Deuteronomy 34:1-12 † Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 † 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 † Matthew 22:34-46
Back in 2000 my daughter Claire and I went camping with a dear friend and his daughter. The next year another dear college friend and his daughters joined us. Soon enough, my son Peter was old enough and he started coming, building what became a summer camping tradition that lasted some 15 years—essentially through the school years of all our kids.
The annual July drive to our camping trip in Mount Rainier National Park was always a highlight of the year. We hiked all through the park and in nearby locations. We celebrated meals together and spent long hours in conversation around the fire. We created memories that shaped us and will outlast my lifetime. The kids are older now. Half of them are married and have started their own families.
There was one year, one conversation I was reminded of this week. We had been going to the same campground—Ohanapecosh in the Southeast corner of the Park—for at least a decade and we dads began to wonder if we ought to change it up a bit. So we proposed the idea of a new location, a new adventure for the following year to the kids. Before we could even finish the sentence, and with one voice they all cried out: “No! It’s tradition!”
Now, let me try to explain the impact of this on me in the moment.
1 Kings 19:9-18 † Psalm 85:8-13 † Romans 10:5-15 † Matthew 14:22-33
*A video form of this sermon can be found here or you can see the entire liturgy here.
In the Fishlake National Forest, on the western edge of the Colorado Plateau there is a colony of quaking Aspen that is an estimated 80,000 years old. Now, were you walking in the midst of it right now rather than listening to me, it would not be readily apparent. There is no tree in the grove that is anywhere near that age. Cut one down and you might count 80 rings, 80 seasons of growth. Maybe more. Maybe less.[i]
But underground, the eighty-year-old trunks are 80,000, a 100,000 years-old if they are a day. Some scientists think even this is a huge undercount, suggesting the forest has been around for the better part of a million years. Every tree here has sprouted from a rhizome mass too old to date even to the nearest hundred millennia, they say.
Isiah 55:1-5 † Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 † Romans 9:1-5 † Matthew 14:13-21
Eric Law, the episcopal priest tells the story of his childhood table. It was always full—family, friends, travelers. Twelve or more was not unusual. Dinners were stuffed with stories and laughter.
As you might imagine, as a kid, seeing this table, Law just assumed they were rich. As he grew older, he discovered this was not the case. His mother was very resourceful, a bargain shopper, to be sure, but even that did not explain the miracle of their table. Law recalls the particular way they dealt with leftovers as a window into the truth:
Jeremiah 20:7-13 † Psalm 69:7-18 † Romans 6:1-11 † Matthew 10:24-39
A video of this meditation can be found here.
The Jeremiah text caught me this week. I’m sure it’s the moment, the week, the flood of events that have turned our hearts and our attention toward realities that have been in plain sight for centuries and yet less noticed by me, a white male with layers of privilege that buffer my experience. Perhaps you too.
My mother never gave me “the talk.” There was no need.
I remember, in fact, a night in Marietta Georgia while I was a seminary student. Barb and I were out with some friends—a professor of mine, actually and his wife. I was driving. It’s a blur almost 30 years ago now. I took a right, I think. And then flashing blue lights. Then that feeling in the pit of my stomach. We pulled over, and looking back now, it’s almost as if I was possessed.
I was obstinate—I mean more than usual, if you can believe that! Rude even, to the officer. I don’t know why. I can’t even explain it. Even in the moment I had the feeling of floating outside of my body, watching myself, unable to control what I was saying. Perhaps I was embarrassed in front of these friends. There’s no excuse for it.
Here’s the thing, though. The officer was professional. He responded in measured tones. The encounter ended, and we were on our way. Had a few factors been different, who knows what might have happened? A black mother knows. Many black mothers know all too well.
I suspect, Jeremiah knows.
…whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, “Violence and destruction!
1 Sam. 2:18-20, 26; † Ps.148; † Col.3:12-17; † Luke 2:41-52
So tell me if this sounds familiar: “O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all other women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has guided you…”
Let me stop right there to ask you: Is it familiar?
It sounds like Elizabeth, bursting out in song when Mary shows up at her doorstep, doesn’t it? “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” It sounds like a song for Mary, mother of Jesus, for gentle Mary, meek and mild.
But, as you may have guessed, this isn’t that. It’s actually a quote from the book of Judith, which you and I both know is not in our Bible, that is, not in the Protestant canon. But it is in the Septuagint, which is the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament that Jesus would have known. It is also in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons.
So I think we can talk about her, and some of the other women who were, like Mary, highly favored.
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16 † Psalm 19:7-14 † James 5:13-20 † Mark 9:38-50
In his book of essays called My Story as Told by Water[i], northwest writer David James Duncan writes of the chasm between his father and himself. His dad was a World War II vet whose perspective had been forever fixed by the searing experience of liberating a Nazi concentration camp. Duncan was a product of the protest culture of the 1960s Vietnam era. His experience was not unlike many in that age. He describes it this way:
In 1966, when I was fourteen, I began to question the war at our family supper table. The instant I’d speak up, my father would snap that the only reason I could criticize the war at all was that our troops in Vietnam were protecting my freedom to do so. I would argue back by saying that my freedom did not strike me as being dependent upon the clique of Saigon businessmen whom Americans were actually protecting, or on the deaths of the civilians our troops kept “accidentally” killing. Dad would then go off like a bomb, bellowing that I would never talk such rot if I’d seen a concentration camp.
Duncan describes the escalating series of arguments and tensions that grew night after night at the dinner table as both father and son found themselves dug-in deeper and deeper like fox-holes in perspectives that were shaped as much by their stations in life—Duncan as a student watching young men his brothers’ ages going off to a senseless and unwinnable war, never to come back, his father as a veteran of a more comprehensible war with an identifiable enemy, a clearer finish, and now a defense-industry salary that supported his family, including his son of fourteen years.
“I know now,” Duncan writes, “that no argument I could have constructed would have changed my father’s mind, any more than his ‘Nazi’ mantra could change mine. We needed wisdom.”
Isaiah 50:4-9a † Psalm 116:1-9 † James 3:1-12 † Mark 8:27-38
It’s almost as if these readings were chosen for the beginning of school, isn’t it? They are all about learning and all about teaching. And that would not be out of the realm of possibility. The cycle of readings that we share with many Christians throughout the world were formed by a classroom full of teachers who took many things into account as they studied the scriptures, paid attention to points of connection, themes, repetition, insight. There is, as we have noted before, a surplus of meaning here.
And yet, caution is advised. We may not want to look too closely this morning, unless we are prepared to be challenged.
The readings start out well enough with Isaiah: “The Lord has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.”[i]
That’s a powerful, moving image, isn’t it? To sustain the weary with a good word—who wouldn’t want to do something so lovely. Not only our actions, but our words have power—to encourage, to empower, to heal. What an important thing to remember in these days when words seem to be so frequently weaponized instead—deployed for maximum destruction.
Isaiah 35:4-7a † Psalm 146 † James 2:1-7 † Mark 7:24-37
I had a conversation this week with a mom whose child is something of a challenge at the moment. Her description of the behaviors, the wild fluctuations between kind and crazy, tenderness and nastiness, tolerance and small-mindedness brought me back to my own days as a college student and young adult. I remember even today the struggle that raged within myself. There were times when it almost seemed like an out-of-body experience—I was angry and ugly and yet there was a more mature adult part of me that watched from the outside fully aware of a better way to be but not sure how to get there.
I hope I was helpful to the mom as I was able to reassure her this is a part of the growth from childhood to adulthood—that the work of transitioning from one to the other involves weighing the values and beliefs and perspectives we’ve inherited from our parents and other adults, evaluating them, testing them, and ultimately accepting some for ourselves, making them our own, while perhaps rejecting others.
Many developmental psychologists have spoken of this work and of the importance of creating space for this work to happen. It can be incredibly painful at times for us because, if you’re a parent of mentor, it can feel like you are being rejected, but in the long run it is what’s necessary for identify formation.
There is a sense that there’s some developmental work that Jesus is doing in this story in Mark. It’s a curious thing to consider as we play with these classical Christian notions of Jesus’ identity as both fully human and fully God.
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 † Psalm 15 † James 1:17-27 †
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
It is probably not new to most of you that the 16th century reformer Martin Luther was not a fan of the book of James. In fact, he wanted to remove it from the New Testament canon. He didn’t think it belonged in the Bible. He didn’t think it should carry the force and authority of scripture.
Now, it may be news to more of you as to why he actually wanted to see it removed. It wasn’t because James was too focused on good works as a standard for true faith or true religion. It wasn’t because he saw it as being untrue to the arc of the Old Testament scriptures, including this text we have from Deuteronomy which is commentary on what it means to attend to the heart of the law—the commandments given to Moses on Sinai that were the heartbeat of Hebrew faith and the center of Jesus’ bible.
It wasn’t because he disagreed with James’ powerful summary that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God... is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.”
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16† Psalm 22:23-31 † Romans 4:13-25 † Mark 8:31-38
Christy Ma began her newspaper article about a day filled with extraordinary events like this: “Valentine’s Day was a day of love, passion and friendships.” The first line flowed easily, but it took a few more days to get the rest together for the student newspaper the Eagle Eye. She and her co-author Nikhita Nookala drew guidance and reinforcement from each other and from the encouragement of an adviser to get it put together.[i]
Christy and Nikhita, you see, are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and they were writing stories about one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history—a shooting they had experienced. They were covering the shooting and the candlelight vigil that followed, even as they were living it firsthand.
St. Andrew Sermons