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Exploring the Word: Sermon – January 25, 2015
By Roland Legge
3rd Sunday after Epiphany (Year B)
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Are you ready for a revolution? If you are not you might want to reconsider if you want to be a follower of God and Jesus. God and Jesus are continually trying to bring on a revolution of love, peace and justice. They are always surprising us and encouraging us to walk a different path.
Back in the days of Jonah, God was just as busy trying to transform the world. God chose Jonah to be part of that plan. Now Jonah seems like an ordinary person. He is no king or prince. Jonah is not unlike us, fearful of living and speaking prophetically and often too lazy to try. So it is no surprise that Jonah couldn’t be bothered to go Nineveh. But God somehow got him there. The story goes on to tell us that Jonah was first eaten by a fish when he was trying to run away and then burped out near Nineveh. Yes, God does go to great lengths to get our attention and then cooperation. Most importantly, God wants us, like Jonah, to be part of this transformation of love.
So Jonah gets to Nineveh and reluctantly does the work of God. He is just barely into the city proclaiming the sinfulness of the Ninevites that they begin to repent. They were so convincing that our surprising God heard them and forgave them. But like lots of us Jonah was not so forgiving and became enraged when God so quickly forgave them of their sins. Jonah had become so full of hate that he was not so ready to forgive. Then God let Jonah sulk under a bush until he knew that God was not going to change her mind again. You see God is always surprising us. Doing the things we least expect. How is God surprising you? Who are you meant to forgive? Who are you meant to challenge? Who is God calling you to see in a new light?
When God breaks through our armor, often during the traumatic times of our life, then we become open to living out God’s revolutionary plan. If we choose to be part of God’s plan , then we can become part of this holy work.
In the Gospel according to Mark at the beginning of Jesus’ revolutionary ministry he calls upon two men, Simon and Andrew the fishermen. They were both courageous men! It is quite likely that Simon and Andrew came from upper middle class families. They not only had to be willing to give up family and friends but a comfortable standard of living. They were willing to risk their lives. They followed their hearts rather than over analyzing their options which would have probably prevented them from living out their calling. They chose a very different life from what they had been groomed to be. They chose to be counter cultural.
It is Jesus who brings out the revolutionary love in others such as in Simon and Andrew. It happens in the surprising ways that Jesus goes about building God’s revolution. Most revolutionaries would build a strong army. But Jesus goes about inviting ordinary but extraordinary people into his movement. These are a group of untrained, uneducated, fishermen, and tax collectors stumbling along after Jesus.
(Pulpit Resource Vol. 34, No. 1 Year B January, February, March 2006 by William Willimon Published by Logos Productions Inver Grove Heights MN P.G. 18)
Are you surprised?
When we can feel the Spirit of God, which is always accessible to us, we see and feel the world in a different way. When we see injustice, we see a way to liberation. When we see poverty, we not only ask why, we seek the path out of poverty. When we experience neglect for Mother Earth, we grieve, but make choices that will begin to heal the earth. When we are told that we can’t make the world a healthier and more loving place we ignore the sentiment and get on with the revolution.
Each of us has done something to further the revolution. Here is one story of a teacher in Los Angeles as told in Awaken The Art of Imaginative Preaching. Does this story bring any people to mind for you?
Rafe Esquith is a teacher in inner-city Los Angeles, California who sees culturally sanctioned disparity between resources and opportunities available to children of wealthy parents and children of parents with lesser means. He also recognizes that there is a misconception about poor children not caring about school. His way of teaching, his whole way of living, which for years included working four jobs to pay for all of his classroom extras, is countercultural. Esquith draws his students to class hours early and keeps them in school hours after the closing bell, and seven days a week. They clamor to reach and perform Shakespeare, to do challenging mental math problems during breaks in class, and to spend recess learning intricate guitar concertos. This inspired and inspiring teacher has swept up generations of children into his pro-learning movement, many of whom have grown up to return the support they received from him. Other schools have tried to lure Esquith away with much larger paychecks and easier settings but he holds his ground. Viva la revolution!
Awaken the Art of Imaginative Preaching Advent Epiphany 2005-2006 by Janet Norman and Paul Turley Published by Logos Production Inc Inver Grove Heights MN P.G. 37
I hope the story Esquith brings to mind people in our own community. We do have revolutionaries/healers right in our own midst. We have people who visit our many shut-ins. We have people who give of their time to community groups who provide great opportunities for our residents of all ages. We have teachers, nurses and many others who go the extra mile to care for those they serve.
Our society tells us the poor, the elders, the disabled, the mentally ill are not worth our time. Thankfully we have people who the see the value in each person just like Jesus did. Even coming to church today is counter cultural. It goes against our society that says that life has everything to do with consumption. Thus in some way we are all revolutionaries of Jesus. What do you think of that?
Exploring the Word:
Sermon – August 21, 2005
14th Sunday after Pentecost
Exodus 1:8 – 2:10
We are not unlike the disciples in today’s Gospel reading. We too find it much easier to recite what we know about Jesus from others. Maybe it’s the biblical quotations that we memorized from Sunday school. Maybe it is what the Preacher said on a Sunday morning. Maybe it’s from a book we have read. Most of us have no problem doing this. But when it comes to defining who Jesus is for our selves, many of us go into a panic. Even people who are comfortable in speaking in public will freeze up when they are asked to tell us who Jesus is for them. Why is this so hard for many of us?
There are more people willing to risk asking this question of who Jesus is for them. Thus, we are hearing this question being asked more and more these days and not just in the church. Just a few years ago Time Magazine had a cover story that asked “Who was Jesus?” The article was in response to a very controversial movie that had come out, Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ. The article goes on to offer “a diversity of Jesus’s,” and encouraged the reader to takes one pick.
A few years ago the then Moderator of our church, Bill Phipps’s, made what was for many a controversial statement about Jesus. He said that Jesus was not fully God. Thus God was much more than Jesus. When I first read his statement I was not shocked at all because this is exactly what I believed. I believe along with Bill that Jesus was probably the most God conscious person to have ever lived. But for many his statement was sac religious because he went against tradition that said that Jesus was totally God. Even though this caused some discomfort in our congregations it got not only United Church people talking about whom Jesus is for them but got the whole community talking about it. For the first time in recent times people from all walks of life were being encouraged to reflect on who Jesus was for them.
Is there one true image of Jesus? I doubt it. William Schwein goes on to say: “Perhaps no person in history had more labels and names associated with her or him than Jesus: Itinerant sage, Hellenistic cynic, apocalyptic prophet, inspired rabbi, and so on. Even his enemies had a variety of descriptive terms: blasphemer, false prophet, and madman. There are as many ideas and images about Jesus as there are people, it would seem. Maybe the question is really, “Which Christ?”
The Minister’s Annual Manual For Preaching and Worship Planning 2005-2006 Logos Productions Inc Inver Grove Heights MN P.G. 34
What image of Christ do you have at this time in your life? How has that image changed over the years, or has it?
There are more and more books out there to help us to discover who Jesus is for ourselves. One such book is “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” by Marcus Borg. Marcus like many of us grew up with a very traditional understanding of Jesus. He says
“by the end of childhood, the ingredients of the popular image of Jesus were in place: Jesus was the divinely begotten Son of God who died for the sins of the world and whose message was about himself and his saving purpose and the importance of believing in him. Indeed, John 3:16, that verse I memorized as a preschooler, expressed this childhood image perfectly: Jesus is the divine savior in whom one is to believe for the sake of receiving eternal life.”
Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time by Marcus, J. Borg Harper San Francisco P.G. 6
However, as Marcus grew up and learned more about the Scriptures his simple understanding of his faith became meaningless. He was now hungry to have a faith that connected with all of who he was. It was a faith that would grow out of his very being. This was not an easy journey. This was the big aha that opened him to experiencing Jesus in new ways; that God is present in all of us.
This transformation in my understanding of God began to affect my understanding of Jesus. I now was able to see the centrality of God (or “the Spirit,” to say the same thing) in Jesus own life. I began to see Jesus as one whose spirituality — his experiential awareness of Spirit – was foundational for his life. This perception became the vantage point for what I have since come to understand as the key truth about Jesus: that in addition to being deeply involved in the social world of the everyday, he was also grounded in the world of the Spirit. Indeed, as I shall observe from several perspectives in this book, Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit was the source of everything that he was.
Thus, for Marcus Jesus comes alive through our relationship with the Holy Spirit. It is a relationship that is growing and changing, never static. It is a relationship that leads into doing things that one never dreamed of. It pushes us beyond the limitations that we and our societies put upon ourselves.
So who is Jesus for you? I will begin the dialogue by sharing who Jesus is for me. For me Jesus is one of most God/Spirit conscious persons to have lived. At this time in my life I see Jesus as both healer and liberator. Jesus has shown us the way to the Spirit who helps us to discern what we need to do and how to go about doing it. Most importantly Jesus through the Spirit heals anything within and around us that may be blocking us from living out God’s love in the world. We can trust that Jesus will do his part, but will we do ours? What is our part? For me our responsibility is to willingly open our hearts to God and then have the courage to live this love out in everyday life. We then reflect God’s healing love wherever we go. I could go on much longer, but it is time for you to take a moment in silence to begin to reflect on this question.” Who is Jesus for you?
Love changes us whether it is shared between people and/or God. Love calls us forth to be more fully ourselves. It allows us to come out of the cave of fear, allowing the light of God to shine on us and transform us. To love and be loved by Christ requires to have an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit and thus reflect the compassion of Christ wherever we go.
So, who is Jesus for you? What is he inviting you to do? Surrender all that holds you back and allow Jesus and the Holy Spirit to keep working through your heart. May each of us find the abundant new life in Christ!!!!
Reflection # 1 Acts 8:26-40
Jesus whole life was about bringing people to wholeness. He wants each of us to be able to experience the joy and wonder of life. Jesus wants each of us to know in the deepest part of ourselves that we are unconditionally loved by the Creator. He wants to invite us to be spiritually open, enabling the Spirit to keep working through each of us. The Holy Spirit will help us to name and experience the wonderful mixture of humanity and divinity in each of us. When we do this the world feels and looks like a much brighter place.
In the book of Acts we hear the story of how the Holy Spirit was working through Philip. The Spirit was leading Philip to break down barriers. Philip was led by the Spirit to share the Good News with an Ethiopian eunuch. He is breaking the barrier that said Judaism was only for the Hebrews; even the Christian sect within Judaism. He is breaking the barrier in hanging out with some one that was different from him, someone neither male nor female.
Imagine what it would have been like to have been this Ethiopian eunuch. I expect, while he had some respect because of being connected with those in power, many would have ignored this person or seen this eunuch as less than human. I hunch, it must have felt good when Philip took some time with this person to help the eunuch make some sense of scripture this person was reading from Isaiah. It is said that this eunuch went away rejoicing. This person new now beyond doubt that he/she was worthy, loved, respected, a full human being and unconditionally loved by God. This person had been helped by Philip to feel whole. The eunuch was allowing the Holy Spirit to heal him/her from anything that was holding this eunuch back from fully living out its life.
Can you remember a time when you felt out of place? Can you remember a time when you have felt not respected? Can you remember a time when you felt so broken you didn’t know if you could find joy and hope again? Most of us have experienced some of this in our lives. I have had many people in my life help me to discover the wholeness and healing that God desires for me to feel and know. I want to talk to you about a favorite teacher of mine, Mrs. Gardener. She was all about helping me and any student she taught that we were worthy of her time and energy. She made it very clear that she deeply cared about us. She made sure we knew we were bright and intelligent. I can remember her spending hours upon hours with me teaching the times tables that are still with me today. I stayed in touch with her long after she finished teaching. Mrs. Gardener helped me to feel whole. Through the Spirit working through her I received much healing that helped me to keep growing physically, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally.
Who has broken through your barriers? Who has helped you to see beyond all the “isms” to see divine-humanity in each person we meet? Who has helped you to experience wholeness and healing? Who are you inviting into wholeness and healing?
May the Creator bless all of us with the same wholeness that Jesus lived out.
Reflection #2: Mark 5: 25-34
Here we have another story of a person finding wholeness and healing. This is a story about a woman who broke a social taboo. I quote now from Miriam Mary and Me by Lois Wilson:
Although the woman knew her flow of blood had stopped when she touched Jesus, the text says she still “trembled and feared” when Jesus asked “who touched me?” If the incident simply involved physical healing, the woman would not have responded with fear and trembling to Jesus inquiry. But she had spoken a taboo. She had been a social reject for 12 years. Religious law declared any “touching,” of either the woman or anything associated with her, ritually unclean, that is, taboo (Leviticus 15:19-30). She trembled because she had broken the law (Leviticus 12:2-7). She had sinned by appearing in a public space when she was ritually polluted.
Miriam Mary & Me Biblical Stories Retold for Children and Adults by Lois Miriam Wilson Northstone Publishing Kelowna B.C. page 247
Jesus showed us that wholeness comes when we fully recognize another human being. We bring wholeness when we are able to look them right in the eye. We bring wholeness when we reach out and touch another person. We bring wholeness when we acknowledge their presence in a positive way. In order to do this we need to continuing breaking through many taboos.
What are the taboos we need to overcome today? There are many. One is the tendency to see people with disabilities as not full human beings. In order to overcome our fear of being around people who don’t seem “normal” to us we need to try to get a sense of what it might be like to walk in their shoes. This is a good tool to use to break through any taboos and stereotypes that too often get in the way of all people enjoying the blessing of healthy community.
I had inherited a lot of stereotypes about people with mental illness. I somehow got the message that these were not normal people. I got the message you couldn’t trust them. They were somehow not completely human. This was all challenged in my last year of theology school when I learned a lot about schizophrenia. This is just as common as autism! I learnt the most about it when I was in a workshop where they tried to give us participants an idea what it is like to live with schizophrenia. These new learning’s changed me forever.
After trying to listen to multiple voices all talking to me at once and often in very demeaning ways I soon realized why it is so hard for a person living with this terrible illness to function. This new knowledge helped me to be more compassionate. As I got to know people living with schizophrenia I realized that I had little to fear from them. I realized they are just as much the children of God as any so called “able” person is. Also during this same time I was working in the inner cities of Toronto and Vancouver. I discovered I could bring wholeness and healing to people with mental illness by taking time to get to know them and treating them with the dignity that all people should be given. Yes, even people with mental illness can be on the road to wholeness.
Reflection # 3: Luke 10:38-42
I love the story of Mary and Martha. There are many ways to interpret the story. But today I want to focus on how Jesus was able to recognize Mary’s need to be spiritually fed. Mary’s need for healing and wholeness was more important at that time than Martha’s need to provide hospitality.
We all need to take time to care for ourselves just as Mary was allowing herself to do with Jesus. We all need time to care for our minds, our spirit, our intellect and our need to participate in meaningful service in our world. But this is hard to do in a world that puts so much value on production, money and consumption. I even find it hard to take twenty minutes to do Centering Prayer each day. One would think it should not be hard. Why? I know for me there is still a part of me that does not take seriously the wisdom that meditation and prayer are a good use of my time. How easy or hard do you find it to care for yourself?
I hope that we will stay on the road to wholeness and healing through out our lives. May the Spirit bless each of us through the words of this poem by Ann Weems called: Gift of God. Hear it as though I am saying this right to you.
Gift of God
gift next to me and
pass me Bread and Wine…
with communion in your countenance
aware accepting affirming
Gift of God
touch this lepered me
Instrument of God
hear alleluias through obscenities
see rainbows in the darkest storms
unearth flowers in the snow
Gift of God
I thank God for you!
Reaching for Rainbows by Ann Weems The Westminster Press 1980 Philadelphia page 34