Sunday, July 25, 2021

9 Pentecost

 


July 25, 2021

 

2 Kings 4.42-44; John 6.1-21

 

+ Occasionally, I preach about things I really enjoy preaching about, and sometimes about things I don’t really enjoy preaching about.

 

Well, today, I get to preach about something I really LOVE to preach about.

 

I love to preach about the that one event that holds us together here at St. Stephen’s, that sustains us and that, in many ways, defines us.

 

I am, of course, speaking of the Holy Eucharist—Holy Communion.

 

I LOVE to preach about and explore and talk about the Mystery that is the Eucharist.

 

I love pondering the beauty of why what we do with bread and wine here at this altar is so important to us, to vital to us.

 

I love thinking about all the ways God works through this meal we share here.

 

But, I also really like the “symbolism” of the Eucharist, and I use that word  “symbol” very carefully.

 

If we were going to look at the Eucharist from the perspective of those first Jewish followers of Jesus, we would see that this bread we share at this meal is essentially the Lamb that was offered on the altar, and this cup is the blood that was shed from that lamb.

 

Jesus, as we all know, has become the Lamb that was offered and slain on that altar as a sacrifice.

 

(Certainly that is how Jesus saw his role) 

 

So, what we do today and on every Sunday and Wednesday is a continuation of what was offered in the Temple in Jesus’ own day.

 

We tend to forget this important fact in our Christian life.

 

We forget that this is a meal we share with one another.

 

We often come to Communion without really thinking about it.

 

We often think of Communion as a quaint little ritual we do, sort of like a Church-version of a tea party.

 

But when we put the Eucharist in the larger perspective of our history as the people of God, we realize that every time we partake of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we are joining in at that sacrificial worship that has gone for thousands of years.

 

This is the sacrifice of wine and wheat we hear about in the book of Joel.

 

Now, I know some of you immediately find ourselves bristling when you hear the word “sacrifice” here.

 

Sacrifice and the Mass seem a bit too…Catholic..for some.

 

But it is a sacrifice.

 

What we do here is sacrificial.

 

 

And just to make sure you don’t think this is one of Fr. Jamie’s weird, quirky takes on what we do here, I would like to draw your attention once again to the Book of Common Prayer, in the back, in the Catechism.

 

On page 859

 

The second question under “The Holy Eucharist” is,

 

 

Q.

Why is the Eucharist called a sacrifice?

A.

Because the Eucharist, the Church's sacrifice of praise and 
thanksgiving, is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is 
made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering 
of himself.

 

So, the Eucharist is this incredible thing really.

 

It is a meal.

 

It is a “symbol” of the sacrifice of Jesus.

 

It is a way to remember Jesus and all he has done.

 

All this just goes to show us this wonderful way in which God works through something very basic in our lives to make something deep and meaningful.

 

Namely, I am talking about food.

 

Nothing draws us closer to each other than food.

 

Food is an important way to bond with each other.

 

And food a great reminder of how God truly does provide for us.

 

Our scriptures for today give us some interesting perspectives on food as well.

 

In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Elisha feeding the people.

 

We hear this wonderful passage, “He set it before them, they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.”

 

It’s a deceptively simple passage from scripture.

 

But there’s a lot of depth to it too if you really ponder it.

 

In our Gospel reading, we find almost the same event.

 

Jesus—in a sense the new Elisha—is feeding miraculously the multitude.

 

And by feeding, by doing a miracle, they recognize him for who he is.

 

For them, he is “the Prophet who has come into their midst.”

 

For us, these stories resonate in what we do here at the altar.

 

What we partake of here at this altar is essentially the same event.

 

Here we are fed by God as well.

 

Here there is a miracle.

 

Here, we find God’s chosen one, the “Prophet come to us” Jesus—the new Elisha—feeding us.

 

We come forward and we eat.

 

And there is some left over.

 

The miracle, however, isn’t that there is some left over.

 

The miracle for us is the meal itself.

 

In this meal we share, we are sustained.

 

We our strengthened.

 

We are upheld.

 

We are fed in ways regular food does not feed us.

 

There is something so beautiful in the way God works through the Eucharist.

 

This beautifully basic act—of eating and drinking—is so vital to us as humans.

 

But being sustained spiritually in such a way is beyond beautiful or basic.

 

It is miraculous.

 

And as with any miracle, we find ourselves oftentimes either humbled or blind to its impact in our lives.

 

This simple act is not just a simple act.

 

It is an act of coming forward, of eating and drinking, and then of turning around and going out into the world to feed others.

 

To feed others on what we now embody within ourselves—this living sacrifice to God.

 

And how do we do that?

 

We do that by serving others by example.

 

By being that living Bread to others.

 

The Eucharist not simply a private devotion.

 

Yes, it is a wonderfully intimate experience.

 

But it is so more than that.

 

The Eucharist is what we do together.

 

And the Eucharist is something that doesn’t simply end when we get back to our pews or leave the Church building.

 

The Eucharist is what we carry with us throughout our day-to-day lives as Christians.

 

The Eucharist empowers us to be agents of the Incarnation of God’s Son.

 

We are empowered by this Eucharist to be the Body of Christ to others.

 

Through the Eucharist, we become God’s anointed ones in this world.

 

And that is where this whole act of the Eucharist comes together.

 

It’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.

 

When we see it from that perspective, we realize that this really is a miracle in our lives—just as miraculous as what Elisha did and certainly as miraculous as what Jesus did in our Gospel reading for today.

 

So, let us be aware of this beauty that comes so miraculously to us each time we gather together here at this altar.

 

The Eucharist is an incredible gift given to us by our God.

 

Let us embody God’s anointed One, the Christ, whom we encounter here in this Bread and Wine.

 

Let us, by being fed so miraculously, be the actual Body of Christ to others.

 

Let us feed those who need to be fed.

 

Let us sustain those who need to be sustained.

 

And let us be mindful of the fact that this food of which we partake has the capabilities to feed more people and to change more lives than we can even begin to imagine.

 

Let us pray.

Holy God, you sustain us. You give us manna from heaven each time we come before your altar—food that sustains our souls, food that makes us what we eat—the Body of your Christ in this world. Help us to go out from here to feed others with this manna, this Bread of heaven you have given us, so that the world may be truly fed. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our true Bread. Amen.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

8 Pentecost

 


July 18, 2021

 

Jeremiah 23.1-6; Psalm 23; Mark 6.30-34, 53-56

 

+ We’re going to see how closely you paid attention to the scripture readings this morning.

 

Don’t you just love it when your priest starts out the sermon like this?

 

OK, so without looking at your bulletin: if there was a theme to our scripture reading what would it be?

 

And there is, most definitely, a theme.

 

Shepherding is the theme.

 

Today we are getting our share of Shepherd imagery in the Liturgy of the Word.

 

In the reading from the Hebrew Bible, we get Jeremiah giving a warning to the shepherds who destroy and scatter, and on the other hand, a promise of shepherds who will truly shepherd, without fear or dismay.

 

In our psalm, we have the old standard, Psalm 23, that has consoled us and upheld us through countless funerals and other difficult times in our lives.

 

In our Gospel reading, we hear Jesus having compassion on the people who were like sheep without a shepherd.

 

Certainly shepherds are one of the most prevalent occupations throughout scripture.

 

And because we hear about them so often, I think we often take the occupation for granted.

 

We don’t always fully take into account the meaning shepherds had for the writers of these books or even for ourselves.

 

Shepherds have been there from almost the beginning.

 

The first shepherd in scripture is, of course, Adam and Eve’s son, Abel. (his brother Cain was a farmer)

 

And throughout scripture, the shepherd has been held up as an example—both good and bad.

 

Certainly the reason shepherds were used as examples as they were was because it was a profession most people of that time and in that place would have understood.

 

People would have understood the importance of the shepherd in sustaining the flock, in caring for the flock and leading and helping the flock.

 

And people would definitely understand what would happen if a flock didn’t have a shepherd.

 

They would lost.

 

They would be at whim of nature and storms.

 

They would have no one to lookout after them.

 

They would have no one to be there for them, protecting them and guiding them.

 

No wonder Jesus had compassion on those people who went about like sheep without a shepherd.

 

The shepherd and the role of a shepherd is so important that scripture truly does see God as our ultimate Shepherd.

 

In the Gospels Jesus shows the way for us embody this aspect of God’s goodness in our life.

 

Just as God is the Good Shepherd, so is Jesus himself  the Good Shepherd.

 

And Jesus as Jesus is the Good Shepherd, so are each of us called to be Good Shepherds.

 

We know that there are people out there who need someone.

 

There are people who are alone, and scared, and aimless.

 

There are people who have no direction in their lives.

 

There are people who are truly lonely, who feel abandoned and who are without anyone to care for them.

 

It is our job to embody our God who is a Good Shepherd and be that person in their lives, to be good shepherds to others.

 

Even if we ourselves often feel lost or abandoned or alone as well in our lives.

 

When we, as followers of Jesus, feel abandoned and lonely and aimless, we know full well who it is that guides us, who it is that loves, who it is that looks out after us.

 

But there are many people in the world who do not have that consolation in their lives.

 

And it is when we encounter those people that we must step in and be a Good Shepherd to them.

 

Now, you see now why shepherding is not something taken lightly in scripture.

 

Still, even for us, all this talk of shepherds might not really click.

 

After all, most of us have probably never even met a shepherd and, to be honest, I am not even certain there are shepherds anymore in this industrialized age of electric tagging of animals and night-vision monitoring.

 

I once preached that exact same sentiment in a sermon here at St. Stephen’s on a Good Shepherd Sunday years ago.

 

As I said that, a person who visiting very slowly raised their hand.

 

Now, when I’m preaching and something like that happens, I am wary.

 

I never know where such a thing is going to go.

 

Is this someone who is going to try to highjack my sermon?

 

Is this someone who going to correct me or contradict me?

 

Anyway, I did stop and motioned to this person.

 

And they said, “Actually, I worked as a shepherd. I worked for years as a shepherd. And you’re’ right. It’s just like that. It is a matter of genuinely caring for our sheep, of leading them and protecting them from predators. And sheep in turn know their shepherd. They listen to their voice and know it. And they respond.”

 

I loved that. That was truly a mini-sermon in and of itself.

 

I loved that this person who was just passing through Fargo and stopped at our church shared that.

 

So, how does the image of the shepherd have meaning for us—citified people that we are?

 

Well, for us it does mean, as I said last week, that to be a truly effective leader, you must first be a follower.

 

To truly be a good shepherd, you have to know what a Good Shepherd is, what a Good Shepherd DOES.

 

You must know what makes a shepherd good, and then embody that goodness.

 

For us, we see what a Good Shepherd is.

 

In our scriptures readings, we see that God truly was a Good Shepherd to those who loved God and sought to be God’s people.

 

We find Jesus also preaching about God being a Good Shepherd, who then, in turn, becomes a Good Shepherd to us.  

 

In this way we learn.

 

In this way we are experiencing the Shepherd in a beautiful and wonderful way.

 

We are receiving all that the Shepherd promises, so that we can go out and be good  shepherds ourselves to those who need us.

 

We know that all we do is not all about just us.

 

We know that when we are good shepherds to others, we bring the very Kingdom of God in our midst.

 

Fed by our Good Shepherd, we can go out and feed others.

 

Sustained by our Good Shepherd, we then can sustain others.

 

Served by our Good Shepherd, we can then serve others. .

 

When we are weak, when we are beaten down, when we are pursued by the wolves of our lives, we know that we are protected and cared for and looked after.

 

When we are wearied by the strain and exhaustion of our everyday worlds, we know that someone is there, guiding us to a place of refreshment and rest.

 

But again, it’s not just about us. About ME.

 

We must, in turn, be good shepherds to those who need a shepherd.

 

We have to go out face our jobs, our broken relationships, our ungrateful families, the prejudice and homophobia and sexism and racism and fundamentalism and violence of that seemingly at-times unpleasant world in which we live.  

 

And in the face of those things, we must be good.

 

We must lead others through those pitfalls.

 

But we do so knowing that we are led and sustained. .

 

We face the unshepherded world shepherded.

 

“I will raise up shepherds,” God says in our reading from Jeremiah today. “And they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.”

 

That hope is what we carry with us as we go forward from here.

 

We are the shepherds that are raised up.

 

And we, and those we serve, shall not fear any longer.

 

We and those we serve will not be dismayed.

 

Nor shall any of us be missing or lost because our Great Shepherd truly does love us and know us and care for us.

 

Let us pray.

Holy God, Good Shepherd, guide as we are meant to be led. Feed us with the food from your hand. Protect us with your staff. And hold us close in your love. Help us to trust in you and remind that, in doing so, we will be led the finest pastures, where we will dwell with you forever. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

7 Pentecost

 


July 11, 2021

 

Ephesians 1.3-14; Mark 6.14-29

 

+ When I was a kid, there was a taunt that we could use against one another that really got us at our core.

 

I don’t know why this word did that to us.

 

It’s a pretty innocent term.

 

But it did.

 

The word was—“chicken.”

 

If we wavered, if we lost heart, that word, “chicken” was hurled at us with force.

 

“Stop being so chicken!”

 

Even now, after all these years, I have to admit: the word still holds some weight.

 

It can still  provoke me.

 

Well, these past few weeks we’ve been hearing in our scripture readings about prophecy and how it is not always a fun and enjoyable thing.

 

Let’s face it.

 

Prophecy is not for chickens.

 

Look at our Gospel reading for today.

 

Poor John the Baptist.

 

He paid the price for his prophecies.

 

And many of us fear the ramifications of those who do not like the fact that the prophecies of change are coming true.

 

But for those who are standing in the way of this overwhelming change, there’s no denying the fact.

 

Change is happening.

 

And it needs to happen.

 

Because this change shows that to be a follower of Jesus in this world means that we have to be looking forward.

 

We have to be looking into the future.

 

A future in which all people in this church are treated equally and fairly and inclusively.

 

We have to be visionaries.

 

And, as I say over and over again,  we have to prophets.

 

We have to exploring new ways to be those followers of Jesus in this day and age.

 

Being a follower of Jesus means being people of change.

 

Being a follower of Jesus means we are constantly looking for new ways to live out that radical following after Jesus.

 

Being a follower of Jesus means that we are constantly looking for new ways to be radical in our acceptance of all people.

 

Because that is exactly what Jesus did.

 

What we see happening in our Church frightnow is a kind of fulfillment of what Paul talks about in his Epistle this morning to the Ephesians:

 

“With all wisdom and insight,” Paul writes, “[God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

 

Isn’t it amazing how that scripture speaks to us?

 

And it’s true.

 

God has made known to us the mystery of this incredible will of God, to gather up all things in Christ, things here on this earth and things in heaven.

 

Later in on our reading today, Paul talks about our inheritance as followers of Jesus and as Children of God.

 

This Gospel of our salvation is, for Paul, “the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people…”

 

We, all of us—no matter who we are—are inheritors.

 

And because we are, all of us, no matter who are, are Children of the same God.

 

And as a children of that God, we are co-inheritors.

 

Now, again, that’s not new to us here at St. Stephen’s

We have been proclaiming this here at St. Stephen’s all along.

 

And it is good to know that the larger Church is proclaiming this and is working toward the goal of being that kind of a Church—being a fulfillment of that scripture.

 

Of course, not everyone agrees in the same way about what being inheritors of the Kingdom is.

 

But, that’s the way it is going to be sometime with prophets in our midst.

 

Sometimes the prophecies are heeded and proclaimed and sometimes they are resisted.

 

Our job as followers of Jesus is not vilify those who think differently than we do.

 

Those who may oppose us and scold us and punish us for what we are doing are not our enemies.

 

They are our fellow co-inheritors.

 

They’re just more jealous of their inheritance than some of the rest of us.

 

For me, I am have no problem sharing my inheritance with everyone.

 

And I think many of us this morning feel that way.

 

Our job is continue to do what we have always done—to joyfully love and accept everyone in love, even those with whom we differ.

 

Our job as followers of Jesus and inheritor’s of God’s Kingdom is to continue to welcome every person who comes to us as a loved and fully accepted Child of that same God.

 

Our job is to be radical in our love and acceptance of others, no matter who they are.

 

And our job as followers of Jesus is to see every person who comes to us as Jesus sees that person.

 

And Jesus sees those people—and all of us—as loved.

 

Loved fully and completely by God.

 

This is not easy to do.

 

It is not easy being a prophet—of proclaiming God’s Good News to others.

 

Sometimes we might even find ourselves tempted to resist this weighty calling of ours.

 

Certainly, in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures today, we find Amos resisting his call to be a prophet.

 

Amos says, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people…”

 

I love that scripture.

 

Because it is speaking to each and every one of us.

 

Here we are, in our jobs, in our day-to-day lives.

 

And God is calling each of us to prophesy to God’s people.

 

To prophesy this radical love and acceptance.

 

To prophesy the fact that we when we love each other and accept each other, the Kingdom of God that each of as children of God are inheritors of, will break through into our midst.

 

You have heard me say this again and again: I believe that an effective leader must first be an effective follower.

 

And as Christians, who are followers of Jesus, we also must, in turn, be leaders to each other and to others.

 

Each of us must be leaders and prophets to those we are called to serve.

 

We of course have a choice.

 

We can be despotic leaders who use and abuse and mistreat the people we are called to serve.

 

We have certainly seen A LOT of those in the Church and in society.

 

Or we can be humble leaders as Jesus himself was a humble leader—a leader who realizes that to be an effective leader one must serve.

 

In those moments it’s helpful to have coping skills to get us through the journey—and to do so without disrespecting or hurting those we encounter on the journey.

 

So, let us cling to this prophetic ideal of leadership.

 

Let us be the prophet, the listener, the spiritual friend, the inheritor, the seeker, the includer, the loved child of God.

 

Let us be the visionary to see that change is happening.

 

Change is happening.

 

It’s happening right now.

 

Right here.

 

Change is in the air.

 

Change for the better.

 

Change for a revitalized Church built on love and respect for God and for each other.

 

It is not the time to chicken out.

 

It is not the time to bow to pressure.

 

It is not a time to compromise, or to rest on our laurels.

 

It is time to keep on working, to keep on standing up for who we are, to keep on being prophets, to keep on furthering the Kingdom of God in our midst.

 

Because, look!

 

It’s so close.

 

It’s right there, just within our grasp.

 

It’s almost too incredible to even imagine.

 

I almost can’t wait for it anymore…

 

Let us pray.

Holy and loving God, you have instilled in us a vision of the way things should be—a world, a people and a Church formed as you intended them to be. Help us to bring this vision to pass. Instill in us a desire to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with you and those you call us to serve. All this we ask in Jesus’ Name. Amen.