“The Economics of the Kingdom” Mark 10:17-31 – The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg

Proper 23 October 11, 2015

Job 23:1-9, Psalm 22:1-15

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-31

 

The Economics of the Kingdom

 

Jesus drives a hard bargain, doesn’t he?  This young man in the Gospel passage runs eagerly up to him and falls on his knees, imploring him, wanting to know what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus summarizes the commandments for him, and the eager potential disciple assures him that he has kept them all since his youth.  The story tells us that Jesus looks on him with love and compassion, and then tells him he lacks one thing.  He must sell his possessions and then give the money to the poor, and only then can he come and follow. This is the deal breaker for the poor young fellow. He is shocked. Maybe he expected Jesus to give him some counsel or advise him to take on some prayer practices or studies in order to find eternal life.  Instead, he calls him to totally turn his familiar life upside down, to give up his way of living and follow this teacher into the unknown.  It is too much for him, and in the end, he turns away grieving and leaves Jesus.  Isn’t this kind of harsh of Jesus, to expect this young man to sell all he has?  Couldn’t he have let him follow some modified plan, where he could simplify his lifestyle and give some of his riches away?  It seems that with Jesus, it is all or nothing. What is he asking of this young man, and what might he be asking of us, today?

In Mark’s gospel account, Jesus is calling people to a radically new way of life in which true power and treasure are not found in dominance over others and in money and material wealth, but in a loving community of people who are united by their love of God and each other.  True riches are found in living out the commandments of God and promoting his kingdom of righteousness and peace.  This gospel was written at a time when the Roman rule was becoming more and more oppressive, about to reach its culmination in the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD.   Many of the religious leaders in Israel lived comfortable lives and lacked compassion and concern for the vast number of people suffering physical and spiritual poverty. Into such a world Jesus did not come preaching business as usual, with a little bit of spirituality added in. He challenged the status quo and sent it reeling.  The first will be last and the last will be first, children will receive the kingdom before learned teachers, and if you lose your life you will save it.  There are no half measures here.  Jesus and the early Christian community are challenging people to move beyond seeing religion as a set of rituals and to understand it to be part of a living faith that transforms an entire way of life into a proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

Like many teachers of his day, Jesus uses graphic illustrations and exaggerations that grab the attention of  his audience.  We visualize the camel going through the eye of the needle, the first being last, the last being first.  He condemns the accumulation and love of wealth as spiritual poison in people’s lives, and says that when one is focused on riches, there is no room for God and living the values of the Kingdom.  Indeed, throughout the Gospels, Jesus has a lot to say about the inordinate love of money.  It is a violation of the commandment to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

So Jesus is asking much more of the young man in the story.  Jesus is calling him higher.  It is good that he keeps the commandments of God and tries to live a devout life. Yet Jesus is seeking nothing less than this fellow’s total transformation into a way of being in which he radically trusts God for his very life, in which all that he has is received from the hand of God, to be shared and given away, so that all may share in the abundance of his labor. Jesus is asking him to strip himself of everything that gives him security and power, and to seek true joy and riches in following him alone.

Then the disciples, who are understandably baffled and dismayed, began to talk amongst themselves about these amazing and alarming words, asking: “Then who then can be saved? It seemed he was setting an impossible task before them.  Jesus answers “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible.”  He understands that we can’t save ourselves and change on our own.  It is only possible through the grace of God living in us.  On our own, we are seduced by pride, by money, by possessions, by the illusion of being in control of our own destiny. Following the commandments and trying on our own to live a good life will not transform our hearts—we need to have Christ living in us and feeding us with his very life, and then nothing will be impossible for us.

What is it that causes you, like the young man in the story, to turn away, sorrowful and grieving, when invited by Jesus to follow him?  Like the rich man, is it an attachment to material things that crowds out the desire for a deeper relationship with God?  Is it fear of letting go of the illusion of control of our own lives, and entrusting ourselves, all that we have and all that we are, to the gracious One who deeply loves us?  Maybe you are afraid you will be asked to change too much, and that is scary.  Perhaps you have been hurt too many times in your life, and being vulnerable and trusting God completely seems like too great a risk. Following Jesus means traveling light, letting go of the burdens of resentment, prejudice, lack of forgiveness, pride, and fear, that weigh us down. I know for me, it is pride that makes it hard for me to give my heart completely to Christ. I want to be in control, I want to be self-sufficient, I want to do it on my own, and I forget that I need to be part of the Vine  part of the Body of Christ, which gets its life from him. We all have things in our lives that hinder us from freely and joyfully receiving God’s grace.

“For mortals it is impossible to be saved, but not for God, for God all things are possible.”  The good news, friends, is that when we turn sorrowfully away from Jesus, he never turns away from us.  He  is still standing there inviting us, hoping, waiting, longing for us to follow him in freedom and joy.  He will never give up on us.  We may spend our lives resisting God, running headlong down paths that lead to destruction, to grief, to loneliness, to isolation, and pain, and yet God still is never far from us.  He will be beside us even as we turn from him in our sin, in our fear,  in our pain, loving us and inviting us to return.  God is like the prodigal father in the Gospel of Luke, who sees his son returning from afar and runs to embrace him before he even has a chance to say he is sorry for wasting his living.  God sees the first hesitant steps we take to turn on the path toward home, and hears our prayers of sorrow and of hope.  He knows what is in our hearts and accepts us as his own children, even though our attempts to follow and live a holy life often fall short.  When we reach the end of our own strength, Jesus is there to fill us with his strength, his life, his grace, and enable us to follow him in freedom and joy.

The good news, friends, is that the Church exists to equip us to follow Christ more nearly, and then seek to invite the world into the circle of his love.  We are to be a Church on the move, a Church that is on pilgrimage with Jesus, traveling light, trusting in his grace, and inviting those we encounter along the way to experience the joy and freedom of a life united to him and our brothers and sisters on the journey.

Our own church is called to be a place where people are invited to follow Jesus, are loved and supported in their Christian lives, and then sent out to share the good news of the Kingdom of God in the world.

Jesus is standing before each of us, loving us, inviting us to follow him, to journey with him on the way home.  May we all have the grace to follow in peace, and hope, and joy.  Amen.

 

“Take Up Your Cross and Follow” 16th Sunday after Pentecost – The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg

16th Sunday after Pentecost

Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 19, James 3:1-12,

Mark 8:27-38

 

Take Up Your Cross and Follow

 

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  Hard words for the disciples and the original listeners back in the first century, and hard words for us to hear on a nice, peaceful Sunday morning in Daly City in 2015!  This is a hard saying in our modern culture, even for Christians, and for the Church as a whole.  Living the way of the cross, suffering, and giving up one’s life doesn’t cut it too well in a culture that promotes luxury, ease, an abundance of material things, a way of life where achieving wealth and status, and power for ourselves and our loved ones is often seen as the highest good.  In a world where there are winners and losers, and the winners have the power and the influence, following in the way of the cross is countercultural, and seems like folly to many people.  If I am honest with myself, sometimes it seems far-fetched to me. It is easier to go with the flow, with the majority, rather than dare to follow the gospel way.  But what seems like foolishness is actually wisdom in the sight of God.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has just finished asking the disciples who they say he is.  Kudos go to Peter, for correctly answering that he is the Messiah. So far, so good. It looks like the disciples, or at least Peter, are beginning to understand who Jesus is.  Then Jesus goes on to reveal that he must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the religious authorities and be killed, and on the third day, rise again.  This wasn’t quite what Peter and the other disciples had bargained for when they signed on to follow Jesus!  No doubt some of them expected Jesus to be the political warrior who would rid Israel of the hated Roman rule. Or they longed for him to be a king who would restore Israel to political power.  Death for the Messiah, and especially a shameful death on a cross, just seemed wrong, out of the question.  But when Peter protests against this, Jesus rebukes him, and tells him that he is missing the point and not looking at things from the perspective of faith and complete trust in God, but from his limited human viewpoint.   Jesus is making it clear to the disciples that there is a cost to following him, and they must make a choice.  If they choose to follow, they are called to live as he lived, a life of sacrificial love and radical trust in God.  We also need to look at this passage in the context of the audience Mark was writing to.  At the time this earliest gospel record was being compiled, the Romans had just destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem.  There was beginning to be division between the Jewish religious leaders who believed Jesus was the Messiah and those who did not, and some believers were being asked to leave the synagogues.  For Mark’s community, which was seeking to find its identity in a post-temple world, it was important to know where one stood and what one believed.  Believers were asked to show where their allegiance lay, and total commitment to the way of the gospel was expected.

What does it mean to take up our cross and follow for us today, in our modern world, in our pluralistic society, in our busy lives?  How can we live out the gospel way of sacrificial love and radical trust in God?  I think we can begin to discover what it means to take up the cross by looking at our baptism.  For not only is baptism the initiation rite into the church, it is, as Paul comments in Romans 6:3, baptism into the death of Christ.  When we are baptized we enter into the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, and we share in his experience.  We are initiated into the mystery of his sacrificial love that reconciles the world.  When we are baptized, we die to our old attachments to our own will, to our wisdom, and even to our own life itself.  We commit ourselves to following Christ alone.  So taking up our cross and following Jesus means living fully into our baptism, into a way of life where we die to our old ways of centering our lives on ourselves and are born into a new way of being where we offer our lives to God to be joyfully spent in his service.

Though we use the language of being buried with Christ in baptism, most of us won’t be called upon to suffer martyrdom for our faith.  But taking up the cross means that we will suffer many little deaths in our lives, and gain our lives by losing them.  We may die to the need to be competitive, to succeed at the expense of others.  We may have to die to the need to always be right, to always be in control.  Perhaps we need to die to fear, fear of taking risks for the sake of the Gospel, fear of daring to love others because we may be hurt. Maybe we need to die to the need to judge and blame others.  Again, our baptism into Christ calls us to die to our old self-centered way of living and to receive life as a gift from a gracious God, to be shared and celebrated with others.

Taking up the cross and following also means committing ourselves to living the same life of radical trust in God, of gracious love, and reconciliation that Jesus lived.  In our own unique circumstances, we are called to weave that beautiful, pattern of abundance and grace into our lives, sharing the Gospel in our world both by our words and by our actions.   Taking up the cross means we voluntarily choose the hard way of peacemaking when it would be easier to choose anger and enmity.  Taking up the cross means we identify with the weak, the broken, and marginalized, and proclaim their dignity in a world that seeks to glorify wealth, status, and power.  Taking up the cross and following means we have the audacity to proclaim hope, and peace, grace and joy in a world that thrives on judgment and cynicism.  Taking up the cross and following means that we stretch out our arms in love as Jesus did, and become vulnerable, and ask God to give us hearts of compassion that are broken by the pain of the world.  When we take up our cross and follow, we will know pain and grief, because we enter deeply into the suffering, pain, and sorrow of the world, out of love for Christ who loves us, who comes to dwell with us, and suffer with us. When we take up the cross and follow, we also enter into the joy of his resurrection, where we come to know that nothing can ever defeat the love of God, and pain, suffering, and darkness become the gateways into light and life and joy.

When I was a young woman, many, many moons ago and attended youth group, I remember going on a retreat and being part of an exercise where we were asked  ‘If you were to go on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  At first we thought that was kind of silly. Then we really thought about it.  How do people know that we are followers of Jesus?  Being a generally “nice” person wouldn’t cut it, verdict, not guilty.  Going to church and receiving the sacraments, sorry, not enough.  Believing all the “right”doctrines about Jesus, about who he is, about the atonement, not enough to convict.  Then we looked at the lives of the saints, and they are guilty as charged! And I am not just talking about the saints with a capital S who were canonized by Rome or who are listed in bold print in the back of our prayer book. I am speaking of  the nameless faithful with a small s,  who live  sanctified holy lives in a quiet humble way, who take up the cross daily- they demonstrate the marks of a Christian!  I think of the many people who died for their faith in the early years of the Church.  I think of those who sought to make peace during times of religious warfare and strife, the followers of St. Francis and Clare.  There are the people who marched in the civil rights movement, those who served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, those who hid persecuted people during the Holocaust, those who peacefully protest and call us to remember that every human life matters, and those here in our midst who live quiet faithful lives of love and service–these are the ones  living out the commands of the Gospel.  They are taking up the cross, they are embracing the life of the Christ who calls us to stretch out our arms in a loving embrace, to be the instruments of reconciliation in our broken, yet beautiful world.

If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  Do you gladly and joyfully embrace the way of the cross as the way of life and peace?  May we all take up the cross and follow Jesus in lives of humility, love, and joy. Amen.

 

 

 

 

“Lord, Give Us this Bread Always” August 9, 2015 Sermon – The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg

Proper 14, Sunday August 9, 2015

1 Kings 19:4-8, Psalm 34:1-8

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

John 6:35, 41-51

 

Lord, Give Us this Bread Always

 

In the morning I usually start the day sleepily making my way downstairs for that first cup of coffee which I drink over the morning paper.  It is a ritual I enjoy.  I could get most of my news from the Internet; but there is something about actually holding the paper and turning the pages that I like.  Anyway, on Monday morning I flipped through the San Francisco Chronicle and began to feel depressed.  Within the first few pages I had already read about deadly bomb attacks in Turkey, a stabbing at a gay pride event in Jerusalem, a shooting of a police officer in Memphis, and immigrant family detentions right here in the United States.  What demons of fear and mistrust fuel these destructive acts?  How do we become so alienated from one another?

Then, I turned another couple of pages, and was surprised by grace.  In the letters to the editor section, sandwiched in between commentary on Donald Trump and other political goings on,  was a piece a man in Alameda had written about the plight of the poor and homeless.  He mentioned the tactics cities use to try to “control the homeless problem.”, such as breaking up their camps, putting up barriers to keep them away from businesses, and spraying them with water.  Then, he said, “We pretend they don’t exist.”  He went on to say that there really is no separation from us and them, that there is only us.”  What a welcome message of inclusion, of connection, of solidarity!  A message of life, of the bread of life.  Then I flipped a couple more pages, and found another amazing story of grace.  Some of you are probably familiar with the story of Maddyson Middleton, the 8 year old Santa Cruz girl who was brutally assaulted and murdered by the 15 year old son of a neighbor. Laura Jordan, the mother of the slain girl, came upon the mother of the accused, who was kneeling and weeping at a memorial for Maddyson.  Laura did not shun her, or vent anger and revenge on her. No, Laura Jordan, who had lost her daughter at the hands of this woman’s son, Laura Jordan, who was grieving this horrendous loss, put her hand on the woman’s back, and held her close.  She said “I love you, I don’t blame you, and it’s not your fault.”  What grace and courage!  You could hardly blame her if she cried out bitterly and vented her rage.  Yet this woman was feeding on some spiritual sustenance, drawing from a well of grace that enabled her to reach out in reconciliation.  Besides the memorial donation that has been started in the name of her daughter, this amazing woman is thinking of starting a fund in the name of the accused to help reach out to violent, troubled youth!  She is truly feeding on the bread of life.

What about us?  What feeds us?  Do we feed on fear, on bitterness, resentment, or out of control competition, or the quest for power?  Do we eat the bread of isolation and shut ourselves away from others because we fear being hurt? Or are we nourished with the bread of life, the presence of Christ in our lives who transforms us into loving people who seek to reconcile and make peace in his name?  Are we feeding on the Bread of Life?

In today’s reading from the Gospel according to John, Jesus says “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to be will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  By way of background, the Gospel of John is the latest of the 4 gospel accounts, probably written around 90 A.D.  The theology of who Jesus was, the meaning of the cross, salvation, the resurrection, had begun to develop.  Liturgical practices around the Eucharist had time to grow and unfold, and all of this is reflected in this passage. For John’s community, Jesus was not only God’s Son who came into the world, the long-awaited Messiah of the people of Israel, or the bearer of the good news of God, he was the good news of God, co- equal with God, with God from the beginning of time, the Logos, the Word. We don’t find this emphasis in any of the other gospels.  In this gospel, Jesus describes himself with all kinds of “I am” statements, such as I am the light of the world, I am the good shepherd, I am the vine, I am the bread of life…” John connects Jesus to the great sweep of Israel’s history, with the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land, with the miracle of the manna, There is continuity with the journey of the Israelites, and then a wonderful discontinuity, as God is doing a new thing.  People ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.     This manna is just a shadow of  Jesus, who is the living bread that brings eternal life.  The bread that he gives for the life of the world is his flesh.  His life, his giving of himself for us on the cross, his rising to new life, is the only food that can truly satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts.

How can we feed on the Bread of Life?  In the scripture, Jesus invites us to come to him.  We have to take the step, we have to choose. He can’t do it for us.. We have to admit our need. By ourselves, we feed on our own limited vision, our egos, our fears, our desire to be in control. We have to come to him and ask him to reign in our hearts to nurture and heal us, to help us become the people of God we are created to be.  We need to believe, not facts about him, not theological formulas or doctrines, but in him, in  his love for us, to be in trusting relationship with Christ and allow him to transform us and feed us with the divine life.  To do this, we need to make space in our busy, often hectic lives.  We need to slow down and seek God in prayer, for prayer is our lifeblood, and helps us feed on the Bread of Life.  Like any relationship, we get to know God better and deepen our relationship through spending time with him. If we can, it is good to take a few days to go on retreat.  We also grow in our relationship with God through participating in worship, fellowship, study, and service. Week by week we share the story of his life, death and resurrection through the liturgy. We remember together and hold up the story of our faith, and see that it is our story. . This is what it means to feed on the Bread of Life.

We are called to come together week by week, through all the seasons of the church year and our common life, at the Eucharist.  The Holy Eucharist is not only our meal of joy and remembrance, of union with Christ and each other, it is food for the journey. It is the food of sojourners, pilgrims, and wanderers. And it cannot be separated from our lives in the world.  For the Eucharist is not the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood if we only spread the table in our houses of worship and not in the world.  It is not just a meal to which brings comfort and union with God- it is a table that opens a window on the needs and hungers of the world.  We must share our bread with those who have none. When we break the consecrated bread of the Eucharist, we must remember the brokenness of the world that Jesus longs to make whole.   We must let others be bread for us, and sit at the table of fellowship with those who invite us.  Then we will find Jesus spreads his table at the homeless shelter, at the bus stop, in the prison, as well as the halls of power and wealth and influence. He shares the table with the saintly and godly, and sinners and outcasts, and those who are on the margins.  And he shares his table with us, whole and broken, saints and sinners, God’s beloved.   As we receive the bread of life, we must allow ourselves to be broken and shared in the world.  The world around us feeds on many things that are not bread,  Our culture feeds on power, money, prestige, fear, and scarcity. These things will not satisfy.  We are called to feed on the bread of the Kingdom that nourishes with health, life, and abundance.  We say, Lord, give us this bread always.

So when you come to Communion today and receive the sacred bread in your hands, I invite you to look at this bread, to really look at it, made by human hands, broken and shared, the sign of Christ’s body broken on the Cross out of love for us.  Feed on him, the bread of life, and then go out from this place, and break God’s bread, and share God’s table, with the world.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

“Brought Near Through the Cross” – 8th Sunday After Pentecost B – The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

July 19, 2015

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:-11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Brought Near Through the Cross

 

When preparing sermons, I like it when the readings all seem to go together and I can look for patterns and themes.  I tend to be a bit on the obsessive side, so I will try really hard to weave everything together. .  I want the sermon to make sense and not leave loose ends hanging.  I admit that this week’s readings gave me a bit of a challenge. What, I wonder, does the ark of God traveling in a tent instead of a house of cedar, Gentiles, circumcision, uncircumcision, the law, and Jesus being surrounded by throngs of hungry people who long to even touch his garment, have in common?  I was really stumped by this one!.  Then I remembered what one of my friends, a colleague in ministry, said to me about preaching.  He said- “Scripture is messy, wonderful, contradictory and true.  Let it be- let it go, and tell folks the story.”  So that’s what I am going to do this morning—let these scriptures tell us stories, stories of a living God who enters our history and dwells with us, of a God who will stop at nothing to draw us back into relationship, of a God who longs to draw the whole human family into a living body of the faithful whose unity goes beyond the limits of time, place, culture, ethnicity or social and economic status,

In the lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find King David is taking his rest from his time on the battlefield, and has settled into his house for a time of respite.  He reproaches himself that he is dwelling in a fine home of cedar, while the Ark of God, which houses the Holy of Holies, has been carried about in a tent.  Through the prophet Nathan, God challenges David- and basically tells him that he has been living in a tent and has been on the go since the people of Israel have been brought up from Egypt.  Why should it be any different now? He asks “Have I ever asked you to build me a house? He then goes on to say that his house will be in the offspring of David, that they shall be his people, and he shall be their God.  The Lord, the Holy One, is not distant and far removed in the heavens or in the confines of a building.  This is a God who shares our history, who travels with his people and is carried about in an ark, who argues with them, gets angry with them, cajoles them, and encourages them.  He is a living God, a God on the move, a God engaged with us and our lives.  I am reminded of that wonderful musical “Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye, the main character- carries on running conversations with God, and laughs and argues with him.  This God is a God who constantly enters history and shares it with us.  This God eludes any attempts to be contained in a temple, stationary, distant, impassive.  Our God is a God who is on the move, on the road with us, hitting the trail, a God with whom  we can share our joys, our grief, our fears, our disappointments.  We can come to this God with whatever is on our hearts, and know that we are heard.

Our God is a God who relentlessly, tirelessly, and consistently seeks us out, and longs to draw us back to himself.  Throughout time, he spoke through prophets and sages, and most recently, through his Son, Jesus. Though God gave his people the gift of the Law, they still wandered far from him, and turned away. In Christ and his life, God continued to long for us, to woo us, to seek us, and even suffered to the point of death on a cross to draw us back in to the heart of his love.  In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes to the Gentile believers of the great themes of the faith, of the love of God that turns the Law and commandments from things of obligation into living ordinances that are written on our hearts, of the blood of Christ and the power of the cross that has broken down the walls that separate us from God and our neighbors, of the household of the faithful as the dwelling place of God.  Paul says that “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” This is good news, friends!  God  wants to dwell in our hearts, to share our lives, our joys, our sorrows, to comfort, strengthen, heal and empower us!  All we need to do is open our hearts in faith and trust.  Are you or a loved one walking through the valley of the shadow?   Come to the shepherd of the sheep, as they did on the shore at Gennesaret in today’s Gospel, touch his garment and be made whole.  Are you weary, tired, feeling beaten down by life and circumstances beyond your control? Are you facing difficult change and uncertainty about the future?   Know that God longs to draw you near, that he, too knew weariness, pain and fear, and will walk with you on your long and lonely road.  The message of the letter to the Ephesians is that through the cross of Christ we have access to the transforming, healing, liberating power of God.

Finally, our God wants to build a new thing, a wonderful tapestry, a human family united in Christ that is free of the bonds of tribalism, of nationalism, of division into factions and the easy, yet limiting comfort of seeking fellowship only with those who look, think, or act like us.  No, my friends, God is calling us to something more difficult, yet much higher and better—the building of a community of love and trust that unites male and female, gay and straight, black, white, yellow, brown, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, through our one baptism in Christ, through our faith in the one who has made us a new creation, who has brought all of us who were far off near to him and each other in fellowship. Our limited human nature causes to want to love those who love us, who are like us, and fear the other, the stranger.  God calls us higher, and as Paul writes, “has broken down the dividing wall”, the hostility between groups of people.  I believe God has a dream for God’s people, that we will develop  in grace into the Body of Christ, the dwelling place of Go,d in which we care for each other, invite and challenge each other to grow, and then go forth into the world to share the reconciling love of  God.

It is not always easy to live together this way.  Living in community is the school for patience and producing the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Learning to embrace diversity has its challenges.  I know it is easier for me to spend time with folks who look like me, think like me, and won’t rock my boat too much, or challenge me.  Yet God is calling us higher. What unites us in Christ is so much greater than any surface differences.   We sometimes want peace at all costs, and avoid conflict, even if following God’s call means speaking the truth in love in a tough situation.  God is calling us to something higher.  Through patience and bearing with one another’s shortcomings, sharing each other’s burdens, and learning to forgive, we grow more fully into the new creation in Christ that we are meant to be.  That is what is meant by the “beloved community.” It is, as Paul writes, the “holy temple in the Lord, in whom we are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

We follow a God who is active in history, who cares about justice, who gives himself in suffering love to reconcile us, who dreams of building us into a wonderful diverse community of people who reverence the presence of God in each and every soul, and then share this amazing love in the world.  How will we, here at Holy Child and St Martin, help to  make this dream of  God a reality?  How will we love and support one another, live in humility and gratitude together, bear one another’s burdens in good times and bad?  Will the world around know that we are Christians by our love?  The world needs the love each and every one of you has to give, so go forth into the world in the name of Jesus, and make whole what is broken, joyful what is sorrowful, and bring near those who are far off.  Amen.

“God Gives the Growth” 3rd Sunday after Pentecost B – The Rebecca Goldberg

Proper 6, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

June 14, 2015

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, Psalm 20, 2 Cor. 5:6-17.

Mark 4:26-34

 

God Gives the Growth

 

Seeds, sickles, sprouts, soil, birds, grain, weeds, wheat, trees, branches, vines, coins, sheep, bushels—Jesus uses the ordinary things of life to tell stories of the Kingdom of God.  He illustrates his stories with images that would have been familiar to his hearers, and to us.  Indeed, he uses these images to point to important truths about the nature of God.  He doesn’t sit and expound on theological theories about God that sound like they came out of a seminary classroom. He speaks to us out of his human experience, and ours.

What might these brief, yet pithy parables have to say to us about Gospel living in the kingdom of God, about faith, and about dying to old ways of being in order to receive new life in Christ?

Mark’s account, the earliest of the four gospels, was written in a time of great turmoil, right before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans.  Christians were persecuted because they worshipped God over the imperial Caesar.  In fact, anyone who did not go along with the power-crazed, often brutal imperial rule was oppressed.  It seemed that the powers of evil were mightier than those of good. and the people began to lose hope.  Through the stories of Jesus, the gospel writer brings hope and courage and life, a vision of a different community where people practice mercy, justice, and peacemaking.  Jesus proclaims a radically new way of being in the world, where true power comes not from might or the sword but through humility and service.  The humble mustard plant grows into a mighty bush that provides shade and comfort to many.  Seed is scattered lavishly and freely, and through the grace of God is transformed into a plentiful harvest.  The kingdoms of the world may come and go, but the reign of God remains forever, and out of the smallest seed of faith comes new and abundant life.

What does this mean for us?  How are we to live in the Kingdom here and now?  First, we are called to be lavishly generous sowers, liberally scattering the seed of the Good News to all, trusting that it will find good soil and bring forth fruits of righteousness and peace.  We also are to reject the value system of our culture that promotes garnering wealth and power over service and community, and is often indifferent to oppression and exclusion of those on the margins.  We are called to walk in humility with our God, remembering our dependence on him. Time and time again, God confounds the wisdom of the world by bringing great abundance out of the most humble offerings we make of ourselves, and the mustard seeds of our lives.

This Gospel also teaches us about faith.  Have you ever watched the progress of seeds as they grow?  When I was a little kid, our teachers used to give us pumpkin and other seeds to take home and plant in little pots. We would dutifully plant them, and put a Popsicle stick in the soil to train up the plant when it began to grow.  It seemed like nothing every happened, and it took forever. I would get impatient and dig the seeds up to check on them, and they never grew after that! I think we are sometimes like that with our faith—we want God to hurry up with the Spirit’s work in us, and we feel like we need to control the process. Growth in Christ can’t be hurried.  It needs to gently unfold in God’s good time.  It happens by grace.  Just as the seed takes in the water from the soil and sends out tender sprouts, and then stalks, and then unfolds branches and luscious fruit, so in the dark mystery of our own soil God unfolds the life of Christ in us, and through the Spirit,  helps us to grow.   It doesn’t take huge faith, even faith as tiny as the mustard seed, when it is offered to God, brings abundant growth.

Faith is also walking ahead into the unknown and trusting the light on the path immediately in front of us.   We may not be able to see the twists and turns of the path very far ahead of us, but we know it will be all right, because God goes before us.  We find our way, though we know not how.  We trust in what we can’t yet see, in what will be revealed.  In the parable, the person who sowed the seeds  trusts in the process, and behold, one day, the seeds have sprouted, though he knows not how.  One of my favorite stories about this kind of faith, which I have never forgotten,, comes from the book The Hiding Place,” the true story of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch woman who was instrumental in saving many Jewish people from Nazi extermination by hiding them in her home and sneaking them to freedom.  She later survived imprisonment in a concentration camp and went on to share her story of the power of faith and forgiveness.  When she was a very young girl, she witnessed the death of a baby.  It was her first experience with the reality of death, and it left her shaken. If that baby could die, then so could her mother, her father, her sister!  Unable to sleep at night, she cried to her father, “You can’t die, you can’t!”  He sat down by her bed and said “Corrie, when you and I go to Amsterdam on the train, when do I give you your ticket?”  She thought about it, and said “Why, just before we get on the train.”  Her father responded:  Exactly.  And our wise Father in Heaven knows when we are going to need things, too.  Don’t run ahead of him.  When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need—just in time.”   In God’s own time, we know not how, the seeds of faith and hope will grow in our hearts and give us the strength and courage to overcome fear, just in time. .

In a sense, seeds have to die in order to grow.  The seed can’t grow unless it is buried in the ground. The soil it is buried in is empty and barren.  And then gradually, slowly, life begins to appear, the sprout, the stem, and then the new plant.  So it is with us.  When we follow Christ, we have to give up old ways of being in the world, of self-sufficiency, of being guided by our own desires and wants.  This is really hard, and it feels like death.  We have to go into the dark  ground, we have to walk the way of the cross and share in Christ’s suffering and death, we have to take the step of faith and trust, When we do, we will find that resurrection lies beyond death, both now and in the life to come. When we step out in faith, we find that when the seeds are buried in the dark ground, God, in the mystery of grace, will bring about wonderful growth. When we step out in faith, we find that God will heal and transform us and give us new hearts to love.  When we step out in faith, we will find newness of life.  That is what Paul means when he says “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new!”   This is all gift, all grace, because we can’t bring it about ourselves, in our own strength. It can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.

So what are we called to do now?  I believe we are to be the sower, generously and liberally scattering the seeds of the abundance of God’s love in the barren places of our world.  We are called to be seeds, sprouting and growing and flourishing, and sharing the good news of Christ with the world. We are called to be good, rich soil, nurturing the seeds with prayer, sacrament, and fellowship with our dear friends in the Body of Christ.

Friends, we are called to walk in faith.  We can dare to dream big dreams and hope wildly, to hold a vision before the people, to boldly proclaim the Gospel and trust that God will provide what we need as we seek to follow the Spirit’s lead.  We can let go of fear and the need to have certainty of the way ahead, to take the road that might lead through trackless  wilderness, knowing that nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ.

We are called to let go of our old ways of being in the world, so that we might become a new creation, not only as individuals, but as the branch of the vine that is Holy Child and St Martin Church, and to become a beacon of faith and hope and joy in the world.  Amen.