Numbers 21:4-9 † Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 † Ephesians 2:1-10 † John 23:14-21
I wonder if today’s unique selection of lectionary texts don’t illustrate at least a part of the challenge of finding our way on this ancient path of faith. Think of it this way: Where we start has a lot to do with where we end, and it can have everything to do with how long we might choose to stick it out, and what and who we might meet along the way.
Surely, we are all familiar with this verse from John that, for a time, made it on more posters in more stadiums than we care to count. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world…”
Many who have never set foot in a church could recite the rest of it in their sleep. And for good reason, it speaks in concise language what we hold onto as the heart of the gospel—the love of God that pre-empts all else. The light of God that fills our way with light. And the next verse may be even better. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
2 Kings 2:1-12 + Psalm 50:1-6 + 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 + Mark 9:2-9
“When I was six or seven years old,” writes Annie Dillard in her luminous book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,
I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since. For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe.[i]
Annie Dillard is thinking here about seeing, about being aware of what is around us. She is making the point that “free surprises” and “unwrapped gifts” lay all about us in the world, in the same kind of way as does the poet Mary Oliver who asks what we plan to do with our “one wild and precious life.”[ii]
I think Dillard’s childhood memory may be helpful for us today as we take a look at this story of Jesus’ transfiguration—as we follow the arrows written in the dirt up the side of the mountain. SURPRISE AHEAD. A free gift from the universe. COME AND SEE. It makes me wonder if God in this story isn’t a bit like Dillard’s giddy six or seven-year-old self: SURPRISE AHEAD. Follow the path! LOOKIE HERE: my son, my son. Listen to him! Do you see what you’ve got here?
Isaiah 40:21-31 † Psalm 147:1-11, 20c † 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 † Mark 1:29-39
It was a shot of darkness that I encountered this week. A blog referenced by an old friend, a single voice attempting to name what we have lost. It began with a familiar refrain, noting that in the past 23 days the United States has seen 11 school shootings.[i] According to Everytown for Gun Safety, which seems to be the source of these numbers, we would need to add nine days to the total and only one more shooting for 12 shooting in about 32 days, which lowers the frequency a bit, but frankly doesn’t feel much like good news.
The point of the blog, though, wasn’t the frequency of shootings or even gun violence in general, but what has happened to us as events like this continue to occur. Umair Haque, the blogs author, is suggesting that American culture is in decline, that this American experiment and with it, our notion of American exceptionalism, seems to be on the way out.
Haque’s diagnosis is sobering. He names five destructive tendencies, five social pathologies he observes in American culture that signal this decline. The first is signaled by this statistic about school shootings—that our kids are killing each other. Haque puts the number of shootings and its frequency in perspective in order to make his point. 11 school shootings in 23 days, or 12 shootings in 32 days, if you wish. It is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan, even Iraq. In fact, this just doesn’t happen in any other country in the world. It is, he suggests, a “new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society.”[ii]
Revelation 7:9-17 † Psalm 34:1-10, 22 † 1 John 3:1-3 † Matthew 5:1-12
“We have to stop and get Gran some ice cream.”
That was the memory that pressed in most strongly as I looked down at the rough map of my family that I had drawn. It was for a class, this map, and I wasn’t at all happy that I had to do it. We were to draw out the relational and emotional map of our families 3 generations back so that we could examine together the dynamics and the forces that are at play; so we could see what had formed us, and what has power over us.
I looked down at my map, all colored boxes and tiny dates and squiggly lines. “We have to stop and get Gran some Ice cream”, I heard my mom say, and my dad, and my uncle Hugh, my Uncle Ralph, my cousin James, my cousin Helen.
You see, when we gathered at my Gran’s house with family, everyone knew that someone had to stop at the corner shop right below her apartment and grab a little tub of the soft serve ice cream they sold there.
Now all these years later, it is this thing that I remember, so fondly. So much more happened in my family as shown by the rough contours of my map. Rough times, and happier times. People, regular, complex people trying to do the best they could, struggling with hurt passed down over the generations. Family gatherings could get difficult, old patterns kicked in. But she would always look forward to ice cream, and she would laugh when we brought it, and she would sit with her grandkids, while the other adults did their thing, she would sit and share a little ice cream.
Exodus 12:1-14 † Psalm 149:1-9 † Romans 13:8-14 † Matthew 18:15-20
Do you remember the Somali pirates? They made news about 5 years ago with a spate of ship hijackings off the horn of East Africa. The story gained some traction in the news and lots of mixed reaction, even inspiring the 2013 movie “Captain Phillips” played by Tom Hanks. The movie tells of a 2009 Somali hijacking—the first of an American cargo ship in 200 years.
I remember because it was one of those stories that seemed to appear in the news out of nowhere, and then disappear almost as quickly. Piracy in the modern world? Where did this come from? And why? And why now?
It turns out political instability—essentially a decades-long civil war had resulted in a missing-in-action Somali government. In the vacuum of leadership and the dismantling of the local navy, foreign ships began to exploit the coast, invading local fishing grounds and poisoning the waters with illegal waste that further decimated the fishing population. It effectively ended the fishing trade that had provided a living for these Somalis and their families.
They turned to piracy out of desperation, holding crews hostage for ransom.
Lamentations 1:1 - 6 • Lamentations 3: 19 - 26 • 2 Timothy 1:1-14 • Luke 17:5-10
How many of you have junk drawers at home? What kind of things do you have in them? Why do you have them?
I love the section heading at the beginning of Luke 17. It isn’t actually a part of the original text. It was given by the editors for the NRSV—that’s the version of the bible that we typically use, the one in your pew Bibles. Did you happen to notice it?
“Some sayings of Jesus.” Isn’t that great? We may have just found ourselves in the junk drawer of Luke. Here we have a few really good sayings of Jesus that Luke didn’t want to lose, so he just threw them all right here so that he could find them later.
Jeremiah 18:1-11 | Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 | Philemon 1-21 | Luke 14:25-33
There is no escaping faith. This is important to understand. You have to believe in something. When Jesus spins around and confronts this large crowd who is following him with a word that sounds harsh and confrontational and impossible, he is at least making this truth plain. There is no such thing as neutral living. If you choose not to give yourself to something, you have given yourself to something else by virtue of your choice. If you choose to be inactive about something you are, at the least, supporting the status quo. No matter what you do, you are giving yourself to something. The question is to what.
Readings for this Sunday:
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 | Psalm 48 | 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 | Mark 6:1-13
The packing list is small. What a gift that is! Just a staff, shoes, the clothes on your back. No need to worry about bag fees or security measures. No images of trudging down dusty roads dragging behind you a pile of luggage, with that one wheel that broke on that last leg of the trip giving you fits as it drags a wave of dirt with it, kicking up dust, your shoulders getting tired.
St. Andrew Sermons