“Jesus Christ, Would you do something about her!”

The first time I told you this story[1], I promised that you’d one day get tired of hearing it, but it’s been two years, so you’ve probably forgotten it by now anyway.  It comes from a book called Dakota, the spiritual memoir of American poet, Kathleen Norris.  At one point, Norris begins to reflect on the tradition of hospitality that Christian monasticism has inherited from our ancient Jewish siblings.  It is seemingly written into the DNA of the monastic tradition that a wayward traveler can always find safe lodging and a meal with monks who are trained to welcome every stranger as if it were Jesus himself knocking on the gate.  Even in the monastery, however, true hospitality is challenging to maintain.  Norris tells the story of an older monk sharing with a younger monk how difficult it is to always be ready to welcome a stranger as if they were Jesus.  “I have finally learned to accept people as they are,” the older monk said.  “Whatever they are in the world – a prostitute or a prime minister – it is all the same to me. But sometimes, I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, “Oh Jesus Christ, is that you again?”

Offering hospitality is difficult, no matter who it is we are welcoming.  Whether it is a new faculty member from up the hill, a new employee at one of our may industrial plants here in town, or a neighbor experiencing homelessness, at Christ Episcopal Church we believe that we too are called to welcome each new person who enters our midst as if they were Jesus, but in our Gospel lesson this morning, we learn that actually welcoming Jesus can be challenging.  As I mentioned several weeks ago, offering hospitality to travelers was a given for people in the ancient world.  Life was still very nomadic in those days and the Hyatt hotel chain had yet to be created.  Whether you were travelling for religious, economic, or political reasons, travelers were often dependent upon the kindness of strangers for a place to rest and find nourishment.  It was just a few verses ago when Jesus sent seventy disciples ahead of him to prepare the way with instruction to take nothing extra with them, and to rely on the hospitality of others everywhere they went.  As his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem unfolded, Jesus practiced what he preached; spending a couple of days in many small villages along the way, eating what was served to him, and sleeping where he could find a place to lie down for the night.

On this particular day, Jesus arrived at the home of Martha who welcomed him and his disciples with open arms and a flurry of activity.  Luke doesn’t tell us what all her many tasks were, but we can take some educated guesses.  First, she likely prepared a bowl of clean water, in which the travelers could wash their feet from the dusty road.  Next, she stoked the fire in order to bake fresh bread and prepare the evening meal.  She likely got to work grinding up the chickpeas for hummus, while maybe a servant went to the market to get fresh olives.  Following the Law, the rituals for hand and vessel washing while preparing dinner kept Martha busy enough as she also refreshed the wine and made sure her guests were comfortable.  As the rare single woman who owned her own home in first century Palestine, Martha was most likely used to doing things all on her own, but given the celebrity of her guest this day, surely, she was working harder than usual to make everything extra special.  As she worked, occasionally she glanced at the crowd gathered around Jesus, which was probably a bad idea.  Could nobody see how hard she was working?  Did nobody care?  Who did Mary thinks she was, just sitting there, listening to Jesus as he taught?  As Martha’s resentment grew, she became increasingly distracted, literally in the Greek, dragged about, by her many tasks.

Eventually, Martha became so frustrated with being pulled around by her chores that she lashed out at both Jesus and her sister, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work?  Tell her then to help me.”  Her spirit of hospitality had long-since faded, but it is in this moment that any remaining façade of Martha welcoming Jesus into her home disappeared.  It’s not very hospitable to blame your guest for your sibling’s bad behavior.  It might be even worse to try to drag your guest into the middle of a family dispute.  “Jesus Christ, would you do something about her,” is not the sort of hospitality the Son of God would expect.

It is worth noting that what happens next is not Jesus rebuking Martha for her work.  As I’ve already mentioned, hospitality was an ethical cornerstone in the ancient world.  Unfortunately, this story has long been used to pit women in the church against each other.  If we read Jesus’ words to Martha as an admonition against her busyness, we tend to hear it as Jesus lifting up “the Marys,” those who quietly listen and obey.  While Jesus does say that Mary has chosen the better part, what the issue really seems to be about isn’t pitting those who work against those who pray, as both are required in the Kingdom of God.  Rather, the issue is about where our hearts are focused.

Do you remember back when this journey to Jerusalem first started?  Three different disciples tried to follow Jesus and were sent away.  “There was no time to rest; no time to bury the dead, even a parent; no time to say goodbye to family; no looking back.”[2]  This journey to Jerusalem, to the cross, to death and resurrection, isn’t a trip that can be taken half-heartedly.  It isn’t a journey that can be put on hold.  Jesus requires full commitment from his disciples, and where Martha falls short isn’t in her wanting to serve, but in how her servanthood ultimately distracted her from the bigger mission.  She had originally welcomed Jesus into her home in the hopes that the Good News would be proclaimed in her community, but she lost focus, got dragged about by her many chores, and ended up breaking relationship with her sister and with Jesus.  Mary’s better choice wasn’t that she lived into the role of the silent woman or that she chose to listen to Jesus, but rather, that she decided to focus on the relationship that God had put right in front of her face.  The one thing that Mary found was love, and she lived it out at the feet of Jesus.  Martha may have started out her service in love, but resentment and frustration took over somewhere down line.  I don’t know about you, but I can relate to Martha.  I know that I’ve begun many a project based in the love of God or the love of my neighbor, but at some point, lost focus and ended up frustrated by a lack of help, a lack of affirmation and accolades, or a lack of other people doing what I hadn’t told them I wanted them to do.

Martha is not simply worried or troubled by the many tasks she has to do.  She’s literally out of control, being dragged here and there by social constructs, internal pressure, and maybe, her Enneagram number.  Like Martha, we live in a world that is constantly trying to draw our attention away from Christ.  It isn’t for our own lack of trying that we are drawn away from sitting at the feet of Jesus, but that our minds are attuned to so many things that we end up being pulled away from him, sometimes literally dragged here and there, by our many tasks.  As the hecticness of the fall looms large, as we fill our calendars to overflowing, I pray that God might gift us with the space to slow down, to let our minds rest at the feet of Jesus, so that we might focus solely on the Kingdom of God and its mission of hospitality, reconciliation, grace, and love.  Amen.

[1] https://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/2017/07/02/true-hospitality-a-sermon/

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=625

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Just Do It, With God’s Help

I didn’t grow up going to summer camp, but in the years since I’ve been ordained, I’ve grown to love it.  Summer camp offers kids from various walks of life the opportunity to get away, to set down their electronic devices, and to just be kids.  Summer camp is hot, it is loud, it is messy, and it is a whole lot of fun.  Most importantly, it provides an opportunity for young adults to share the love of Christ with a new crop of kids, just as their counselors did before.  In the Diocese of Kentucky, All Saints’ runs four, week-long sessions for children and youth from rising second graders all the way on up to high school seniors.  You’ll note from the dark circles under my eyes that I’ve spent this last week serving as Chaplain to the New Horizons Camp for fifth and sixth graders.  Our theme this summer was “The Circus is Coming,” and our key verse came from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

Glory isn’t a word that we use much anymore, so the first thing we had to do was try to work out a definition.  In the world’s eyes, glory is given to those who accomplish notable achievements.  This week, a ticker-tape parade was held in New York City to celebrate the glory of victory for the World Cup Champion, United States Women’s National Team.  Glory can be used as a synonym for magnificence or great beauty, as in, the sun setting behind the trees at camp was glorious, or to describe anything that is distinctive or due extra pride or honor.  It’s not that any of these things are bad, in and of themselves, but the world’s understanding of glory can lead to misunderstandings about to whom glory is rightfully given.  When glory is something that can only earned only by the most elite, the most beautiful, the most athletic, or the rich and the famous, we marginalize all of us who tend to be pretty good at our crafts, and often forget the One from whom all good gifts are given and from whom all blessings flow.

We shared with the campers that as Christians, we give glory first and foremost to God.  God is the single most glorious thing in all the world, and so we offer God all the glory through praise, worship, and by giving thanks in all things.  Each of us who has been created in the image of God share in that glory.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we all share in the responsibility of reflecting, albeit imperfectly, the glory of God into the world, by letting our light so shine before others that they might see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.

Which brings us to the final definition of the word glory.  If you’re doing a Google search of the word, you’ll have to expand the box and scroll a bit, but way down there, the fourth definition of the noun form of glory is “a luminous ring or halo, especially as depicted around the head of Jesus Christ or a saint.”  The way in which Jesus and the saints were able to shine their light into the world was so obvious, that over time, when people made artwork about them, they showed that glory shining brightly round about them.  What we discovered, however, was that, like glory, sainthood isn’t just for those deemed most special.  All Saints’ Camp is named All Saints’ in honor of every disciple of Jesus who has ever set foot on that property, each of whom are saints of God.  All of us are called to reflect the light of Christ into the world.  All of us are called to reflect the glory of God in our spheres of influence.  All of us carry our own halos around with us as we make the love of God known.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.”  Luke tells us that the lawyer who brought this question to Jesus had come to test him.  He had heard of the glorious works done by this new Rabbi on the scene and wanted to see if he passed the right tests.  Jesus can be frustratingly enigmatic in these cases.  He rarely answers a question like this directly, and Luke 10:25-37 is no exception.  Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with one of his own, turning the work of revelation back on the one who was seeking.  “You’re the expert in the Law, how do you read its requirements?” Jesus asks the man.  In Luke’s account, the abundantly clear and truly challenging requirements of the Kingdom of God don’t come from the lips of Jesus, but rather, from this lawyer who came to challenge him.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus, in perhaps his most transparent moment in all the Gospels, simply replies, “Do this, and you will live,” or as a famous shoe company has put it for years, “Just do it.”

Would that it was so easy just to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  The Law of Christ is so very straightforward and yet, it seems to be almost impossibly simple.  Loving God is the easier of the two requirements, so we’ll start there.  The expert in the Law notes that loving God is not just something we that we feel, but it requires our whole humanity to do properly.  We are called to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength, and with all of our mind.  Loving God in this way means putting God first on the priority list in our lives.  It means giving God thanks in all things.  It means offering God praise in all circumstances.  It means showing God our admiration and respect no matter what is happening around us.  In short, as we learned at summer camp this week, loving God with our whole lives means giving God all the glory.

Loving our neighbors is by far the tougher bit.  As halo carrying members of the glory of God club, we are called, through stories like the Good Samaritan, to reflect the light of Christ to everyone we meet.  Unlike the priest and the Levite who are so worried about protecting their own glory; trying to keep their halos from becoming tarnished by the man who had been robbed, it is the Samaritan, who had no illusion of an unblemished halo, who took the risk to reach out and be a true neighbor to one who was in need along the side of the road.

“Just do it” has been a pretty good slogan for Nike over the years, and it would behoove us as Christians to follow it in our daily attempts at loving God and loving our neighbor, however, the ability to “just do it” requires one other component.  For Episcopalians, that piece is found in the Baptismal Covenant, a series of eight questions that define the basics of the Christian faith.  Five of the questions deal directly with how we will live as followers of Jesus, and they are answered in the same way, “I will with God’s help.”  Shining with the light of Christ, bringing the glory of God into the world, living into the Great Commandments; these are not things any of us can do on our own.  So, if I might be so bold as to add something to the words of Jesus, we might be better off hearing him tell the lawyer not simply, “just do it,” but “just do it, love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, love your neighbor as yourself, and let the glory of God shine through you; do it all, with God’s help.”  Amen.

Neighborliness is Risky

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In my email this morning was LeadingIdeas, a weekly round-up that I get each week from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Seminary.  Most of these emails get a quick perusal and are then filed in the trash folder, but for some reason this morning, I was drawn to an article entitled, “Is your Church Like Fine China? Proper, Pretty, and Only for Special Occasions?”  It was written by Cynthia Weems, a United Methodist Elder.  Like Episcopalians, apparently, the United Methodist Church is keen on big titles, and the Rev. Dr. Weems is no exception as the District Superintendent of the Southeast District in the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and dean of the Florida Conference Cabinet.  The article is based on a longer presentation that I’ve linked below.

CynthiaWeems-TheChinaCabinet from Florida Conference on Vimeo.

Weems argues in both that the Church in North America has adopted an image of fine china. “Something beautiful with everything matching and not one piece out of place with plenty of places settings for the whole family.  The Christian life is like a matching pattern in a cabinet locked and unused most of the week.  Ouch!”

Ouch indeed.  In adopting this image of the Church as fine china we have relegated ourselves to the relative safety of our own, vast, buildings filled with deferred maintenance and wringing hands.  Weems goes on to suggest that the image of the potter’s wheel from Jeremiah as a better future for us all.  “Instead of pretty patterns, locked cabinets, and matching sets of breakable dinnerware, God shows us the messy, unpredictable results of sitting at the potter’s wheel.”  As I watched this 20 minute presentation that I didn’t plan on watching, I couldn’t help but think of the story of Jesus and the Lawyer appointed for Sunday.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we meet a couple of characters who are very worried about protecting God’s fine china.  The priest was too worried about becoming ritually unclean.  The Levite too concerned for his safety.  I get it.  They were traveling a dangerous road.  Heck, some guy got robbed and beaten on it.  In fact, he’s lying right over there.  Worse yet, maybe he was just the bait that a gang of thugs were using to lure you in to the same fate.  Upon wise evaluation, the less risky move was to cross to the other side, to lock the china up and use it only on special occasions, with special designation becoming more and more difficult to obtain each year.

In the Parable, it is only the Samaritan, already unclean, unwelcome, and unlikable, who was willing to risk something getting broken to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers.  Let’s face it, being neighborly is risky business.  It will mean welcoming people who don’t look like us, act like us, talk like us, smell like us, or follow a prescribed set of social conventions like us.  Being neighborly will probably mean the carpet getting dirty, kids wiggling, the bathrooms needed to be cleaned more often, and yes, occasionally, a dish or two might get broken.

Following Jesus doesn’t remove risk from our lives.  In fact, the closer we follow the Son of God who had no place to lay his head and who ended up arrested, beaten, and killed for being too damn neighborly to anyone and everyone, the riskier our lives will probably be.  But of course, risk is not without reward.  When we are willing to risk letting God reshape us, God will always make us more neighborly, and in so doing, will allow us a place in the ongoing restoration of the whole creation.  That, dear reader, seems to be a reward that is worth the risk of the occasional broken plate.

Just do it

For as frustratingly enigmatic as Jesus can be most of the time, there are moments in his ministry when he is abundantly, albeit challengingly, clear.  Take, for example, the story of Jesus and the lawyer from Luke 10 that is appointed for this Sunday.  In this familiar story that leads into the Parable of the Good Samaritan (more on that later this week), we see Jesus being challenged by a lawyer over just what is required to enter this Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus has been proclaiming.  As usual, Jesus answers the question with one of his own; turning the revelatory work back on the one who is seeking.  “You’re the expert in the Law, how do you read its requirements.”  In Luke’s account, the Great Commandments don’t come directly from Jesus, but are given by the lawyer in response to Jesus’ prompting.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus, in perhaps his most transparent moment in all the Gospels, simply replies, “Do this, and you will live.”

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Would that it were so easy just to love God, love our neighbor, and, as our Presiding Bishop is quick to remind us, love yourself.  The Law of Christ is so very straightforward and yet, is impossibly simple.  Loving God seems like the easiest option, so we’ll start there.  The expert in the Law notes that loving God is not just something we that we feel, but it requires our whole humanity to do properly.  We are called to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength.  Loving God in this way means putting God first on the priority list in our lives.  It means giving God thanks in all things.  It means offering God praise in all circumstances.  It means showing God our admiration and respect no matter what is happening around us.  Since our primary sin as humans is pride, we have a tendency to put ourselves in the place of God, especially when we fall short of that second commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  When we make judgments of our neighbors, we put ourselves in the place of God, thereby failing on both counts.

“Just do it” has been a pretty good slogan for Nike over the years, and it would behoove us as Christians to follow it in our daily walk to love God and love our neighbor, but for us, the ability to “just do it” requires one other piece.  For Episcopalians, that piece, which offers the added benefit of keeping everything in the right order, can be found in the Baptismal Covenant, a series of eight questions that, for us, define the basics of the Christian faith.  Each of the five questions that deal directly with how we will live as followers of Jesus is answered in the same way, “I will with God’s help.”  Living into the Great Commandments is not something any of us can do on our own.  In fact, the first step toward loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength is admitting that very fact.  So, if I might be so bold as to add something to the words of Jesus, we might be better off hearing him tell the lawyer not simply, “just do it,” but “do it, with God’s help.”

A Spirit of Hospitality

After I graduated from college, while in discernment for the priesthood, I worked for about six months waiting tables at a Red Lobster.  It was worse than it sounds.  Anyway, one lunch shift, one of my fellow servers was complaining that her check engine light had come on.  Back in the kitchen, we debated what might have caused it.  The chef was convinced that her car was about to die.  “Pontiacs are junk,” he told her, “you might as well get ready to buy something new.”  I also drove a Pontiac at the time, and I didn’t think they were junk.  I knew that there were lots of causes for the check engine light to illumine, including something as simple as forgetting to replace the gas cap.  “Nah, man,” the chef reiterated, “it’s a garbage car.”  And with that, we all went back to work.

Now, I’ve not always been a good loser.  I like to think that I’ve grown up a lot since then, but there was a time when I could get pretty petty about proving that I was right.  I have no idea why I cared so much about it, but my blood was boiling at the way that my suggestion had been simply dismissed by this guy who didn’t know anything more about cars than I did.  I stewed and festered on it for a while, until finally, when I had a minute, I marched out the front door, around the side of the building to the employee parking lot, and found, much to my delight, the gas cap, dangling from side of the young lady’s car.  I screwed it back on, and waited until the next time the three of us were back in the kitchen to let her know, or more accurately, to let the chef know, that I was right, and he was definitely wrong.

Actually following the way of Jesus is a lot harder than simply being like his disciples.  Like me, James and John didn’t like to look bad in front of other people.  We have several stories of their trying to one up the other disciples.  Even their mom got involved at one point, asking Jesus to make sure her boys got the best spots in his kingdom.  Our Gospel lesson this morning might be James and John at their best worst. Just days after they joined Peter in seeing the transfigured Jesus talking about the next steps in building the Kingdom of God with none other than Elijah and Moses up on the mountain, James and John were already deep in it.  They got involved in a dispute over which disciple was the greatest.  John, always worried about the Jesus brand had just proudly rebuked a man, who was not a part of the twelve, for casting out demons in the name of Jesus only to get rebuked by Jesus himself.

Luke tells us that at this point, with his disciples still far from understanding what he was about, Jesus began his final journey to Jerusalem.  In the Gospel, it’s a ten-chapter jaunt through the Palestinian countryside.  For us, it’ll be the focus of every Sunday Gospel from now until the end of October.  Along the way, Jesus will teach any who would follow him what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.  As Jesus heads steadfastly toward the cross, we will witness miracles, sit at his feet as he teaches, be privy to private conversations with his disciples, and, hopefully, deepen our commitment to Jesus’ call to discipleship.  Before we get there, however, the Luke 9, “James and John show us how not to do it” episode has one last act.

The Jews and the Samaritans were bitter enemies.  In modern religious terms, it’d be like Louisville versus UK basketball or Auburn versus Alabama football on steroids.  The Samaritans were the descendants of those who had been left behind during the Babylonian exile.  Ethnically, it is likely that they ended up inter-marrying with slaves who were brought in from modern day Iraq.  Religiously, the Samaritans contended that they, rather than the exiled Jews, held most closely to the faith of their ancestors.  The key source of animosity between the two was upon which mountain God wanted the Temple to be built.  The Jews said Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.  The Samaritans argued it was Mount Gerizim situated some 45 miles to the north.  These two groups hated each other to such a degree that Jews travelling south from Galilee to Judea would go well out of their way to avoid Samaritan territory.

Jesus, however, was on a mission.  Despite the fact that it’ll take months for us to get from here to there, Jesus, having set his face for Jerusalem and the cross, didn’t have time for detours.  He and his disciples made their way straight through Samaria.  One late afternoon, as they sought a place to rest for the night, Jesus and his disciples found themselves unwelcomed in a certain Samaritan village.  Luke doesn’t give us much insight into why they weren’t invited to stay.  It could have been that the villagers hoped Jesus might stay for a while and he refused.  It might have been because Jesus and his entourage were Jewish and generations of hard feelings won the day.  We can’t be sure, but what we do know is that a lack of hospitality was a huge deal in the ancient world.  There were no Super 8 Motels in Jesus’ day.  When Mary and Joseph found “no room in the Inn” in Bethlehem, it wasn’t that the hotels were all full, but that every guest room in the city was occupied.  It was common for folks to offer food and lodging to travelers en route to major cities because one day, it might be you and your family in need of a meal and a safe place to rest for the night.

When James and John realized that a Samaritan village had dared to reject the group, they became indignant.  A lack of hospitality was a violation of the Law.  The sin that resulted in Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed by fire and brimstone was a lack of hospitality to the angels of the Lord.  Certainly, James and John thought that they were doing the righteous thing in trying to show that they were right and these Samaritan were wrong. Following with what they knew about a lack of hospitality, they asked Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Now, we have no reason to believe that James and John could actually call down from fire from heaven.  But, wouldn’t that be tempting?  Scorched earth victories are a pretty popular pastime on social media these days.  People are willing to lose friends and alienate family members over being loud right on whatever the topic of the day might be.  Even at our highest levels of government, there is a willingness to, almost with ease, completely write-off anyone who disagrees with you on any particular issue.  The desire to be right, and to win at all costs, is slowly destroying our ability to live in community, to offer grace, and to love our neighbors.

One of the things that made Christ Church Bowling Green so attractive to me in the search process was how purple it is.  Not just your typical red congregation in the south.  Not just your average blue congregation in a college town.  Christ Church is a community of Christ’s servants who genuinely seek to learn and grow together, despite our conflicting opinions and understandings.  We are a congregation who, despite very profound differences is able to come to the altar each week and receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation side-by-side.  Scorched earth doesn’t work here.  Instead, in order to live with one another, we have to offer hospitality in our hearts and minds to those who differ from us.  As a result, at our best we are a community that is open to being changed, to growing in our faith, and unafraid to lose or admit that we are wrong from time-to-time.

This hospitable mindset is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in this place.  Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, warns the fledgling church that things like enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarreling, dissension, and factions mean that the Spirit is not being followed.  Rather, the way we know that we are living in the Spirit of God is a life marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  May we continue to live in that Spirit, to grow in compassion and hospitality, and to remember always that we are not called to be right or to win, but simply with the help of the Holy Spirit, to follow Jesus in the way of love and grace.  Amen.

The Gamaliel Test

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In the fifth chapter of Acts, as the disciples of Jesus are really beginning to pick up some momentum, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem gathers for a meeting.  The agenda is their growing concern with a small sect of Jews who have begun to follow the Way of a disgraced Rabbi named Jesus.  Their first response was to arrest the leadership of the Way on charges of heresy.  So, they put the apostles in jail, and overnight, and angel came, freeing them and commissioning them to proclaim the Gospel.  Next, the leaders decided to confront the apostles face-to-face.  “We told you not to preach Jesus anymore,” they said.  “We must obey God,” the apostles replied. Finally, fully frustrated and enraged, the council was ready to just put them all to death when a Pharisee named Gamaliel spoke up and said, among other things, “If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

This wisdom has become known as the Gamaliel test.  It is a temperance move to avoid rushing to conclusions about the ongoing revelation of God in the world.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t much used by the Christian Church in the first four centuries as Christians became fond of declaring others heretics and putting whole sub-sects of people to death, but it is a test worth using as we who think we have a full grasp on what God is up to are almost universally wrong.  God is always unveiling something new for us to come to understand.  I cannot claim to live a faultless life in this regard, as I’ve been happy to jump up and down and shake my fist at innovations like Enriching our Worship and the growing trend of communion without baptism. It would behoove us all to practice patience and to use the Gamaliel test as our standard.

Title and 330 word introduction to the contrary, this post isn’t really about Gamaliel, however, as he wasn’t the first to utilize spiritual waiting as a tool for discernment.  In the first half of our Gospel lesson for Sunday, Jesus provides for his disciples an example of the same principle.  While we stare down the barrel of 984 more Sundays after Pentecost, Sunday’s lesson hits about the mid-point of Luke as a post-Transfiguration Jesus “sets his face for Jerusalem.”  As a result of this new revelation of his ministry, old patterns of behavior were going to change.  No longer would Jesus and the disciples be taking long, meandering walks from place to place.  Now, Jesus was on a mission.  So, when they pass through a Samaritan city that would not welcome them, the disciples are ready to rain down holy hell on those poor Samaritans.  Jesus, in his wisdom, however, knows that it is God’s desire that the press on.

Rushing to judgment.  Assuming that my understanding of God is the only right answer.  Seeking violence and destruction.  These are not the ways of those who follow the Prince of Peace.  Instead, with Jesus as our guide and Gamaliel as an example, we ought to practice patience, to pray, listen, and discern, and to seek our place in God’s ongoing revelation in the world.

Preaching to myself

My wife and I have often joked that we have the two most guilt-inducing careers for outsiders.  SHW is a dental hygienist.  When folks find that out, they immediately start into their excuses for not going to the dentist or uncomfortably laughing at their inability to start a proper flossing regiment.

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When they find out that I’m an Episcopal Priest, the excuses about why they don’t go to church as often as they think they should are surprisingly similar to the reasons they don’t go to the dentist, and I hear all kinds of ways in which they find God in trees or are spiritual but not religious.

One thing we both also hear is how people can’t imagine doing the jobs we do.  “I couldn’t look inside peoples’ mouths,” they say to her.  “How can you think of something to say each week,” i get in response.  While I can understand the desire to stay away from the general ickiness of the average person’s unflossed mouth, I don’t really get this fear of writing a sermon.  First, if one is doing their homework, praying, and listening for the Spirit, sermon topics tend to eventually show up.  It’s not that there aren’t weeks when I wish they’d show up earlier, but I have found that if I am faithful to the homiletical exercise, God will give me something to say.

Moreso, if I am doing the work, God will show me what it is in my own life that needs to be addressed, and often, that thing is pretty applicable to the wider world.  Truth be told, more often than not, I’m preaching to myself.  This is true this morning as I read the lessons appointed for Sunday and found Jesus pushing back against would be disciples who wanted to follow Jesus on their own terms.  “I’ll be right there” is not the an acceptable answer.  That is to say, that comfortable Christianity, though commonplace in contemporary American society, isn’t really a thing.

I know this to be true in my own life.  For all intents and purposes, I’ve got it pretty easy.  I’m serving a congregation that is full of people who want to serve.  I’m well paid.  I have a great staff.  We could very easily do the comfortable Christian thing of minding our own business, writing a few checks to outreach organizations, and patting ourselves on the back for years to come, but that’s not what God would have us do.  It would have been much easier, when Jesus came to sleep on our porches to say, “You can’t stay here,” while writing a nominal check to HOTEL, INC., but God calls us out of our comfort zones.  When Catherine Meeks called to ask if I would take part in a week-long Justice Pilgrimage aimed at racial healing, it would have been way easier to find some kind of excuse.  When the Bishop invited me and two lay leaders to attend a conference to rethink stewardship, it would have been easy to look at our income statement and think, “nah, we’re good.”  But God is not interested in our easy answers and paltry excuses.  God calls us to growth, to change, and to deeper commitment to the Kingdom of God.  So, here I sit, in a hotel room in Asheville, North Carolina ready to once again listen to where God is calling us to go next, reasonably uncomfortable in the reality that this morning, I’m called to preach to myself.