Proper 4, June 3, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6
There’s a lot going on in today’s readings. Samuel is called by God to serve as the next great prophet. It seems from the reading, that he hasn’t even reached an age to know what God might want of him. By the end of the reading, though, he is ready and speaking out.
And then there are the two stories of Jesus breaking the “no work on the Sabbath” law. By Jesus’ time there were many rules about what work you could or couldn’t do on a Sabbath. Jesus points out that what the Pharisees insisted on were man-made fussiness, and not God-made. He will continue to break rules in favor of compassion from now on. The Sabbath was a day of necessary rest. For the good of all creation, every living thing needs rest as well as nourishment to thrive. But even in the Jewish rule book, emergency situations could allow a bending of the laws.
St. Benedict even made it a requirement for his monks and other followers to include rest in their individual rule of life, along with prayer, worship, food, work, and recreation.
So whether we take Sundays off (not realistic for most of us) or some other time during the week, we ought to take time to rest and worship. For some, that might only come during vacations, but we do need a Sabbath time.
What about the real issue of breaking God’s or human law? We do least little “bends” pretty frequently. And then there are the more subtle things. Actions that go against expectations that people assume are rules. When Fons got a diet from his doctor, he asked “How often can I sin?” As a new librarian, I would ask, “what rules can we break or bend, and which ones are absolute?”
I got that from my father. His birthday was June 3, 1915, so 103 years ago. I still think about him often, even though he died in 2002. His mother was a German immigrant who never learned to speak very much English. His father died when he was 6 months old and his mother remarried and had another son. Her new husband was a merchant marine, so basically she was a single mom for most of the time. She was determined that both boys would have successful lives. Dad was expected to tutor his brother so that he could stay on top of his classes. Dad was a totally brilliant nerd. He finished Columbia College on full scholarship in 4 years, going to school at night, working a day job to help the family, and studying on the subway. Then on to grad school, same routine.
Responsible, very smart, and very observant. Also very independent. He never liked being told what to do. He grew up Lutheran, my mom was Episcopalian. After World War II, they moved to a town that only had a community church. He loved it – no prayer book, no one was telling him how to pray. He was even lucky during the war. Out of duty he followed orders, but hated it when they didn’t make sense. He was in charge of training other CPA/soldiers to handle the discharge paperwork for the all soldiers. His commander wanted to promote him by giving them a qualifying test. Dad said with a straight face, “Sir, we are creating that qualifying test”. They got their promotions. His assignment in the accounting division of the Army was longer than most – 6 months longer to work on soldiers’ discharge benefits. When he got out, the CPA jobs at corporations were filled. He became self-employed – actually perfect for him.
Because of his sense of responsibility, he was often on our town’s council, and of course the church board. He made interesting decisions. A Jewish congregation in our area wanted a place to worship while their new temple was being built. They asked our church for the use of the Parish Hall. My dad said no – use the sanctuary – it is already sacred space. A surprise (and perfect) response that everyone agreed to. Breaking or bending what seemed to be the rules?
He loved creating, imaging, encouraging, and helping businesses and individuals plan their futures. Not a prophet, not visibly spiritual, but likely to be the kind of person Jesus would have us be. Not afraid of doing what he thought was right. Dad knew which laws could not be challenged, and which ones to bend.
I wonder if he felt he had a calling. Once I asked him if he found it boring to sit at a desk working with numbers all day long. He said that the numbers didn’t matter – he just had a skill that helped people. And he did that as a CPA earning a living for his family, he did that for the church and for the town. That sounds like a calling. Nothing very exciting, or dramatic, just what he did.
Sometimes we dismiss our own calling because it seems to normal, too unexciting, too easy. We may have to ask ourselves – how does what we do help others? Is it our professional skill, our hobbies when we share them, our prayer life when we bring our concerns for our family and friends to God? Do we invite the ‘wrong’ people to dinner? Is it when we protest rules that have no compassion?
During the next few weeks we are setting up lists of people to take various ministries around the church as we move into a time of transition. Think of all the things you normally do in any given day. Can they help other people? Can you do them for the church?
This is a transition, not a Sabbath. No time to rest and wait. Life goes on, and it is the vitality, the energy, the spirit of the community, the people, the congregation, that keeps this place a holy gathering.
It is time for each of us to say “here I am, for your servant is listening.” And follow what you hear.
Trinity B-18, May 27, 2018
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
This week I have been cleaning up of my stuff. It started here in the office. Like most projects, every time I finish something on my list of to-do jobs, two more suddenly appear. So, stuff at home is also getting a review.
I found a newsletter from the summer camp I went to in the 1950’s. In it was an article I wrote, and when I re-read it, I laughed out loud. It was about all the different talents we have (like Paul wrote to the Corinthians) and how we need each other to make God’s perfect community. And, Lopezians, I made the comparison to a quilt with many different patches that together form a new beautiful piece! So, even way back then, I was thinking of this as one of my favorite themes.
Last week was Pentecost. We were supposed to have a big procession and all that follows, but, with the Profile Discussions planned for the same day – well, we switched that part of the celebration to today. Trinity and Pentecost together. Pentecost celebrates the birthday of the Church. Trinity Sunday celebrates the whole way we see three parts of one God being in us.
So where are the presents, our gifts? What are they?
The obvious one is the coming of the Holy Spirit, the “advocate” promised by Jesus to be with us all the time. In his stead, the Spirit guides us, strengthens us, comforts us. Another of the obvious gifts from God is Jesus. Our reading today reminds us that God so loved us that he gave us the gift of his “only Son” so that we could have eternal life.
And then there are the gifts he gave us as individuaIs – life, and the physical gifts and skills that make us who we are. Not to mention our spiritual gifts. I love the fact that the Children’s Church has picked up on that. So, today we share what the children thought were the spiritual gifts we have received.
We have these wonderful spiritual gifts that we should be using with as much enthusiasm and being as diligence in practicing them as we do with our physical talents. It may be hard work – being the listener, the guide, the cheerful one, the faithful one, the good friend or parent, the patient teacher. But just like having a good voice or a mind that can design rockets, being the caring follower of Jesus requires our full energy and devotion.
I thought of a few places that the physical and the spiritual work together.
A quilt. Art, skill in sewing, and eye for detail, and patience to see it through.
Ceramics. Art again. But also faith, trust, that what you have made in soft clay, will go into a kiln and come out the way you imagined it would. And yet again into the kiln to be glazed. All along, the end process is one that is not readily seen. And a flaw, unseen, could ruin all the work during any phase.
Gardening. But we trust that the seeds will grow even when the weather isn’t just right. And suddenly, they are there! Radishes, carrots, and even tomatoes.
A cup of tea, shared with a friend while we listen and help and care for each other.
All of these things show the same love for each other that God has for us. All require some part of us to be present to God and to the processes of transforming physical stuff into something new, or transforming our relationships with other people into something stronger. Those changes are sometimes dramatic, sometimes subtle.
Some of us are going to hear and see Michael Curry in a few weeks. A new Cursillo weekend will be offered again in the Fall. We search for ways to be transformed. We want to find out how our spiritual life can make sense in our crazy world. We want find and cultivate our spiritual gifts. We want them to be energized and used.
Before you think I am a rosy dreamer, hopelessly out of touch with reality, remember there are other parts of our being that are not so rosy – our weaknesses. We are easily tempted by food or power or winning at all costs. We may have a disability – poor eyes, no sense of balance, mental or physical limitations, any number of characteristics (gifts from the same God?).
It is too frustrating to see that set of behaviors in people around us, and then listen to Jesus talking about another way of going through life. We accept that the world around us is full of violence, corruption, people trying to get the most benefit for themselves without regard to others in their way, but Jesus says, do we have to accept that as the norm. He tells us to live our lives by loving God and our neighbor.
Finding the path down the middle of our mixed-up world is where the Holy Spirit can give us the daily strength to live a life that we can enjoy, and make decisions that do not harm or ignore our neighbors. That is only possible when we follow God and Jesus.
The way we balance these two is hard. We are not asked to do anything by ourselves. We have the Advocate in the Holy Spirit to help us. We can be reborn by placing more emphasis on our spiritual side, considering how actions for our personal benefit affect others before we go on our own way.
Each of us has a unique set of physical and spiritual gifts for a reason. And we are reborn spiritually throughout the church year. If it doesn’t work in Advent or Lent, then with Baptisms, or the readings on forgiveness or rebirth like today. (Obviously, we are a church that believes in new starts and continual forgiveness and mercy).
On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember the sacrificed lives that those in our family and community have given to protect us as a nation. Just as we try to make our country better in their honor, we, as Christians must try to make the world better in honor of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.