Proper 27 (RCL) Life in a Mine Field
Teachers and preachers, feel free to use this piece with a simple accreditation. No further permission is necessary.
Haggai 1:15b-2:9;,Psalm 145:1-5,17-21;2 Thessalonians 2:1-5,13-17;Luke 20:27-38
Have you ever wondered what it must be like to live in a region strewn with mines. There are - still - in this world places where this is true. One of the bitter fruits of war, mines lie buried just below the ground. Hibernating. Just below the surface. Dormant. Not waiting for a season to burst forth in a blaze. Just for enough pressure. Lying in wait. Some have called these 'killing fields'. To the untrained eye these mine-laden fields look deceptively serene, bucolic, tranquil, almost beckoning you to come and play. One who unwittingly runs through the tall grass does so at their own peril. Often, sadly, the dormant bulbs of war explode in a flash, changing the lives of the runner and their families and friends forever.
What must it have been like for Jesus = in all those public appearances? He knew that he had enemies out there. No matter where he went, there always was a possibility that someone was lying in wait for him to misstep. Whether it took a moment, a month or a year, that misstep could cost him his life, his ministry, his family, his followers, perhaps even his own faith.
Look to scripture to see the OBVIOUS minefields: when he was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, the coin trick question of whether it was right to pay taxes to Rome, the reaction to any number of the parables- like the one about the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple.
Luke's Gospel today reeks of the set-up in a mine field. The Sadducees, who didn't believe in resurrection in the first place, posit an highly unlikely 'hypothetical' situation. According to Mosaic Law, if a married man dies childless, any of the decease's surviving brothers can marry the widow in order that there may be surviving heirs
A different culture,a different age. To me, it seems odd but I'll take this at face value. They then continue: Supposing a married man with seven brothers dies and the widow marries each brother in succession but has no children by ANY of them... and then SHE dies.
By now I'm seeing red flags: danger ahead. This group of Sadducees then put some very bewildering icing on the cake with the subsequent question: In the resurrection [which,you will recall, they DON'T even believe in], whose wife will this woman be? After all, she's HAD seven husbands.
Jesus sees the minefield and is prepared to enter it. He has studied and knows the Law. Somehow he carefully wends his way through dangerous territory - as he did with the coin toss.
To put it into current language and analogy Jesus replied: You can't compare apples and oranges.
Marriage - as the Law - is for this side of life. On the other side of life no one needs marriage because "the Law" is not relevant. They don't have to haggle about inheritance issues. They are all children of God, all beyond earthly death, rules and regulations. He is not God of the dead but of the living, because - simply by being His, all of His children are alive.
That was a tricky answer to a tricky question. Jesus made it through that mine field, but we can question whether He came through it unharmed. No matter what his answer would have been, one or many would have taken offense at it. And when each of them went back to their peers and relayed the interaction.... well, you know what happens when you pay the game of 'telephone': the phrase the last person heard rarely matches up with the original sentence. He was bound to make some enemies that day and to sustain some injury. Jesus had no think tank with Him to put a positive 'spin' on this or any of the other encounters He had.
So, despite the probability of sustaining some injury - of body or reputation - Jesus went out anyway. Day after day for an estimated 3 years. Knowing the danger He walked the walk. For the sake of them, for our sakes as well. Ultimately, He paid the supreme price on this side of life.
In a peculiarly amazing parallel, in this world at this time who is it that - knowing full well the consequences of stepping on a land mine - goes out every day to attempt to clear them? Either those who have lost limbs already due to mine explosions or their widows. People who have already lost something go out again, risking losing again - and for what purpose? So that others, complete innocents and children, will not lose their lives in the here and now.
Abiding Love is a fearless commodity. You have the strength to risk much if you love much. Jesus, the embodiment of Love, went out there and asks us to do the same. We will leave this place, having been asked to again take up our cross and follow Him. Through life, through loss, through mine fields of every sort. And no matter what
happens out there, we will be alive because we live in Him. Amen.
Yes, Virginia, there is vanity in church
Like many of you, I'd like to live a life that is much more simple. This chasm between reality and idealism was brought up close and personal this week.
I am still sorting through the items and papers I transported from my tiny office cubicle to my home upon retiring at the end of July. I file directions for the trips I take with Barbara for future reference (and mileage). During the past 2 weeks I was inundated with promotional material from every candidate for every office in my town and county (and let's not even open up the can of worms about those pre-fab phone pleas for votes).
And yes, ladies and gentlemen, as of September 1, 2007 we have entered the season of: CATALOGUES!
From Lands End to Harry and David, all you have to do is spend money
Three other catalogues come to my home: CM Almy, Augsburg Fortress and WomenSpirit. These three catalogues contain products for clergy, especially clerical blouses and vestments. I don't know WHY I should be shocked that these catalogues arrive with all the others. After all, we're gearing up for Advent and Christmas ... and what would your congregation think if you were still wearing that same faded black clerical blouse???? Oh my, what WOULD they think? I mean, of ALL PEOPLE, you
should be wearing 'your Sunday best' every Sunday, most of all during the holidays. Deciphered this means quality nice clothes and tasteful, polished footwear.
In my personal world, my idea of bliss is a T-shirt, a cotton version of a sweat pant (now called lounge wear, I have been informed)and a pair of sneakers. However, I know when I go 'to work' that there is the expectation of proper work attire. At the Farm we go from church to church to visit, preach or attend a function of some sort. So the time that parishioners see you may be the ONLY time they see you. The first impression you make may be the only impression.
Lo and behold, I got up the gumption and bought 2 pair of slacks and a nice pair of black shoes with a slight heel. I am in the process of upgrading my wardrobe, piece by piece. Two weeks ago I gave in and ordered a couple of clerical blouses. Mind you, there is no bargain basement for clergy clothing - AND
(women clergy out there, you know this reality)- a clergy blouse
inevitably costs more than a clergy shirt
Of course, I wished I was the same size now as I was 14 years ago when I was ordained; alas, a desk job, daily car commute and menopause have taken their toll on my figure. I now have my mother's caboose and wattle: you know, that chin beneath your chin. Wattle wreaks havoc on an unforgiving rigid plastic collar. For the sake of some comfort I purchased 2 more blouses - this time with a tab collar (roomier with the appearance of less wattle).
So I have succumbed to vanity, vanity, vanity. Now, I just have to remember to vacuum the car more frequently and pack a lint remover at all times so that Miss Emmy Lou's brown fur does not accessorize all my dark clothing!
A Snap of Autumn
Friday afternoon I set off for my retreat in Jordan, NY. The route from my small home will wend me through the Catskill Mountains. While they have their own majesty and character, they are a series of rolling hills with a highway or two cutting through the valleys below. People from the west chortle under their collective breath at the idea that the Catskills are called mountains at all: they don't compare with the jagged, angular Rockies.
Friday's air was crisp. The fall this year slid in with 'unseasonably' high temperatures in the 60's and 70's for weeks. Unsurprisingly, it took quite some time before the trees began turning various familiar fall colors.
State Troopers were out in record force. I expect to see them by the 15th of the month, but not on the 2nd. Between the deterrent of the troopers and the frequently posted ROAD WORK AHEAD or REDUCE SPEED AHEAD it was difficult to make good time. Rather than become disgruntled and arrive ill tempered I kept looking at the scenery. Without a cloud in the sky I felt transported. I wasn't driving at all - I was in a mini submersible exploring an undulating coral reef. Long grasses waved to and fro. There were a few patches of vibrant color, but most of the growth sported muted shades of browns, yelllows and a spot or two of grey.
This reverie of sorts would be broken just a few times by blaring brake lights, two intersections in tiny hamlets and large signs forewarning of major intersecting highways. The fading light added nuance to panorama surrounding me. I left the Catskills behind when finished my westward direction to turn toward the north.
Oh, but it was
beautiful while it lasted!
Pizza and baked macaroni with cheese awaited me at Christ Church. Comfort food on a distinctly fall evening. There was conversation, Centering Prayer and a preview of what was planned for Saturday. Pastor Kate invited me to pile my things in her car and leave mine in the church parking lot and I did gladly.
I slept intermittently that night,ideas going through a head which was feeling a bit stuffy. Ah, those change of weather sniffles. Just before I finally drifted off into solid sleep I heard the words of Julian of Norwich:" ...how should anything be amiss? Yes, all shall be well, and all will be
well, and thou shall see thyself that all manner of thing shall be well."
Backing out of the garage there was no denying it: there was frost on the pumpkin! The first frost of the season that made lawn glisten. The retreat unfolded in its own way: not necessarily what I had planned, but obviously what the group needed. Thank you, Julian, for the appropriate mind set.
It was cold again out of doors on Sunday, but very comfortable in the parish hall and sanctuary. After returning to Pastor Kate's home where we each indulged in the nearly cliche clergy nap it was time to pack up and head back to the car and home. Daylight saving time now in effect, it became darker earlier and I didn't have the scenery to occupy my thoughts. Instead I prayed for each of the people who had worked on this event and each of the individuals who I had prayed with. Bless them each, bless them all.
I drove past my home and south to the Farm where Emmy Lou had spent the weekend with Ben, Kitten, Barbara and Q. She greeted me enthusiastically, bounced down the back steps for an invigorated toilet then hopped back up. We tip toed up the stairs, I turned out the hall light and quietly went into the former India room. Em had already taken her place on the bed, but waited 'til I settled before circling twice and thumping down, leaning against my chest and arm in a curl. Thank you, Lord for this snap of autumn, the trip, my friends, Pastor Kate and her family, all the Saints that I had the pleasure to meet in Jordan.
All was well, all is well and all shall be well.
Sunday Celebration of All Saints Day, Nov. 4, 2007
Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10; Psalm 14,Revevlations of John 7:2-4, 9-17: Matthew 5:1-12.
All preachers and teachers are welcome to use this essay with a simple acceditation.
No further permission is needed. Please note - this is intended to be a sermon directed toward younger children
Do you get lost in the Bible readings sometimes? I do. Some of them are very hard to understand because the language they were written in was a kind of poetry instead of in everyday language. What we are going to do today is to use todays language to make it easier to understand what the Bible stories meant.
First is the reading from Ecclesiasticus. Can anyone say that? This reading is about really, really well known people who became famous while they were still alive. Some of them are remembered - even to today - because they were very smart amout many, many things and others heard about or read about their thoughts. Others are remembered because they wrote beautiful music and words that everyone would sing. Still other people became famous because they were very brave and were heros to their people. Their memory and their work life on because they had many children and followers who re-told their victories and wisdom and musical pieces.
There were some people who were less well known even though they too were brave, or wrote well, or made up music because they were known by their farmilies and friends. God reminds us that just because fewer people knew them or what they did does NOT mean that people will forget them. They will be remembered too, because God and others considered them very holy and worth remembering: of all the things they left behind, their love of others will be remembered most!
The most important message I can give you today is one that very much relates to all of you sitting in front of me today. There is one line in Jesus' famous speech entitled "The Beatitudes" which very much relates to you and to other, bigger people in different places in the world. It's one line that is in St. Matthew's version of this sermon. The special statement that Jesus made is: 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth'
. How many of you have heard the word MEEK? Don't feel bad if you haven't heard it or don't know what it means. The word meek
sometimes meant humbly patient or spiritless. Today one might give it the meaning of 'not having power'. You are all under 14 and powerless to drive a car. You are powerless to vote. You are powerless to make life changing decisions for hundreds of other people. However, you, the meek, will eventually become the ones who inherit this earth and all that is in it and on it. When you inherit the earth, you will be responsible for its resources. You will vote for those people you believe will be just in their governing. You are all saints in the making -- every single one in this church is a saint in the making. Saints make mistakes sometimes. They goof off sometimes. What they do more than anything else is love God and work, play, think, create, imagine, learn - all as a way of saying Thank You to God. Gratitude is something that each saint shows. Whether it is Saint Francis or Saint Aunt Shirley (who never bothers to use her saint title).
So bend and stretch now, little saints of God. Practice saying THANK YOU in a zillion different ways. You are the ones - meek but for the Love of God - who will inherit the earth!