Sermon Archive

SERMON: Passion Sunday (Apr 13)

Category: News, Sermon Tags: April 13, 2014 @ 9:00 am

staff-wilsonPastor Franklin Wilson

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 27:11-54

“It is the Lord God who helps me, who will declare me guilty?”
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Pilate asked, “What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”  All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”

Today’s readings help distinguish between Christ and Christianity.  Christian faith confesses God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit):  God the Father, who creates all that is, was, and ever will be; God the Son who died and was raised to save and redeem all that is, was, and ever will be; and God the Holy Spirit who enlivens all that is, was, and ever will be—giving faith when and where the Spirit pleases.  Christians believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob enfleshed as the Jew, Jesus, inspired by the Spirit.  Christian faith confesses Jesus Christ as the fulcrum of history, the true meaning of life. Christianity is a religious abstraction.Passion Sunday and Holy Week are not about the trial, suffering, and death of a religious abstraction like Christianity.  Passion Sunday and Holy Week proclaim the trial, suffering, and death of a single Jew, a first century person:  Jesus of Nazareth, unjustly put to death on account of human jealousy, cowardice, and pride.

The torturous humiliation of Jesus exceeds cowardly injustice.  Jesus’ death is more than the murder of one individual.  Both the Gospel and St. Paul depict Jesus as a willing coconspirator in his own humiliation, suffering, and death.  Writing perhaps a quarter century before Matthew, Paul relates Christ’s passion and death in a poetic hymn:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

Paul makes no mention of cowardly Pilate.  He writes not a single word of those who mocked Jesus, spit on him, struck, whipped, and nailed him.  Yet, Paul was a first century Roman citizen who knew what “the cross” meant.  Death by crucifixion was not a solitary exercise; no one ever committed suicide by crucifixion.  Crucifixion was a community homicide and, in the case of Jesus, it involved a cast of hundreds if not thousands: everyone from Pilate the cowardly governor (and his anxious wife), to the priests, people, soldiers, passersby, and criminals—the crucified and the one released.

Yet Paul mentions none of these.  The only character mentioned is Jesus—the very One God “highly exalted”—and “gave the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”  Jesus is the center of Paul’s hymn: he did not grasp equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born a human being; and, as such, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross.

We might say “Passion Sunday is all about Jesus.”  And, in some sense, this is most certainly true.  And yet, it’s somehow both more and less than “all about Jesus.”  Christ’s passion is the essence of who Jesus is and what he does.  We don’t need to know all about Jesus—his historical milieu, his manner of speech, the number of his siblings, or the fate of his earthly father, Joseph.  All that might be interesting, but it’s of no lasting value.  Today, with Isaiah, and Paul, and Matthew, we simply pour out our wonder, our incredulity, our perplexity that this one man in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be used for his own benefit—but for ours and for all others.  We have never known another like him, and we never shall.  No one ever shall.  There is not now, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be, another like him.

Christ is unique—not in his biological flesh, blood, bones, and skin —in these he was and is as we are: human.  But he is unique in his person.  God opened his ear and he was not rebellious.  He did not turn backward, but gave himself completely into the hands of those who beat, tortured, humiliated, and killed him.  He did this not for financial gain, nor political opportunity, nor for any personal advantage.  He didn’t do it for Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other religious abstraction —he did it out of obedience to the point of death.  He did it out of love—his love for all, his love for them, love for his betrayers, for those who mocked, beat, and humiliated him; he did it for his killers.  He did it for his Father.  He did it for us.

SERMON: 4 Lent (Mar 30)

Category: News, Sermon Tags: April 2, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

staff-wilsonPastor Franklin Wilson

Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

“The Lord does not see as mortals see.”
“For you were once darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light….”
“Neither this man sinned nor his parents; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Suffice it to say that the long Gospel readings this Lent did not culminate last Sunday in John 4, but lengthen today, and will continue to do so at least through the raising of Lazarus on Lent 5.  But, then, “lengthen” is said to form the root of our word “Lent,” an assertion perhaps supported by our neighbors in Philadelphia, many of whom still persist in pronouncing “length” as “lenth.”  The Lenten Gospel, thus, increases in length with the lengthening light of Spring.  While Lent (as a liturgical season) may not celebrate longer days, it does (at least in Northern climes) observe greater and greater light as it leans toward the rising Light of Christ at the Vigil of Easter.

How happy, then, that this Gospel for the 4th Sunday in Lent should proclaim Christ, the Light of the world.  Here in John 9, we hear Jesus say, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  And, if Ephesians is to be believed, baptized into Christ we are now “in the Lord …” and have, therefore, been made children of light.  In other words, by means of our baptismal participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, by virtue of our being both in Christ and in the world, Christ Jesus himself remains in the world as the light of the world.

Nonetheless, as the Light of world, Christ’s presence manifests itself in relation to conflict, blindness, mud, opacity, and division.  Here in John 9, the very gift of sight to the man born blind becomes an occasion for religious argument, conflict, accusation, and separation.  It’s not only that the man born blind “sees,” but that the religious leaders who “see” cannot perceive that the one who made mud, put it on the blind man’s eyes, and told him to wash, is himself the Light of the world, the Son of Man, the Messiah in the flesh.  From the first of his gospel, John has said that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not comprehended it.”  Darkness is not merely the absence of sunlight, but an opacity of mind and heart in the presence of eternal light—a blind ignorance, learned (perhaps) of scriptures and knowledgeable of religious law, even possessing 20/20 vision, but unable to perceive the Light of life shining brighter than a thousand suns.  It’s what the Catechism terms “invincible ignorance,” a pernicious form of self-righteousness masquerading as authority, invariably exercised as abusive power, leading to disaster, injustice, and death.  Invincible ignorance demands the Son of man be lifted up on the cross.  Invincible ignorance often manifests itself as religious blindness, but it might also appear as religiously anti-religious like the freedom from religion movement, or overflowing with scientism’s false confidence, the pseudo–superiority of intellectual pretence.  Such self-assurance kills Jesus for earnest religious reasons:  he violates Sabbath law, our self-pretentious ways.  The authorities say, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.”  Really?

John’s Gospel routinely speaks of “the Jews,” and especially with reference to characters conflicted with Jesus.  But, in this chapter, every character is Jewish—the blind man, his parents, the Pharisees, Jesus, and the “others.”  “The Jews” cannot mean all Jewish people, but must designate the invincibly ignorant religious authorities who condemn what Jesus does, and especially in connection with Sabbath observance—although ancient rabbis disagree about what constitutes proper observance of Sabbath. Some hold that healing on the Sabbath is acceptable, but others do not.  In any case, “the Jews” in John must in some sense stand for us, for all humankind, when we blindly cling to literal law even when it fails to protect those who suffer.

Amid persistent religious blindness, God sacrifices his only Son.  The crucifixion of Jesus is an improbable therapy for a world gone wrong: like putting mud on a blind man’s eyes.  Christ’s cross is mud on a blind world’s eyes.  On account of who he is—the Light of the world—Jesus could make mud see; he could give sight to someone born without any eyes!  The therapeutic use of mud (dirt and spit/water) calls Genesis to mind, and a new creation come round at last.  Only now—by means of a cross—not only does a man born blind receive his sight, but the whole world receives salvation, eternal life is born, and those who claim invincible insight—their sin remains—that they too might become blind, be forgiven and made new through by means of muddy faith in the crucified and risen Christ, and thereby reveal the works of God.

In every season of life, the crucified and risen Christ enlightens all who suffer loss, who cannot of themselves see a way forward, and yet through the blindness of faith see hope in the crucified Christ, the Light of the world, the One no darkness can grasp, comprehend, or overcome.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

3 Lent (Mar 23)

Category: Sermon Tags: March 24, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

staff-wilsonPastor Franklin Wilson

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

The people quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

“For while were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly…. God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

“Salvation is from the Jews.”

Paul turns religion inside out.  Popular assumption generally runs something like, “If we just do the right thing, embrace spirituality, pray the right prayer, and demonstrate our essential goodness, then the powers will respect us, and save us, and take us to heaven when we die.”  Of course, pious materialistic hearts corrupt even this corruption into something like, “If we do what’s right, obey the rules, say and do religious things, welcome Jesus (or something else pleasing to ourselves) something that expresses our own tastes, goals, and desires, then God will love us, and make us rich, fulfill all our desires, and take us into his heavenly mansion when we die.”  This corruption, in large part, gets passed off as successful Christianity—one of the many reasons our fellow human beings would rather watch a game on Sunday, go shopping, or belong to the booster club, or just “do my own thing.”  When the church becomes one more self-indulgent club, why not chose the self-indulgent club I like best?  When “religion” becomes a matter of personal taste, then religion will, sooner or later, taste bad, or boring, or offensive.

Therefore, Paul the Apostle bears an even more offensive word:  Jesus the Christ is not God’s gift for good religious people, but for sinners:  “God proves his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  As Christ himself says elsewhere, “I came not for those who are well, but for those who are sick”—here, “sick’s” another synonym for “sinful,” off the mark, against God, contrary, self-occupied, like Israel in the wilderness.

Israel had cried and begged God to save them from slavery in Egypt. God heard their cry, and sent Moses to lead them through the sea. Their response?  Blame Moses: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”  Of course, they were tired, and thirsty, and (besides) who wants to camp for 40 years?  Maybe they had a point.  And yet, the First Lesson bears a truth: we’re rarely, if ever, satisfied and will blame anybody (even God!) for our problems.

That’s the remarkable thing about the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel:  she doesn’t blame anybody.  She admits to her “colorful” history, acknowledges she’s not exactly living a righteous life, and genuinely desires “that living water.”  Like Israel in the wilderness, she begs for water: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”  She desires an end to her thirst, and yet her thirst leads her to living water “welling up to eternal life.”

In some ways, the woman embodies what Paul articulates:  the dynamic relationship between suffering and hope.  Had the woman not suffered through five husbands, and (one imagines) the accompanying condemnation, had she lived a more successful life, been comfortably married, living in the suburbs, and a member of a women’s Bible study, she might not have had to visit the well in the middle of the day when a strange man happened to be sitting there weary, thirsty, and willing to engage her.  Paul says, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance character, and character hope.”  The Samaritan woman’s pain moves her closer to hope—not that suffering is desirable—but because it can bring us to our senses, reorient us, and (as Walker Percy says) it can enable us to come to ourselves—come nearer to recognizing our true selves, that we’re made for God, that we’ve made a mess of ourselves, and that God has given his only Son to die for us.

Still, for the 4th Gospel, the Samaritan woman is less an example to follow than a window through whom we might see ourselves in relation to Christ as Gift.  He’s the living water she craves.  He sits with her, engages her in conversation, knows her and her story, and even reveals his true identity to her—an identity she (perhaps on account of her ‘non-messianic’ Samaritan tradition) cannot grasp (“He cannot be the Messiah can he?”).  Jesus reveals himself to an unclean, foreign, woman!   An event unique not only in 4th Gospel—but in all the Gospels.

The woman embodies Paul’s teaching, “God proves his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  This is an essentially anti-religious message.  Christ is God’s gift for sinners.  Christ is God’s truth.  Christ is Spirit and truth.  Christ is water in the wilderness—not because we’re good, but because we are sinners, unrighteous, and wrong.  Unlike the Samaritan woman, we may not look it—but we are.  And, in this truth, lies our hope:  Christ died to save sinners.  There’s living water in that well, and his name is Jesus.  He is God’s gift in Baptism, and not only in Lent, but in every season of life, and especially when we have gone wrong.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Holy Spirit.

1 Lent (Mar 9)

Category: Sermon Tags: March 13, 2014 @ 10:00 am

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Pastor Franklin Wilson

Genesis 2:15-17; 3.1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

“….for in the day you eat of it, you shall die.”

“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.

“He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.”

It’s tempting to think God doesn’t care, that God doesn’t sweat small stuff like the numbers of hairs on your head, or which sparrows fall from the sky.  It’s reasonable to think that God—to the degree we think of God—that God wouldn’t bother with, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”  Does God really care which particular fruit we eat?

Of course, it’s not that God couldn’t say such things—I imagine God must be able to say whatever God pleases—and yet, does God really expect us to believe that the God who created all that is, the God who set the planets in their orbits, the sun and moon in their places, and the stars in their courses, that this almighty God, the God of majestic holiness and eternal imagination would or should have any interest in what we or any other human actually eats?

Well, in fact (I mean technically), the three great ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian) make no mention of diet—no omnivore’s dilemma, herbivore’s delight, or vegan’s volition.  That fact is, at least in classic creedal terms, what Eve and Adam ate (never mind us) is of no account.  We’re free to stuff ourselves with all the fried cheese curds, burgers, shakes, and fries we want; we can devour shellfish and drink blood to our hearts’ content.  If we can swallow it, we’re free to chew dog and cat as well as pork, chicken, beef, and fish—fried, roasted, poached, or raw, in any and all combinations.  True, in some spheres, the Church has promoted, to one degree or another, disciplines like abstaining from meat during Lent, and also on Fridays throughout the year. Yet, these are (generally) not considered matters of fundamental faith, but rather practices of discipline, devotion, and obedience.

But it’s precisely here, in matters of obedience, that today’s readings address us:  “For just as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  Whether God cares which fruit, fish or meat we eat appears secondary.  The matter turns not so much on the particulars of diet, as the quality of obedience/disobedience.  Were our mythic parents—were Adam and Eve—obedient to God or not?  Do we obey God or not?  Are we truly obedient?  Or do we merely pretend?  Might obedience appear differently in fact than it does in faith? For instance, I might eat the bread of Communion (what Christ commands) for genuine or disingenuous reasons.   I might in fact appear obedient, yet in faith be covertly disobedient.  I might say I believe, but merely act out of some need to please religious convention, or the person I love, or my own perverse whim.

The First Reading, the Genesis story, understands this and, by means of a fable (a fabulous talking snake) tells a truth:  we human beings tend to disobey authority—and are more likely to trust a talking snake than God.  Moreover, we are so elementally disordered that we not only fail to understand what we’re told; we also misconstrue what we don’t understand, such that we believe a lie (“You will not die—you will be like God.”) thereby deceiving ourselves and others,  and thereby end up nakedly ashamed of God’s good creation.  The fundamental issue is not “apple versus orange,” but obedient versus disobedient.  With respect to God, Genesis pictures us obedient to our own whims, and disobedient to God’s will.  Whether from cookie jar or primeval garden, we take what we know we ought not and, furthermore, we seldom resist.  This mythic truth is well attested among all ancient people, whether Greeks reading Pandora’s Box or Jews hearing Genesis.  But, of course, sophisticated people will consider such truth as primitive nonsense—at worst false and, at best, correctable error.  Not surprisingly, today’s readings hold otherwise. It may have been G.K. Chesterton who opined that of all Christian doctrines, original sin depends least on faith—we can read it in the newspapers, see it on TV, enjoy it in literature and film, bewail it in our parents, punish it in our children, observe it in our own secret hearts, publicly deny it in ourselves, and thereby demonstrate the truth of the very thing we claim false.

In this way we abuse the Russians for invading Afghanistan even as we invade Afghanistan ourselves and abuse the Russians for invading Crimea.  The question is not whether we (or the Russians) will invade, but when we’ll invade and who we will blame in eager justification of our sin as someone else’s fault.  But, of course, (as Ukrainians will likely tell us) things are not so simple as they appear.  In human terms it’s seldom a question of absolute right up against absolute wrong, but rather of varying degrees of wrong masquerading as absolute right and, therefore, expedient.

In any event, the Apostle Paul goes beyond geopolitics to cosmic dissonance:  sin and death are the lot of all human creatures in consequence of Adam’s mythic disobedience.  This is our common condition, the broken character of us all.  To quote a pastoral colleague:  we are no damned good.  But Paul doesn’t stop there.  For the Apostle, hopeless sin occasions deepest hope:  “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”  For Paul—and thus for the whole church and world—the obedience of one man, that is, the obedience of Jesus Christ, yields justification and life for all.

Jesus could have taken the mythic bait. I would have.  He could have turned stones into bread; I would have.  He could have thrown himself down to force God’s hand; I would have.  He could have worshipped the devil and in exchange received “all the kingdoms of the world.”  I would have.  Heck: I would have crossed my fingers, winked, and lied to obtain that kind of power. But Jesus didn’t.  He still doesn’t.  He was obedient to the Father.  He still is, and always will be.  He defends us, loves us, forgives us, dies for us, and is raised for us now and forever.  It’s a question of obedience—his obedience—in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Ash Wednesday (Mar 5)

Category: Sermon Tags: @ 9:00 am

Ash Wednesday (March 5, 2014)

staff-wilsonThe Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings
Joel 2:1–2, 12–17
Psalm 51:1–17
2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:10
Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21

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Transfiguration of Our Lord (Mar 2)

Category: Sermon Tags: @ 8:00 am

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The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there, and I will give you tablets of stone….”

“And there he was transfigured before them.”

“Teddy rides in front.”  In those days, I drove Pete—a white 1968 Peugeot 404.  Having been previously owned by a series of University of Oregon graduate students, Pete sported several “Fighting Duck” stickers, two smashed tail lights, a leaky sun roof (AKA, “the rain roof” on account of its capacity to dump huge quantities of accumulated rain water down a driver’s neck), and a robust crop of mushrooms sprouting at the base of the back seat.  As you might imagine, Pete’s faded red interior smelled more of barnyard manure than French perfume.

It was a hot July afternoon when the church’s telephone rang and a voice on the other end asked whether the church would accept an emergency collect call from “Linda Swenson.”  We had no Swensons in the parish, but it was an emergency, so I accepted it.  It was about 1:30 in the afternoon, and I was just preparing to drive across town to visit people at St. Peter’s hospital on the north side of Olympia, Washington.

The voice on the other end—the voice of Linda Swenson—said she was from Bemidji, Minnesota, traveling by bus on her way to Portland, Oregon.  Intending to get off in downtown Olympia, she had somehow been put off at Martin Way on Olympia’s north end.  As it happens, she was about a mile from the hospital and, being a Lutheran from Bemidji, she called a church (collect!) to see if she could get a ride downtown to the bus station.  Thinking she surely wouldn’t want to wait while I visited the hospital, I said I could pick her up sometime between three and four that afternoon.  She said, “No problem. I’m at the Jack in the Box.”  When I asked how I’d recognize her, she said, “I’m with Teddy,” and hung up.  Teddy?

It must have been around three thirty when I left the hospital and headed to the Jack in the Box.  Pondering how I’d manage to recognize both Linda and Teddy, my contemplation came to an abrupt halt:  beneath the Jack in the Box sign stood a short woman wearing a white winter parka, white snow hat, knee-high white boots, white gloves, and a pair of Alabama State Trooper mirrored sunglasses.  Sitting beside her, on a stack of seven or eight cardboard moving boxes, was a red and white teddy bear—maybe four feet tall, nearly as big as she was.

I pulled in, got out, introduced myself, shook Linda’s gloved hand, and began loading containers into Pete’s trunk.  I put the last three boxes in the back seat, and began to place Teddy beside them, when Linda grabbed the bear and cried, “Teddy rides in front!”  She climbed in back surrounded by boxes.  Teddy rode in front, safely belted in as per Linda’s instructions, her mirrored eyes flashing from the back.

It was a long five miles downtown.  Traffic was busy, and (for Olympia) the heat oppressive.  Oddly cocooned in winter gear, Linda nonetheless told a typical story: she’d begun in Bemidji with more than enough money to reach her Aunt’s place in Portland.  But then, somewhere near Spokane, she’d been robbed of almost all her cash, leaving her broke, and four hundred miles shy of her destination.  Having heard countless such accounts of wayfaring desperation, I could see what was coming.  Linda’s impending plea for cash was as obvious as a Greyhound bus at close range, and just about as subtle.  I glanced in the rear view mirror, and could see her rifling through a raggedy bag, taking out a black coin purse and proceeding to dig through it:  “I haven’t had a decent meal in days….”

At that moment, as Linda reached the dénouement of her spiel, Pete wheeled into the Greyhound lot, boxes stacked, Linda talking at high speed, and Teddy restrained up front.  In a desperate effort to cut her off, hoping to circle the car, open the door, and get her out before she could complete her sob story, I breathlessly reached toward the rear door, only to find Linda already emerging, mirrored eyes blazing in summer sun, gloved palm glowing white, two dimes, and three pennies uplifted:  twenty three cents.  “Here,” she said, “You take it.  Use it to preach Jesus.  Just keep preaching Jesus.  He’ll get you through.  You’ll see! Just preach Jesus!”  She thrust the money at me like it was Fort Knox treasure and more.  “Take it,” she said.  “Take it and preach Jesus.” Beggar had become giver, and giver beggar.

“Jesus took Peter and James and John his brother, apart from the others, upon a high mountain alone, and there he was transfigured before them….”

They expected a simple case of religious devotion—a few prayers, some quiet contemplation, a little respite from the crowds before hitting the dusty trail.  You know: a regular religious gig.  A bit of God talk, a little pep rally to inspire them, and prepare for the work to come.  He was probably going to ask them to head up a fundraising effort, go into town and buy some bread, replenish their wine supply, pick up an extra walking stick—his old one was badly worn.  Just when they thought he was going to give them the “You guys are going to have to pull your own weight” speech, it happened: he shone like the sun!  He talked with Moses and Elijah!  They totally freaked, and Peter began babbling about “doing the right thing, setting a good example, and remembering….” But, before he could finish, a voice, the Voice from the cloud said, “This is my son, the beloved, listen to him!”  Then it was Jesus only.

Sometimes the voice comes from a cloud, sometimes from darkness.  But whether from a cloud, darkness, or a broken down Peugeot, the Voice will come, and always with surprise.  It brings transfigured revelation: a winter-wrapped beggar who gives all, a wandering teacher revealed as beloved Son of God, a crucified man raised to everlasting life.  Penultimate flash bears transfigured revelation before the end—new beginning, the apex before our ash-marked entry into Lent’s shadowed death to Life forever more.

“This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him!”  “Teddy rides in front…. Take it!  Preach Jesus!”  The body of Christ given for you.  The blood of Christ shed for you.  The forgiveness of sin.  “Take it!  Preach Jesus!  He’ll get you through.  You’ll see!”  The Beloved, shining like the sun, transfigured in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; he transfigures us.

7 Epiphany (Feb 23)

Category: Sermon Tags: February 28, 2014 @ 10:16 am

7 Epiphany (Feb 23, 2014)

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

Readings

Leviticus 19:1–2, 9–18
Psalm 119:33–40
1 Corinthians 3:10–11, 16–23
Matthew 5:38–48

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Bishop Mary Froiland (Feb 16)

Category: Sermon Tags: @ 10:12 am

7 Epiphany (Feb 16, 2014)

Bishop Mary Froiland

Bishop Mary Froiland

Deuteronomy 30:15–20
Psalm 119:1–8
1 Corinthians 3:1–9
Matthew 5:21–37

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5 Epiphany (Feb 9)

Category: Sermon Tags: February 9, 2014 @ 12:00 pm

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The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 84
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
Matthew 5:13-20

“Shout out, do not hold back!  Lift up your voice like a trumpet!  Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.”

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

It’s all about the “except.”  Paul tells the Corinthians that he “decided to know nothing among [them], except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  This seems unwise.  The Corinthians cherished both wisdom and spirit, prided themselves in impressive knowledge and elegant speech.  So, for Paul to say, “I decided to know nothing among you,” suggests that he  may intend to shock his readers, to get into their heads, maybe even bait them a bit.  Still, for Paul to know Jesus Christ and him crucified is to have the mind of Christ.  The crucified Christ is righteousness that exceeds the scribes and Pharisees.

Even so, some Corinthians disparage Paul— apparently behind his back.  Some deride his unimpressive speaking style, his lack of credentials, his questionable authority.  After all, he wasn’t one of the Twelve; he hadn’t traveled with Jesus and shared his earthly ministry.  Sure, Paul claimed to have “seen” the crucified and risen Lord, but what did that mean?  Even if Paul had, “seen the Lord,” did that make him a true Apostle?  Was Paul’s teaching a product of his own inventive mind, or (as he claimed) had he received it from the Lord himself, independent of all human authority and, was it therefore, apostolic?

Paul’s situation raises several questions, chief among them, perhaps, the obvious:  must we love teachers, pastors, bishops and fellow parishioners when we neither like nor understand them?  In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes several claims which, if true, will require or perhaps inspire our obedience to his teaching.  In the first place, he claims the authority of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, so that (he says) our faith might “rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

According to Paul, our human wisdom opposes God’s divine wisdom.  Human wisdom is obvious: it succeeds, wins the day, and triumphs over all sorts of perceived evils—for instance, human wisdom, put Jesus of Nazareth to death because, according to human wisdom, Jesus was a menace to civil society, an offense to common decency: he ate with sinners and transgressed religious convention.  According to human wisdom, it was necessary for Jesus to die in order to keep the peace and maintain civil order.  Yet, according to Paul, Christ crucified epitomizes the futility of human wisdom, and the triumph of divine wisdom.  To the mature in faith, the crucified Christ reveals divine wisdom in what looks stupid, and divine strength in what appears weak.  God loves disordered human beings enough to suffer rejection, abuse, and torture at our hands—enough to die for us.  The death and resurrection of Christ, transforms the cross from a sign of torture and death into the image of divine wisdom, beauty, and love.  This is the revelation of God’s Spirit—this is the faith Luther says we can not obtain by our own reason and strength.  This is the “mind of Christ.”

Paul writes all this to the Corinthians, a congregation with which he was locked in bitter dispute.  In fact, according to a letter written by Clement, Bishop of Rome, at the close of the first century, so embroiled were the Corinthians in divisive religious dispute, the congregation died about the year 100.  And, hard though it might be for the church to hear it, Paul had a hand in the congregation’s death—even as he had a hand in its birth.  In Paul’s mind, at least, he was the congregation’s “father” in the faith.  Yet, the pastoral care of his own child may have exceeded his paternal abilities.

One has the impression when reading Paul’s letters to the Corinthians that he’s reached his wits’ end.  The two Corinthian letters bear a marked contrast with his well tempered writing to the Romans, or even his sharp-edged Galatian correspondence, to say nothing of his sweet epistle to the Philippians.  Romans is a model of reasoned argument, Galatians a thing of impassioned (even heart-felt) emotion, and Philippians practically a Valentine card. But Corinthians sounds like a bitterly betrayed lover, someone whose feelings are so frayed their words hardly make sense—even when they bear a truth profound enough to raise the dead.  Listen again to the Apostle’s rant:  “For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit within?  So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.  And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.  Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them….”  Unspiritual fools:  he almost says it.

Paul’s anger brings him perilously close to ad hominem name-calling.  Yet, his signal assertion (“But we have the mind of Christ.”)  makes all the difference between hysterical rant and redemptive proclamation.  Notice: Paul says, “We have the mind of Christ.”  In other words, even when we cannot stand one another, even when we don’t like each other, even when we doubt one another’s integrity, we have the mind of Christ.  Christ saves and redeems enemies!  Here is the mystery of God:  nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, even we have the mind of Christ.

Presentation of Our Lord (Feb 2)

Category: Sermon Tags: February 1, 2014 @ 6:00 am

Listen

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 84
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40

“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?”

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Does the bulletin cover convey terror?  The Lord’s Presentation ought to.  Malachi says, “The Lord whom you seek…” the one who will “suddenly come to his temple,” and then asks, “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” Malachi presumes no one can stand before God and life.  Psalm 15 explores a similar question:  “Lord who may dwell in your tabernacle?  Who may abide upon your holy hill?  Those who lead a blameless life and do what is right, who speak the truth from their heart, they do not slander with the tongue, they do no evil to their friends; they do not cast discredit upon their neighbor …. They do not give their money in hope of gain, thy do not take bribes against the innocent….”

“…. who can stand when [God] appears?”  The obvious answer is “No one.”  None of us leads a blameless life.  None of us meets the severe requirements laid out either here or elsewhere.  Even if we were able to shun gossip and speak the truth from our hearts, who among us gives their money “without hope of gain”?  Any gain!  Not merely a higher rate of interest, but even the thanks, appreciation, and honor we all crave?

Lord, who may abide on your holy hill?  But maybe it depends on which hill we’re talking about.  Is it Horeb, the mount of Moses?  Or, perhaps, Zion and Solomon’s temple?  Perhaps the Mount of Transfiguration?  Or that anonymous mountain on which Jesus preached his famous sermon?  Any or all of these or a hundred others might well qualify as holy—for some, even Bascom in these parts (all 74 feet of it—barely a rise where I come from) or—nine hundred miles to the southeast—“Capitol Hill,” or  perhaps “Bunker Hill,” “Stone Mountain,” “Nob Hill” or (more simply) “the Heights” in nearly any city like Brooklyn, Washington, or Richmond.  Who doesn’t treasure the holy heights of wealth, or political correctness, or academic recognition?  The heady heights of power under the guise of social consciousness often appear most holy.  But here—at the Presentation of Our Lord—it’s the Temple, and the holiness of God alone that signifies; the peculiar distinction human beings may seek but never obtain—at least on our own.  Luther’s dictum rings true:  “I cannot by my own reason or strength come to my Lord Jesus Christ or believe in him….”

“…. who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?”  God alone, and those few God calls and appoints in his stead.  Yet they invariably reside either in or near the halls of madness.  Don’t imagine that Mary and Joseph were mainstream suburban socialites, people of the first rank, pillars of society, engines of economic of success.  They would have been oddball outcasts; pious, perhaps even zealous for the law of the Lord.  But that sort seldom enjoys elevated society.

Even more so, Simeon and Anna:  two more eccentric oddballs could hardly be imagined; the Adam and Eve of local ridicule, the kind of people at which priests roll their eyes, shake their heads, and tell stories in the rectory.  I mean, who in their right mind “never leaves” the Temple?  What ordinary citizen believes they will not taste death until they have seen the Lord’s messiah?  What first century woman could possibly have lived a decent life for more than 6 decades following her husband’s death?  Begging from religious pilgrims would have been her only income.  And religious pilgrims are seldom generous, requiring all their resources to pay the priest, purchase sacrificial animals, and room and board along the way.  Neither Simeon nor Anna present likely images of conventional holiness, and yet God chose them:  the crazed and even mad agents of Christ’s reception at the center of holiness.   Of course, Luke says they did all the law required; but the speeches he records are not those of noteworthy priests, pastors, or rabbis.  We hear instead wild ravings from the borderlands of madness, the kind of things respectable people never dare think or say:

“Lord now you let your servant go in peace, your word has been fulfilled; for my own eyes have seen your salvation, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory of your people, Israel.”  Simeon’s words reveal his eccentricity: no mainstream Jew of the first (or any) century would have declared a tiny child the light to both Israel and the nations.  No wonder he says the Child’s mother will also suffer a sword through her heart.  Doubtless Simeon shared the same fate.  The Child born as contradiction (a sign that will be opposed) brings opposition and violence to all who welcome him.  Like Anna the prophetess, those who look for the redemption of Jerusalem, will likely spend their lives, only to have their tireless efforts crowned by rejection, betrayal, and a cross.

Lord who may ascend your holy hill?  This Child is and does what is right.  Welcomed by Anna and sung by Simeon, he embodies the righteousness of God nailed to a cross, pierced and beaten, dead and buried, for all the blame-full, who do wrong, speak lies, slander with our tongues, who do evil to our friends and discredit our neighbor, and lend our money in hope of maximum gain.  This Child presented by Mary and Joseph is the Light of all, the hope and comfort of all. Presented here, he is the Bread of life, our salvation, the hope of all the earth.  Presentation indeed—in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


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