Preacher: Meredith Woods Potter
Scripture: Matthew 14:22-33
Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 13, 2017
Preacher: Meredith Woods Potter
Scripture: Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
Date: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 23, 2017
Preacher: Meredith Woods PotterScripture: Matthew 5:38-48Date: Epiphany VII, February 19, 2017
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!!
10:00 AM Holy Eucharist with music