idea that God might be the God of all people, even if those people were, in no way, Jewish. You see, these were faithful people who had their own ideas about how God was supposed to act.  They had been taught, and believed that the Nation of Israel was God’s chosen people.  Therefore, they believed that they were the only people to whom God showed favor.  And any challenge to those beliefs was intolerable.

         But Jesus used these two stories to make a bigger point that day.  He taught the people that God loved the Jews as God’s chosen people.  However, God did not only love the Jews.  He wanted them to know that God loves all of the children of the world and when Jesus preached about the Jubilee from Isaiah, it would be Jubilee to all of the poor and captive people.  The people in the synagogue were not ready to hear that.  So they attacked the one who brought God’s prophetic message.  And yet, all Jesus was trying to do was to show them the wide and generous love that is the true heart of God.

         The Epistle for today is one of the most famous of Paul’s letters.  The portion that we heard from the 1st Letter to the Corinthians, is the Apostle’s explication of what love is.  In all of the weddings that I’ve done, someone has always read this passage, because it tells about what love is supposed to look like.  St. Paul explains how Godly love looks – the sort of love that Jesus exhibited throughout His time on earth.  He explains about the patience, kindness and generosity that Jesus exhibited as He lived out a life of Godly love.

         Here is a story that I hope encapsulates this concept of love[1]

John Phillip Newell tells this story of a three-day retreat at a new monastic community led by a wise elderly monk who was to guide the participants into the essentials of community life.  On the first day, the old monk shuffled into the room, sat down, and said to them, “Today I have just one thing to say to you.  God loves you.  Now go away and think about that.”  So off they went in their discipline of silence for the day, walking the monastic gardens and reflecting in their individual cells on the great mystery of God’s love.

On the second morning, the old monk again shuffled into the room, sat down, and said, “Today I have just one thing to say to you.  You can love God.  Now go away and think about that.”  So off they wandered for their second day of silence, pondering the great truth that God not only loves us but longs for our love. Not only are we the recipients of love.  We are the beloved partners in an eternal love affair.  On the third morning, the participants wondered: What could possibly be next after the essential teachings of the first two days?  God loves, and we can love God.  Was there anything left to add to this completeness?  

The old monk again shuffled into the room, sat down, and said to them, “Today I have just one thing to say to you.  You are to love one another.  Now go away and live this truth as a community.  This is the pearl of great price, living together in love.” (From A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul,  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2011.)

         What the old monk tried to impart; what Jesus implicitly told the congregation in the Nazareth synagogue; and what all of the Gospels make explicit for us; is that there is nothing on earth nor in the heavens that is more important than love.

         A year after St. Paul wrote his famous ode to love in 1st Corinthians, he wrote this to the Church in Rome.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  …  16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; ….  18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  …  “[I]f your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; ….”  21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.[2]

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.[3]

         People endlessly debate what the Bible says about myriad different things.  Those debates often turn ugly and create enmity between people.  Brothers and sisters in Christ split apart from one another, or refuse to speak to each other over some element of doctrine, theology of ecclesiology … or worse yet, how the church operates.  And yet, if they would simply look at the importance of love in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they would see that all of those disagreements vanish into a puff of smoke when viewed through the lens of Godly love.

         “[Y]ou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  [And] ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.[4]”  It just does not get any simpler than that.

Amen.



[1] Synthesis Volume 29 No. 1, January 2016

[2]  Romans 12 (NRSV)

[3]  Romans 13:8b-10 (NRSV)

[4]  Mark 12:30-31 (NRSV)

Transforming Our Lives, Fr. John Bedingfield Jan 17th (text file only)

January 17, 2016

In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

         Today’s reading contains the story of the first miracle in John’s Gospel – Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.  It seems like such an odd, little, almost insignificant miracle that it can make us wonder why this would be the first of all of the great deeds done in this Gospel.

         Before we can get a real handle on what this story might mean, we first need to understand miracles as they appear in John.  Unlike some of the other Gospels, the author of John is very clear about what miracles are.  They are signs.  Throughout the entirety of John, we are told again and again that Jesus performed “signs,” so that those who witnessed them (and were open to Jesus’ message) would believe in Him.  One commentator has referred to miracles in John as “sign posts,” markers that we are supposed to see, and then use to guide us to where the post points for an increase in our faith in Jesus. 

         In this Gospel, Jesus’ “signs” can be somewhat different from what we think of when we think of miracles.  For one thing, they are often done in private, so that there is no great show of what has been done.  But also, Jesus performs His signs in John to make points in addition to showing His connection to God the Father.  In this Gospel, Jesus heals an official's son[1]; and a sick man[2], feeds the five thousand[3], walks on water[4], creates eyes in a man born blind[5], and raises Lazarus from the dead[6].  All to show different aspects of God’s glory and power – and His connection to that same God.  So given the breadth and depth of those other signs, why start with this tiny little miracle?  Simply put:  It was NOT tiny, and it had a huge message.

         This story takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  From the preceding chapter it appears that He only had five (or perhaps six) Disciples at this point.  So He and these early Disciples went to a wedding with His mother, and the wine ran out.  Now I have been to many weddings in my life.  I have officiated quite a few, been the father of the bride once, and father of the groom twice.  So I’ve seen some weddings.  And in each case, if the alcohol had run out, it would have been a downer.  But it would not have been anything more serious than a social embarrassment.  Running out of alcohol would likely have brought the reception to a premature end, but that would have been the extent of the repercussions.  Not so in Jesus’ day.

         In ancient Judaism, a wedding feast lasted for 5 to 7 days, and the continual serving of food and wine were integral parts of the celebration.  Jews of the day understood hospitality to be one of their highest callings.  They believed that a failure to feed and provide proper libation for your guests was an offense before God.  In addition, the wine served a particular purpose in the celebration – that being the blessing of the newly married couple.  So the pressure to provide enough quantity and quality of food and wine at a wedding was pretty intense.  If a family failed in this undertaking, they could literally become outcasts from the community.  So when the wine ran out in Cana that day, it was a BIG deal.

         Mary discovered the predicament that the wedding family was in and she immediately went to Jesus.  And his response to her is interesting.  She told him that the wine had run out, and He responded, in essence, “So what?  What does that have to do with me?”  In responding, He also says, “my hour has not yet come.”  Those of us who know how the story goes, can hear an echo of that statement in Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection, when the “hour of His glory” comes.  This phrase is meant to tell us that Jesus had not yet begun His earthly ministry.

I believe that the author of this Gospel tells us about Jesus’ response to Mary to let us know that He could not be swayed to perform a “sign,” by any human, including his mother.  He only acted when God told Him to act.  Fortunately for the wedding party, the Father chose this time for Jesus to get involved.  So He told the servants to fill six stone jars with water, some 120 to 150 gallons of it.

Now these were no ordinary jars.  They were very particular vessels used to hold water for Jewish purification rituals.  Thus, the water that these jars ordinarily held was used to cleanse the members of the household, in accordance with the purity code contained in the Book of Leviticus.  When Jesus changed the water in these jars into the finest of wines, He showed His Disciples a sign from God.  In this seemingly small miracle, Jesus showed His Disciples that the water of Judaism – the water that was of such great importance under the Law of Moses – could be transformed by God into something that brought joy, celebration and blessing. 

Judaism gives wine a special place in its traditions and rituals.  Wine is used in many liturgical settings, such as: the Passover meal; the blessing at a Bris; and the ordinary blessings of the Sabbath and holidays; not to mention the importance we have already seen that wine has at a wedding feast.  There is even a line in the Book of Judges that refers to wine bringing “joy to God and man.[7]”  So the Disciples (who knew the Books of Leviticus and Judges) would have seen that Jesus transformed ordinary water into wine that represented joy and blessing.  But as with all of John’s signs, this one can be seen on more than one level.

Not only did Jesus transform the old water of the law into the wine of new life, but this was also to be a sign that Jesus could do the same to our lives.  This was a sign that through Jesus, human nature itself can to be transformed into what wine symbolizes – namely, the Spirit of blessing.  The wine was not something entirely new; it was a transformation of what was there before.  When the water was subjected to the power of the Spirit, through the actions of Jesus, it became what the Father ultimately desired it to be.  The same thing can happen to us.  If we allow ourselves to become close enough to Jesus Christ; if we allow Jesus to really act on our lives; we can receive the transformational power of the Spirit and can truly become that which the Father desires for us.   When we allow Jesus to completely infuse our beings, we can become the newly transformed wine that brings the Spirit of blessing to the world. 

And just think for a minute about the quantity of water that Jesus transformed into wine.  One hundred and twenty (or 150) gallons of wine.  That is more wine than this, or any other wedding celebration that had been going on for a while, would ever need.  So what God provided for these people, through Jesus, was incredible abundance.  Jesus could easily have calculated about how much wine would be needed to finish the celebration, and then transformed that much.  But He didn’t do that.  Instead, he transformed a veritable river of wine – a river that flowed with the gracious generosity of God.  And God’s blessings to us have that same gracious generosity to them.  

So this little, tiny miracle, performed in a tiny, little town in the middle of nowhere, was a sign to the Disciples, and is a sign to us.  It is a sign that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Son of God, who came into the world to transform us into the gracious, abundantly blessing children of God.  We are the ordinary stuff of this world, the same ordinary stuff that Jesus transforms throughout John’s Gospel.  If we are ready for that transformation, Jesus has always been ready to perform it.



[1]  John 4:46-54

[2]  John 5:1-9

[3]  John 6:1-14

[4]  John 6:15-21

[5]  John 9:1-34

[6]  John 12:1-11, 18

[7]  Judges 9:13

Joseph: Faith in Action, Fr. Bedingfield, Jan 03

January 3, 2016
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In the name of the Incarnate God, Amen.

At the end of every year, television shows reflect on the year gone by. These looks back made me reflect on Jesus’ past and Joseph, on whom today we look back and whose story I consider as a great model of faith in action throughout life’s journey.

We know very little about Joseph, the adoptive (or “foster”) father of Jesus.  Throughout Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we read about Mary, the Mother of God, but after the opening chapters of Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, we never again hear anything about Joseph.  He is one of the lesser figures from the New Testament, but one to whom we should pay close attention.

We know from Matthew’s brief description of him that Joseph was a righteous man.  The word the Gospel writer uses here is the Greek, diakolos (diakalos) which means “conforming to the standard, will, or character of God; upright, good; just, right; proper; ….”  That is a pretty good description of what we would consider a person of great faith. 

Joseph was also a religious and pious man.  Luke tells us that Joseph made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year for Passover – quite a trek to take every year.  We also know that he presented Jesus for circumcision at the Temple on his 8th day of life, as required by Mosaic law; and that as soon as Mary was ritually able to accompany him, he had Jesus at the Temple again.

We know that Joseph was a kind man.  When he discovered that Mary was pregnant during their period of engagement, he considered canceling the marriage, but only if he could do it quietly and without causing her to suffer the consequences of her supposed actions in public.

Joseph has most of the attributes of “diakolos.”  However, what sets him apart from many other people with these attributes is that Joseph’s faith is a faith of action.  In all of the vignettes in which we glimpse Joseph from Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, we see a man on the move.  Repeatedly, God calls and Joseph acts.

Here was a man, probably in what we would think of as the middle-class of Nazareth society, a carpenter and faithful member of the Synagogue.  He became engaged to the young woman named Mary and then discovered her secret.  As a man of action, he intended to quietly divorce her and send her away, but when an angel came to him in a dream and said, “Joseph.  It’s OK to marry her.  This is God’s child.”  Joseph went forward and married her. 

Then the baby was born in Bethlehem – after Joseph had to take the trek from Nazareth at the command of the Roman government – he was ready to take the family home when an angel of the Lord came again and told him to take them to Egypt instead.  Joseph must have barely begun to get accustomed to the fact that his son was actually God’s Son, when there was another angel telling him to face more upheaval in his life.  Now it’s one thing to make a trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem and leave the home and business for a few weeks.  But this time he had to go to Egypt for who knew how long.  Most of us would have questioned what would happen to the business.  What would happen to our belongings?  Where would the money come from to make the trip to Egypt?  How would we survive when we got there?  But not Joseph.  Matthew tells us that he simply gathered the family up and headed for Egypt, leaving everything he knew, owned and cared about behind, and became an unemployed refugee – all on the basis of another nocturnal visit from an angel.

Today’s Gospel account goes on to tell us that the family lived in Egypt until Herod died (a period of a few years by historical account) and then another visit from an angel and back to Nazareth they went.  And Joseph had probably just built up a nice carpentry business in Egypt when he got uprooted again.

So what can we take from these brief snapshots of Joseph?  As I said at the outset, he was a man of faith in action.  I would submit to you that Joseph is the preeminent example of how one should take a faith journey.

We are all on faith journeys.  Look around and think about the stories that the people around you have told you about their own journeys of faith.  Some appear to be so much further down the road than we do and some appear to be just finishing the packing before heading out the door.  But we are most assuredly all on the journey. 

Journeys of faith are never predictable – except for one thing; their unpredictability.  We never know when God is going to call, or what we are going to be called to do.  Our calls might be as simple as calling us to help out in the church nursery (something that is desperately needed by the way), or as dramatic as a call to pursue ordained ministry.  Whenever God calls upon us and tells us that we need to make changes in our lives, it can make us afraid.  The future is uncertain enough without making life changes when we don’t know if we’re ready for it.  But God’s call is sufficient if we allow it to be.  And God will be there with us, providing spiritual and temporal support for us if we are faithful.

My own faith journey has been an incredible one thus far!  And through all of my own changes and chances, Joseph has been a great model of faith and quite a hero to me.  During all of Joseph’s encounters with the voice and will of God, he was never told “why.”  Nor was he ever given a timetable for when things would level out and become comfortable again.  Instead, he was told “what,” and that “what” was to get up and get moving.  “Be about the journey that God has set out for you.”  No matter how much Joseph – or we – want to know how and when things will turn out, each and every time, God finds it sufficient to simply issue the call, without more detailed information.

Perhaps one of the great lessons we are to learn on our journeys through life is that everything is temporary – both the good and the bad.  God does not call us to complete a story, but to add a chapter to it.  We are never called to a dead end, only to another fork in the road.

The spiritual life is all about journeying.  It is about keeping our eyes, ears, and most importantly, hearts open to listening for God’s call to us.  Unfortunately for most of us, those calls do not come, as they did for Joseph, in the crystal clear vision of angels in the night.  For us, it involves being quiet enough to hear that still, small voice inside.  But if we listen hard enough, and pay enough attention, we will get the message that we are to pick up our belongings – whether literally or figuratively – and get on the road to the next stop; not the destination, only the next temporary stop.  And when we get there, it is time to set up shop and begin to listen for the next set of instructions and to await the beginning of the next leg of the journey.

I am quite certain that Joseph never imagined what lay in store for him when he was originally approached with the idea of marrying the young virgin girl from Nazareth.  I know that when I was a twenty-one year old Air Force Sergeant, newly wed to the love of my life, in my wildest imagination I could not have conjured up where Donna and I would be today.  But that is the wonder, the mystery and the excitement of the faithful journey through life.

As you enter this new year, pay close attention to your own visiting angels – in whatever form they may take – and keep your senses tuned to the frequency of God, so that you don’t risk missing the next call to get up and head down the faith road, confident that while you don’t know exactly where the next fork leads, you do know that you are always journeying nearer to God – and that is what it is all about.  Amen.

Responding to Good News, Fr. John Bedingfield, Dec. 20th

December 20, 2015
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In the name of the God who came to live among us.

            In last week’s Gospel, we had a sermon to the assembled crowds by John the Baptist.  If you remember, it was some pretty tough stuff that started with a great intro in which John called the people a “brood of vipers.”  Frankly, it can get a little tough when we have John’s sort of prophetic witness to understand why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is known as the Good News.  But such is not the case today.  Today we have amazingly good news – the kind that hopefully makes us as joyous and excited as it does the characters in our story.  So today, I would like to consider contrasts in the way people receive the Good News.

            Today’s Gospel reading is a prequel to last Sunday’s.  In that one, we heard from the grown man, John the Baptist.  Today we hear about John’s mother, Elizabeth, before he was born.  In this passage from Luke, Mary, the mother of Jesus has just learned from the Angel Gabriel that she is pregnant with the Son of God.  And in that conversation, the Angel tells her to go see her relative (probably an aunt), Elizabeth who – although she was too old to have any children – is now six months pregnant.  Gabriel says that Elizabeth has been blessed with the child John, to show that “nothing [is] impossible with God.”

            So as today’s passage begins, Mary has just arrived at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home.  When she goes in, she calls out to her aunt and then we get this amazing response from Elizabeth: 

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

That is truly an amazing response to Mary’s arrival.  You see, Mary had not told Elizabeth whose baby she was carrying, nor even that she was pregnant.  And there is no indication in the story that Elizabeth was visited by the Angel Gabriel, as were Mary, Joseph and Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah.  Elizabeth’s knowledge comes from a much more elemental level.  Right before the passage I just read, Luke tells us that Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” when she joyfully greeted her niece.

            Elizabeth and Mary were both touched by the Spirit of God and both of them immediately recognized the power and the truth of what had been communicated to them.  And both of them celebrated the incredible Good News that they had been given.  But the same was not true of John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, when he received heaven-sent news.

            Zechariah, who was a priest at the Temple in Jerusalem, was indeed an old man, when he was received his angelic visitation.  Luke tells us that Zechariah was on duty at the Temple, and it was his day to go into the Sanctuary of God and replace the incense.  When he went in and stood in that holy place, he was greeted by the Angel Gabriel, who had a message for him.  After Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid,” which is the standard angel greeting for humans, God’s foremost herald told Zechariah, “your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”  Then the angel went on to explain to Zechariah what John’s part in God’s mission would be.  Now here is where there is a great contrast between the priest, his wife and her niece.

            Zechariah responded to Gabriel’s news this way: “How will I know that this is so?  For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”  In other words, the old priest responded to one of God’s highest choir of angels by saying, “Prove it!”  He didn’t say, “Wow, that’s incredible.  I can’t wait to see what happens,” or even, “Wow!  How about that?”  Instead, he straight up challenged Gabriel to show him how that would work.  And the angel’s response is priceless.

            I can just imagine the angel drawing himself up to his full stature and looking at Zechariah with an especially piercing stare, as he said,

I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’

Gabriel’s message to Zechariah was simple … “Who do you think you are, little man, to be challenging the veracity of God’s personal messenger?”  And Zechariah was indeed struck speechless until after John was born.

            So the contrast between the women and the old priest is pretty stark.  Mary and Elizabeth believed as soon as they heard the news … and they were blessed.  Zechariah did not believe the good news and was cursed.  So it would be incredibly easy for us to say that the message is clear:  be faithful like Elizabeth and Mary, not faithless like Zechariah.  But that is way too easy and does not look at the important underlying meaning of these stories.

            I believe that the important thing for us to see in comparing the stories is not the simple contrast, but the underlying and ultimate similarity.  You see, what happened to Zechariah AFTER John was born, was that he got his voice back and was able to carry on his duties as priest, while loving his newborn son.  God withheld the blessing only for a while, but ultimately – because of God’s grace and mercy – the recalcitrant priest received God’s blessing, just was the women had.

            These stories tell us a about the same God whom Jesus told us about in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  In both stories we find people who moved away from God’s wishes for them, and did (or said) exactly what God did not want them to do.  So God waited.  And when the people were ready to return, they did so, and God welcomed them with open arms and overflowing blessings.

            So what we can take from this is that people hear God in their own time and in their own way.  Zechariah listened slowly and responded slowly, while Mary heard immediately and responded the same way.  Sometimes were like the obstinate old priest and other times we are like the Mother of God.  But no matter what happens, God is faithful.  No matter what we do or how faithless we may seem, God remains faithful in all things.  When God responds to us, it is always in love; always with grace; and always with the utmost faithfulness.  And when we respond positively and faithfully to God, the divine response is to abundantly bless us.

            There was never a better example of a faithful God whose blessings are abundant than Jesus Christ, himself.  Jesus who came to earth as a baby born in in the middle of nowhere, and who grew up as a carpenter’s son in an even less important town, and who went on to die on the outside of Jerusalem for the forgiveness of our sins.  No matter how faithful or faithless we may be; no matter how much or little we deserve it, God is always faithful and gracious to us.  So much so that we have been given eternal life.  All we have to do is accept it.

Amen.

Brood of Vipers, Mthr Mitzi George, Dec. 13th

December 15, 2015
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In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist issued a resounding call to prepare the way for the Lord. He proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.

 In today’s Gospel reading, John spells out what repentance looks like. For John, when people repent their actions change. Words and creeds are empty if they don’t result in action, particularly actions that assist the needs of others.

 John’s rhetoric is neither polite, nor gentle. In Luke’s Gospel (as opposed to Matthew’s) John calls the whole crowd that has come out to see him a brood of vipers and warns them: “Do not begin to say to yourselves; ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor.’” His message is clear. Don’t assume that, because you have a certain ancestral lineage or a particular religious connection, that you belong to God’s people. God can raise-up a new people from stones if need be.

 You and I can let ourselves off the hook or easily disconnect from the point of this passage if we make this merely a historical encounter that happened long ago, rather than placing ourselves in the narrative.  John’s message needs to be heard not only by us but by all baptized Christians today. John’s message still speaks today and is saying to us “Don't presume to say, ‘We’re baptized, we go to Church, or I serve on this committee or that!’ John is saying show your faith by your actions toward others, or get ready for the ax.”

 Those in the crowd respond by asking the prophet “What shall we do?” — John basically tells them that they need to be honest (“Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you”), be kind (“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise”) and to work hard (“Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”).

 Come on, John, I’m tempted to ask, is that really all? This is pretty much what we learned in kindergarten. Is this really all it takes to avoid eschatological judgment?

Apparently, according to John, the answer is, Yes!

 While John’s message seems radical to those hearing it, he is quick to remind them that he is merely a messenger preparing the way for the one who is more powerful than he is. That one will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. But what will the fire burn up? Is John saying that some people will be destroyed, and others will be saved? It would be nice if it were all so simple! If only the evil people committing evil deeds could just be separated from the rest of us and they could be destroyed or locked up forever.  Sometimes we think it is that easy, but the question is who gets to decide? Which of us, or who among us, can determine the purity of another person’s heart? And don’t you think there is a fine line dividing good and evil cutting through every heart and soul. Which one of us dares to claim to be all wheat and no chaff?

 John calls us to let God burn up our selfish desire to hoard our food and clothing even when our neighbor is hungry and shivering from the cold. Anything that gets in the way of love for God or neighbor must go. Then and only then can we live as God’s own people, passionately loving others and committed to justice.

 John’s words reveal to us that he views poverty not as an accident or as a fault of the poor. In his time, as in ours, the earth produced more than enough goods to feed and clothe everyone. The problem then and now is that the resources have been consumed and abused by a small percentage of the population. John called not only the wealthiest people but all people to treat their accumulation of goods as a guideline for determining the sincerity of repentance.

 How we get money and how we use money exposes what we value. Economic issues are spiritual issues. If we ignore God’s commands to practice social and economic justice, how can we claim that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? If we prioritize our pleasures above our neighbors’ basic needs, how can we claim to love our neighbors as ourselves?

 Here is the existential reality this third week of Advent- we see, through the eyes of Luke, the potential and possibility of what the kingdom of God is and can be and yet it seems so far away from where we stand at this moment.

 The theological promise in today’s Gospel is this -- that people are capable of giving witness to God’s truth in the face of a culture that tries to suppress this truth; that those who believe in the world-changing gospel of Jesus Christ are able to testify to this gospel even in the face of resistance; that along with many other exhortations, the good news will be preached; that our human expectations are not God’s. And God’s expectations, unlike ours, are founded on and grounded in God’s promises which are already fulfilled.

 If we ever wondered if we really needed Advent, the answer is yes! Advent names and exists in the tensions of a broken and confused world. Advent claims God’s expectations in the face of the world’s false expectations. Advent says we can have expectations of God and God will meet them, because with God all things are possible.

 More accurately, it’s that everything – from warning and expectation to ethical exhortation – looks different in light of the coming of Christ. Jesus’ coming, John implies, affects every dimension of our lives, including how we regard each other and our ethical obligations to one another and the world. The kingdom doesn’t show up only in grand actions or heroic deeds. Rather, in the simple acts of sharing what we have, being honest with each other, working hard, and resisting the urge to hoard more than we need, we are helping to usher in the kingdom that Jesus will soon announce.

 One of the chief ways we can witness to God’s coming kingdom is to actually live like it’s here, like we believe it’s really coming, like we think it actually matters; which means that we have opportunities all around us to be the ordinary saints John calls us to be.  What would it look like if we went out from church looking for opportunities to be honest, kind, and hardworking? What if we determined to seek out such opportunities because we’ve heard that extraordinary acts of grace are within the reach of ordinary people? What if we believed – and acted on the belief – that being honest, kind, and hardworking in a culture that is impatient, immature, and fearful really makes a difference.

 Keep in mind where we are: less than two weeks from Christmas.

I know all this may sound trite when the whole world feels at times like it’s falling apart. But I think that’s part of John’s message – and the purpose of Jesus’ coming – that precisely because God has promised to redeem all creation in due time, we are free – here and now – to tend the little corner of the world in which we find ourselves. There are, according to John and Jesus, no small gestures, but rather varied and contagious, random and intentional acts of kindness, honesty, and goodness that really do make a difference in the world, particularly when paired with faith that in Jesus, God has drawn near to us – all of us – with the good news of grace, mercy, and redemption.

Amen

Do Something, Fr. John Bedingfield, Dec 6th

December 6, 2015
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In the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

         I was working on a sermon about John the Baptist and his incredible, single-minded devotion to Jesus when the reports began to come in from San Bernardino.  My prayers – and I’m sure yours as well – are with the people of that community in this time of pain and devastation.  Lafayette more than many cities can empathize with that suffering community.  But you know what?  Unless things change in this country, it will not be long until ALL communities have felt the sadness and fear that go along with a mass shooting.

         You have probably seen the statistic by now: in 2015 we have had more mass shootings than we have had days of the year. There have been 353 such events in 2015 and today is the 339th day of the year.  So, as of today, there have been 14 more shootings than days.  That is, unless there have been more incidents that I have not yet heard about … which, let’s face it, is a distinct possibility.

         The script for what plays out on television with one of these events is almost sickening in its predictability.  The media tells us all of the details in breathless, near real-time – even if they do not really know what they are talking about.  They tell us every few minutes that the situation is “fluid.”  After they have said that magic word, they are apparently absolved from the sin of inaccuracy in their reporting.  Then we see the endless parade of “experts,” who tell us what we should think about what we have just seen.  Then another group of experts tell us how we should not become desensitized to this recurrent violence – all the while, desensitizing us to the violence.  And interspersed with all of this coverage are the comments and tweets from the politicians.

         American politicians fall into two distinct camps after a high profile mass shooting.  [It’s incredibly sad that I now have to differentiate between “regular” mass shootings and “high profile” ones.]  The two camps of politicians are: the ones who believe that no gun control is good and the ones who believe that gun control is not only good, but necessary … and yet lament that any sort of gun control in this country is impossible.

         There was an editorial cartoon this week by Mike Lukovich, that shows the US Capitol in the background (flag flying at half staff) and group of politicians in the foreground, reading from a paper that says: “Enough is enough.  We’re doubling prayers for victims’ families, initiating longer moments of silence and allowing unlimited stuffed bears at makeshift shrines.”  As nauseating as it may be, those sorts of responses truly seem to be the extent of what our political “leaders,” can accomplish in the face of 355 events in 339 days.

         We are in the midst of a true crisis – one whose victim count is much higher than that caused by Isis, about whom we all agree.  And yet, as a nation we cannot even come together enough to agree that this is a problem that we must deal with. 

Every day or so, when another one of these mass casualty events takes place, our leaders tell us that their thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.  That is a wonderful thing.  We all need to keep these tragic people in our thoughts and prayers.  But it cannot stop there!

As Christians, we believe in a Savior who was God as a human.  This God/man came to earth, not only to be the one who saved us and brought us closer to the Creator God, but who is also our guide and teacher on the journey of life.  Jesus taught us over and over again that we were to love our neighbor as ourselves.  But what does that mean in this context?

I think that it means we have to care about everyone else the same way that we care about ourselves; that we are concerned about the wellbeing of every other human being as much as we are about our own family members.  In other words, we are to put the good of the whole right up there with our own good.  And if we are going to care about each other that way, we are not allowed to be ruled by fear that “big government is coming for our guns.”  We are required – we are called – to see that the killing has to stop!  And if that means that some form of change will come to how we understand our 2nd Amendment rights, then so be it. 

This country was founded by people with an incredible sense of liberty, and a ban on guns will never take hold here because of that history – and the Constitution that grew out of it.  It is only the people who will profit from keeping everyone scared of losing their guns who continue to say that any gun control will lead to a complete ban.  The time has come for us, as a nation, to care more about the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters than about a feared change in gun laws.

To answer the obvious question … No.  I do not have an answer for the situation in which we find ourselves.  But I know that the conversations about what the alternatives are, is long overdue – overdue by thousands of lives.  It is time for Christian people everywhere to stand up and force our leaders to begin to have honest, adult conversations about what can be done.  One side can no longer be allowed to put their fingers in their ears and whistle until everything blows over – or worse yet, tell us that this is our “new normal.”  And the other side can no longer be allowed to sigh heavily and say that there is nothing that can be done, even as they acknowledge the seriousness of the crisis.  We cannot accept their trite statements anymore.

         The prophet Baruch, whom we heard from today, and John the Baptist both heard the call of God and preached for the people to repent and return to that same God.  John in particular, called for people to turn away from those things that kept them apart from God.  His job was to prepare people and make the way straight and level for when Jesus came behind him to do the work of redemption.  The people to whom Baruch, and Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and Amos, and all of the prophets right up through John, preached were no different than you and me; no different than all of the people of this country today.

         The prophets call all people to turn away from the things that harm us and to turn back to the Lord of Life.  Well, the lives of too many of our fellow citizens are being taken in acts of gun violence.  It is time that we, as a nation, repent from this scourge and turn back toward healing and wholeness for our citizens; turn back toward loving our neighbors as ourselves.

         I am no starry-eyed idealist.  I know that what I advocate today cannot be done quickly, easily or without discomfort.  And I know that the congregation of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Lafayette, Louisiana cannot make major changes in our system.  But we have to start somewhere.  Accepting things as they are and starting to use the term, “new normal,” is not, loving our neighbors.  We cannot let this latest tragedy go by and become instantly forgotten history.  Talk to people about this.  Call your representatives.  Do something ... anything.

Amen.

Unholy Violence and Holy Courage, Nov. 22

November 22, 2015
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To read the text of the sermon, please read the Rt. Rev. Jake Owensby's blogpost for Nov. 22, 2015, entitled Unholy Violence and Holy Courage.  This, and all of the Bishop's sermons are available at the following site:

http://pelicananglican.blogspot.com 

Fear Not, Fr. John Bedingfield, Nov 15th

November 15, 2015
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        In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen. 

As we draw near the end of the church year, our lectionary brings things to a close by having us look at the Gospel of Mark’s use of what are known as “apocalyptic” images.  Now we all know from the use of the term in modern culture, that apocalypse refers to the “end of the world.”  It seems that we go through cycles where we spend a good deal of time waiting, wondering and worrying about the end of time. 

         Believe it or not, the first book in the Left Behind series was published twenty years ago, in 1995.  For a few years there, it seemed that everyone was talking about “The Rapture,” the “tribulation,” and what life would be like as the world prepared for the return of Jesus.  Then we took a break for a few years.  A few years ago, there was much written, and even a movie that purported to show us what it would be like on December 21, 2012, when an unknown planet would crash into the earth – ostensibly as predicted by the Mayan calendar, which was created on Aug 11, 3114 BC.  We are all here today, safe and sound.  So clearly there was no apocalypse as some had predicted.  But that didn’t stop the hype about it for a while.

It seems that every once in a while, people get frightened by the present and have to try to see the future, in order to hopefully prepare for some unseen disaster that is headed our way; so that we can be some of the “elect,” the chosen, who are spared as all others die horribly (or least suffer a lot).

         Much of what people “know” on the subject of the apocalypse, or the Second Coming of Christ, is taken from the Book of Revelation – “revelation” being the actual definition of “apocalypse.”  But there are other apocalyptic writings in Scripture.  The Books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Joel, Zachariah and Daniel in the Old Testament; Mark 13, and 2 Thessalonians 2 in the New Testament; as well as several passages in the Apocrypha are all written in apocalyptic style.  And it is crucial for us to understand apocalyptic literature in order to understand what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel.

         When things get bad; when things seem hopeless; when it seems that the present situation is beyond redemption; apocalyptic literature shows us that hope still exists.  No matter what happens in life, there is always hope.  That’s what apocalyptic writings are all about.

         Jesus tells the disciples that the Temple will be destroyed.  The Temple in Jerusalem took over 40 years to build.  It stood over fifteen modern stories tall and the perimeter was 1,420 yards.  It was built to last forever, out of stones, some of which weighed in excess of 100 tons each.  And Jesus said it would be destroyed.  Not only that, but the Temple was God’s home.  In Jewish theology, it was the place where God actually lived.  And Jesus said it would be destroyed.  But look at what He said next.  “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”  In other words, out of absolute desolation and destruction; out of the most irredeemable of circumstances comes new birth – renewal – new life.  That’s hope!

         One of the mistakes we make as modern Christians, is to read apocalyptic literature as being word-for-word, literally accurate.  That is what the Left Behind series – all 16 volumes of it – sought to do in the beginning.  But then as time went on and there was more money to be made from scaring people, the authors embellished more and more until finally they had gone beyond simply misreading Scripture and were selling nothing more than science fiction with bad theology attached to it.

         You see, the dualism that is set up by modern apocalyptic writers is not true at all.  Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHay (and all the others of their ilk) would have you believe that the world is split in two.  One part is ruled by Satan and the other part is ruled by God.  And the two are locked in a mighty cosmic struggle.  In point of fact though, Satan is not God’s opposite.  Satan is the opposite of Michael the Archangel.  They were both, at one time, angels in the service of God who is the master of both of them.  And God does not need to have Jesus return bodily to earth in order to redeem the world.  Jesus accomplished that on the cross.  As one writer puts it, “All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, God reigns.  Purposeful Evil is a creature, a parasite, a lamprey (eel) that lives off life, not the author of life itself[1].” 

If we are to take all of Scripture seriously – not just a misreading of the Book of Revelation – we must note that God made a covenant with Noah after the flood.  In that covenant, God promised never again to destroy the world in order to start over.  But again, as the Episcopal writer, King Oehmig puts it,

On the other hand, Scripture does maintain that history as we know it will end.  There will come a day, the Lord’s Day, when the architecture of this present age will be supplanted by the rule of God.  Nothing in this dimension is permanent.[2]

We are meant to have hope in the sovereignty of God.  That’s why we should consider the end of time.  Not so that we will be frozen by fear.  Not so that we will cease to care about what is happening in the world around us.  But so that we can know that the postscript that might be written on the end of the Book of Revelation could be, “the world and all that is in it belongs to the God of creation and love!”

         When we look around today we see trouble.  It is the way things are.  Trouble appears, no matter how much we would like for it not to.  Bad things happen.  People treat other people horribly because of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation.  Sick and poor people get ignored by those with the means to help them.  For reasons that may never be fully known, someone guns down a group of strangers.  Bad people act in the world, and in our lives.  Sometimes it seems that no matter which direction we look, someone is after us.  It is at these times that the hope of God in Christ is so important.

         In his collection of sermons entitled, Strength to Love, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:

Our capacity to deal creatively with shattered dreams is ultimately determined by our faith in God.  Genuine faith imbues us with the conviction that beyond time is a divine Spirit and beyond life is Life.  However dismal and catastrophic may be the present circumstances, we know we are not alone, for God dwells with us in life's most confining and oppressive cells. 

And even if we die there without having received the earthly promise, he shall lead us down that mysterious road called death and at last to that indescribable city he has prepared for us....

The Christian faith makes it possible for us nobly to accept that which cannot be changed, to meet disappointments and sorrow with an inner poise, and to absorb the most intense pain without abandoning our sense of hope.... 

         Dr. King understood what it was that Jesus – and all apocalyptic writers – are really trying to tell us through the scary images of the end of it all.  God is with us.  And once we have fully experienced that reality and embraced the love of God in Christ as an actual thing, as a tangible thing, rather than something we read in the Bible and hear about on Sundays, there is no longer any need to be ruled by fear of the future.  Whatever comes, no matter how frightening, we will handle it – with God’s help.

         I’ll leave you this morning with something written by a pastor who was facing his own death in a very real and immediate way.  Here is how he expressed the hope that we find in the loving God who gave His only Son to redeem us and whose very real Spirit dwells with us in this moment.

So here I stand, looking at the ground, smelling the faint fragrance of God. Never once did it occur to me that when I found God's trail again, it would ruin my life forever for once you feel the breath of God on your skin, you can never turn back, you can never settle for what was, you can only move on recklessly, with abandon, your heart filled with fear, your ears ringing with the constant whisper, “Fear not.”[3]

Amen.



[1]  H. King Oehmig, Synthesis, Proper 20, November 15, 2009

[2]  Id.

[3]  Yaconelli, Mike, The Door (March-April 1998).

 

Step Out in Faith, Fr. John Bedingfield, Nov. 8th

November 8, 2015
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At the climax of the film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the hero has made it to the mountain fortress that he believes holds the chalice that Jesus used at the Last Supper — the Holy Grail.  But in order to get to the cave where he hopes the Grail is located, Indiana has to pass through a series of tests.  One of which, as it turned out, was to literally step out in faith.  

In the scene, the viewers see Indy standing in a tunnel opening in the side of the mountain, when the camera pans out, we see that there is a chasm that is probably 30 or 40 feet across.  And when we look down, we see a black abyss between Indy and the cave containing the Grail.  His deciphered instructions tell him to leap across the chasm.  When the meaning dawns on him, he says, “A leap of faith,” and then, with his heart beating out of his chest and his breathing difficult, he takes a giant step out into nothingness … and his foot lands solidly on a bridge that is so perfectly camouflaged as to appear invisible.  Indiana’s step out in faith lands him squarely where he needs to be. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this concept perfectly.  He once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  I think that that is a very vivid way of describing what we mean when we say that someone should “step out” in faith, or “take a leap,” of faith.  The two women about whom we read in today’s Old Testament and Gospel accounts certainly lived those adages.

In the reading from 1st Kings, we get one of my favorite passages, the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.  We don’t know the name of the widow, but we do know a couple of important things about her.  First, she was not one of the children of Israel.  She lived in what is modern-day Lebanon, a Gentile land.  She referred to God as Elijah’s God, thereby identifying herself apart from the God of Israel.  Second, we know that she was a widow – Bible coded language for a completely destitute woman.  She had no husband and no way to make a living.  On top of that, there was a drought and nothing in the area was growing, so she couldn’t even collect the gleanings from the fields to live on.  She was flat broke; nothing coming in and no way to get more.  Just when things couldn’t get any worse for her, they did.  Along came Elijah, whom she had never seen nor heard of, and he asked her to give him some of her precious water.  And not just water, but he also wanted her to bake bread for him with the very last of her meal and oil.  

The widow was much more polite to Elijah than most of us would have been.  She gently told him that there was not even enough for her and her son to eat; that she intended to bake the last of her supply and then she and her son were going to go off and die of starvation because everything was gone.  Elijah told her to step out in faith.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  If you do what I ask, “the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.”  She took the leap of faith and did as she was asked.  And miraculously the promise was fulfilled.

Then we have the story of the widow’s mite from Mark’s Gospel.  The author of this Gospel tells us even less about the widow in the story than did the author of 1st Kings, when telling the widow of Zarephath story.  All we know in this case is — again — she is a widow, and she gives everything that she has to support the Temple.  In this case, Jesus holds her up as a shining example because she engaged in risky giving — that giving that is done generously and faithfully, without worry.  In other words, the widow stepped out in faith and gave generously, without counting the cost to herself.

Stepping out in faith is always a scary proposition.  Whether you are Indiana Jones walking off a cliff, literally taking a step without seeing the staircase, or you are a widow who gives away all that she has in faith that God will provide; all are examples of ignoring natural worries and following God’s call fearlessly.

As a congregation, St. Barnabas knows about stepping out in faith and ignoring the worries in order to accomplish God’s greater purpose.  When things get tough this congregation always rallies around each other and the staff and works together to work on God’s mission.  This congregation has survived hurricanes, most recently Katrina, Rita and Ike.  And through all of the worry and uncertainty surrounding those disasters, you have stepped out in faith to bring help and support to people in need.  

Now here we are in the midst of yet another downturn in the oil business — which as everyone in Lafayette knows, is the lifeblood of this town.  And yet, in the middle of all of that uncertainty and worry, you continue to rally together to carry on the work.  This week we have tallied the pledges that we received through last Sunday.  And thus far, over 70 of you have let us know your plan for pledging.  We now have pledges that cover about 1/2 of our annual budget.  The stewardship committee and I thank all of you who have pledged so far.  For those who have not, there is still time!  And if you do it today, you can avoid a call from the stewardship committee this week.  Pledging to the Church is definitely one of the times of stepping out in faith.

Today at 10:30 we are baptizing Townes and Charlie Shuffler.  Although they are not quite old enough to really fathom what they are doing, these wonderful boys — through their Godparents — are taking a huge step in faith by saying “yes” to an invitation from our Lord, Jesus Christ, to go down into the waters of baptism and to come up on the other side, reborn and renewed.  As Hadley Fuller, who was baptized last week, can attest; when you step out into the unknown of life as a baptized Christian, you are stepping out into the love, support and care of this Christian family; which makes the other step into faith (the one involving being vulnerable to God) much less scary.

And while I’m talking about stepping out in faith, we now have a new Head of our denomination.  The Most Rev. Michael Curry is now the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church.  And if there is anyone in the Church who will repeatedly call you to step out in faith, it is Bishop Curry.  His favorite term is “The Jesus Movement.”  He says that Jesus did not come to found a Church, he came to start a movement.  Bishop Curry’s message is simple: while our institutions are necessary and important to us, it is the movement — the following of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, out into the world that is ultimately the most important thing.  

What Bishop Curry calls us to do is the same thing that all clergy and laity who believe in the Social Justice Gospel believe in.  Jesus called us to: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, heal the sick, visit the shut-in, and welcome strangers.  All of those things can be scary and worry-inducing.  We can be very uncomfortable when we take our faith out into the world and begin to exercise our spiritual muscles.  But that is exactly what we are supposed to do.

This congregation, more than most, knows and understands the call of the Jesus Movement.  We do wonderful outreach and welcome ministry here.  But we must never be satisfied with what we have done or are currently doing.  We must always be moving forward — literally and figuratively stepping out in faith — to go deeper and farther into the community to find those in need and to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to them through alleviating their suffering and trying to make their lives better.

Follow the example of today’s widows who stepped out in faith.  Whether it is in making a pledge to the church, supporting our newly baptized in their lives in Christ, or giving of ourselves in outreach and welcoming.  Step out in faith.  Be an active part of the work of St. Barnabas.  Be part of the Jesus Movement.  

Amen.

Generous Saints 6, Jonathan Daniels, Fr. John Bedingfield, Oct. 25th

October 26, 2015
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In the name of the God of abundance, Amen.

            Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”  …  Then Jesus said to (Bartimaeus), “What do you want me to do for you?”  The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”  Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”  Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

            There are myriad healings in Mark’s Gospel.  From the man with the withered hand to the boy with the unclean spirits; from the woman with hemorrhages to a host of lepers, Jesus healed them all.  But we never know the name of anyone Jesus healed in this Gospel – except for Bartimaeus.  The difference in story between Blind Bartimaeus and all of the other people Jesus healed is simply that last line.  “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” 

            Mark doesn’t mean that the man walked down the road a few steps behind Jesus.  In this Gospel, the term, “the way,” has a specific meaning.  By the use of that term, we are to understand that after Bartimaeus got his sight back, he immediately followed Jesus as a disciple.  “The Way,” to Mark meant Jesus’ journey to the cross.  When Bartimaeus asked Jesus for his sight, he had no idea what he asked for.  When Jesus opened his eyes, Bartimaeus saw a new world – the world that disciples are meant to help Jesus perfect.  But more importantly … Bartimaeus saw The Way of the Cross that was coming, and agreed to follow Jesus anyway.

            What would we see if Jesus was to open our eyes today?  We can all see the world around us – to a greater or lesser extent – with or without glasses, contacts or Lasik.  But what would Jesus show us if our eyes were spiritually opened?

            Over the last few weeks you’ve heard several stories about Generous Saints.  These are people who gave of themselves generously, graciously and willingly – exactly as Jesus gave of Himself during His earthly ministry, and the same way that the God of all creation has always given to God’s children.  In order to be a truly Generous Saint, one must have the ability to see the world as Jesus saw it, filled with unmet needs and ready for a gracious God to work through God’s people to bring about healing and wholeness.  Today’s Generous Saint is someone who definitely saw the world as Jesus sees it.

            Jonathan Myrick Daniels the General Theological Seminary student who took a leave of absence from school to become a part of the Freedom Riders in the early 1960s, was a man who saw oppressed people in need and gave up his position in life to help them.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called on all college students and particularly all seminary students to come to the South to help register African Americans to vote.  Jon Daniels answered that call and travelled from New York City to Alabama.  He lived with a family

            If Jesus were to come to you today and give you sight, what would you see?  Would you see the abundance of God’s creation?  Or would you see the scarcity of our creation?  Alexis de Tocquesville came to America to study our new republic over 200 years ago.  I love this quote from his work, Democracy in America.

‘I have seen the freest and best educated of men in circumstances the happiest to be found in the world.  Yet it seemed to me that a cloud habitually hung on their brow and they seemed serious and almost sad in their pleasures.  They never stop thinking of the good things they have not got.  They clutch everything and hold nothing fast.’ 

Modern Christian author Douglas Lawson commented on what de Tocquesville said, this way,

‘We have grown more knowledgeable and secure over the last two hundred years, but...  The forces that hammer at us have turned us into a nation of seekers.  Part of our search has been prompted by a sense that much of our lives is empty, confusing, monotonous, unrewarding.  We search for meaning and inspiration, for a workable formula that can lead us to a joyful, contented, satisfying existence.[1]

But somehow, satisfaction and contentment seem so elusive.

 

            God gave humankind a garden with everything needed for an abundant life.  Generations later, God gave the children of Israel water in the desert, manna when they had no food and a promised land filled of milk and honey.  But all of that was seen through the eyes of skepticism and scarcity by people.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve looked with desire at the only fruit God did not give them.  When the children of Israel had all of their needs taken care of by God, all they could see through the eyes of resentment and scarcity was the fact that their wants were not provided for as well.

            What would you see if you were given sight by Jesus today, abundance or scarcity?

 

            I think that if Jesus opened my eyes today, I would look out across this room and see a group of people who care very deeply about their church.  I think that I would see people who are brand new to this congregation alongside people who have grown up, or grown old in this household of God.  If Jesus gave me sight, I believe that I would see a group of people who has survived the many vicissitudes of an economy dependent upon oil for its lifeblood; people who have continued to give for the support of this church and the Kingdom of God in good times and in hard times.

            If I could see the way Jesus sees, I believe that I would see a world that is changing at an alarming speed.  I would see people who live in a world that is no longer what they grew up with – and I would see the fear that that grips some of those people.  I would see people who have great respect and love for tradition; people who prize the ways of their forefathers.  And I believe that I would see some people who worry about what the changing of the world means within this community of faith.

            If Jesus gave me His sight, I think that I might see people who want to be generous with their time, their talent and their treasure; but who worry because of what has happened in the world around them – both economically and socially.  I believe that I would see people who know in their hearts that the author of 1 Timothy was correct when he said that faithful Christians are: “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.[2]

            Next Sunday we will celebrate the conclusion of the every Sunday part of our annual pledge campaign.  In our celebration, we can have the sight Jesus gives the faithful.  Next Sunday we will celebrate abundance – because we will see abundance.  We will take some time to fill out pledge cards (unless you have already done so) and to exercise the spiritual worship of disciplined, generous, cheerful, planned giving of our treasure.  Then we will bring all of those pledge sheets forward, along with the gifts of bread and wine, and we will place them on the altar to be blessed.  And after that we will celebrate the abundance of God’s love for us in the Holy Eucharist – our remembrance of the single greatest act of giving in history.

            What would you see if Jesus granted you sight?  He has.  Look around.  There is abundance here.  All we have to do is see it and want to be a part of it.

Amen.



[1]  Herb Miller, Stewardship Nuggets

[2]  1 Timothy 6:18-19