Ordinary Time (after Pentecost)

*SEASON AFTER PENTECOST (ORDINARY TIME)

The Season after Pentecost, also called Ordinary Time, begins the day after Pentecost and ends the day before the First Sunday of Advent. It may include twenty–three to twenty–eight Sundays, depending on the date of Easter, but the first Sunday is always Trinity Sunday, and the last Sunday is always the Sunday of the Reign of Christ or Christ the King. The season also includes All Saints and Thanksgiving
"The cartoonist David Hayward who goes by nakedpastor has a cartoon that depicts this best. He illustrates this as many people with giant pencils in their hand, drawing lines to complete boxes, or thickening already established lines. Jesus is also holding a giant pencil, but instead of drawing lines, he is feverishly erasing them. Some of the people near Jesus have expressions of shock, others of anger. I wish that there was a second and third frame to this cartoon, one that showed an expression of relief, and another where some of the people began to erase the lines along with Jesus." -- Pastor Mandy, July 5, Sermon

Scripture for July 5, 2020 - 5th Sunday After Pentecost

Zechariah 9:9-12

The king will come in humility and peace

Psalm 145:8-14

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion

Romans 7:15-25

The struggle within the self

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

The yoke of discipleship

[Jesus spoke to the crowd saying:] 16 “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

One of the first things I noticed when I started to talk to people about who St. Stephens is as a community, was the language of seeking, exploring, and longing for God. Time and time again these words kept reappearing in my conversations with people. Today’s gospel story is about seekers, those who desire relationship with God. One might argue that the whole of the Gospel story is about those who want relationship with God, but this story in particular tells us something about what it means to seek God in Jesus day, and in our own day.

Throughout the gospel stories Jesus names those who fail to see him, it is one of the most common themes of Jesus’ teachings and sayings. Here and in Matthew 11, these failings read:

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Jesus’ point here is that people are not really serious about finding God, they avoid God and complain about God’s messengers. They say they have been ignored by God, but have they really been ignoring God? These who are complaining certainly seem like they are serious about finding God but I wonder, I wonder if they are not seeking and searching for a God made in their image, not the God in whose image they were made. They are seeking a messenger, a messiah, who will fit into their ideas of a religious experience. One that will fit into their lifestyle, and a spirituality they can control and make normal.

That’s certainly what the Pharisees would have you believe. Their way of approaching God took the teachings from the Torah, God’s living and exciting invitation to holy living, and made it into a heavy, joyless, burden on the people. They expanded law after law, creating long lists of what was clean and what was unclean. They made rituals necessary for relationship with God, but denied access, or restricted access to only those who could afford it. They turned God’s word of steadfast love, into words of perpetual judgement and duty. The yoke of this law, was heavy and unbalanced, difficult and unyielding. They have taken life and turned it into death.

The Pharisees and the scribes were probably not the first to do this, and they were not the last to do it either. Throughout history, there have been efforts to control how and where God is found; attempts to bring some sort of order to the wildness and wideness and seemingly chaotic ways that God interacts with the world. We human beings like systems. Especially systems where we can assure ourselves we are right and in good order, and we can clearly point to others who are not. We want to make sure that we are good … good with God and perhaps with one another.

The cartoonist David Hayward who goes by nakedpastor has a cartoon that depicts this best. He illustrates this as many people with giant pencils in their hand, drawing lines to complete boxes, or thickening already established lines. Jesus is also holding a giant pencil, but instead of drawing lines, he is feverishly erasing them. Some of the people near Jesus have expressions of shock, others of anger. I wish that there was a second and third frame to this cartoon, one that showed an expression of relief, and another where some of the people began to erase the lines along with Jesus. I’ll admit, I want those things because the image as it stands simply leaves me uncomfortable, and I want a happier depiction of the church, the world, and those of us who follow Jesus.

Paul gives us some words to understand our predicament here, “ I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate.” And again, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it” No matter how clearly we put together and neatly package faith, there is always a flaw, and the flaw is us.

The promise in all of this is that Jesus has come to name our flaw, and rescue us from ourselves. Jesus proclaims,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus comes to us, names our reality, and reorients us back to God and neighbor. It is a reminder that the divine and human encounter is not controlled by us, but by God. We cannot neatly package it, nor can we contain it. We do not find our way to God, but God finds us and reveals God’s self to us in the least expected ways, through the least expected people.

Jesus extends an invitation to lay down the heavy burdens cast onto us by our trying and willing to be “good,” and to rest. It is the rest we feel when we see Jesus erase those hardened lines that separate us from God. I wonder what burden each of us might need to put down this day in order to take up the yoke of Jesus? What of our past haunts our present? What doubt in our mind troubles our spirit? What feeling of inadequacy or unworthiness keeps us from offering ourselves as a fellow laborer with Jesus in the Kin-dom of heaven?

Jesus’ call to discipleship will still bring with it a burden, the burden to care for others, to extend hospitality, to see those separating lines in our world and work to erase them, to work for peace and justice throughout the world. This is the work of discipleship, and like the cartoon this work will bring with it the burden of judgement from others, and constant reworking of hardened barriers. But Jesus’ yoke is balanced and his burden is simple.

There is much that will keep us from answering Jesus call to follow; none the less Jesus invites us to put it down and leave it behind as we embrace the opportunity to share in the work of the Kin-dom, the work of sharing with the world God’s grace, God’s goodness, God’s love.

In all of our seeking, as a community, and in all of our work of following Jesus in this world, may Jesus words remind us that he is seeking after us too… calling to us and saying “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Amen.

Scripture for June 28, 2020 - 4th Sunday After Pentecost

Jeremiah 28:5-9

The test of a true prophet

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing

Romans 6:12-23

No longer under law but under grace

Matthew 10:40-42

[Jesus said to the twelve:] 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

One of the years I was in Seminary, there was plethora of infants and toddlers. We often referred to them as the seminary babies, and because of the work load and intensity of grad school, we often cared for them as a village. Jesse, one of the seminary babies, would come and stay with me for three hrs every Tuesday afternoon. As a one year old, Jesse was full of curiosity about the world around him, learning new words, and trying to figure out how things worked. We would often read a book, play with my battery operated candles – turning them on and off was the greatest things – taking a short walk to the swing set, and snacks. Jesse, as the child of a single parent, was used to being cared for by a village, and found delight in spending time with his many caregivers. Jesse had one quirk that made him a challenge to care for by this village. He was a great sleeper, but only when he was in HIS bed at HIS house. Even with favorite blankets and lovies, he still wanted his bed. This normally wasn’t a problem, his caregivers would often just go over to his house and watch him there. But for me, with serious allergies to cats, staying over at his house with his cat sibling, for three hours was just not possible. Jesse napped in the late morning so it wasn’t a problem. Except for the one day when he didn’t take his morning nap. His mom warned me, but also said that he seemed to be doing fine. We went about our routine of finding things to play with and eating afternoon snacks. He looked tired and was laying his head like he might take a nap. But anytime he neared that point of closing his eyes, he would throw them open and start babbling. The babbling turned to sobs, as his exhaustion set in. He knew he was tired, he kept trying to lay down. But it seemed the more he tried to will himself to sleep the more his body seemed to fight him. His sobs continued as I wrapped him in his blanket and started to rock him. His fight for sleep continued. No matter how hard he tried, he could not sleep.

I don’t know how long I held him and rocked him but slowly his sobs grew into whimpers and almost in an instant his body just relaxed, heavy in my arms.

It was in that moment, looking at this sleeping child, who once was fighting the very thing he desired and needed, now utterly relaxed, I wondered if this feeling I had looking at Jesse is how God feels when we finally stop fighting for grace, and just allow ourselves to trust in God’s grace.

We can expend so much energy trying to be worthy, so much time trying to parse out what is good or bad, what will make God love us less or more. So much time. So much energy. And in a society where we have very little that we don’t have access to, we are used to thinking of our worth in terms of our productivity, our receiving of things is a sign of hard work, this trust that grace just is… well that just doesn’t fit. Too often we get wrapped up in trying to be good that we forget to rest in God’s promise. Or we get too concerned with who is in and who is out, who is truly obedient to the will of God and who is not – sending the one who is not away to keep things pure and right.

In his letter to the communities in Rome, Paul lays it out, “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace.” (6:14) And “you have been set free from sin,” (6:18). God has done these things. Not your goodness, not your busyness, not your zealous love of Jesus, not your condemnation of others, not your correct worship, not your doing of anything in the least. So much time, so much energy.

We can try all we want, and try to will ourselves to earn grace. But that’s not how it works. It simply is, and all we can do is trust that God does what God promises to do, and allow ourselves to relax and allow that relief to set in. This is Grace.

Let that relief set into your body. Let it seep into every fiber of your being, every muscle, every sinew, every cell. Let it seep into your every thought of should or should not, and dismantle every bit that says you can earn God’s love. Let that relief seep into your bones and become the foundation for every move and act you take.

If we are not worried about doing the things that will earn us grace, or make us more worthy, then life – what we do day to day – is not about trying to earn anything, but an abundance. What might we do with that abundance? Jesus offers this: provide hospitality to the ones Jesus sends to you. Accept the hospitality when Jesus sends you to others. Offer the cool water of relief to others who need the reminder that they are beloved by God. Accept the cool water of relief when others remind you that you are beloved too.

God calls us worthy, and there is nothing that can change that.

God loves you, and there is nothing that can change that, either. and there is nothing you can do to change the fact that God loves you.

Go and live that love out in the world, share that good news.

Scripture for June 21, 2020 - 3rd Sunday After Pentecost

Jeremiah 20:7-13

The prophet must speak despite opposition

Psalm 69:7-18

Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind.

Romans 6:1b-11

Buried and raised with Christ by baptism

Matthew 10:24-39

[Jesus said to the twelve:] 24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

35For I have come to set a man against his father,

and a daughter against her mother,

and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Sermon

For the word of God in scripture

For the word of God among us

For the word of God within us,

Thanks be to God, Amen.

This week’s gospel reading is one of those that has me wishing Jesus hadn’t said what he said. Not because I don’t believe that he said it, or because it convicts me deeply. No, I just wish he hadn’t said it. I know it is true… faith does take courage, and opposition to the gospel message is real. I wish he hadn’t said it, because it means a reality check.

To be sure following Jesus is joy-filled, soul nourishing, and restorative – that’s what Jesus is trying to reveal right? That the God who created the heavens and the earth and all creeping things and flying things and swimming things, created you and me and desires nothing less than for us to have life, and have it abundantly, regardless of anything. Is there anything more we could ask for?

Those things remain true, but also our human inclination to reject God’s desire, to try to work for that abundance on our own, or the thoughts of “what if there isn’t enough…” start to creep in… and we are quickly reminded that not everyone and not everything is set to the will of God. That life isn’t abundant for all, that we have put restrictions or qualifications around who gets to live abundantly. Jesus still calls to us, asks us follow him, to do what he did, to bring about the kin-dom of heaven here and now. But Jesus wants us to do this knowing full well that this will come with opposition, and may require our lives to look different, maybe even be handed over to the powers and principalities that see and hear the message of this abundant life for all as a threat to their own power and wealth.

Jesus doesn’t just tell us these things, but shows with his own life and work what this opposition will look like. So that when it happens, when Jesus call to follow him and reject the ways that deny and defy God’s will that all should have abundant life, and we face opposition because we choose to live and speak and act as Jesus would, we will run away in fear, but have the courage to continue.

Jesus shows us the way. Not only Jesus, but that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us who have taken up their cross so that others may know this love of God and grace of Jesus. We do not have to look far to see the reality of opposition.

Sometimes it comes from those closest to us, like a parent or teacher. I can only imagine the dismay of his parents when Martin Luther came home to tell his father that he would not be pursing the family work as a lawyer and would be going to take vows, become a monk, and study scripture instead. All of the resources that had been poured in to young Martin would be seen as tossed away so that he could study the bible, and take on a religious life. Only to get himself in so much trouble with the religious powers that he spent his days locked in a room long enough to translate the bible into the language of the people.

Sometimes that opposition to following Jesus, and proclaiming the good news of God in Jesus, requires our bodies and our physical presence in the midst of danger. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian, could have chosen to stay at Union Seminary in New York. He could have written out his opposition to the Nazi regime and his displeasure with the church becoming a pawn to the radicalized state from afar. It would have been safer. But Dietrich recognized Jesus in the faces of those being harmed – those being placed into concentration camps and killed, and his siblings in the church who were being led astray by pastors and local political leaders – and heard a call to return. When he returned, he gathered other theologians and pastors, began an underground seminary, and set to work untangling the church from the grips of nationalistic and violent state, only to be imprisoned and executed by the state just mere days before liberation. His work, his writing, and his willingness to see God from the view point of the oppressed continues to influence modern theologians and pastors.

Sometimes the call of Jesus doesn’t require the rejection of our family or take our lives, often times its more subtle. As we chatted about this scripture reading, my spouse reminded me of a fellow alumni of the Citadel, who’s life and commitment to following Jesus turned her world upside down. Her name is Olivia and she was an incredibly bight student, gifted in understanding business management and set to begin an MBA program when a speaker came to her church during her senior year. He was coming as part of an appeal to raise money to build wells and bring sustainable water to war torn and violent Burundi. At that time they were in the middle of a 17 year civil war and so when she approached the speaker, he insisted that her money would be sufficient, she insisted that Jesus was calling her to go and to be with the people in Burundi. She has since taken his job of building relationships with people in Burundi and helping them become more sustainable. Her story has a happy ending, but it is not without danger, or lament from family and friends back home.

While these stories of Martin, Dietrich, and Oliva show us the extent to the life that Jesus calls us, I would be hard pressed if any of them thought they would end up reforming a religious structure, start a resistance church, or build a network of support for communities ravaged by war. They simply heard Jesus call them. They were attentive to seeking and seeing Jesus in the face of others.

Jesus tells us about the big things that we might face, so that we will not run away in fear, but have courage in our faith. Courage to engage in the uncomfortable places of life, to see Jesus in the face of the oppressed, the outcast, the prisoner, the hungry, the lonely, the sick and dying. To name the ways that greed seeps into our societal systems and pits sibling against sibling and denies God’s will for abundant life for all. To apologize for places where we have caused harm, and work to do better for our siblings. To be Jesus’ hands and voice in this world.

Yes, following Jesus is the big things, but it starts with the attentiveness of where Jesus is calling you to care for neighbor.

Yes, following Jesus will bring opposition, but you do not follow Jesus alone, but with the great cloud of witnesses, and the body of Christ gathered together as the church.

Yes, we fail Jesus daily, but his call to us remains, to proclaim life, abundant life, for all.

Trust in the one who will not forsake you, who claimed you in your baptism, and remember Child of God, you have been marked by the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit, Forever. Amen.

Scripture for June 14, 2020 - 2nd Sunday After Pentecost

Exodus 19:2-8a

The covenant with Israel at Sinai

Psalm 100

We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.

(Ps. 100:3)

Romans 5:1-8

While we were sinners, Christ died for us

Matthew 9:35 - 10:8

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, "The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Please pray with me: Lord we thank you for the gift of your Word, and as we think on these things open our hearts to your will, and illumine our minds to hear your word for us. Amen

Today we return to the ordinary time in the church. A season in the church calendar that turns from focusing on Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection to the growth and life of the church and the expression of living God in the world. To be fair we’ve been living in a different ordinal time, the season of marking the days since we’ve been able to gather in community. And while I know this ordinary is meant in the sense that count our Sundays (as in ordinal season) but also it feels weird in this time in our society that anything should be called ordinary. So, while the church of history may call this the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, this year we may also call it the 14th Sunday in Quarantine.

I don’t know where you are today, but I’m feeling a little weary and exhausted. I resonate with the crowds, and want, hope that Jesus will see me, and our world, with some compassion.

I didn’t just see myself in that crowd, but many of us, perhaps all of us?

I know that the gospel writers could have never known what the year 2020 would be like, but the emotion is definitely there … Weary and exhausted… and confused … absolutely worn out … harassed and helpless…

I keep thinking, “What a weird time to be the church!” To have all that we do set aside for the sake of one another’s safety, well being, and life all together.

And yet, I also find myself wondering, “Is there a better time to be the Church?”

I look at the world that is eager and hungry for community. I notice the ways we are being called to pay attention to others around us, and to be intentional in how we include one another. We are rethinking every facet of our lives, how we work, how we teach our children, how we interact with one another, what makes up community, how we celebrate milestones. Never have these conversations seemed so at the forefront. And all I can hear is Jesus words, ”The harvest plentiful”

"…but the laborers are few…" I hear those words too.

Jesus doesn’t offer quick fix to solve this problem. He asks the disciples to pray for more laborers. And then he sets apart the twelve apostles by name and sends them to do the work of preparing the laborers. To prepare the people, to lift them up, to teach them, to make disciples of them.

It isn’t anything new really, Jesus only asks them to continue to do the same things Jesus has been doing. To tell proclaim that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near to them, to be healed of illness, give life to the lifeless, cleanse the outcast, and send demons away.

Jesus does not ask them to go to ends of the earth or far off places, but to start with those most prepared to do the work—faithful Jews like themselves who may have already heard the work Jesus is doing or even heard Jesus preach and teach in the synagogue. We start with our best, most robust options, and move out from there as our confidence and experience grows. Jesus has gone to the gentiles and to those outside of the house of Israel, and the mission outward will continue, but the harvest is plentiful and we need laborers now, so start at home.

And through our baptism we are summoned to do the same work! To proclaim the good news of Jesus grace, that the kingdom of heaven has come near, and is here now. I think we shy away from this because we have either visions of, or memories of, sharing the good news with harsh words. Jesus isn’t asking us to convince people of God’s love for them, or to scare them to Jesus. No, Jesus only to commands us to simply tell them the reality that they are loved by the God who created them. And this doesn’t need to be with words entirely, but maybe we can proclaim this in the way we see others. Do we really act as if, and treat others as if they actually are deeply beloved by God?

That alone is healing and cures sickness of our souls, and the souls of others!

Not only are we to care about the well being of souls, but also of their bodies. We are to be engaged in helping people’s lives now, living as if the kingdom of heaven is here and now. Not with miraculous healings, but with the skills we already have – to teach, to heal, to build, to serve -- and we are called to do the work to figure out that is going to work in the midst of a pandemic and our current phase of life.

These long days of social separation and on going cries for justice and peace in our cities and streets may feel like an unending battle, and we may even feel a little harassed and helpless in the midst of all of it. Jesus call remains. A call to remain open to both the problems of the world around us and the mission God has given to us in our baptism – that is when God called us by name and sent us out to name in word and deed that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.

These days and these times come with added complication to be sure, but we are still called to find ways to practice hospitality, even to those we don’t know or don’t understand. We are called to keep our hearts and our minds open to the people and places God calls us to go – to keep the doors of our spirits open even while doors to our church buildings remain closed as an act of love to one another. We are called to notice and reach out to those in need, experiencing compassion and going to those who are helpless and harassed, doing all that we can to bring aid, comfort, and the compassion of Jesus. We are called to use our voices to speak out against evil -- to raise our voices with others against cruelty and injustice, whenever and wherever we see it. We are called to bring comfort to the hurting, and confrontation to that which is doing harm in equal measure.

Never has there been a better time for us to be the church, because the love of God in Christ both compels us and carries us as we go.

May we be so bold as to live Jesus’ way. Amen.