The Gospel: John 18:33-37
Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: So, this morning marks the end of our series of readings from the Gospel of Mark. Or as we have come to know them, in my series of reflections in my sermons, as "the hard words of Jesus." There have been some challenging cultural and spiritual questions presented to us through this Gospel.
As we mark this end to the readings from the Gospel of Mark I wonder if there has been anything in particular that has stood out for any of us? If you have had a significant thought or felt challenged to perhaps change a long-held opinion could you share that with me by email this week? What have the Gospel of Mark, or the Holy Spirit through the Gospel of Mark, said to you in this Ordinary Time in 2021?
Is that something we expect from the Scriptures? Do we really expect that the Scriptures, or the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures, will speak into our lives? Is reading the Scriptures an active and responsive process for you?
Can you turn with me and look up at the screens. I want to look this morning at the stirring words from the Collect for Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost.
"Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever." Amen.
What a blessing it is to have the Scriptures in English and available for us to open and engage with. I don't think I realized, until I went to Seminary and had the opportunity to study religious history, how much I had taken that for granted. I never even considered, how kingdoms and political landscapes were shaped and formed, the battles that were fought, and the lives that were lost so that I could have the Scriptures in my native tongue After Luther pinned his 39 Theses on the door at the church of the Schlosskirche (Castle Church), Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517, there was a period of intense movement within the church. One of the most significant results of that movement was the desire for people to be able to read the Bible in their own language. One might say there was a religious fervor that drove men and women to risk their lives for the work of bringing the Bible into the native languages of the known world.
Of course, that work continues today with men and women who have dedicated themselves to the work of creating and publishing the Scriptures in the languages of the people groups thast exist all over the world. We have our example of people devoted to this task in Valerie and Nicasio Martinez in Mexico Translating the Scriptures into Quiatoni Zapotec.
Have you stopped recently to think about what it means for us to readily have the Scriptures at hand? Not only do we have printed copies of the Bible we can pick up any time, but for most of us we can go online in any number of ways and read parts of Scripture, or we can look up commentaries on Scripture. I wonder sometimes if we are at risk of taking it all for granted?
Then I have to read this Collect. I find myself challenged to get beyond my ready acceptance and assumptions, my casual reading and to really investigate, to research for myself the richness of the Scriptures. "to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them."
Then to realize that the word hope thrusts itself into my conscientiousness once more this week. It is only when I do hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words of Scripture, that I can "embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ."
Remember last week I reflected on: "What is the hope that we have? I suggested that we need to think about these words: "that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life.
"I asked last week and I will ask it again this morning, do you think of yourself that way: "as children of God and heirs of eternal life?" Do you really think of yourself as a child of God and an heir of the eternal life he offers?
I don't believe we can do that unless we have spent some time hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting Scripture. Perhaps I can illustrate what I mean if I was to use our beloved organist Jim Petersen as an example. He is not here today so I am going to take the liberty to talk about him.
What do you think it would be like if Jim came on Sunday morning and played the hymns for the first time? I know for a fact that most weeks Jim is here at Christ Church from around 6 pm until 7:30 pm Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. If it is a time in the life of the church where we have a lot of services coming up he is also here on Thursday nights. Jim is here researching music, planning service music, and practicing.
If you ask Jim, about why he takes that time, he will tell it is because he loves what he does. He wants to do the very best that he can whenever he plays the organ, when he leads the choir, when he generally seeks to bring glory to the Lord by his mastery of the art form he loves so much.
I know there are people in the parish who give their time to making jewelry, glass making, work with blacksmith tools, bake, create quilts, or work with their hands to create with wood. That is just to mention a few of the craft abilities among us.
They take time, they spend time, they dedicate themselves to improving and growing in their chosen art form. They seek to be the best they can at their chosen craft or art form. Not to bring attention to themselves or revel in the glory for themselves but because it reflects something of who they know they were created to be.
I wonder if we are actually at risk of allowing our easy access to the Scriptures making us too familiar with what we think they say. Somehow we have lost the vitality of hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting Scripture.
The Scriptures this morning require more of us than a cursory hearing, they need more from us than just skim-reading them in the Bulletin or up on the screen this morning. When was the last time you marked your Bible with a passage that stood out to you? Either because you didn't understand it or because you were convicted by it?
How long is it since you have set yourself the task of learning a particular Scripture verse? Xavier is beginning Baptism classes and I have set him the goal of learning the Apostles Creed. Can you get through the Nicene Creed in our Eucharist Service without looking in the Bulletin or up on the screen? Remember both Creeds begin with either I believe or We believe. Can you honestly say that you believe the things you are saying if you can't remember them?
How do we inwardly digest the words of Scripture? What are we doing to make the words more than just words we hear or recite? Someone once said that the longest distance is the distance from your head to your heart.
So, at this point, I should say something directly about our readings for today. How do we comprehend the story, from 1 Samuel that we heard this morning mark, learn and inwardly digest the words How do apply the lessons of the story of Hannah, Elkanah, Eli, and Samuel as more than just a "nice Jewish folk tale?"
As we read through the Psalm this morning what do we understand about our relationship with the Lord? Unless we take the time to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words we run the risk of being like the person talked about in the New Testament who looks at herself or himself in the mirror and then immediately forgets what they look like when they walk away.
Then how can we expect that to live the way Hebrews, challenges us to, unless we are willing to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words?
"since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful."
Then from our Gospel reading how can we live our lives in anticipation and trust as we see the traumatic events of our world without committing ourselves to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words of all of Scripture not just particular parts of it?
As we go out today can we commit ourselves to be active students of the art form and craft of the understanding of Scripture? Can we commit to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words that the Lord "caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning?"
How can we get to the end of the service this morning and not just recite the words of our prayer after communion? But to say these words with conviction and determination:
Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Gospel: Mark 12:38-44
As Jesus taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Prayers: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: I want to repeat what I said last Sunday morning. I believe that this community, this church, has done a wonderful job in the past two years. Adapting, changing, and growing to meet the need that we faced. You all have contributed to that. I am very proud of who and what we are as a church. THANK YOU. You have been faithful and you have persevered through very trying circumstances. I am very proud of you.
As I also said last week I have found that gratitude and affirmation are like refreshing winds that blow into our lives. To know that someone has recognized and then taken the time to acknowledge, what we have accomplished, is such a blessing. It lifts our spirits, doesn't it?
Somehow we feel like we are not alone in our striving or our seeking after the Lord. We did something and someone else recognized our effort. One might suggest that it really enlivens our hope and raises our eyes, from the challenge, to the God who provides for us.
When people ask me what one of the essential elements of this congregation is I have to say hope. This is one of the most hope-filled and expectant places I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of. You just can't achieve, the things that we have, without having a deeply embedded sense of hope. People, here at Christ Church, are hopeful, they are expectant. There is evidence of hope in all that happens here at Christ Church.
Hope is an essential element in all of our lives. Hope means we are willing to go on. Hope means we can begin to try to do something we might otherwise think is impossible. Hope means we can dream when it seems that there is nothing but darkness in front of us. Hope means we can have a vision for something that we may not have a complete grasp of. Hope means we will engage to see things change.
I want to say at this point that I am aware that I may be stretching the point as I launch into what I feel the Lord wants us to consider this week in my Sermon.
I want to say also that I don't use phrases like "what I feel the Lord wants us to consider" often when I share here on Sunday mornings. It is a type or form of preaching that is popular in some communities. I am aware that in some places it resonates with people. They like to think that the preacher has a sense of what the Lord is speaking to a particular group. That they can point out to others what the Lord has to say, specifically, to a particular group of people at a particular time.
I hesitate to take that approach because I believe it is too easy for those messages to become an opportunity for the preacher/speaker to present a personal agenda, or line of thinking, that can be a distraction to the truth.
Anyway, getting back to my original point, I believe that one of the most powerful concepts to come out of our Scriptures this morning is the idea of hope. I believe that as we read each of the Scriptures, set for this morning, we are being encouraged to consider hope. It even begins in our Collect for this morning.
Can you turn with me in your Bulletin or look up at the screens.
O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
What hope is it that we have? "that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life"
Now because we celebrated All Saints Day last week we didn't read the Ruth passage that was also an option. In Ruth 1: 1 - 18 we meet Naomi and her two daughters-in-law one was Orpah and the other was Ruth. Naomi's circumstances are desperate. Her husband and both sons have died. There is no one to provide for her and her daughters-in-law. She decides to head back to her homeland. But as she draws near Naomi gives up hope. She says: "Even if I thought there was hope for me" She has decided that she will go home to die. So, she says to her daughters-in-law that they should go home. Orpah does god home but Ruth declares that she will put her hope in Naomi and in Naomi's God.
But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die - there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”
When we read the first two verses of Psalm 127 we are struck by the resounding notes of hope. These words are declarations of where we should place our hope.1 Unless the Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it.
2 Unless the Lord watches over the city, in vain the watchman keeps his vigil.
We can then move to Hebrews and we catch another glimpse of the work that has been accomplished by Jesus for each one of us. Jesus didn't have to keep going back time and time again like the Priests before him. They kept repeating the sacrifices because their work was incomplete. Jesus did it once for and for all.
"But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."
Why would we be eagerly waiting unless we knew that Jesus has done all that needs to be accomplished?
Now we come to today's Gospel reading from Mark 12. I am glad we have built the foundation of hope through the rest of this message. Here is where I feel like I am aware that I may be stretching the point as I continue in my reflection on the Gospel passage.
We know very little about the widow that Jesus encounters here in the temple. It is clear that Jesus is making a point by comparing this woman to the Scribes.
He has little time for the kind of piety that Scribes exercise. Jesus, as he talks about this widow speaks with a sense of reverence. He honors her with his comments. He applauds her actions and seeks to show how what she is giving is greater than all of those around her.
Now, I have heard many sermons preached on this particular passage and this woman. She is often held up as an example of generous and sacrificial giving. Many times this widow is used to illustrate how we should consider giving as part of a stewardship theme.
All of those messages can clearly be justified by reading the text and leaning into what Jesus is saying and the context of the passage. Jesus does make the comparison, he does hold the woman up as an example.
I would like to take a moment to look at what Jesus doesn't do. Jesus doesn't tell us what happens to her after this incident. He doesn't stop her from giving what she has determined to give. He doesn't make any provision for her out of his resources. He doesn't provide someone from among his followers to take care of her. He doesn't challenge those around him to step in.
He tells his followers, and those others around him: "but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." If we read this at its face value Jesus is telling all those around him that this woman has very little reason to expect that she will live much longer. She has given: "all that she had to live on."
Can I ask this morning can you see this as an expression of this woman's hope? Despite the circumstances in front of her she is putting her hope in her Lord and her God. Do you hear the echoes, the reverberations, of the story of Ruth and Naomi?
We do have an advantage this morning in our reading from Ruth because we have glimpsed, as Paul Harvey used to say: "Now, you know the rest of the story." We have a window into the end of the story in the connection between Ruth and Boaz. It is an interesting cultural story. It does challenge some of our current views and opinions about men and women and their behaviors. Not sure I would have wanted one of my daughters, or for that matter, one of the women in the church, come to me and tell me they had found themselves a husband by lying down at his feet. But Boaz, like Jesus, did everything necessary to redeem Ruth and provide her with "a future and a hope." We don't have that same hope for the widow. We can only hope in the Lord and trust his loving-kindness.
As we go out today some of us will be facing what seem to be hopeless and unredeemable circumstances. How can we draw from our readings this morning to find the hope that is there for us?
How can we carry the hope that exists in this place, and the hope we have in our faith in Jesus, into our world?
Bishops & Father Mike