Date: Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 24, 2016
Date: Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 17, 2016
Date: January 9, 2016
Date: First Sunday after Christmas, December 27, 2015
Date: Christmas; December 25, 2015
A sermon preached by Bret Chandler, Youth Minister
Nov. 22, 2015
The Romans were very interested in earthly kingdoms. First of all, they established the largest geographical empire in history. But, second of all, they did it by maintaining a variety of earthly vassal kingdoms: kingdoms that paid tribute to Rome and were a part of the Roman Empire, but could run themselves without direct Roman control.
King Herod, for instance, was a vassal puppet king. He could run Galilee as he wished so long as he gave tribute to Rome and acknowledged Roman superiority.
Rome dwelled on earthly kingdoms, and we see this as we read our Gospel lesson where Jesus stands before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.
Now according to the Gospel of John, the Jewish leadership had handed Jesus over to Pilate claiming that he should be put to death because he is a criminal. So you would think that Pilate’s first questions to Jesus would be about his accused crimes. But instead Pilate’s first question to Jesus is, “Are you King of the Jews?” Like a good Roman, Pilate emphasizes what interests Romans most: earthly kingdoms.
So Jesus answers him with a question,
“Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” And Pilate responds,
“Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”
Only after Pilate references the Jewish nation, who live under Roman power, does he finally ask Jesus, “What have you done?”
So Jesus at last has the opportunity to reply to those who have accused him of being a criminal. Finally, he can reply to the all-important question, “What have you done?” Jesus ironically answers, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Jesus does not answer Pilate’s question. Instead of seizing the opportunity to requite himself of any wrongdoing, Jesus seemingly entertains Pilate’s fascination with kingdoms,
And hearing the magic word, Pilate responds to Jesus, “So you are a king?”
Jesus answers, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Notice that Jesus testifies to the Truth not to Pilate.
Now our Gospel lesson cuts off from there, but we know how it ends. Even though Jesus told Pilate that he was not a King of this world and that he had no threatening army, Pilate still had Jesus condemned and crucified as King of the Jews.
Pilate was never able to fully grasp what it means for Jesus’s Kingdom to be of a different world, and looking around the world today, we can see that not much has changed since Pilate’s time. The expanding threat of terrorist groups like ISIS, for instance, show that despite their pretense for heavenly glory, they are interested only in making earthly kingdoms.
But this Gospel lesson is only partly about those with political power who focus on earthly kingdoms. More importantly this passage is an invitation. See Pilate may not have been a follower of Jesus, but when Jesus was telling him that his kingdom was not of this world, Jesus was extending an invitation to Pilate—his enemy—to join that Kingdom, to be a part of the Kingdom to come and put his worldly resources to that end.
And even though we may be followers of Jesus, we still have the same invitation as Pilate: to serve the kingdom to come, not the institution that is, or the building we have, or the programs we run. What Jesus invites us to is not about what is, but what is to come. Everything we have as a church, as a community who follows Christ, as individual believers, are to be for paving the way for what has not yet been realized. We are a community of “not yet.” We are an Advent community.
And this matters for how we live our lives. For instance, in order to get our bearings as Christians in moral dilemmas it has become popular to ask, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” But the invitation of the Gospel tells us that to ask ourselves is not quite appropriate. It gives too much power to the situation. Rather the Gospel invites us to ask something more radical. Not, “What would Jesus do?” But rather, “What action, in this situation, points to the New Kingdom?” “How is the Spirit calling me or us to transform this situation of today so as to offer hope for the Kingdom of tomorrow?”
So I ask this question, as we worship today, as we engage in ministry, and as we prepare our church for the future: How are we a community of people of the world to come? How does what we do as a church transform what is so as to give hope for the glory that Jesus says is coming?
In a world of now, now, now! We are a community of “not yet!” And it can make the church seem like a big tease. When I was a kid, I remember how difficult it was for me to go to sleep when I was excited for what to come the next day. Christmas Eve was the same, I could never fall asleep—Either that or I would wake up way too early, and end up just waiting hours to open presents. One year I woke up at 2 in the morning and went downstairs and ended up helping my mom finish wrapping the presents. She was certainly in a moment of “not yet!” But the funny thing is, looking back at those times, I remember my excitement more than the actual event or material things I was excited about.
In this world, our excitement comes and it goes upon realization—it passes. New things become old. But that’s the power of Jesus’s invitation: the New Kingdom, the Kingdom to come never gets old—it continually refreshes what is.
When we feed somebody in the name of Christ, we fill their bodies but we also give them hope and expectation for when we all will be filled eternally. When we accept somebody who is rejected in the name of Christ, the love they experience is filled with the joy of that eternal comfort all will know when Christ comes again. When we see Christ in others, even in our enemies, we acknowledge that we all belong to the same God and that we all will be made new.
We are invited to participate in the transformative Kingdom that continually makes us anew and inspires hope for what is to come. It is an exciting invitation. It is our invitation. Are you coming?
Preached at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church
on the occasion of the baptism of Miller Ryan McLaughlin
Texts: 1 Kings 17: 8-16
Mark 12: 38-44
Preacher: Meredith Woods Potter
It’s that time of year. The leaves are falling from the trees; the days are getting shorter; the furnace is kicking on during the night; and churches are talking about “stewardship.” And although we tend to associate the word “stewardship” with the annual pledge campaign, I really began to understand the true meaning of stewardship from my children and grandchildren. After a particular eighth grade science class, my older boys came home from school and announced that our family had to become “better stewards of the environment.” And so we all sat down at the dinner table that evening to decide what changes we could make in our household spending and consumption. We all agreed the first thing to go was buying colored tissue for the bathroom because the dye was killing fish. This was soon followed by a family decision to conserve electricity and gas by turning off lights each time we left a room, foregoing outside Christmas decorations, and lowering the thermostat five degrees in winter. I readily agreed with all the suggestions my sons had brought home from school, but when Jamie suggested we could save water by bathing less frequently and shared bath water, then I put my foot down!
But as our family decided to change its consumption habits, I “seized the moment” to explore with my children how saving the environment was really part of God’s covenant with humankind. And so we began to read Genesis together, and we were reminded that God had given humankind dominion over every fish and every bird and every living thing, every plant - every wheat and corn field in Illinois. God was “extravagantly generous” in giving humankind all of creation for our use, and in response we were to be “stewards” of God’s creation. And if we were to be faithful stewards of what God had given us, then we needed to exercise our own extravagant generosity to others - especially to those in need. That’s what our family came to understand faithful stewardship as being all about: participating with God in extravagant generosity.
Five years ago Warren Buffett teamed up with Bill and Melinda Gates to launch the “Giving Pledge” –a commitment to donate at least half of their fortunes to charities and philanthropic causes and to convince America’s wealthiest individuals to do likewise. Today, 130 couples and individuals from 14 countries have signed on, including: CNN founder Ted Turner, movie director George Lucas, and Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. One of the most recent billionaires who has signed the Giving Pledge is Hamdi Ulukaya, a native of Turkey who started the Greek yogurt company Chobani after immigrating to the US in 1994. In a public statement Ulukaya said that he took the pledge “to help refugees and help bring an end to this global humanitarian crisis.” Another recent billionaire to sign the pledge is the women’s stretchware Spanx founder Sara Blakely, who has pledged to invest in women because she believes women offer one of the greatest returns on investment.
Reporters have labeled the Giving Pledge “extravagant generosity.” These billionaires are sincere about exercising good stewardship of their wealth, and thousands of people benefit every year from their generosity. But true extravagant generosity, as this morning’s Gospel suggests, comes not from giving out of one’s abundance – from parting with one’s “leftovers,” but from giving out of one’s poverty – from giving what one can’t reasonably afford to give. And so it was not Bill Gates nor Warren Buffet but rather the poor widow who gave the only two coins that she had, who was extravagantly generous.
One summer my granddaughter went with her youth group on a mission trip to a very poor mountain town in Mexico. The youth worked hard to earn the money to make the trip possible (they apparently didn’t think of a pumpkin patch.) It was also a very demanding trip: it was hot; the conditions were very primitive. And yet the youth managed to help build an addition to the little church, two houses, and teach Bible study every day to the village children. And like many such mission trips, it was a life-changing experience for my granddaughter and her friends. But the parents discovered an unexpected ending to that mission trip. When the group of young people returned, their parents were surprised to discover that the youth had returned with no money and no luggage; no sleeping bags or parkas; no CD players or radios or designer jeans. Even favorite t-shirts and sneakers had all been left behind. My granddaughter explained: “We realized that we had so much and those children had so little. We knew we couldn’t begin to meet all their needs, but we decided that at least we could give them everything that we had.” Those teenagers choseextravagant generosity toward their new Mexican friends.
In today’s lesson from the Book of Kings we are given another example of a widow who exhibited extravagant generosity in the face of abject poverty – a widow who gave away the last of her resources. Elijah, the prophet, was a pretty desperate man on the run. He had gotten himself into quite a jam when he prophesied to the people of Israel that there would be neither dew nor rain because of their idolatry. That didn’t sit well with the King nor the people, and Elijah was forced to get out of town in a hurry. At first he sought refuge at a small oasis in the desert (the Cherith wadi). But when the ravens disappeared and the wadi went dry, Elijah began to panic, and he began to question whether he could count on God after all. Today’s reading begins with God telling Elijah to go down the road to Zarephath, where he will find a widow with whom he can stay.
Elizah decides to continue to trust God, but when he reaches the widow’s humble dwelling, he discovers that she and her son are literally one meal from starvation. Yet somehow Elijah trusts that God has sent him to the right place and the woman also decides to trust Elijah and Elijah’s God. And God provides the miracle. Now in reality, the woman had nothing to lose - she was facing death anyway. But in another sense she had nothing to lose because even that last bit of meal, that last jar of oil wasn’t hers. The little she had belonged to God. That’s the whole point of the story; and that’s the starting point of theextravagant generosity of stewardship. To be an extravagantly generous steward is to recognize that we are only caretakers of what belongs to God. And only when we are willing to give up our claim of personal ownership, will there always be enough to go around! That’s the miracle of true stewardship; that’s the point of extravagant generosity.
In just a few minutes we will be receiving a new member into our Christian community through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. As we hear Miller Ryan McLaughlin being “marked as Christ’s own forever” we are being reminded that is an example of God’s extravagant generosity to his parents and grandparents. And yet Miller does not belong to them. He belongs to God. I know that Sharon and Dan as grandparents want to shower on their grandson every material blessing that they can. And Miller’s parents, Danielle and Blair, want the very best for their son as well and will make sacrifices for him as he grows up. But one of the most important gift that his parents and grandparents- and we as his new community of faith - can give to Miller is to model for him what it means to be a steward of God’s creation, and to teach and guide him into entering his own covenant of extravagant generosity with God.
Title: Tearing Down the Fences
Preacher: Meredith Woods Potter
Texts: Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48
When I lived in Evanston, my back deck looked out onto a golf course. I would enjoy my morning cup of coffee as I watched a family of ducks take a morning stroll toward the water hazard, and on summer weekends I would watch the golfers. It was a beautiful golf course, but in all the years I lived there, I never actually set foot on it. There was a tall, green chain-link fence along the back of my property separating my backyard from the adjacent fairway. The golf course was for members only, and so the exclusive club constructed a chain link fence to make sure that those of us who lived along Princeton Avenue would be excluded.
The words exclusive and exclude both have the same root meaning: prohibiting outsiders. And both of today’s Scripture readings have to do with people of God who tried to establish exclusive clubs in order to exclude from their self- defined “inner circles” those whom they considered to be outsiders – those whom they thought should be excluded
During Moses' time God had given the people of Israel ten simple guidelines for living in relationship with each other and with their God. But instead of just living faithfully and enjoying God and God’s blessings, the Israelites soon became consumed with creating more and more rules and structures in an attempt to define and determine who deserved to be blessed. And those rules and structures became human fences that effectively excluded many from access to God.
This morning's lesson from the Book of Numbers is an example of an exclusive club at work. It all began as the Israelites forgot what captivity in Egypt had really been like, and they became absorbed with their nostalgic but somewhat tainted remembrance of Egyptian food. And so they began to complain and whine to Moses, and in turn Moses complained and whined to God. But with divine patience God told Moses to gather together seventy elders for a meeting. God then promised to empower the chosen elders to help Moses lead the people. An exclusive club was about to be formed.
Sixty-eight of the elders gathered at the Tent of Meeting to receive their commission and God’s divine Spirit. But two of the chosen elders, Eldad and Medad, failed to show up. This led the elders who had been at the Tent of Meeting to decide that since those two had not been present, they could not possibly have received God’s divine Spirit. What a surprise for the elders to return to camp and discover Eldad and Medad prophesying. How dare those who had now been excluded exhibit prophetic powers when they hadn’t been at the Tent of Meeting! The 68 elders attempted to erect a fence to exclude those whom they deemed unqualified and undeserving. What a surprise for them to discover that God has no regard for human fences. God’s Divine Spirit was not to be restricted by human objections.
You would think that the disciples would have known the story of Eldad and Medab and the elders’ attempt to form an exclusive “inner circle.” Yet in today’s Gospel the disciples seem to have forgotten that story. When a local exorcist began to cast out demons in Jesus’ name, the disciples begged Jesus to make the man stop. After all, the exorcist wasn’t one of the disciples; he wasn’t a member of Jesus’ “inner circle” - he wasn’t a member of their club! But Jesus tore down the fence the disciples were trying to erect. Jesus told the disciples that God empowers whom God wills. The Kingdom of God was not to be restricted by human criteria.
Since the time of Jesus, Churches and Christian institutions too often have continued to act like exclusive clubs, erecting fences that say, “members only.” When I was growing up, this altar rail seemed like a chain-link fence that said to me "keep out, only male priests and boy acolytes are permitted in the sanctuary." In fact it was only after I began to study church history in seminary that I learned that altar rails had been first erected in the Middle Ages to keep wandering animals away from the altar. But even after cows were no longer a problem in most churches, the rails stayed. And so for many generations those altar rails were a symbol to many women like me that leadership in the Episcopal Church was an exclusive “men’s club” governed quite literally by “man-made” rules.
Fortunately, the Church has systematically been tearing down those fences throughout my lifetime. Gender and sexuality are no longer fences that impose restrictions on leadership or ministry. Churches are trying harder to accommodate the disables, and in many churches worship is offered in another language to welcome immigrants. We have finally begun to learn that we are all meant to live in God’s Kingdom; we are all called to do God’s work in the world. The problem is that we haven’t done a very good job of telling that good news to our neighbors! Even though we have a sign that says, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” each of us needs to become more intentional about extending that welcome. Inclusivity begins with opening one’s doors, but it only becomes a reality when we invite others to come through those doors! (I know that even if the Evanston golf course had torn down its fence, I wouldn’t have presumed that I was welcome, unless a member had crossed into my yard on a golf cart, and invited me: “Hop in. Would you like to play a round of golf? I’ve even got a spare set of clubs.”)
We had a grand turnout last Sunday for Evensong; the potluck was fun and the service itself was a truly joyous and spiritual experience. But we did it for us. We missed the opportunity to invite friends and neighbors to experience that worship and fellowship with us. Perhaps if we were to plan another Evensong or similar event in the future, we might be more intentional about advertising the event to our friends and neighbors. We might appeal to our neighbors if we were to plan a similar evening in which we planned to gather with friends and neighbors to pray for peace or for the unemployed or for the safety of all children.
Fortunately, God gives us many, many chances and there is another opportunity on the horizon. Two thousand pumpkins will soon beckon our neighbors into our midst. What an opportunity for us to share with those who come to buy a pumpkin, not only about our youth programs, but about all of our activities and ministries. When we hand people a pumpkin we might say, we might say to them, “You know, we here at St. Gregory’s have been invited to live in God’s kingdom – but so have you! We’d like to invite you to join us!!
In the September 13, 2015 sermon, Reverend David Jones challenges us to ask "Who are you?" This sermon is 10 minutes long.
10:00 AM Holy Eucharist with music