St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Pentecost 18 2017 Sermon

How are you all doing today?  Are you reeling from everything we have heard and seen this past week or more in the world around us?
--Another hurricane, Nate, pounding the Gulf Coast
--All of the issues surrounding the cleanup and support for Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria (note I just skipped by hurricanes Irma and Harvey as old news!)
--The horrific unbelievable mass shooting in Las Vegas
--The Mexico City earthquakes
--Continued posturing between the US and North Korea with the real threat of war (including nuclear) hanging over everything
--ICE crackdowns in California and other places on immigrants
--Extreme positions and policies among the US people and its government around guns, religion, women’s health and reproductive rights
--Homeless people losing their rights in Seattle and elsewhere, and on and on.  I’m sure I’ve missed several more. 
And locally we have Lorraine’s husband Bob’s heart surgery, for Bonnie and I everything around our house sale and next home planning, and you can fill in many more blanks with all your own concerns.
According to our Diocesan Canon for Stewardship Lance Ousley, the readings for today “center on the priority of our relationship with God above all else, ordering our lives according to God's kingdom”.  That is something much different than what I just described above, as we as a society observe our chaotic real world lives we are living now. 
In our Exodus 20 reading we have the presentation of the Ten Commandments from God to Moses and then to the Jewish people, as they wander in the Sinai desert. God is trying to provide his chosen people some guidance as to how they should live under his strong rule—”for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” 
First and foremost is the command that God is Lord, and to worship only him.  Then it continues on--no worshiping idols, no misusing the name of God, and to remember the Sabbath as a holy day.  These first four commands cover the relationship to God.  The other six deal with the peoples’ relationships with each other—honor your parents, do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not commit false witness, and do not covet anything. 
We had a very “vigorous” discussion about this reading in our Bible study on Wednesday—and it showed again how we can study the Bible together with our many views and ideas. One thing that stood out to me is the differing ways these commandments are seen and practiced today, both by Christians (and among them!) and also by everyone else.  We all seemed to agreed that these commands should not be used to judge others (which we know happens continually among some Christians), but instead to use them to help us focus on our own shortcomings and how to get closer with God.  The wonderful thing is that much later God’s son Jesus came along and told us to focus ourselves on a much simpler version summing up these commandments—to Love God, and to Love One Another.
Our Gospel reading From Matthew 21 today is continuing a terse conversation Jesus is having with the Scribes and Pharisees late in Jesus’ ministry.  They are trying to expose him as just another con artist healer, but they have to tread carefully because Jesus has a really large following, and they do not want the peoples’ wrath down on themselves.  In the regular Gospel reading last week (which we did not use due to the Blessing of the Pets/St Francis Day celebration), Jesus confronts the Jewish leaders after they demand to know by what authority he preaches and teaches.  Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”  And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.”  So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”  And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
The landowner parable Jesus gives seems pretty clear to me, and certainly to those Jewish leaders he spoke to.  Jesus pointed out that God as the landowner had provided the tenants land for lease (or had given God’s people that which they needed to live and to be good stewards of), but when the harvest time came he sent his slaves over and over (or God’s prophets and teachers) to collect the harvest, and the tenants killed them (the leaders did not follow the real intent of God’s laws).  Finally the landowner (God) sent his only son (Jesus) and the tenants killed him, believing they somehow would receive the inheritance (the Jewish leaders believed they were following God with their fundamentalist, righteous, and greedy and powerful actions and thought they were God’s chosen people). 
Jesus tells the leaders that they are finished, that they are doomed and God will replace them with others who will gladly follow him.  “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.  They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.”  It was after this that the Jewish leaders decided they would have to put Jesus to death. 
Canon Ousley summarizes the readings today this way: “Our lives are a reflection of where we place the priority of living in relationship with God.  God's hope for us is to be set free from false pursuits and empty promises of the priorities of materialism and power-positioning.   Living in right relationship with God orders our lives according to God's peaceable kingdom.  In God's kingdom we live in right relationship with our neighbor as an expression of our priority relationship with God, producing the fruits of righteousness and justice.”  
At this point I’m out of ideas—so what do YOU all think about how our Gospel reading talks to you living today?
(What followed was five minutes of really great thoughts from the church community!)

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