Sermon, Proper 18 Year C and Syria

Author’s Note:  Each week I usually look over the text and consider a couple questions that help me think over the following week.  This is not meant to be exegetical or comprehensive – there are plenty of stronger sites for such research. 

Syria is on my mind.   Although I’m someone who wants to think that the involved institutions have the best interests of the country and world, I wouldn’t know what the answer is.  Many of the arguments either for or against are unconvincing.  Words like “credibility” and “confidence,” for example, are less important than a completed task.  For most people, feelings about the president seem to be prior to clear thinking or collaborating on finding a suitable solution.

Furthermore, I’m struck by the utter lack of creativity by the mindset that insists that the only proper reaction, ever, is a military response.  It was the view of the previous administration; it’s apparent it is the view of whoever holds the reins of power.  

It’s easy to be misdirected.  What is revealed leads us away from what is concealed. Platitudes and conviction overwhelm logic, and humility and fear disappear in a wisp of bluster and braggadacio.   It’s hard to sell a war through humility, but I wish there were more people who could just say, “I don’t know” and admit that there are no good answers.

In the reading this week, Jeremiah speaks out of a country that’s been dismantled, dispersed.  The middle east even then was complicated.  How would he seek to bring the people together out of exile?  The Assyrians sought to conquer and scatter, while Jeremiah pleads to remember.  And then, like now, the challenge for us is to remember, to gather up the broken pieces around us, and with the grace of God always be ready to rebuild.  Our community, our church, our world.

In the gospel, Luke this week has Jesus admonishing:  “you cannot follow me unless you sell all your possessions.”   Jesus reminds us that the economic must be subservient to the human; it represents kinds of social relationships.  To sell possessions means always allowing ourselves to circulate.  This circulation allows for a dynamism for us, one that allows us to better handle the cycle of disappointment and success that marks the human experience.  We cannot get out of it; we can only see it clearly.   Those who hoard and accumulate will find themselves even more afraid of losing status; unable to handle everyday disappointments. Perhaps this may explain how the wealthier we get, the less resilient we become. 

The gospel this week also makes me wonder about how little we actually plan well.  The evidence is that we don’t always know what actually makes us happy; we are poor judges of risk.  Planning well is expensive, hard work, and requires patience.  We tend to underestimate the resources it takes to make an institution viable.   Instinctively, we often complete things on the cheap, hoping our band aid solutions will last for the long term: perpetually afraid of disappointment, we diminish the possibility of glory.

Sermon Notes, Proper 17 Year C

Author’s Note:  Each week I usually look over the text and consider a couple questions that help me think over the following week.  This is not meant to be exegetical or comprehensive – there are plenty of stronger sites for such research.  This week’s readings can be found here.

Jeremiah 2:11 Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit.

What is beneficial about a Chrstian pattern of life, if anything?  Jeremiah seems to indicate that the faith of Israel is simply ineffective – the other Gods do not work.   Worshiping other Gods is inefficacious, like using a cracked pot to carry water.  In this sense faith is practical.  This should assuage the scientist and even the agnostic.  What we do works, even if the reasons seem obscure or imprecise.

Usually people worship other Gods because they seem effective.  So what are those Gods, and what do they bring?  How are they mistaken?

Hebrews13:1 Let mutual love continue. 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Sometimes I think that we could learn a lot about how church life should be from going to three *** restaurants (like this one I went to, when I got my doctorate).  Jesus refers to himself as the server – as if he’s the waiter who ensures that the wedding feast moves without a hitch.  To some extent He is invisible, making the plans.

Do our congregations do the work of hospitality?  It’s not easy.  Hospitality forces us to get out of ourselves and attend to the visitor.   Being an effective server also requires technique, skill and discipline – there are many ways to render a visitor invisible or uncomfortable.   Our “discipleship” is not just about formed thoughts but about the work of providing a space for others to experience the Sabbath.   We underestimate the preparation that requires.  Perhaps we should study church plans the way restauranteurs plan restaurants.

The Gospel inspires me to wonder what do we value?  When do we insist on taking credit?  What does it mean to be recognized?  Why would we be recognized?   To be seen is a deeply human need; and when we are not the humiliation can be too much.  But perhaps a deeper trust diminishes that need enough so that we can still be effective agents in the world though the only person who knows us is the one who made us.

Sermon Notes for Proper 16 Year C

  • First reading and Psalm
    • Jeremiah 1:4-10
    • Psalm 71:1-6
  • Alternate First reading and Psalm
    • Isaiah 58:9b-14
    • Psalm 103:1-8
  • Second reading
    • Hebrews 12:18-29
  • Gospel
    • Luke 13:10-17

The passage from Jeremiah is intriguing.   I can’t quite imagine that a boy would, or should, have confidence to speak God’s word.  He is certainly challenging the powers, reminding us that all organization is reorganization. We have to build anew: is this a question for the church?

Perhaps building an infrastructure takes years, so we often begin as children and must learn along the way.

I wonder if being a child is akin to being in a state of emotional “flow:” constantly learning and challenging, the slow building of mastery over a particular task.  In this case: learning how to speak.  But there many places we must simply do the work in order to learn, making mistakes along the way.  I wonder if our current society allows kids to just make mistakes enough.

Isaiah reminds me of Heschel’s statement that the Sabbath is God’s Cathedral.  In some way, the Sabbath restores a human economy, when we are not counting the goods we have, but simply enjoying them.

The gospel raises a few questions:  what does it mean to be set free from the bondage of Satan?  What are the steps to be free from envy or pride?  How do we pray this?  Is Satan here the same as sin?  It does not imply that the woman is a bad person; rather, she is burdened.

So to be free – can it mean free from self-delusion?  Do we become newly confident?  Or is that also an error.   Or does it mean being able to clearly see our mistakes, and to humanize our flaws and strengths, without thinking they’re judged by God.  I’ll be thinking about  what does it mean to be crippled

Sometimes I wonder about the ways we create our own obstacles.  We say mantras to ourselves that we inherit from other people.  We believe everything the media says.  We’re told we can’t sing; that we’re not worthy; that only through hard work on the Sabbath do we deserve to live.

But the touch of Jesus is simply this:  there is nothing you can do to deserve life; there is nothing you can do to deserve what you have.  By simply being a live you may shine in God’s glory.  Echoing Jeremiah, you have been made.  That’s all.  That’s enough.