The first lesson appointed for today, the reading we heard from the Prophecy of Isaiah, begins with the words: “Here is my servant; …I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”[i] Now this reading is like a supernatural transcription of what the prophet Isaiah heard from God: God’s spirit being promised to the long-awaited Messiah, and also, God’s spirit reaching to foreign nations and distant lands, to the gôyîm, the non-Jews, people like many of us. How will we know? What will be the evidence of God’s spirit at work? What will be the outward sign, the fruit of God’s spirit among us? Justice. Justice to the nations. These opening words of Isaiah, God’s prophet, about the forthcoming Messiah, and then, later,when Jesus, the Messiah, begins his ministry, his opening words are about justice.[ii]Continue reading →
One of the most radical things I have done in the past few years was to grow radishes in the vegetable garden at Emery House. Now I know that doesn’t sound very radical. After all you can buy perfectly good radishes at the grocery store. Or can you?
I built a number of raised bed and in one of them I planted radishes. Radishes are fun to grow. First of all, I am quite fond of them. Secondly you can plant them quite early in the spring. And finally it’s only about 21 days between planting and eating. If you want to discover the joys of vegetable gardening, radishes are a great way to begin. They are one of the closest things to instant gratification in the vegetable world. Continue reading →
In the Gospel record, we read of three presentations of Jesus at the Temple. Today, the first of the presentations, marks forty days following Jesus’ birth. Two things were required of Mary and Joseph according to the Law of Moses: Jesus’ parents were required to present Jesus in the temple, dedicating him to God as their firstborn son.[i] Also, there was Mary’s need for “purification.” We read in the Book of Leviticus that a new mother was to be ceremonially purified by a priest forty days after childbirth.[ii] A second presentation was when Jesus was age 12, when he greatly impressed the temple authorities with his precocious knowledge.[iii] And a third, when, as an adult, he was presented with the goings on of Temple – what was going on, outside and inside the temple.
One of the many highlights of my life in the last dozen years or so has been my ability to travel to Jerusalem on a number of occasions. If you have never been, I can’t encourage you enough to seize whatever opportunity arises and go. Your life will be immensely enriched, your heart broken and broken open, and your faith challenged and changed. If you have been, you will know what I say is true.
I won’t ask for a show of hands this morning, but I’m wondering how many of us know a person or a family who is living below the poverty line. The U.S. Census Bureau defines that as a single person who makes less than $11,491 per year, or a family of four that earns less than $23,018 annually. In 2010, the Census Bureau tells us, over 15% of the people in the United States were below the poverty line (15.3%). The percentage for children was even higher: 21.6% of children living in the United States in 2010 were living below the poverty line – that’s one in every five children in one of the wealthiest nations on earth. If you know a person or persons who live with this kind of poverty, I’d like you to picture them and keep them in mind for the next few minutes.
“No one can serve two masters for a slave will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth”
There probably isn’t anybody in this room that needs to be told that as Americans we lead very privileged lives. “Welcome to the world, America,” was a phrase many of us heard in the wake on 9/11. It reflected the view that America and its citizens are largely insulated from grim realities that are the stuff of daily life for billions who share the planet. I thought about that the other day as I drove down Somerville Avenue. There’s a string of gas stations along the avenue and I couldn’t help notice that gas prices had risen about thirty cents since I bought gas the previous week. I thought, “Welcome to the revolution, America;” that the effects of popular revolutions that we’ve all been reading about have finally come to our shores. Continue reading →
One of my favorite buildings in all the world is the Chartres Cathedral in North France. I had the privilege of living in France for a year near Chartres and I used to love visiting and getting to know the amazing work of art.
I especially loved the stunning west front of the cathedral and those incredible stone carvings of Adam and Eve, the prophets, apostles, saints and martyrs. But at the very center, that favorite scene of all: the Last Judgment. And it was illustrated by that favorite symbol – the weighing scales. Each poor soul would in turn, stand before the terrifying judge of all, as his good works were put into one side of the scales, and his evil deeds into the other. Would he be a sheep or a goat? If his evil deeds outweighed his good, down he would go into the fires of hell. But if on balance he had done enough good works, up he would go to join the heavenly host. And what a host! You’ve never seen such smug, self-satisfied faces as those in heaven! And we may sympathize with the view that if they are the ones going to heaven, I might prefer the other place! Continue reading →
Over the past few days I have been re-reading Brian McLaren’s book, Everything Must Change.1 McLaren tells us that, for the past several decades, he has been wrestling with two important questions:
The first question is, “What are the biggest problems in the world?” by which he means, [What are the] “problems that cause the most suffering in the present, that pose the greatest threat to our future, …[and] that lie at the root of what’s wrong with the world.” (p.11) He speaks, among other things, of the challenges of global poverty, environmental destruction, and the increasing level of, and potential for, violence in today’s world.
The second question he asks is, “What does Jesus have to say about these global problems?” As a “follower of God in the way of Jesus,” McLaren insists that Jesus’ words and actions have much to teach us about how we should live in a world facing such enormous problems as these.
There could hardly be a better place to look for answers to McLaren’s question than in the Sermon on the Mount, a section of which we have just read. Continue reading →
There is a curious request in Psalm 7, which we’ve just prayed together. The psalmist asks for God’s judgment. “Judge me, O Lord.” And this request, this desire for God’s judgment, doesn’t just appear in Psalm 7. It’s repeated a number of times in the scriptures, particularly in the psalms.[i]
Being judged is a sore subject for many people, maybe for you personally. You might have faced a kind of corrosive judgment in growing up; you may live with it now. The worst kind of judgment, demeaning judgment, is not what we hear from other people, which may be terrible. The worst kind of judgment is what we hold in our own hearts against ourselves. Demeaning self judgment often takes on an internal shouting match: silently yelling at ourselves how we should be better or different or changed in some way. A proclivity to be self-judging, in a way where we always lose, not only zaps the life out of us, but also compromises our hope for the future. It’s a minefield from which there may seem little prospect of escape. And so, to hear the psalmist ask to be judged, to seek it out and solicit God’s judgment, may seem incredulous. What are we missing here?
You may have noticed that my brothers have allowed me to choose a different gospel lesson from the one designated for this day. I chose this passage from Matthew because I want to talk about judgment. Now before you say, “Oh-oh, what are we in for now,” I want to assure you that I rarely deliver ‘fire and brimstone’ sermons and that, in spite of my background as a Calvinist, I am not likely to preach a sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”i Judgment is not a favorite theme of mine.
“Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around [Jesus], they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.”Mark 7:7:1-2
The criticism about Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands was not the Pharisees’ concern about the spread of germs. This is about ritual purity. The Pharisees believed that in addition to the Ten Commandments, Moses had received other commandments from God which had been communicated privately to the Pharisees down through the generations.
Several weeks ago when I was traveling, a friend strongly endorsed Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore and put a copy in my hand. It is the story of the highly unlikely friendship of a modern day slave and an international art dealer and the woman who bound them together. They met because Ron Hall and his wife Deborah volunteered at the Union Gospel Mission, a shelter for the homeless in Ft. Worth. Continue reading →
As the particularly contentious 2016 election season comes to a close in the United States this week, we are more aware than ever of the human tendency to judge others, especially those whose views differ from our own. This 2008 sermon from Br. David Vryhof encourages us to live in a place of holy tension, depending on God’s grace to show us when tolerance and patience towards others is called for, and when we are being called to noncooperation and resistance in the face of evil.
Br. David Vryhof
Sometimes the longer we ponder something, the more complex it seems to become. Rather than gaining increasing clarity about the thing we are examining, we begin to perceive layers of complexity and uncover new and hidden dimensions. Our reflections leave us with more questions than answers. That has certainly been the case as I’ve pondered the meaning of this gospel parable over the past week. Continue reading →
It’s hard to know quite what to make of this: the “woes” to Chorazin and Bethsaida, the damning to hell of Capernaum. I’m tempted to suspect that this anger actually reflects the concerns of a later generation. Matthew seems to have been written about 50 years after Jesus’ death. Perhaps Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were Jewish communities that resisted conversion to Christianity, or even persecuted Christian Jews. Continue reading →
Many of you will know that my brother and I returned this past week from a mission trip to eastern Africa, to the Diocese of Tanga in northeast Tanzania. We traveled with seven other friends of our community, men and women – a physician, a veterinarian, a nurse-midwife, three businesspeople, a teacher – where we brothers renewed our own friendships with our Anglican sisters and brothers, and introduced these seven new friends. Continue reading →