I have no idea if William How was thinking of today’s Ephesians reading when he wrote the hymn “For All The Saints,” but if he wasn’t, he should have been. Paul prays two things for the Ephesians this morning. He asks first, that they would know the hope to which God has called them, the riches of their inheritance; and second, that they would know the power of Christ for us who believe.
The hymn “For All The Saints” does such a great job of depicting the connection between those two things. There’s all this imagery first of struggling to walk the way of Christ now, in the face of a world which is blind to wonder, which stands in opposition to mercy. And then there are these moments where the future hope, the inheritance God offers in Christ, breaks in and becomes his power for us who believe.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, - there’s the present
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song - there’s the future
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. - The future hope comes back into the present to become the power Paul is praying for, applied to what we’re going through.
“For All The Saints” actually has several more verses that aren’t usually in modern hymnals, and here’s the one about martyrs:
For Martyrs who, with rapture kindled eye, - there’s the revelation of insight from God that Paul prays for
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky, - there’s the future, the hope of our inheritance in Christ
And (here comes the present), And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
And seeing, grasped it. The revelation of that fullness, that hope, that inheritance, that future, taken hold of and welcomed into the present as God’s power for us who believe.
Learning through the generations of this community.
Relationships developed during lectio divina.
The Pentecost Parade
Bananas from the ALS Walk for sack lunches
Michael Fisher’s playing
RIP Medical Debt
Great discussion of the Gospels in the Men’s Bible Study
The awesome sermon by Deacon Chris on the completion of the cycle of thanks
Building a whole new life thanks to the Emmanuel community
Fr. Caleb and his coffee meetings, emails, and Common Table
The ability to increase my giving every year
The offertory anthems at the second service, which offer something new every week
Coming to Bible stuff to learn more about the Bible
Light from the stained glass windows on the walls
I’m sure all of you know where that list came from – it’s your words, all of you who have been taking time to notice God giving to us here at Emmanuel and to cultivate the joy and wonder of putting it into words and sharing it. In the life of a healthy church, everyone gets room and space to speak about their experience of God and what Jesus has done for them. We’ve tended to be a little timid about voicing our faith at Emmanuel, and I’m grateful that the chance to post cards on the Wonder in All board has seemed to help some of you take that risk. Thank you to everyone who has participated so far, and we’ll be giving another chance today. I’m grateful, also, for the eight laity who agreed to share experiences for the display of Wonder in All stories – thank you, Michael, Joyce, Cathy, Ray and Megan, Hope, Adam, and Lisa. It strikes me, as we hear today Jesus’ very pointed text about the Pharisee and the tax collector, that what those eight Emmanuelítes did, and what each of you is doing as you name God’s activity and write it down, has the potential to help us respond very directly to what Jesus tells us in today's Gospel.
Some of the most ancient passages in the Bible are the most fruitful and profound when we spend time with them. Back in the early 90s, Genesis was the theme of a PBS series with Bill Moyers in which he simply let different people debate their reactions to the material. Whatever you make of Jordan Peterson, his psychological Genesis podcasts have a million subscribers. The Guardian ran an 8 part series on Genesis in 2011, with Anglican theologian Jane Williams leading readers through topics like the dubious morality of the characters, the darkness and complexity of stories some of us carelessly dismiss as cutesy Sunday School material, and the damage that has been done when these texts were used as if they sanctioned oppression and patriarchy. There’s a lot in there. A lot.
Today’s passage from Genesis focuses on a mysterious encounter that Jacob has in the middle of the night. As darkness falls, Jacob is coming from one in a long series of manipulative schemes designed to put himself on top in encounters with family members, and he is on the way to another manipulative scheme designed to put himself on top in an encounter with a family member. Along the way he has done some noble and kind things, and he has turned to God and then away again; in other words, he has been as bad and good as any of us, and rather more calculating than most of us.
“Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.”
Merci, gracias, arigato, efharisto, yadow, a basket of fruit, a bouquet of flowers, a hug. These are words and gestures to express gratefulness to others. Learning to say thank you is often one of the first phrases mastered in a new language. It is a part of good manners, of course, but it really is more than that. Expressing gratefulness is a part of being in a relationship; it is a way of connecting the giver and receiver. It makes a circle of sorts, giving and receiving, receiving and giving.
Brother David Steindl-Rast in his book, Gratefulness the Heart of Prayer, says this about the relationship of giver and receiver. “The interdependence of gratefulness is truly mutual. The receiver of the gift depends on the giver, obviously so. But the circle of gratefulness is incomplete until the giver of the gift becomes the receiver: a receiver of thanks. When we give thanks we give something greater than the gift we received, whatever it was. The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving…In giving thanks we give ourselves. One who says thank you to another really says, ‘we belong together’. Giver and thanks-giver belong together.”
Who do you belong to? I don’t mean by that who is your spouse or your parent, or with whom do you feel a sense of connection. Those ties are important, but not what I’m talking about. Nor do I mean belong in the sense that people say they belong to a particular gym or alumni association. I mean, who do you belong to? Whose property are you? Who owns your life, your very being?
I’m sure there are more than two, but there are at least two for profit businesses in Champaign-Urbana that have positioned themselves as selling opportunities for spiritual growth. Neither of the two I’m aware of is led by someone with any actual formal training in theology, and neither of them has the safeguard of being accountable to a disciplined school of thought like Buddhism or Christianity or Judaism. They just select free-floating activities and themes to market to potential customers. It’s hard for me not to be worried about the possibility of serious spiritual malpractice happening. But you know, the most visible of these for-profit places already has more Facebook followers than most of the houses of worship in Champaign-Urbana.
But honestly, that’s not surprising, because they frame the spiritual life as something that it isn’t, but that is much easier for a contemporary American to understand. Places like these, that let people select their preferred "spiritual" activities divorced from any context, just feel right in a way a parish no longer does. Because if we know how to be anything in 2019, it’s consumers. We know how to be in control of what we choose to own. We know how to graze through offerings and select the thing that seems most attractive, enjoy it for a short time, and then go on to the next option that catches our fancy.
Abraham said to the rich man, “between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless you reject the belief in any kind of reality beyond what is brutely material, death is not so much the end of life as such as it is rather the end of one phase of life that simultaneously marks the beginning of another. While death may permanently separate these phases from each other, there is nevertheless a mysterious continuity between them, for it is the soul of the same individual that continues to live from the one to the other. Speculation abounds as to the specifics of it all, of course, but that’s the gist of it.
But throughout Scripture, death not only divides this life from the next, but it also inverts them. The character of one’s life in the future is often depicted as the opposite of the character of one’s life in the present. And so in today’s passage from Luke, we find that the circumstances in which the rich man and Lazarus respectively find themselves after death have also been radically inverted. You can almost think of their lives after death as like the photo negatives of their lives before death. I know, photo negatives -- not exactly the most current metaphor -- but when I was a kid, I loved holding those creepy strips up to the light after my mom brought home another envelope of pictures from Walgreens. Anyway, when you look at a photo negative, you clearly see its continuity with the original picture -- more than continuity, actually, since it’s the same image as the original picture -- but all the colors are weirdly inverted; what was light in the original is dark in the negative and vice versa. As we’ll see, there’s something similar going on in this story of the rich man and Lazarus.
We’re in a series of readings from the Gospel of Luke right now where Jesus tells some of his most challenging parables, trying to wake us up and force us to question our assumptions, and today’s is certainly one of them. It’s always tempting to a preacher to kind of try and solve the problems and smooth things over. But that’s a temptation. A preacher’s job is not to helpfully explain stuff; a preacher’s job is to proclaim the Word of God. So as a way of resisting temptation, I am going to preach, instead, on the epistle reading.
Today’s epistle from I Timothy says: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions.” Pray in all kinds of ways, it says, not just for leaders, but for everyone. Pray in all kinds of ways.
If you look through the rest of this reading on the back of your insert, you see all sorts of evidence of how God desires to do his people good. It mentions how he wants everyone to be saved, how he wants everyone to enter into the truth. It mentions how God came in Jesus Christ as a mediator, a go-between, to bridge the gap between us and God, and to offer himself as a ransom to set us free. It notes how what Jesus did has been attested – i.e. there were witnesses. How it all happened just at the right time. And how God even chose someone, the author himself, to make sure that us Gentiles got in on the new way of knowing and living in God that Jesus offers.
Just a quick word as I begin this morning. As you may have read in the bulletin, due to a clergy scheduling constraint I am preaching today on last week’s Second Reading, Philemon, which is what you just heard. You do not have the lesson in front of you right now so hear this verse and as I speak try to keep it in mind.
Paul said, “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Have you ever wondered how others might know that someone is a Christian without asking? Perhaps in an earlier time a clue might be the wearing of a cross or keeping a Bible on one’s desk or coffee table. Even with those types of physical clues, might someone have an idea because of the behavior of another? To make it personal, how might others know that you are a Christian? Is there a difference in how you act or how you speak that would let others know you are a believer in Jesus Christ?
I will share one brief personal example. It has to do with driving. I admit to you that I can get very annoyed with other drivers, especially when they have done something I believe to be unsafe. And, a time or two, I admit, I have let the other driver know my displeasure, either by something I have yelled or gestured, or honked. Now on a day when I was in collar I realized that I could not, or should not, or would not respond to poor driving in a way that might reflect poorly on being a follower of Christ. There is a responsibility that comes with wearing the collar and with conscious thought, when in collar, my actions and words changed. After that realization I decided I would remember that I wore an invisible collar all the time. My actions and words reflected poorly on all Christians if I did not watch myself. Others notice what we do, what we say and how we say it. Our sharing of our faith begins with how we treat others.
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers
and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christianity demands that those who wish to follow Jesus get acquainted with extremes.
Not necessarily comfortable, but at least acquainted. The Gospel is after all one where
the light shines in the darkness and the first are the last; where Christ is dead and
descends into hell but also where Christ is risen and sits at the right hand of the Father
in heaven; where those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their
life for the sake of Christ will save it. Like I said, extremes.
And this morning’s passage from Luke is no exception. Here we find three extreme and
uncompromising conditions, set by Christ himself, for anyone who would wish to
become one of his disciples. They deal with three loves: the love of family, the love of
life, and the love of possessions. But apparently, these three loves are utterly
incompatible with the way of Jesus and must be renounced entirely. The bar has been
set; the line drawn. Who among us would ever presume to cross it? Who among us
could dare consider themselves to be disciples of Christ?
Jesus got himself in trouble for a lot of things. Claiming to be God was probably the biggest. The religious leaders of his day thought that was the most blasphemous thing they had ever heard, for a man whose birthplace and family they knew to say things like "Before Abraham was, I am." Jesus also gave offense by breaking official religious laws, like the one we heard about last week, when he healed a woman on the Sabbath day. We can see why those things upset people, but for us it takes a little more imagination to grasp why one other thing Jesus did was so offensive. This is clearly something that created a huge stir, and that the Gospel writers felt they needed to record many stories about to document that yes, Jesus actually did do this and he had a good reason for it.
That other offensive thing that got Jesus in so much trouble was, in the words of the Bible, eating with tax collectors and sinners -- violating the society's customs about meals. The fancy name for it is "table fellowship," and the Gospels make clear over and over again that Jesus broke all the rules of table fellowship in order to help people experience what the Kingdom is like. Table fellowship basically means: who eats with whom? Who has supper at one table together? This question was immensely important in Jesus' day, and he used it to make immensely important points.
So let's look at this meal story we have today. Jesus has been invited over by a key Pharisee, and Luke gives a sense of the atmosphere by noting that everyone was “watching him closely.” Where our reading begins, Jesus is saying that instead of grabbing places of honor, guests at meals ought to take the least desirable seats, and then maybe the host will move them up. That’s simply a paraphrase of the 2 verses from the Old Testament book of Proverbs that we just heard (world's shortest lectionary reading!), so maybe the Pharisees breathe a little easier and think at least tonight perhaps Jesus is going to be non-controversial and just quote the Bible.