St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 4 2017 Sermon
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Jim Campbell

Good morning and happy Independence Day Weekend or extra or whatever you want to call it—seems like a weeklong event this year!
 
I want to digress for a moment to bring up a couple of woman who were important to the history of the United States, courtesy of retired Episcopal priest in this Diocese Bob Rhodes.  “In the lectionary of the Episcopal Church yesterday was the commemoration of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Anna Pauline Murray.

Harriet Beecher Stowe is the well-known author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.  It was the novel that made the evil of slavery real to many Americans and provided the impetus to demand that it end.  She wrote it as an act of resistance to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850, which prohibited the assistance of fugitive slaves.  She and her husband Calvin Ellis Stowe were participants in the Underground Railroad and housed fugitive slaves in their home.

Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murphy may be less well-known to the general public but she was a civil rights activist, woman's rights activist, lawyer and author.  She was among the first women to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, and the first black woman.

As an attorney she represented various civil rights and women's rights groups. She was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women.  Thurgood Marshall called Murray's 1950 book, "States Laws on Race and Color" the "bible" of the civil rights movement.  After a career as an attorney and in academia, she left those pursuits to serve the church as an ordained priest.

These women and their witness for racial and gender justice are woven into the history of the Episcopal Church.  What will we do in our own time to build on the foundation they helped establish?”
 
 
So, let’s see—looking back at our Bible study this week as we discussed the Lectionary readings for today.  The Old Testament reading from Genesis about Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God Joyce did not like at all (and said so several times).  The 2nd reading from Romans was a challenge to us all (as all writings to the Romans from Paul are); it went on and on about sin.  Our questions—What is sin really? What kind of sin? Is it sin if it is unintentional?   And the Gospel reading from Matthew was very short and appeared to talk about hospitality and reward.  How do those go together?
 
First, the Genesis story is a horrible one on lots of levels—because it presents the idea of human sacrifice (and especially child sacrifice), it has been looked at by some as a justification to abuse children, and just the idea that anyone would do something like this is appalling.  But as Corby pointed out, the idea of human sacrifice was prevalent in most religions at that time, and the story was written to point out that God did not expect that from his followers.  Also, for the people of Israel it was to show how faithful the “father” of their lineage, Abraham, was in following God.  This was a really big deal story and teaching for them!
 
Second, the Roman people and their culture was extremely built on master/slave relationships—its well off people in control of everything vs. those who were very poor, and who had been captured and enslaved from other lands that Rome has seized.  Canon Lance Ousley’s writing about this says that “Paul uses the slavery and sin perspectives to tell the Roman followers of Jesus (mostly slaves) that they must be obedient either to righteousness or to sin, and that they have already died to sin through their baptism into the death of Christ and been raised to life with Christ.  Through this new life then, they live in obedience to righteousness and are freed from sin.”  So, it’s not about what is sin or not at all; it’s about being righteous in following God.
 
Last, In Matthew today, Jesus is sending out his disciples to encounter the world and teach and heal people, and bring them real hope.  He helps them understand true hospitality from those they meet and that the people showing hospitality are their fellow followers of God. 
 
What about these readings connects with us today in our life experiences?  For me there are several ways.
 
I asked the group at Wednesday’s Bible study to pray for a good outcome for a young woman who is known to Bonnie and I through Camp Victory.  She has had a real hard life, with child sex abuse, a bad environment to grow up in, and she has tried to do what she can to survive.  She is now in her later 20s and has one child with lots of health issues.  She found out she was pregnant very late in her pregnancy, and then made the decision to give the baby away after the birth, which was this week.  The adoptive parents are people she knew through Camp Victory who married in their later 30s and were starting the process to adopt.  The baby boy and the mother are healthy and we pray that all will work out for the best for the child.  How the birth mother could decide to do this must be really hard but also shows her love for her other child, who needs much attention already and for the new baby who might not get a life like she hopes for him in her present situation. 
 
I see the Romans reading telling me to realize that I have much to learn about sin and following God faithfully.  This is something where the saying, “it’s all about the journey, not the outcome”, really applies.  It is hard and probably wrong to focus on every little issue of what we might do that is sinful, when we have so much to do to follow God that just thinking about sin takes us away from more important activities in doing as Jesus wants for us.  Get on with doing God’s work and worry less about little details that distract us, wherever they show up.
 
The Matthew reading is easier to say than to do.  I find it easy to bog down in who frustrates me in the world around me and why, than in seeing all of the many ways that I am supported in my convictions (or am gently pushed to see where my beliefs might be a bit off course with my faith).  It is very important for me to see the friendship and hospitality in others as godly, and to respond in similar ways whenever I can. 
 
In recognizing the holiday we celebrate for the anniversary of our nation’s independence, I found some words that fit with our Gospel today. The Rev. Machrina Blasdell writes: As we celebrate this upcoming Fourth of July, as we roast hot dogs and hamburgers and marvel at fireworks and the good ol’ red, white and blue, let us also ask ourselves what Jesus meant in telling us over and over again, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”.
 
We may believe differently about the details of faith, as Christians are wont to do.  We may understand civic responsibility differently; Americans have always held a variety of opinions on things.
 
But for us as Christian Americans or American Christians, the question of the day growing out of this gospel text asks: What does it mean to welcome, and how do we do that?  What does it look like in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our national policies, in our very attitudes?  For we are Christians first, as citizens of God’s kingdom, living that faith in an American context of privilege and challenge.
 
Jesus didn’t say that we have to agree on everything, but he pretty clearly told us to be welcoming.  We won’t all agree on everything.  And as Americans, we will stand proudly to celebrate on the Fourth.  When we put all that together, one possible outcome is that we may have to agree to disagree on some aspects of American policy as we live our Christian faith in daily practice.
 
Christian people are called to be welcoming, for in welcoming others we welcome God. Can we at least agree on that?”
 
Collect for Independence Day – Book of Common Prayer, p. 242
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


 
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