4 gifts from John the Baptist

Feast of St. John the Baptist 6-24-18

This is the last Sunday in our old location.  Next Sunday, we will have Mass at 11:30 at St. Timothy Episcopal Church, 432 Van Buren St., Herndon, VA 20170

Isaiah 49:1-6; Palm139: 1-3,13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66,80

 

Today I would like to look at 4 aspects from John the Baptist’s life which should be familiar and which are relevant to us as we leave this space and face new beginnings for Holy Trinity.

#1 Luke  1: 39-44 (John leaps for joy when The Blessed Virgin met her cousin Elizabeth)

“Elizabeth exclaimed to Mary, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! For…when (your) voice…came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.’”

John is a reminder to us that having Jesus in our lives is a great and wonderful gift – so great that the yet unborn John leaped for joy. When is the last time you felt the urge to leap for joy?  When were you last so filled with the Holy Spirit that you were moved to act out your faith in a new way?

John was the one who bridged the old and the new periods in human history – before and after Christ. John is the icon of new beginnings.  Holy Trinity is in a wonderful God-given period of new beginnings.  Let us feel the joy of a fresh start, a new chance to grow in love of the scriptures, and love of our neighbors.  Let us grow in the ability to share our faith.  Let us become people that are recognized as Christians because of our love.  May God bless us with the ability to grasp new ways to be church, in leadership, in outreach, and in worship. May we find joy in creativity and change as we are moved by the Holy Spirit.

#2 Acts 13: 22-26  (John’s humility, self knowledge & recognition of who Jesus was)

“One is coming after me; I am not worth to unfasten the sandals of his feet.”

I find John’s confession that he was not worthy to kneel down and untie Jesus’ sandal one of the great realizations of human history. Do you realize the implications?  If we understand what John said, it would be impossible to pollute or waste our natural resources because of the profound respect we would have for God and God’s creation.  There would never be wars, for we would obey God’s word – we would not kill or covet or steal; for wars are really fought over wealth and land and resources.

What if we admit our vulnerability and dependency on each other? Then we would know how necessary our neighbor is to us, and really value children, immigrants, and the elderly.

What if we knew Jesus when he came to us sick or hungry or a victim of violence? I can hardly image the change in our society if we knew ourselves and Jesus.  Humility, self-knowledge and recognition of Jesus are the keys to being true church where no one is greater than the other.  Everyone who comes in our door is seeking God at some level.  Our attention must always focus on the Divine in each person.  Outward focus on others can make our problems fade in importance.  Focusing inward, on ourselves, make us a barrier to God’s love.

#3 John 1: 35-42 John directs his disciples to follow Jesus

“(The day after John baptized Jesus) John was standing with 2 of his disciples, and as he looked, Jesus walked by; he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples, Andrew and John the son of Zebedee, heard him…and they followed Jesus.”

John was an extraordinary man. He was not owned by his possessions or his prestige.  When Andrew followed Jesus, he also brought his brother, Simon Peter.  So John deliberately sent his followers to Jesus.  John was not concerned about counting his followers.  He was concerned with freeing people from their sins, with baptism as the symbol of their forgiveness and fresh start on life.  He knew his job was not the main event, but rather he was a messenger, to prepare the way of the Lord.  He taught that we are to “bear fruit that befits repentance.”  John reminds me of the old Methodist preacher who told me, “I’m not in administration, I’m just in sales.”  John knew that he was just bringing the faith to people, and was not in charge.

Most churches need fewer people who think they are in charge and many more that are out in the trenches of life, knowledgeable about their faith, focusing on love and the Good News of Jesus. We need to act like Christians!  John was working for God, and everything he said and did was for the glory of God, and not his own glory. The Holy Spirit is not bound by rite or ritual or human doctrine, and the church is not ours, nor is the space nor the possessions, nor the people, nor the future. It all belongs to God.

#4 Matthew 11:2-19  When John was imprisoned by King Herod & sent his disciples to Jesus

“John sent word by his disciples (to ask Jesus) ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”

John was in prison for nothing more than telling King Herod that he should not have married his brother’s wife – he confronted immorality of the kind that tears the fabric of society. The letter that Bishop Ron has issued about asylum seekers coming into the US over the Mexican border is a present day example of how the Church must confront injustice and evil. John is our model for speaking out when leaders overstep their authority and damage the church or nation.  For that, John died a martyr’s death.

Consider that John, the last prophet of the old age and Jesus, the one who began the new age, both preached repentance and God’s love, and both died fulfilling their rightful place in God’s Kingdom.   John knew that Herod murdering people on a whim, and John had every reason to be fearful.  He had put his faith in Jesus, witnessed to his divinity, and, in a moment of despair, he needed reassurance that he had chosen well.  He had not lost his faith, but had serious questions, and he turned to Jesus for answers.

How do we respond when life is hard, when we are fearful and losing hope? Let us be a church where people can express doubt and fear.  Let us be a place where people are never silenced, but where people can express themselves and their opinions; a place where we can learn together and support each other, where we take care to listen before speaking and when we speak, we tell the truth.

John the Baptist has a great deal to teach us. John would be a good patron saint for this time of transition.  The real questions that face us are not Mass times or attendance.  John gives us the real questions: “How do we bring the message of love and forgiveness to our neighbors so that we all experience the joy of knowing Jesus?”  “How do we know ourselves so that we bring God’s Word to others with the gentle humility that comes from knowing God?”  “Have we identified what is really important instead of being stuck in the past or pretending ownership of that which belongs to God?” Finally, “Can we grow past fear and doubt by learning from and supporting each other with the truth Jesus gave us?”  I believe we can do these things, and we must, to fulfill the role we have in God’s kingdom.

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SLOW SEEDS??

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time 6-17-18

Ezekiel 17:22-24, Ps 92:2-16, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, Mark 4:26-34

All of our readings are beautiful and encouraging today. Our first reading, from the Prophet Ezekiel, brings us poetry about God’s love for us. After the Exile to Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the people of Israel feared that all the promises God had made to King David were forgotten. Ezekiel assures them that God has not forgotten, and that he will restore them as his people. God’s people will be like a “withered tree that blooms.” In fact, God will take from the very top of the giant cedar tree a tender shoot, a small branch, and he will plant that shoot on a mountain top. In time that small tender shoot will become a giant cedar tree. This is a poetic reference to a descendent of the last King from David’s line who was still alive. The promise that the Messiah will be a descendent of King David will still be fulfilled in Jesus. Not only that, but all the nations of the earth, represented by all the birds that nest in the tree, will gather once again. It is a wonderful image of evil overcome and goodness triumphant.

The Psalm also speaks of flourishing palm trees and great cedar trees, trees bearing fruit even in old age, vigorous and sturdy, a testament to God’s goodness and justice. Again, this poetic image brings us confidence in the permanence of God and God’s care for us. We can depend on the eternal security we find with God. We find strength and stability, as well as refreshment and restoration with God.

St. Paul in the 2nd reading speaks as a missionary who has traveled thousands of miles for God, facing multiple threats to his life as well as rejection and ridicule for his faith. He has found that wherever he is, home or away, in life or in death, his goal is to be pleasing to the Lord.   We will all face a final judgment, and all that we have done will be open to view. But that does not frighten us if what we have done has been good and we have led a life in imitation of Christ’s.

In our Gospel, we have two parables about seeds. Both parables deal with the same problem…why things appear as they do if the kingdom of God is indeed present. How can we experience evil and sickness if God is God of the world? We ask the same questions that the people asked of Ezekiel – has God forgotten us? Why is there so much evil, and why is life so difficult?

In the first parable we have today, the Growing Seed, the man sows, he sleeps and rises (this image indicates the passage of time) and then the man harvests the crop. There is every reason to believe the man also tills the soil, weeds, irrigates, and protects the crop while it grows. Ask any farmer – they do not sit idly by and wait for God to do all the work. Likewise, farmers will tell you they do not create the growth. They do the sowing and God begins process of growth.  But the parable says in effect, “The Kingdom is like a farmer who goes about his normal process of sowing seeds in the earth. Then the hand of God produces a plant and its fruit, and then comes the harvest.” It is a process of waiting patiently for the crop to ripen, and only at the right time can the harvest begin. The Kingdom of God will be ripe at the right time; the reign of God will be complete in God’s time.

The parables of the Sower who casts seed on the path and the rocks, in the thorns, and in the good soil, the Growing seed and the Mustard Seed ( all found in the same chapter of Mark) all answer questions and challenges to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom. Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom earlier in this same chapter of Mark when he told the parable of the man who sowed seed on the path and on the rocky ground, in the thorns and on good soil. He told his disciples then, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God…” But the people’s response was, “where?” and “why aren’t we free from Roman rule?” and “why are we still poor?” and “why are bad things still happening?” So Jesus tells us that it’s not a simple thing, this Kingdom. It is not an outward remodeling job of the world, where workers come and repair things on a schedule. Rather, the Kingdom is a total change of human hearts. It is happening at just the right speed, and the passage of time will be necessary. But there was a time of sowing (interpreted as being in the ministry of Jesus), a period of time is necessary for growth (now), and there will be a time of harvest. Traditionally in the Bible, “harvest” is the time of judgment and the end of time. Like the plant growth, some of which is not visible because it happens under the ground, we will not see all that happens during the growth of the Kingdom.

So we do not bring in the kingdom – we are the servants of the King who continue to sow and weed and water and protect, but we are not the cause or creator. Our own lives must follow the same process. God continuously reaches out to us, teaching us to obey, to reach out in love, to better understand the scriptures, to worship with a more pure heart. God is constantly planting the seeds of Godliness in us and others. We must nurture those seeds so that new life may grow within us. The process is slow, often delayed by our own distraction with other things.   The change within us must occur at what we might call a sub-cellular level, which cannot be rushed. I have often wondered, at the rate of one wafer per week, how many years it would take for all of my body cells to be made of Jesus. I haven’t done the math, but I am sure that the answer is, “a lifetime.” The fullness of the kingdom will come when the time is right. We can be confident that God, the cause and creator, is at work and God can and will bring us safely to harvest. Jesus is reassuring us the process is in motion; the goal has been set and will be achieved.

It is easy to become discouraged when we see dishonest people with tremendous wealth and power. It is hard to watch liars and thieves prosper. It makes us angry when we see innocent people suffer, it is terrible to see children shot down in schools. It is hard to watch people loose their savings and freedom to sickness or injuries which might have been prevented. We want to shake our fist at God, question the very existence of God, or demand an explanation of this world which seems filled with evil and injustice. Why would we not question that the kingdom of God is here, now?   How and when will the Kingdom finally overcome everything we judge to be wrong and unfair?   That is the question that we are given an answer for today.

Paul says it best when he writes, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) The Prophet Isaiah says God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), and St. Peter said, “Do not ignore this one fact, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2Peter 3:8-9)

Continue to sow the seeds of love and truth, and believe.

The Metanoia Road

3rd Sunday of Easter, April 15, 201818

Acts 3: 13-15,17-19;  Psalm 4: 2-9;  1John 2: 1-5,  Luke 24: 35-48

I will go out on a limb a little here, and hope that most everyone knows the story in Luke about “the Road to Emmaus”. It’s all in the very last chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Luke tells about a group of at least 5 women finding the tomb open and empty on Easter morning. They told the apostles, but the men did not believe them. That same day, two of Jesus’ followers left Jerusalem and started out, feeling sad and discouraged, on the 7 mile walk to Emmaus. Jesus joined them on their walk, but they didn’t recognize him. Jesus then interpreted the scriptures to them, explaining all that Moses and the many prophets had fore-told about him.

When they arrived at Emmaus, the men eagerly invited him to sit down to eat with them. But when Jesus took the bread and blessed it, they suddenly recognized him, and he disappeared. Usually we end the story with the verse “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked and opened to us the scriptures?” But that is not the end of the story. Our Gospel today is what immediately follows.

Much of the time Jesus spent on earth, as the “historical Jesus” in the Gospels, he spent physically moving about. In a different way, he moved people around a lot too. He moved them from pain and disability to health. He moved people from doubt to belief. He moved people from confusion to clarity. He moved people from sin to grace and mercy. He moved those fishermen right into being fishers of people.

I would define a church as a group of people who want to be moved to love more, to be kinder and more compassionate, to being more generous, to better understanding the Risen Christ in their own lives. And when people choose to make their church a place of that type of movement, something else happens. People want to help other people, people outside of their church group, to move closer to Christ and make all those other good moves, too. And all the people begin to understand that this journey we are on moves along easier with a better understanding of Scripture. It just makes sense to follow Jesus’ lead on this!

So when the two men return to Jerusalem from Emmaus, they share their experience with the Risen Lord with the apostles and other disciples, when suddenly Jesus appears in the room. They don’t understand; they are terrified and Jesus has to show them his hands and feet and have them touch him, and he eats some fish in front of them to prove he is real. And once again, he explains the scriptures. He continues this time, and reminds them that he had told them it was their job now to teach repentance, for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all the nations.

But we have a language problem. “Repent” seems to imply that we have already done something wrong, regret it, and now want to behave differently. But Biblically, this is not all there is to it. In the gospels, the Greek word used for repentance is metanoia. Literally this means to do an about face, to turn around, to face in an entirely new direction.

So, metanoia means to move us beyond our present mindset, beyond our present way of thinking.  To repent is to let the soul, which is the image and likeness of God within us, re-configure us so that we are so overwhelmed with compassion and love that indeed we do turn and change how we think, how we understand, how we order our priorities, and how we react.  We must move past regret focused on our mistakes, and respond like Peter, in our first reading.  He meets some of those men who coerced Pilate into killing an innocent Jesus merely to make the social, economic, and political structure of the day benefit them a little longer.

Amazingly, Peter was so filled with compassion and love that he would joyfully lead them to repent and have their sins wiped away. The Catholic Church leadership was traditionally rooted in Peter, who clearly understood deeply and acted out “All Are Welcome Here – even the murderers of Jesus.”   It is a tradition to be proud of, and continued; to welcome man or woman, clean or addict, poor or rich, whatever color or race or sexual orientation, political affiliation, education level, ignorance quotient and so on and so on.  Only metanoia-style repentance can produce that level of welcome.

By now it is becoming clear that Jesus’ followers have to change. They no longer can be just followers of Jesus. They must begin to preach the Good News of Forgiveness and New Life in Christ. For mature Christians, Scripture and the Eucharist are sources of the necessary strength and connection with Jesus. That is what Jesus left his disciples. But many people today have never studied Scripture or been taught the meaning of the Eucharist. And those people will be the next generation of the church only if we want them to join us on our journey down the metanoia road.

Think about how those disciples felt that night, together with the Risen Christ. What is it they will go and do as a result of this experience? They will build a new “Way” for believers to worship and act out in faith. How were their lives different than before? They become bold and articulate, eager for difficult challenges. The life journey of those two men going to Emmaus Easter Day was certainly very different than the one they had planned. Spiritual leadership is about taking people on a journey, and every single Christian must participate fully in spiritual leadership before their joy will be full. What will be your first step on this journey? Where will you begin?

The Long and Short of Mark 1

6th Sunday in Ordinary time, 2-11-18

Lev 13:1-2, 44-46; Ps: 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

This is the last Sunday before the start of Lent. For the last three weeks, we have had sequential readings from the Gospel of Mark.  In fact, we have read nearly all of Chapter 1.  Mark has given us a great deal of information about Jesus, the purpose and style of his mission, his unique authority to teach and heal, and his intensity and power.  Today, I want to recap these readings, because I believe they are an excellent entry into Lent as well as a very solid base for expanding the ministry of Holy Trinity.

The first 14 verses of Mark tell us about the baptism of Jesus and his time of temptation in the desert. Jesus’ first words recorded by Mark are, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” You will remember that when the ashes are placed on your forehead on Ash Wednesday,  one or both of these things are said, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  (Now we know where that came from.) The second one is not as familiar, maybe because it seems a little vague; we may not be sure what is being asked of us.

If someone calls you and says, “I have good news – our baby boy was born this morning,” you understand that not only is the message good news, but the baby himself is good news. The Jews had waited about 1,000 years for the arrival of the Messiah.  Now, Mark tells us, the Messiah, Jesus, is teaching and healing and present with his people.  Not only do we find the announcement good, but Jesus’ message is good news, as is his very self.  “Gos” means good and “Spel” means story, or news.   Jesus, and all he says and does, is the gospel.   We are to repent and shed our sin along with shedding the attitude of waiting.

Jesus acts this out by calling Simon, Andrew, James and John from their fishing nets, and “immediately” they leave their boats and go with him.   For them to do that was very counter-cultural, even disrespectful of their family, and, frankly, just plan weird, even for us.  When is that last time you put down your pen on your desk and walked away from your job?  Can you imagine the power in Jesus’ command to, “Come with me”?  Have you ever felt anything like that?  Has God ever put that kind of message in your heart?  What would you do to enliven and built up Holy Trinity if that happened to you?

And then, Jesus, along with his followers, went to the synagogue. Jesus teaches there, “as one having authority”…and not just as a scribe, or scholar.  He commands an unclean spirit to leave a man, and it does.  Everyone is astonished and amazed.  Interesting, isn’t it – the unclean spirits know and obey Jesus in an instant, and we, well, often not so much.  Is it because we haven’t grasped what he asks us to do?  Or do we not know him well enough?

Jesus is then on his way to Simon/Peter’s house the same day. He restores Peter’s mother in-law to health; not only health, but a position of dignity and even fame.  As a widow in declining health, she is a burden on the family and is fearful for the future.  Jesus (immediately) “helpers her up”, says Mark.  What an understatement!

She is able to be a hostess who exceeds the high bar of Mediterranean hospitality. The house becomes the site of all kinds of healings, and her own healing will be known as long as the Bible is read.  Her life had been changed, forever different.  Do you doubt that Jesus could change Holy Trinity into a thriving place of worship and impact the community?

Next, Jesus touches a leper and says, “Be made clean.” This story is full of implications. First, the story came to us in Greek, and Greek uses verbs in ways that we don’t.  In this case, “Be made clean” means, “Someone else will make you clean.”  In other words, God is doing the healing.  Jesus is not claiming this power as his own, just as he does not offer to heal the widow, but helps her move away from the sick bed.  It is a great portrayal of Jesus as the obedient and humble son acting as the conduit of God’s power.  We can be the conduit of God’s power, which is often found in humble prayer, worship, and obedience.

Second, just as “a cold” can mean many possible illnesses, a “leper” in that day could have many different skin conditions. But they all had one thing in common: the person had ugly sores on their body.  Any type of physical disfiguration was suspect then, and made the person “ritually unclean”.  No animal with any physical imperfections could be used for sacrifice in the temple.  Likewise, no person with sores could worship in the temple.  To add insult to injury, the cause of illness was presumed to be sin. The person was blamed for their own illness, and they were viewed as moral pollution in the community.

Because it was seen as a “sin” issue, the Priest banished lepers and declared them healed. The isolation and blame could be worse than the sores.  This leper somehow knows and believes in Jesus.  Jesus, evidently, was a cafeteria Jew, because he followed the Jewish law in Leviticus and sent the leper to the priest; but he touched the leper in pity, thereby breaking another law as he restored the man to wholeness.  Jesus put himself at risk of being mobbed by suffering people in hopes of healing.  He told the leper to be silent, not wanting a reputation as a miracle man/ wonder worker.  Remember, he came to urge repentance and belief.  He knew his goal.  What is our goal, here in this parish?

So, to be like Jesus, we must be short on presumption and long on pity. We must be dependent on God’s power and know it.  We must use God’s eyes to see past the sores on skin and see the sores of the heart.  We must focus on our goal and honor the directives of God, not culture.  With prayerful discernment we must be prepared to act for the glory of God when we are called.  Old presumptions may require repentance, and belief may need to be strengthened.  Our path forward as a church may bring us change, but we can trust it will be “Good News”.

Choosing Who Sits Next to Me

 3rd Sunday of  Ordinary  time, January 21, 2018

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm: 25:4-9; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

So let’s start with 2 questions this morning. Who here has ever suffered through a homily that claimed Jonah was a true story?  Given that our Gospel is about Jesus calling apostles, who has been taught the primary topic of our 1st reading is about the call of Jonah as a prophet and how important it is to be obedient to God’s call?

Jonah is a kind of fable; it is like Aesop’s fables in the way it uses fish and cattle to add some humor to it. It’s also like Jesus’ parables, since it is a short story that has a twist in it that we might not see coming. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria (not to be confused with Syria), the most ruthless and feared nation in the Middle East at the time.  The Assyrians destroyed Israel in 721 BC.  They conquered through particularly brutal military tactics, including wholesale slaughter, and are remembered as the first people to attempt to rule the entire world.  That sheds some light on why Jonah was particularly unwilling for this mission.  He likely figured his probability of being tortured and killed upon entering Ninevah about 110%.  Besides, the Assyrians were deeply hated mortal enemies of the Israelites, not people he wanted to sit next to.   God wants to save their souls?  Jonah can’t possibly see this mission as worth his life.

So when God called him, he understandably ran to find the first boat sailing in the opposite direction. Even the sailors, who worshiped idols and nature-type gods, understood Jonah’s God better than Jonah did. It is telling that in his prayer for God’s help, he says, “Those who worship vain idols forsake their source of mercy, but I, with resounding praise, will sacrifice to you, Lord.”   In fact, the sailors found mercy by throwing Jonah into the sea, while vain Jonah neither praised God nor was willing to sacrifice much of anything. The mood is set when the whale “spews Jonah up the shore;” even the whale wants nothing to do with him.

So God tells Jonah, for a 2nd time, to announce the message that God will give him.  God has to give Jonah a script of the message of repentance to read, since Jonah has clearly no desire to save the Assyrians, no interest in sharing the Word of God with them, and no love for them as neighbors. But, wonder of wonders, they repent.  And God forgave them, and decided not to destroy the city.  Jonah was livid with anger and told God off.  “Isn’t this what I told you,” Jonah screamed, “I ran away because I knew you would forgive these scumbags.  Take my life, I can’t endure this.”  He simply couldn’t accept that the Assyrians had destroyed his homeland and killed so many innocent people without a thought, yet God would forgive them because they repented.

There is still more history behind this hatred. Israel had lapsed into worshiping idols again before the Assyrians overran their county.  The prophet Amos had warned the Israelites that unless they repented, God would not protect them and they would be taken captive.  Amos had a very personal way of explaining it to them: God can’t dwell with you any more than a man can maintain a true marriage with his wife who commits adultery.  Still, the Israelites reasoned, weren’t the Israelites God’s Chosen People?  Didn’t God love only them?  Didn’t God at least have to protect them because they had the Temple, the priesthood, the Ark?

So, after Ninevah prayed for mercy and did acts of penance – the King, all the people, even the cattle and the sheep wore sackcloth to express their grief – Jonah still sat and waited for God to come to his senses and destroy the city of Nineveh.  At first, God had a large plant grow up around Jonah to protect him from the sun.  The next day, as an object lesson, God had a worm destroy the plant, and Jonah became faint from the heat, and he told God he was so angry about the plant dying that he was angry enough to die.  God’s response is this: “You pity the plant, although you did nothing to grow it and only had it for one day. Then should I not pity a great city of 120,000 people, and their cattle, which didn’t know any better?”  One part of the lesson is: God’s mercy and love are not only for all people, but all of his creation.

.Jonah was so absorbed in his self-righteousness and pity, he was not longer rational. How did Jonah get so confused?  That is the other and primary point of this story.  Not quite 100 years after the Assyrian invasion of Israel, the Babylonians invaded, and leveled the country, again, taking most of the people captive, again, for some 40 years.  The people left behind were the poor and marginalized, who then intermarried with other tribes in the area.  These became the people called the “Samaritans.”  (Note: the Babylonians also leveled Nineveh.)

When the Israelites were released to return from captivity, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, a strong and narrow-minded Jewish nationalism developed. People were required to prove by lineage that they were “pure” Jews, and those with mixed lineage, like the Samaritans, were barred from participating in government or religious life.  Prior to this, a person could become an Israelite by marriage or coming to live and participate in the community.  But by the 4th Century BC, Israel had closed in on itself, no longer sharing their faith.  This story is a call for Israel to repent, and to preach and practice God’s mercy and forgiveness.  By putting a mirror up in front of the people, the writer hopes to show them the folly of their faults and bring them to repentance for their sins of exclusivity and hatred.

Jonah is a 4th Century BC teaching story with lots of implications for today’s world.  It is the story of love and gentleness as the one successful response to hatred.   It is a lesson of the faithfulness of God and how faithfulness is required from us to be able to walk with God in right relationship.  It is about when nationalism goes far beyond civic pride and falls into unwarranted presumption of privilege, particularly privilege which degrades others.

Every day is “the time of fulfillment, the Kingdom of God is at hand”, Jesus told us.  We also need to stop and repent of those sins we only recognize when we see them in others.   One of the reasons Jesus was surrounded by disciples was to give us people to relate to.  We can better hear Jesus’ teachings by identifying with the disciples mistakes.

And that means we all need to become increasingly aware of not only what we do but what we do not do.   I see pictures of refugee camps and starving children daily, yet I live very comfortably.  What I do not do speaks very loudly to me.  Do I think I am more valuable than a child dying of starvation and cholera in Yemen?  Does God find people in one nation innately more loveable than elsewhere?  Being God’s chosen people brings greater responsibility, not greater privilege.  Just a few blocks from us, around Coates Elementary School, live a lot of people who God chooses, too.  Perhaps they should be here, sitting next to us?

Homily December 17, 2017 the 3rd Sunday of Advent

advent wreathToday our gospel again meets John the Baptist. Our gospel this week is from the gospel of John and the first human we meet in this gospel is John the Baptist. He is quite a sight living in the desert, rough and ready, dressed in camel hair with a leather belt. As the son of Zechariah, who you might remember he was a priest and thus so was John. They would have been considered rural priests, not part of the aristocratic wealthy priests of Jerusalem. The first thing the Jerusalem priests did was to send investigators to see what he was up to. In Jesus’ time, there were large groups of alienated priests around and they opposed the Jerusalem priests and the subservience to Rome. They were considered problems 2advent2who didn’t follow the law. But for the most part it was the luxury of the Jerusalem priests who set the “rural” priests aside. John by his dress and life style was out of their control, but he was preaching and drawing crowds. So we see in today’s gospel that they immediately challenge and examine John, Who are you? What are you, a prophet? Are you Elijah? Are you THE prophet? Then finally Who are you? What are we to tell those who sent us?

John answers that he is Isaiah voice crying in the desert. He is calling for repentance and baptises those ready to repent of their sins. He is a witness for the one to come. His interrogators clearly understood what he was about and of course the Jerusalem priests were not happy. The point is, that John like Mark uses John the Baptist to introduce us to Jesus and thus the readings blend in with 4-advent-5our sense of waiting and preparation for our coming Christmas day. John’s baptism should remind us of our own baptism and the fact that as John said we have been baptised with the Holy Spirit. Christmas reminds us that Christ came and offered his whole life and self for all of us for the forgiveness of sins. We should be thankful and share that love in this Christmas season.