St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 2 2011 Sermon
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Rev. Bonnie Campbell

I have a quote from Lazarus Spengler who we remember today in our Holy Men, Holy Women cycle.  Lazarus was a reformer during the 16th century. “For my feet your holy word is a lantern, a light that shows me the way forward; as this morning star rises upon us we understand the great gifts that God’s Spirit has certainly promised to us, and in these we have our hope.”

Here we are in Ordinary time “the season aflame with the power of the living God.  The triune community … interrupts and invades our ordinary lives right where we are.  We have the choice to either close our eyes and ears and ignore the holy invasion--or allow ourselves to be caught off guard and swept up in God’s mysterious transforming work of making all things new. … God is set loose in the world.  We are invited to join, to participate in bringing kingdom order out of worldly chaos.  Be prepared, it’s not what we expect.” [Enuma Okoro in Sojourners May, 2011]

And Abraham certainly didn’t expect to be asked to give up his one basket of hopes.  He had sent Ishmael away and focused his attention on Isaac.  Isaac got the best of everything because he would be the one to carry on Abraham’s covenant with God.  Abraham could afford to lavish the very best on him and he did.

And, God asked Abraham to give him up.  This god whose name is the very breath of the universe asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son--to literally stop Isaac’s breathing.  “What kind of God who calls himself the breath of the universe calls a father to sacrifice his only son?”  The answer is, the kind of God willing to do the same thing.  The whole story is about Abraham’s faith and the faithfulness of God, that miracle of the ram caught in the bush.  

God’s love for us is everlasting and ever with us.  Abraham had lived trusting God for decades by the time Isaac was a teenager--he had learned to stop living under the tyranny of sin. There was nothing Abraham would withhold from God, not even his beloved son in whom he had placed all his hopes and dreams.

From this story, we learn that God expects obedience from his followers.  As Paul said, “Sin can’t tell you how to live.  After all, you’re not living under the old tyranny any longer.  You’re living in the freedom of God.” “Thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!” [The Message, Eugene Peterson]

Justin Martyr who was baptized in Rome around 140 CE said this, “We, out of every tribe of people … who used to take pleasure in promiscuity, now embrace chastity alone; we, who once had recourse to magic, dedicate ourselves to the good God; we, who valued above everything else acquiring wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common fund, and share with everyone in need; we who hated and killed other people, and refused to live with people of another tribe because of their different customs, now live intimately with them.”  Every new Christian of Justin’s time would pledge to live as a person transformed.  These Christians were only a few decades off from the writing of the Gospels-especially John.  These people were practicing primitive Christianity without creeds and established doctrines.  Their lives revolved around their faith and they were all about obeying God and living as Christ lived, and as Abraham had learned to live.

Justin Martyr’s description of his “tribe’s” life before becoming Christians is a life under the tyranny of sin.  It also is a life we see around us and often in our own hearts when we lose sight of our commitment to be obedient to God.  So much of our lives is devoted to the things we have and obtaining more--or just concern about having enough savings or income to live.  So many are worried about those among us who are different, who have different customs and languages. And, there are those who resort to magic, the quick fix to solve our money problems (buy this set of DVDs and you, too, can make a fortune in real estate), magic drugs that will lift your mood or dull your pain, and buy this product and you will feel better about the destruction of the environment.  In what way do any of these provide water for the thirsty?

The Matthew passage tells us how to live this life of obedience to God.  This is The Message version: “We are intimately linked in this harvest work.  Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you.  Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me.  Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger.  Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help.  This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it.  It’s best to start small.  Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance.  The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.  You won’t lose out on a thing.”

We are part of the body of Christ--a community, and Jesus, the Son, is part of the community of God.  If we accept Jesus, we get the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our faithfulness is built up by being part of the community of Christ.  Our obedience to help when we can and to accept help when we need it is part of accepting God’s love for us.  Recognizing Jesus as part of the Triune God is the same as recognizing God as the Breath of the Universe.  Recognizing a messenger from God has the same value as being that messenger.  And, any small act of kindness that meets the need of any person will help to forward the kingdom of God and reduce the chaos in the world.

Part of that chaos is people living without access to clean water.  Next to breathing, water is a primary need for any animal.  We have an opportunity here to bring God’s kingdom of abundance to people who need water.  Over the next decade or two, access to water is going to become more and more crucial to the survival of various tribes-including our own.

The Bishop’s Committee is in the preliminary stages of planning a fundraising event for the Wine into Water campaign to provide new water sources for communities without access to clean water.  We can not only take care of the needs of those in our immediate community, we can also recognize the tribes out there in the world of chaos who need that cool cup of water and help to provide it.

Justin Martyr described his life after accepting the triune God and it sounds good to me.  From The Message version of Psalm 13, “I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms--I’m celebrating your rescue.  I’m singing at the top of my lungs, I’m so full of answered prayers.”  When we accept the triune God, what we get is the faithfulness and steadfast love of God.

This is a prayer from Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals: “Lord, we have nothing to fear in your presence.  Your purposes always come to pass.  Help us to live with such certainty in your power that we expect miracles in our daily lives.  Amen.”




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