Sunday, July 21, 2013

Proper 11 + C + 2013

Have you ever been to a party where our host or hosts are so busy with all of the little details that the guests leave the party thinking, “That was a great party, but I wish we'd  had more time to speak with our host!” (perhaps that is why we go 'out' to dinner more these days!) I imagine this Martha from over 2,000 years ago to have something in common with a certain ‘Marthas’ and perhaps even 'Michaels' of our present day and culture.. Making the just the right table setting, the delicious and perhaps elaborate meal, adjusting every little detail until it is just so perfectly in place, they turning to the guests to enjoy their company. I think we enjoy being a host and doing something special and enjoying your guests, but it should not replace the time we have to really spend our time with them, especially when it starts to feel like ‘work’ as Martha obviously expresses in today's reading. 

 What was at issue is a principle known as the ancient 'sacred' law of hospitality.  In a culture where there was liltterally no inn, a cultural norm was to entertain strangers and both invite them and provide for them as though they were family. So significant is this that it is illustrated repeatedly in the Older Testament and we see if essentially 'commanded' in the book of Hebrews: "Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. " (Hebrews 13)
If you don't mind I'm going to preach to myself this morning, but you can listen in! 

Today  we read "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things" Have you ever seen an age so filled with anxiety as ours? The American Academy of Family Physicians reports that two-thirds of all office visits are prompted by stress related symptoms. We are all so driven. Being busy has become a way of life. A man had a sign on his desk that said "Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.  Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.


I don=t know about you, but I feel the stress of our driven-ness.. How about you?  Ever had bills to pay, be at a certain place at a certain time, get stuck in traffic, behind at work, pressured by friends, business colleagues or family, tried to fit Awellness in life, get enough sleep and be up and about at daybreak!  I know I have. We live in an age that values "productivity".  We talk about the values of relationships and people, but "time is money".   And then people like me, stand up and tell you to come to church for a relationship with God and others!   When I was young there was the stress of getting to the cafeteria early enough after church before the line got too long!  Stress! In his book "Restoring Your Spiritual Passion" pastor Gordon McDonald speaks of the pace in IHS' day.  The days were filled with things to doCbut the time between occasions of ministry to talk as they walked from place to place.  Not breakfast in Damascus, lunch in Jerusalem and dinner in Capernaum! 

Our culture is shaping usCfashioning us into its image. We see its moldsCbroken homes, broken dreams, broken people, addiction, suicide and obsession. Romans 12:2 says"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world". J.B. Phillips translated this verse "don't let the world squeeze you into its mold."Christians are called to "come out from among them".We are the Acalled out" ones. We expect to look at the world and see the ChurchCbut instead we look at the Church and see the world. This driven-nessCthis frightening pragmatism and "one-upmanship"Care even seen in the Church. We are called to exemplify ChristCnot the world with a Cross on top! Driven-ness  results in spiritual emptiness. There was a story of a Florida resident who woke to find the street in front of their apartment building collapsed because of a lack of water underneath and produced a giant sinkhole.  The less water to support, the bigger the sinkhole. This is a good analogy for the driven lifeCa spiritual collapse. The emphasis is on surface concernsCnot counting the potential cost to the inner self. Many of us are more Marthas than the Marys of today=s Gospel. We are more worried about the things of life than the meaning of life.

Where is our trust in God.  I once heard of a sign that said, Worry is an insult to your Father. In Church were can be so occupied with the things of God that we never encounter the person of God, never really encounter the person of Jesus. The prophet Jeremiah said,.  "My people have committed two sins:  They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jer. 2:13This produces Churches with the country club mentality or the entitlement mentality.  They produce goods but no godliness.  Busy, busy, busy, but where is the fruit of godliness, a reflection of Jesus Christ in the lives of those church-goers?  People can walk out of those churches self-satisfied and wake up some day in separated from God in eternity. We separate the physical and the spiritual forgetting that IHS pulls the world together.  For the Christian all ground is Holy Ground every bush a burning bush all space is Holy space for us because we carry God=s Spirit in us. IHS X is a God of the common the ordinary he simple. IHS said to Martha one thing is needful. That one thing is to hear God's voice.


Those of us in Church can be worried so much over the things of Church that we forget the reason for Church. Remember God does not dwell in a Temple made with hands, He dwells in our hearts.@ We live in a culture that sees value only in what we produce what we do not who we are and there is a real dearth of character in our world today. We can become workaholics in any area including churchy things. Why was Mary=s act of sitting and relating, being taught by IHS the good portion because it built toward eternal goals. One  Rabbi says that Mary sits at the feet of Jesus the position of a student in Hebraic culture who sits at the feet of the great teacher or rabbi. I had a priest tell me he could never worship at Church before he retired as he was too busy worrying about things. Worrying about religious things can become a golden calf of idolatry if it becomes a substitute for our personal relationship with IHS and how easy it is to happen!

 Was what Martha did bad? No but it was a substitute for being with IHS.  In our lives we know we "should" prioritize.  But do we?  In his book: First things First, author Stephen Covey speaks of four areas in which we function in our priority making.  Important but not urgent;  Important and urgent;  not important but urgent and not important and not urgent.   Where do most of us lose our time? In the last category: the path of least resistance.  If you haven't seen this, look it up online when you get home.  What does God call us to do?  Follow, worship, fellowship, be still, to be doers of the word and not hearers only.   In this Gospel we have a contrast between doing and being.  You see the only thing we can give to God is our time our time represents ourselves our most valuable resource.  We show value to our spouses, friends and children by being with them, really  listening to them and by lovingly  giving them our time.  We build relationships, trust, common goals and purposes with time.  So it is with God!   
Are we anxious about so many things that in the eye of Eternity don=t really matter? Have we made some concern, some Churchly or secular preoccupation so central that God is left out in the mix?
In Philippians 4:6 we are told Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Have a goal for your material and spiritual life: integration  We must press on toward the goal as St. Paul in Philippians 3:14CAI press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called Christ Jesus. We must be on God=s team, not our own! May we serve as we have learned why we serve.  But, let us order our private worlds purposefully, making the decision daily to live as a called rather than a driven person. 

If we are to be driven let it be to sit with Mary at IHS feet and as she was, be a disciple, one who learns to be a follower of his way which is Gods Truth revealed.  We prayed: Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.  As Jesus told Martha let us choose the necessary and better part in Christ which cannot be taken away.

Proper 10 + C + 2013

Proper 10 + C             14 July AD 2013  The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
 Two friends had been arguing over a conversation that went on for many years. One of them claimed that Jesus was white. The other claimed that he was black. The years had gone by and they soon died (surprisingly, they died on the same day). Both of them ended up in heaven. The apostle Peter happened to walk by and they immediately ran to the gates of heaven. "Excuse us," they said. "We have been arguing for many years and now it will all come to an end. Tell us, is Jesus black or white?" Just then, Jesus walked up to them and said, "Buenos días".

As I have lived on this earth, I have come to realize a characteristic of human beings.  It is the quality of "selective" hearing.  I'm sure all of you ladies know what I'm talking about with spouses and kids.  Maybe some of the gentlemen can relate as well.  In one of my preaching instructions earlier in school, I was taught to: tell the congregation what you are going to tell them; then tell them and finally tell them what you told them!  But we are dealing with this characteristic of human beings in a rather profound way this morning with Jesus and the Jewish Attorney of the Jewish Law.
This gentleman seems to be in his own high regard and is approaching Jesus to apparently show Jesus he's not as 'smart' as the lawyer thinks that Jesus thinks he is!   Strangely enough, Jesus lets the man answer his own question by responding to a question WITH a question. Don't you hate that!  A pastor once asked a rabbi, "Why in the Hebrew tradition does the teacher always answer a question with a question?" He answered. "I don't know. Do we always do that?"
But as all things with our Lord, he knows how to take the opportunity of a teachable moment. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan as we have come to know it as we have grown up in the Church.  What we may not have realized is some of the subtleties of this story.  There was a bit of selectivity in the Jewish observance venue of Jesus' day that Jesus had no problem pointing out by again letting the listener answer his own question.

 When God gave the Israelites the command to love your neighbor in Leviticus 19:18, the Israelites felt confident that they knew who that was fellow Israelites of course.  They were tribes; all somehow related through their ancestors the 12 sons of Jacob.

But here comes that selectivity.  They only read in practice, the earlier part of that chapter and left out the uncomfortable part that came a few verses later: " When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God."  (vss 33 & 34)   Not content to leave well enough alone apparently, the doctor of the law says: "but who is my neighbor?"


Jesus begins what we call the parable, (or literally story beside a story)  of the "Good Samaritan". A man was going down the 17 mile stretch from Jerusalem to Jericho. In that short distanceCthrough a very barren and arid terrainCthe ground drops 3000 feet.  It is an ideal place for robbers to hide and ambush travelers. As fate would have it, robbers attacked him and stole his clothing and beat himCleaving him to die.  Now is when this gets interesting.


A priest happens byCthen a LeviteCa liturgist, a professional charged with the maintenance of the Temple worship.  They both go way over to the other side of the road. What is wrong with this picture? This is somewhat a scandalCsurely these religious men should have done something!  I know…excuse! Even today we can always come up with one of those for something we don't particularly want to do!  Perhaps they were afraid that the robbers were still near. Perhaps they thought the man was already dead and to touch him would make them ritually uncleanCso they would be unable to serve in the Temple.


Whatever it wasCthey ignored him..and no doubt Aself-justified.@  Certainly everyone was expecting an anti-clerical twist hereCsurely an Israeli  lay person comes by, Ayou know those clerics!  Hypocrites.  The laity, now they are the true believers, the good guys@Cbut IHS throws them a curve.


A Samaritan comes by.  They must have thought: "a who?" "what?"  Now this must have been quite a jolt.  A Good Samaritan? Jesus always seems to have a Ajolt@ in his stories; a cosmic reversal; an unexpected twist!  It must have taken Atemerity@ for Jesus to put a Samaritan in the story! 


The Jews felt about the  Samaritans like the German Jews feel even today about Nazis and other "groups" pitted against other "groups" seem to feel about each other these days: avoidance, distaste, dislike or even unbridled hatred!  Some history: the Samaritans were a half breed peopleCJews left in the land during the Babylonian captivity, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple.  They had intermarried with the Assyrians from years earlier.  They had opposed the rebuilding of the Temple and said they were the only legitimate heirs to Jewish worship.  They had their own Temple on Mount Gerizim. Jews considered them as heretics, apostates who denied the faith. Despicable people whom they looked at odiously.  You know that Aodious@ look.  AWho does she think she is@.  ADon=t lower yourself to his level.@   The Samaritan heretic, the one generally treated despicably by the Jew, takes care of the Jewish manCdisinfects his wounds and takes him to an inn and leaves about two month=s rent with a promise of more if it is needed.  And IHS asks Awho was neighbor to the man?@   The lawyer  replies, and you can almost see him gritting his teeth trying to get the words out: Athe man who showed mercy.@  You can almost hear the people thinking: "is it getting warm out here?"  Is Jesus hitting a bit close to home?



The lawyer had really been askingCWho is not my neighbor?  What are the limits to my responsibility? That is a question each person who believes in Christ must ask constantly.  It would be nice if we could choose to be neighbor to the people who we like and who could do us some good!  But that would make us no different from every other person born into the world without God=s love in them.  IHS calls us to love people we don=t like and people it is of  no earthly advantage to know.  Indeed, it is the contrast between erosCthe love that demands its own interest and agape the love that is generous in its interest in others.  But love, true love is not some weak sentiment. Song of Solomon (8:6) says Alove is as strong as death@ (NIV) It is able to conquer all other things.  Sometimes that is tough love.  Parents often have to administer tough love.  It is very hard on the parent, but is for the ultimate good of the child, although the child may kick and scream at the penalty of his or her actions and say horrid things to the one painfully loving them. Even harder with another adult!


A question we must ask ourselves isCAwith whom do we identify in the story?@  I mean REALLY?  I think we should be conscious that we are at least in one sense Samaritans.  We have by our lives denied the faith in thought, word and deed and yet...  In spite of our birth right to be sinners, Jesus has redeemed us and made us Agood sinners@...@good Samaritans@.


In the baptismal covenant we pledge our determination to love neighbor, and to strive for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being  but honestlyCdo we not often walk on the other side afraid to dirty our hands?  Do we need to justify ourselves?  Who are the Samaritans in YOUR LIFE?  Whom do we feel Ajustified@ in despising, rejecting, pre-juding?  When do we side with the priest and the Levite? With _______ you fill in the blank. With anyone different from us? Someone we feel treated us unjustly or a friend unjustly?  Everyone is neighbor for the Christian.  The question is will we be neighbor! Martin Luther King Jr.: "The first question which the priest and Levite asked was "If I stop help this man, what will happen to me?" But…the Good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" 


If God=s love flows through us, is in usCit must be acted out in the love of neighbor.   In I John 4:19-21 we readCAWe love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, AI love God,@ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.@


As IHS saidCAGo and do likewise.@ As NIKE once saidBAJust do it!@








Proper 9 + Year C + 2013

The story is told about the baptism of King Aengus by St. Patrick in the middle of the fifth century. Sometime during the rite, St. Patrick leaned on his sharp-pointed staff and inadvertently stabbed the king’s foot. After the baptism was over, St. Patrick looked down at all the blood, realized what he had done, and begged the king’s forgiveness.

Why did you suffer this pain in silence, the Saint wanted to know.

The king replied, “I thought it was part of the ritual.”

Baptism…what does it mean to you?  More importantly what does it mean to God?  Confirmation…it too begs the same question.  Then there is Ordination…well everyone knows what that means right? While we're at it, let's throw in Matrimony for good measure!  

Each of these is a commissioning.  With God: it is a "co-mission-ing." That is kind of like "God is my co-pilot" although I do think that saying should be more "God is my 'pilot'"! That is to say that the Christians sacraments are commissioning into service. It is the Christians:  vocation, calling freely embraced joyful opportunity to be a presence of God in the world. Mission Impossible?  Not if we participate in the process. 


Paul wrote to the Philippian Church: " Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure."  The Message (Phil. 2:13) 


All too often in the Christian Army, we want to be servedCin fact we are offended if we are not!  We don=t see our first obligation to IHSBX to get in there and get involved in the fight of God=s Kingdom against that of the world.  We hire bishops, priests, and deacons to "do" the ministry..  Too often the norm is: the ministersCminister and the congregation congregates.  Is this God=s plan for us?


Let me quote from the service of Holy Baptism two things:  "Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen."


and "We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood"


The courage to will and to persevere,.. Confess the faith, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood  Is that what we're thinking about when we bring anyone to the baptismal font???  And with all of the cultural rituals that have grown up around this fundamental sacrament of the Church???  This is not a sermon primarily about baptism, but it does lay the foundation for mission!  One thing is crystal clear: the Christian mission is two-fold both beginning at baptism..  First, to minister to the Body of Christ, Secondly, to minister to those who are not yet a part of that Body.


I.                   In the gospel for today, Jesus' second Commissioning was the Commissioning of the 70.

A.                They were sent to the surrounding areasCWith very basic instructions

1.                  The harvest is plentiful, laborers few: pray the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers...but don=t stop thereCGoCas lambs among wolves

B.                 What?  Doesn't Jesus know anything about advertizing? You know something catchy like: "be all you can be." This isn=t going to be an easy, nice experience, not necessarily. People who are sick are not always pleased to be told that they have a fatal illness. Self assured and determined people, even if they have an inner sense of need don=t necessarily like to be told that only God can fill it.

1.                  Don=t make a lot of plans or provisionsCtrust Me to supply what you will need. Can we live by that much faith?

2.                  It is the image of the Church on the move.  Not a settler mentality but pioneer mentality.  Not the farm and city but the covered wagon living off the land. 

a.                   When the institutional church becomes the Asettler@ church, it nearly always forgets MISSION!

(1)               Jesus said "travel lightly, don=t accumulate a lot of things you will  have to carry with you! That takes effort and stops mission. Paul wrote to the Colossian Church " God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.:"

Who me? Christ in ME? the hope of glory? Yes YOU!


II.                There are a number of things to digest for St Thomas Parish this morning..

  1. There is an urgency about communicating the Kingdom of God to people.  Life is very uncertain.  What may be as Paul said from God: "For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation." 2 Corinthians 6:2

A.                God the Spirit is the bringer of souls but we need to show up so he can work through us.! That's the plan!

a.                   Christianity is hopelessly incarnational.

(1)               This means God uses us for Divine purposes.

2.                  God will provide for our mission.

a.                   The greatest sin is rejection of the Kingdom messageCmessengerCJesus and GodCall in one package.

B.                 One commentator wroteCAthe eager witness and service of all of the Lord=s disciples is needed before those to whom they are being sent will believe that there is a Kingdom of God that could draw near to anyone.

1.                  It is our duty to get preparedCto be prepared to fight for God with the weapons God gives. Love, faith, listening, praying, reaching out to let God love others through us.


III.               God calls on each of us to bear one another=s burdensCto bear the world=s burdens. Galatians 6 says in the earlier verse in this chapter: "bear one another's burdens and fulfill the law of Christ."

A.                John Wesley saidCAthe world is my parish.@

B.                 God has established a law of sowing and reaping. You reap what seed you plant.

1.                  What seed do you sow?  Seed that satisfies me for now?  Seed that reaps a spiritual harvest? The temporary or the eternal?

2.                  We cannot expect any kind of relationship with God any kind of growth  toward Christ likeness to serve without continuously sowing in order to grow.

C.                 Do you remember  the words of Cain to God in Genesis, Aam I my brother=s keeper?@  That is exactly what we are on Christ=s behalf and for Jesus= sake.

1.                                      One of our missions is to support others as God enables us. 

a.                   Have you ever wanted to help someone carry some heavy problem but they wouldn't let you?

b.                  How many persons have wanted to help us deal with something but we refused to share that burden with them?

(1)               Maybe you=ve offered to help someone carry something and they=ve responded a @tough guy@: Anope, I=ve got it@ and oops! 

2.                  For most of us the problem isn't finding someone to help us carry our burdens, it's our willingness to SHARE our burdens so they can help carry them.

a.                   Many of us find it easier to help bear the burdens of others than to share our own with others. For then we are operating from a position of strength. We are not the person in need. We're not the weak one. We're the strong one. It makes us feel good to be able to help.

3.                  But Paul wrote: "for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong"( 2 Corinthians 12:10)

a.                   Was he nuts? No!  It's very much like the AA idiom: "let go and let God."  Release your need to be the co-pilot!


We are called become focused about our vocationCwe are Christians.  Christianity is costly first to Jesus then to us! We are called to become skilled at our faith.  Only the person who runs to the end can claim to finish the marathon.  What if we don=t know the right way or words or afraid of failure? Writer Cheryl Faber said: Asomehow we never see God in failure but only in successCa strange attitude for people who have the cross at the center of their faith.@  But we want Pentecost without a cost!  We want Easter without Good Friday!  We want Christmas without leaving the throne in heaven!  What costs nothing to us is worth little.  Perhaps that is why we can so rarely speak as St. Paul does of  Athis great salvation@.  Grace is freeCbut it isn't cheap!  Do we want to glory in the cross? Then the hard part, we willing to do the work to which we are called. 


  1. All to Jesus I surrender;
    All to Him I freely give;
    I will ever love and trust Him,
    In His presence daily live.
    • Refrain:
      I surrender all,
      I surrender all;
      All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
      I surrender all.

2.      All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

    • Refrain:
      I surrender all,
      I surrender all;
      All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
      I surrender all.

And God asks: "do we? do we really?"