Archive for the Homilies Category

Repenting Corporately

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2018 by timtrue

Luke 3:7-18

1.

Last week we discussed Luke 3:1-6. This week the passage is Luke 3:7-18. Last week was part 1, this week is part 2; and in both passages the message is the same: we are called to repent.

Repentance, as I said last week, is less a U-turn than a re-orientation, like a compass we use again and again, in conjunction with the other tools God has given us, to align and re-align ourselves along life’s way.

That’s what we see happening in today’s passage, isn’t it? The crowds are fleeing from the apocalyptic wrath that is to come—like a brood of vipers, John says, an interesting picture in its own right.

And when these people reach John in the wilderness and hear his message of repentance, they ask, “What then should we do?”

It’s as if they’re saying, John, we’re already using the tools at our disposal: the Torah, our spiritual guides, each other. And yet you say there’s more to it; that more is necessary if we are to bear fruit worthy of repentance. Tell us, then, what more is needed? What should we do?

Three times they ask it, in fact. From three different groups! It was their constant question.

It should be our constant question too.

For to repent is continually to re-orient ourselves.

Anyway, all that was discussed last week. So, what more we can learn about repentance today?

Time to put on our theological thinking caps!

2.

Here’s what I think happens when we present-day Christians in the United States hear this message of repentance. We go inward; we ask questions like, “Where have I sinned? Where do I need re-alignment? What do I need to ask forgiveness for?”

These are all good questions; we definitely should be asking these sorts of questions of ourselves on a regular basis. But this is only a small part of the overall message of repentance: the part of individual repentance.

In today’s Gospel, however, groups of people come to John and ask, “What should we do?”

Interesting! Corporate groups—crowds, tax-collectors, and soldiers; i. e., people representing societal bodies—come to John and ask him what repentance looks like.

And John’s answers are telling.

He does not say, “You, Maximus, stop being so arrogant. Search your heart; and where the Holy Spirit brings to mind personal sins—pride, selfishness, hubris—ask God to forgive you. Repent ye of your sins, and from now on use your physical strength for the common good.”

No! Instead, John answers the soldiers as a group, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation; be content with your wages.”

John addresses a group with a group concern; a criticism about soldiers that was largely true in general—though not necessarily true of individuals.

It’s the same thing Christ calls us to do, by the way, every time we renew our baptismal vows together. What should we, as followers of Christ today in the United States, do? We should renounce evil and resolve again to follow Christ; and we should do this together, as one body.

Repentance is corporate!

3.

What, then, does corporate repentance look like? This is my main concern in today’s “part 2” sermon.

So, two things happen at the same time during the act of repentance. We see these two things whenever we witness a baptism. The celebrant asks the baptizand two sets of questions (three questions each).

The first set is all about renouncing, or turning away from, something:

  • Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
  • Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
  • Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

So, for one thing, we turn away from something.

And, for another thing, we turns towards something. That’s what the second set of questions is all about:

  • Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
  • Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
  • Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

We repent publicly in baptism; and in our repentance we simultaneously turn away from evil and towards good.

But isn’t baptism an individual act? How is baptism related to corporate repentance?

I’m glad you asked. For we see this same expression of repentance whenever we renew our baptismal vows together, as a corporate body.

The very first question the celebrant asks the congregation is, “Do you”—as in all of you—“reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?”

In the act of corporate repentance it is the church body, not individuals, that turns away from evil and turns towards good.

Thus, to ask what corporate repentance looks like is to ask how we do these things as a church body. How can St. Thomas turn from evil towards good? Where does St. Thomas need to re-orient itself?

4.

Jesus would soon come with a winnowing fork, John declared, to gather wheat and to burn chaff.

When he did come, we know from the Gospels that Jesus opposed the religious and political establishments of his day, establishments that held the masses under their power.

These are the kinds of powers the writer of Ephesians means when he says, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness” (6:12).

These are the kinds of powers, too, we address in our baptismal vows with the question, “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”

When Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God, he introduced a realm that is very different from the realm of the world. The world’s powers operate by domination; but Jesus operates by love, which shows itself in true equality.

Think this through with me. The religious and political systems in Jesus’ day dominated the lay people and the public, the “crowds”—a term used over and over in the Gospels. Jesus continually opposed these powers because they oppressed the crowds so in need of liberation.

Systems of domination do this: they create social hierarchies; they always seek to place one person above another.

The Roman system placed slaves below freemen; freemen below equites; equites below senators; and so on up the hierarchical pyramid until reaching the emperor at the very top.

And the Jewish religious system gave Samaritans and Gentiles a lower position on the hierarchy than Jews; the common laypeople lower than the scribes; and the scribes lower than the priests, all the way up to the high priest.

This is what Luke is getting at in the beginning of chapter 3, when he mentions all those tricky names:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

When John the Baptist began preaching his message of repentance out in the wilderness, obviously, there were established social hierarchies.

And yet now it’s the crowds, the tax-collectors, and the soldiers who come to John for repentance; and they come seemingly heedless of these established social hierarchies.

Equality! That’s Jesus’ new realm. That’s what John meant when he declared that Jesus would come with a winnowing fork to gather the harvest and burn the chaff.

Every valley shall be filled; every mountaintop leveled; every crooked path made straight.

The apostle Paul says it this way at the end of Galatians 3:

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29).

Racial inequality, religious inequality, socioeconomic inequality—Jesus came to eradicate these powers, to transform the systems of domination at work in our world into systems of love!

Wherever there is social hierarchy—wherever one person establishes himself above another; whenever anyone thinks herself somehow better than someone else—male above female, white above black, rich above poor, straight above gay, priest above layperson—eradicated!

Jesus confronted systems of domination wherever he saw them; his goal is to transform them. He calls us to do the same today, even if the powers crucify us!

These are the evils we renounce in our corporate repentance; and from them we turn to true equality for all in accordance with Jesus’ way of love.

5.

So that’s what corporate repentance looks like! And that’s the mission Jesus has left to his church.

As a church body, trying to live out Jesus’ call—trying to follow his example—when we look out at the people, places, and events happening all around us—all those tricky names—where do we see something, anything, contrary to Jesus’ message of love?

I don’t know about you, but when I look around for only a short time I see systems of domination and their powers at work seemingly everywhere: gun violence, refugees turned away at borders, children separated from their parents, unreasonable jail sentences, a widening gap between rich and poor, racism, hatred, bigotry—

Systems of domination are alive and well in our world today—“in rulers, in authorities, in the cosmic powers in this present darkness.”

When we renounce their powers and turn towards Jesus’ way of love together, corporately, as a church, then our voice is strong—much stronger than a mere collection of individuals could ever be.

This is our corporate calling: to re-orient ourselves continually; then, even if threatened with crucifixion, to be a stalwart community of resistance against the systems of domination at work in this present darkness; and finally to transform them into systems of love.

As we await Christ’s return, let us repent together!

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Orienteering Advent

Posted in hiking, Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2018 by timtrue

John Muir Wilderness

Luke 3:1-6

1.

Dad volunteered to lead a 50-miler.

The “50-miler” was a special accomplishment in Boy Scouts: a multi-day backpacking trip of at least fifty miles.

My older brother, Andy, was a Boy Scout; I was still in Cub Scouts, Webelos to be precise, still a year too young, technically, to be a Boy Scout.

No matter: I would go on the backpacking trip too—and so would my mom.

It turned out to be six of us total: the four members of my family, another adult leader, and a fourteen year-old scout named Chris.

Andy and Chris earned their 50-miler patch when it was all said and done. For the rest of us, it was merely an adventurous vacation.

Anyway, my dad had never led a backpacking trip this long before. So, ahead of time, he did what any good doctor of civil engineering would do: he overplanned.

From the menu to the location to equipment and supplies to first aid and rescue, everything had a Plan A and a Plan B and a Plan C. So extensive was his planning, in fact, that by the time we set out on our actual 50-miler, he had several alternative 50-milers lined up—that he may or may not ever get to in future years.

Now, as the eager little brother, excited as I was to be included, I got in my dad’s way a lot as he spent those evening hours in his overly abundant preparations. So, smart man that he is, he gave me something to do.

“Tim,” he said, “you see this map?”

Spread across the dining room table was the strangest piece of paper I’d ever seen—a map, apparently. There were no place names on it—unless terms like “Road’s End” and “Pinchot Pass” count; and there were no highways or state lines or color-coded regions. Rather, the whole thing consisted of dizzying lines seeming to run this way and that in random directions, but always one next to another, never crossing one another. If I looked at them long enough, they played tricks on my eyes.

“It’s topographic,” my dad explained, “elevation lines. And, look, here I’ve penciled in the trail we’re going to follow.”

And now I could see it: a faint dashed line—a trail—that had been traced over with a pencil.

Dad went on: “Every so often, you’ll see a number next to the trail, like this one—10.8. These numbers are mile indicators. Your job is to add up all the mile indicators on the trail.”

So I set to work, helping my dad plan our epic adventure. Awesome!

Maybe half an hour later I said, “Um, Dad, aren’t we planning a ‘50-miler’? Yeah, so, those numbers you asked me to add up come out to about 121.”

“No kidding!” Dad said.

He then double-checked my work and confirmed: yes, this plan was well over the distance needed, not to mention the week allotted. It wasn’t going to work, Dad concluded dejectedly. We’d have to figure out something else.

“But I really had my heart set on that part of the Sierras,” he muttered.

The next night, after dinner, Dad announced to me, “Tim, I’ve figured something out. Let me show you.”

He led me to the same map, still spread out on the dining room table, and pointed to a body of water called Marion Lake.

“Look at what I’ve done.” he said.

And now I saw a fresh pencil line running perpendicular, at first, to the designated trail; then around the shore of Marion Lake and twisting up and over and through the John Muir Wilderness and finally to a body of water labeled Horseshoe Lake.

“We’ll improvise,” he announced; “we’ll hike overland for a day, making up our own trail as we go! I think it’s only about 7 miles over Red Pass and White Pass to Horseshoe Lake. Once there, we can follow the Upper Meadow Trail back to Road’s End. Should cut off about fifty miles.”

I don’t know, I wanted to say, sounds risky. Who knows what we might run into by not following the designated trail? Lions? Tigers? Bears? Minion monkeys? Worse still, what if we get lost?

My gut told me I didn’t want to trust my dad’s leadership here. But, on the other hand, he was a doctor of civil engineering. He’d gone to school for this kind of stuff! Lots of school! Not to mention, he was my father!

I decided to hold my tongue. For the time being anyway!

Now fast forward a couple of months. The day finally arrived. We’d driven the family van to Road’s End—the end of California State Highway 180—parked, secured our wilderness permits, and were on our way, our 50-miler; or, rather, our 70-miler.

The first few days were relatively routine. We followed the Woods Creek Trail until we joined the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest, then up and over Pinchot Pass, breathtaking and still snowy at nearly 13,000’.

On Day 4 we left the John Muir Trail and headed up and over Cartridge Pass to Marion Lake.

So far so good!

But I was worried about tomorrow.

Back in the spring, when we were planning this adventure, I’d decided to hold my tongue. But there, on that fifth morning, as my dad shuffled his topographic map and a compass, I couldn’t hold back anymore. The risk just felt too great to me.

“Are you sure we’ll make it?” I asked. “I mean, we could always turn around, go back the way we came.”

“Tim,” he reassured, “trust me. We’ll be fine.”

“But, Dad, what if we get lost?”

And I continued with my anxious protests throughout the day:

  • “This looks precarious, Dad. Are you sure it’s the right way?”
  • “Dad, what if we’re misreading the map?”
  • “This looks like Granite Pass to me, Dad, not Red Pass.”
  • “Dad, is that a flying monkey?”

But my dad is a patient man—thank goodness!

And—just like he’d said—we found Horseshoe Lake, cut off fifty miles, and made it home in one piece, safe and sound, with many an adventurous story to tell.

2.

Advent is a time of preparation.

We look in hope at what we know, our topographic map: Jesus came to be with us, the Incarnation, God as a baby; and he dwelled among us, teaching, healing, and loving.

That’s part of Advent: what we know already (our topographic map).

But we also look in hope at what is to come, our epic adventure together in the great Sierras in the Sky, with Jesus as our guide.

Except here’s the thing: that epic adventure is not somewhere far off, in another time and place. That epic adventure is now! This life! The kingdom of God breaking in upon us, wave after wave, day after day!

And this part of our epic adventure is largely unknown. We don’t know how, exactly, wave after wave, day after day, life will play out. There is no designated trail.

So we look to our church leaders, our guides to help us along the way. These are people who know what they’re doing; or at least they know what they’re doing more than the rest of us do. They’ve been to school for this, after all. Lots of school!

But—oh!—it’s so hard to trust them! What if we encounter lions, tigers, bears, or mutant minion monkeys along the way? Worse still, what if we end up altogether lost?

And so we try to hold our tongues. But sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.

The good news today is that we have something else: we have our topographic map, and we have our spiritual guides; but also, as today’s Gospel reminds us, we have a compass, John the Baptist.

And the direction to which this compass needle continually points is repentance.

3.

So then, Advent is about preparation; and John the Baptist points us to repentance. What, then, does repentance have to do with preparation?

A popular teaching likens repentance to a U-turn. Have you heard this? A person who has repented from sin is said to have turned away from sin completely: she was headed in one direction but then made a complete U-turn and now is heading in an entirely different direction.

But don’t you think this picture of a U-turn is a bit simplistic? I mean, what if we’re already headed in the mostly right direction? A complete U-turn would then send us in a mostly wrong direction.

So, I’m thinking repentance is less like a U-turn than it is like that overland day between Marion and Horseshoe Lakes.

We have our topographic map: the Bible; the Incarnation; the first advent of Christ.

And we have our guides to help us along our way, orienteering our way through life, trying to follow the map but confronted moment by moment by a reality that only vaguely resembles the map.

These things send us in the mostly right direction.

But even the mostly right direction can still get us lost; something more is needed.

So here’s what my dad did on that day—despite all my mumbling, complaining, and criticizing, here’s what he did: he aligned everything up with the compass.

At the start of the day, at the shore of Marion Lake, he got out the compass; and, in conjunction with the topographic map, he gained his bearings: he found Marion Peak, Red Peak, and Red Pass in between; and picked out our path.

Half a mile or so later, he did it again—oriented himself and sighted out our path; and again at another half a mile; and so on, and so on, until, at last, we stood safe and sound on the shore of Horseshoe Lake, our planned and prepared for destination.

That’s repentance!

Using our spiritual topographic map and with the help of a spiritual guide, we see where Jesus wants us to go. But daily life disorients us. There are a lot of distractions along the way, after all! Even though we might be headed in a mostly right direction, we still can get lost; and so we complain and criticize and grumble.

But when we stop, look at the map, gain our bearings, and align it all again with our compass, we’re able to continue along our way; and, in the end, we find ourselves safe and sound to the shore of our planned and prepared for destination.

Our compass is repentance; rather than a U-turn, it aligns us again and again with the true path.

Repent, John tells us on this Second Sunday of Advent.

Today is a good day to stop, gain our bearings, and re-orient ourselves.

On Trial with Pilate

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2018 by timtrue

John 18:33-37

1.

Today is the final Sunday of the church year: Christ the King Sunday, we call it. We focus on Christ in a particular way today: as king—as the one in charge—of his realm.

And in today’s Gospel we are confronted with two views of reality.

On the one hand, Christ tells us that his kingdom is the way of truth. On the other hand, Pilate’s kingdom is the way of violence.

We look at Christ the King today, then, through this lens: comparing two versions of reality. And what do we learn?

So, Jesus is on trial; and Pilate is the judge.

But doesn’t it almost seem—by the time we get to the end of the passage anyway—doesn’t it seem that the tables are turned? Doesn’t it feel like Jesus is in the role of judge and Pilate is really the one on trial?

Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

But, before answering him, Jesus asks Pilate a question—and already the tables are turning over: “Do you ask this because you want to know, or because someone told you this?”

And so Pilate answers, “I am not a Jew.”

It’s enough to say, “Of course someone told me about you! I don’t have the time or energy to concern myself with what goes on in Jerusalem—in your people’s insignificant corner of the world.”

In other words, Pilate, a Roman, thinks himself somehow above the Palestinian peoples, who go about their day-t0-day business over there, in some forgotten corner of the empire.

But, Pilate knows, even the people over there are capable of rising up in rebellion—which is why he asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus now answers, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, I’d fight back with an army.”

Jesus knows Pilate’s kingdom—this world—follows the way of violence.

But, in Jesus’ kingdom, violence has no place; his kingdom is not from here.

Well, Pilate misses the point; and declares, “So then you are a king!”

And here I can almost hear Jesus sigh.

“You say I’m a king,” he says. “But that’s not what I’m about; I’m not raising up some kind of political insurrection against you. Rather, I am here to testify to the truth—a greater reality than you are able to see, apparently. But if you will only seek the truth, find it, and belong to it, you will know a kingdom far better than anything you can now imagine.”

To which Pilate famously scorns (just after today’s passage ends), “What is truth?”

And with this small question Pilate rejects Jesus and his kingdom, the way of truth, choosing instead to remain with the life he knows, a life of power, wealth, privilege, lies, and violence.

The tables are turned. Pilate’s the one on trial today, not Jesus.

2.

Maybe we’re on trial today too. Maybe we are like Pilate, more attached than we’re willing to admit to the way of violence.

Pilate is offered true freedom, a world of peace, security, equality, and authenticity; and instead chooses to remain living in his narrow conception of reality, ruled not by the Christ but by his own fears.

“Are you a king?” he asks Jesus again and again, belaboring the point, fixated—because he fears!

Pilate has no time for the truth, no time for the way of Christ, because he’s too busy fearing that he will lose his power, position, and privilege. He’s too concerned with the things that really matter to him, like protecting his name, status, and position; and like watching his back so some political hothead doesn’t assassinate him.

Pilate is trapped in his way of violence; trapped by his system; trapped in fear.

And thus he rejects the truth.

On this final Sunday of the church year, we stand on trial with Pilate. Do we also reject the truth? Like Pilate, do we love our status: our places of power, wealth, privilege, and maybe even lies and violence?

Jesus calls us to lay these things aside and stand in solidarity with our neighbor—our sisters and brothers who are in different places than we are.

3.

By the way, I’m being careful here not to say “who have less than we do.” Jesus does not call us to stand in solidarity with those who have less than we do. That’s not what mission and outreach are about.

So, in case you’re wondering if you heard me right, I’ll say it again: Jesus does not call us to stand in solidarity with those who have less than we have.

But, also, neither does he call us to stand in solidarity with those who have more!

For, in Jesus, we are called not to have a less-vs.-more mindset at all!

But isn’t this often the church’s approach to mission and outreach?

We, the church, decide to engage in a project to help our neighbors in need. Fine and well!

But then we say something like, “This outreach project will help those who are less fortunate than we are”; and then pat ourselves on the back and tell our superior selves we’re loving our inferior neighbors just like Jesus commanded.

We become the patron; they become the client; and they forever stand in our debt.

But superiority and inferiority? Patron and client? That’s not Jesus’ way. That’s Pilate’s!

Whenever we approach anything with an attitude of superiority—including mission and outreach—that’s not the way of love!

Jesus calls us to come alongside others as equals, to establish and maintain truly mutual relationships; not to compare ourselves with one another in order to figure out who’s better or worse, who’s right or wrong, who’s richer or poorer, who’s smarter or dumber, who’s superior or inferior; but to sharpen one another, mutually, as iron sharpens iron, for the common good.

Are we willing to listen to those who are different than us?

They may speak a different language; they may eat different foods; their skin may be a different color; they may identify as a different gender; their sexuality may be different than ours; or they may be different from us in . . . fill in the blank!

Are we willing to come alongside them? To stand in solidarity with them? To hear their stories? To listen to the truth?

Or are we like Pilate, too focused on our own treadmills to listen?

4.

I offer a concluding illustration:

We’ve all heard the familiar phrase: “Violence begets violence.” I don’t know who first coined it. But I do know that Martin Luther King, Jr. used it. Listen to these words:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love . . . Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy; instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.[i]

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man committed to live out the principle of non-violent resistance, a same principle by which Jesus lived. Both men resisted the authorities, the powers that be, without fighting back, without violence.

Their deaths, both vivid demonstrations of non-violent resistance, shout a message that will be forever etched in humanity’s history books; a message for all people, everywhere, to give up living for themselves—for power, position, status, wealth, prestige, and privilege—and to live instead for the other.

Love the Lord your God; love your neighbor. This is the way of truth, to which Jesus calls us.

 

[i] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_begets_violence.

Community of Resistance

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2018 by timtrue

Mark 13:1-8

1.

Nothing stays the same.

The disciples look at Herod’s temple and marvel, “What large stones and large buildings!”

Herod planned to turn a small plateau, Mount Moriah, into a level platform measuring 1600’ x 900’. That’s 30 football fields!

So he dug a trench around the plateau and filled it with huge stones, making a gigantic retaining wall. The largest of these stones, found in excavations, measures some 44’ x 11’ x 16’, weighing approximately 600 tons, too heavy for the largest crane in Rome during Herod’s day![I]

Maybe the disciple pointed at this one when he exclaimed, “What large stones!”

But Jesus, apparently not very impressed, says, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Nothing stays the same.

Few of us, however, like change.

I mean, who likes to move from one home to another? Or what businessperson wants to change offices? Or what teacher wants to move her classroom across campus?

We humans like to establish a routine that works best for me and then stick with it!

But what if the change means improvement? What if you’re moving in order to get out of a termite-infested hovel into a structurally sound domicile? You still may not like the hassle of the change very much, but in the end, you have to admit, it’s a drastic improvement.

Is change then really all that bad? Especially if it’s needed change?

2.

So, to make a very serious turn, consider our nation’s history of slavery.

We know now, from our historical vantage point, beyond a shadow of a doubt, slavery was ethically, socially, politically, and spiritually wrong. Our nation needed a large, systemic change.

But change did not come easy.

In fact, in that day—the antebellum United States—so many people did not welcome this needed change that party lines were drawn against those who demanded it, a country was divided, and a “civil” war was fought.

In the antebellum United States, no one had to tell slaves that the change was needed. From the slaves’ perspective, they were unequivocally oppressed, desperate, in need of liberation.

The war did not come about at the level of slavery, however; it came at the level of privilege.

What must it have been like to be a slave? No voice. No representation. No personal property. Can you imagine?

Admittedly, I can’t.

For the church I represent and quite probably some of my distant relatives were the oppressors, the slave owners, those in the place of privilege.

As much as I’m sympathetic to the slaves, then; as much as I’m in agreement today that large-scale, systemic change was needed in the antebellum U. S., I really have no idea what it feels like to have no voice, no advocate, and no personal property.

That’s how privilege works. It contains a certain level of ignorance. Even if I have no distant relatives who owned slaves—I know of none—my European heritage, not to mention the fact that I am male, has kept me distanced to a great degree from the slaves’ perspective.

They were a people far too highly oppressed and far too desperately in need of liberation for me even to begin to comprehend. Maybe it’s the same for you, too.

Privilege is a part of my story; and, like it or not, it’s a part of our church’s story.

What can we do about this? Can we change? Will we change?

3.

Along these lines, then, here’s another sticky question: How many leaders of our church and nation in our antebellum years—how many of the privileged people in, say, the year 1800—would have even considered slavery an evil?

Some did, sure. Especially as we approached the middle of the nineteenth century! Tensions were rising.

But, obviously, many privileged people argued in favor of slavery. Enough to draw party lines! Enough to divide a country! Enough to start a “civil” war!

That’s also how privilege works, by the way. Privileged individuals get swept up in their time and culture, imbibing the atmosphere all around them, an atmosphere that tells them continuously that things like slavery are acceptable, even good for the economy.

That was a message the privileged class had heard throughout their lives, incessantly, until they believed it as much as you or I believe in, for example, the tenets of western capitalism today.

They oppressed and denied their slaves of liberation; and yet, curiously, they themselves were held in a kind of captivity to the ideal, the institution, of slavery.

Our fight is not against flesh and blood, the writer to the Ephesians tells us, but against principalities and powers, against spiritual forces of evil.

Slavery was one such power, a spiritual force of evil. The oppressed needed to be liberated from it. And, concurrently, the privileged—the leaders of our church and nation—needed to be released and redeemed from their captivity to it.

We all recognize that today. But many of them, caught up in the atmosphere of their time and place, did not.

4.

So, here’s the thing: This consideration of slavery as a spiritual power points us to a larger power still alive and well in our world today: the power of privilege.

Those held in captivity by this power, whether or not they are aware of it, oppress those who are outside of it: the privileged are benefited at the expense of the marginalized.

So, let’s put this all together. Privilege is a spiritual power alive and well in the world today, a power that we Christians are called to oppose; and yet, the Episcopal Church is privileged—statistically, its members are the wealthiest and most educated of all mainline Christian denominations.

What this means is that a whole lot of change needs to take place within our church.

But change is so hard!

The good news is that TEC recognizes this—and has recognized it for at least the last few decades. Difficult change is needed; change for the better. And so, hard as it is, we are working through needed changes.

The ordination of women and, in more recent years, members of the LGBTQ community, demonstrates this—as does our recent church-wide recognition and full blessing of same-sex marriages.

For the entire history of our nation’s existence, women and the people of the LGBTQ community have been marginalized. It’s time to put an end to this inequality—whether it means liberation from oppression or redemption from captivity.

After all, if we, TEC, were to maintain dogmatically that only straight men can be ordained, such doctrine would perpetuate this power of privilege we are called as a community of Christ to resist—a power that has been at work in our nation continuously since its earliest days.

Do you see? The body of Christ is called not to be complicit in the oppressive principalities and powers at work in the world around us, but to be a community of resistance against them.

And TEC understands this.

Pray, then, for our church.

Where we become aware of past wrongs, like our complicity in slavery, pray that we apologize and make restitution; that we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest our past mistakes (as today’s Collect suggests).

Where we see a clear way forward, like helping the oppressed find liberation, pray that we follow it.

And in that vast middle ground, where, in this present darkness, we cannot see clearly, pray that we navigate our way carefully, making the best decisions we can from what we know—from what scripture, reason, and tradition tell us.

Our mission as a church, the body of Christ, is to resist the principalities and powers, the spiritual forces of evil at work in the world around us, powers—like privilege—that try with all the force of Satan to keep us captive.

We are a community of resistance.

[i] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Temple.

Help from Hypocritical Harold

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on November 11, 2018 by timtrue

Mark 12:38-44

1.

Jesus plays with a stereotype today. For the sake of illustration, let’s call him Hypocritical Harold.

Now, not all the scribes were this way; but enough were that Jesus’ words painted a familiar picture in the minds of the people he spoke to.

We do the same thing today: paint stereotypes with descriptions. We describe someone, for instance, as an ambulance-chasing lawyer.

Not all lawyers, we know, are ambulance chasers. In fact, I know many lawyers who entered the profession precisely because they wanted to make a positive difference for the betterment of society, the common good.

Nevertheless, the ambulance-chasing lawyer is common enough in our day that it has become a stereotype. A picture of someone like Saul Goodman comes to mind. Better call Saul!

So it was in Jesus’ day with scribes; and thus Hypocritical Harold, a familiar picture in the minds of the people Jesus addresses today in the temple.

Harold walks around in clothes that are definitive of his office, something like me wearing my collar in public. But his clothes are not just a basic uniform; they’re also showy. He’s got a different set of robes for every day of the week—two for Shabbat!

Next, probably somewhat as a natural outcome of his showy clothes, people compliment him and greet him with feigned respect everywhere he goes.

His is an office of privilege, after all. He’s had to fight his way, long and hard, to get there. He deserves respect, the best seats in both the synagogue and the social scene. That’s not vanity! Or ego! Is it?

Of course, as a byproduct of his office, Hypocritical Harold will be asked to pray from time to time—especially from his seats of honor in the synagogue and at those all-important dinner parties. But what better opportunity to show off his knowledge and general worthiness!

So the prayers he makes are long, filled with sophisticated theological words that require years of academy training just to get their pronunciation correct, let alone what they actually mean.

And those who hear his prayers are left in a state of awe. I could never pray like that, they think; I hope the host never calls on me to say the blessing.

Maybe there is some vanity involved here; maybe some ego. But more importantly to Jesus is the effect that Hypocritical Harold causes.

“They devour widows’ houses,” he says; and thus, “They will receive the greater condemnation.”

What does Jesus mean?

2.

For the answer, we simply read on.

Next, then, Jesus leaves the temple, where he was teaching, and takes a seat opposite the treasury; that is, the place where devout Jews deposit their monetary offerings. And he watches.

Some wealthy people come by—maybe there’s a scribe like Hypocritical Harold among them—and, Jesus observes, these wealthy people put a lot of money into the treasury.

That’s good for them; and good for their religious institution!

By the way, we should take note, especially during our annual pledge drive: the people who are well off here are giving a lot.

But, you know, the impression is that, even though they are giving a lot, after they leave their offerings behind, they’re still well off. These offerings, we get the impression, are not all that inhibiting. The wealthy people still leave in the same fancy cars in which they arrived.

In other words, as Jesus soon says to his disciples, the wealthy people here are giving out of abundance. God has blessed them with wealth. And, as an expression of gratitude for God’s blessing, they give back to God out of God’s abundance.

There’s nothing wrong with this, by the way.

We often read this Gospel passage and think it’s a moral lesson teacher; that when a wealthy scribe is contrasted to a poor widow, we are supposed to be unlike the vain, egotistical character and like the noble character.

But that’s just not the point Jesus is making today. There’s nothing wrong with the scribe or anyone else giving out of his or her abundance. In fact, that’s what the annual pledge drive asks for: give to God out of God’s abundance.

But back to the Gospel!

Next—and here is where the door-hinge swings; where the surprise comes—a widow arrives on the scene; and she puts two coins into the treasury. It’s all she has to live on, Jesus says.

This poor widow puts in far more than everyone else. She does not contribute to the religious institution out of her abundance; for she has no abundance. Rather, she gives everything she has.

3.

Which leads me to wonder: Is this maybe what Jesus was getting at when he said that Hypocritical Harold devours widows’ homes?

Hypocritical Harold was a stereotype: “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image . . . of a particular type of person” (Google Dictionary).

Hypocritical Harold was an oversimplification, sure. But he was already in people’s minds for good reason. Hypocritical Harold, the scribe, portrayed a symptomatic picture of a larger problem.

Well, what was the problem?

The word scribe comes from the Latin verb scribere, to write. Scribes, as the Latin suggests, wrote things down. They were literate, educated, bookish people.

We first hear about scribes in Israel’s history during the time of the kings and prophets, writing down the words spoken in official meetings.

In the OT books of 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, scribes are described as secular officials with responsibilities over financial and political documents.

Later in Israel’s history, over in Ezra and Daniel, scribes are celebrated for their righteousness and wisdom.

By the time of Jesus, scribes were additionally known as teachers and interpreters of God’s Law.[i]

Scribes were intelligent; and trustworthy.

But . . . by the time Jesus provided today’s stereotype, scribes had become a distinguished class of members in the Jewish religious institution. Hypocritical Harold, with his flowing robes, long prayers, and ego, was a widely held picture, a representative of the present-day religious system.

Far and above today’s passage being a moral story about right and wrong attitudes for giving, today’s Gospel is about a human system that was appropriating the property of the poor—a widow—for the benefit of the elite—a scribe.

And, amazingly, Jesus preached this in the temple—the spiritual focal point of the very religious institution he was criticizing!

Gutsy, eh?

4.

So, one more thing to point out about stereotypes: We usually don’t want to admit it when they fit us.

Surely, not all the scribes in Jesus’ time fit the Hypocritical Harold stereotype; surely, many scribes were doing their work out of a desire to serve and honor and glorify God.

Nevertheless, Hypocritical Harold was a widely held picture, symptomatic of larger inconvenient truths about the religious system of the day.

So, how many scribes, do you think, would have heard Jesus’ words and thought, “Yep, that’s me all right!”?

Instead, when we hear a stereotype about us, don’t we tend to think, “Well, I can see how someone would say that; but that doesn’t apply to me!”?

Our default is to deny. That’s how we’re wired. We exempt ourselves.

But what if a stereotype we hear today does apply to us? Is constructive criticism—criticism from which we can learn—contained within?—just as Jesus offered constructive criticism to the religious system of his day?

Well, what do we hear today?

How about:

  • TEC appeals only to the white, wealthy, and educated.
  • There are no young people in TEC.
  • TEC is too privileged to be aware of the needs of the world outside.
  • TEC is liberal.
  • TEC is just a big country club.

It’s easy to brush these aside, isn’t it? The temptation is to say these stereotypes might be true of some Episcopal congregations out there, sure, but not ours!

Instead of brushing them aside, however, let us learn from Hypocritical Harold.

In general, when we look around us at the world in which we live, where do we find human systems appropriating the property of the poor for the benefit of the wealthy? Or oppressing the weak for the benefit of the strong? Or excluding the marginalized so that they don’t interrupt the status quo?

Then, more particularly, where do we find such human systems in our own church—whether in this local body or the wider church? Where have we been complicit; and how can we stop our complicity?

That’s what Jesus calls us to ask and do in today’s Gospel.

Whenever and wherever we find human systems that oppress, it is our responsibility in Christ to stop them; lest we become Hypocritical Harold.

[i] I am grateful here to Robert Bryant’s helpful insights. See Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, p.287.

Learning Hope from Dr. Jeffrey Cohen

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2018 by timtrue

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John 11:32-44

1.

October 27 marked the 300th day of this year. It also marked the 294th mass shooting this year in our country.

We all watched in horror as the news unfolded last Saturday.

Earlier that morning, Robert Bowers had entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and begun shooting his legally owned AR-15.

Then, in the ambulance, on the way to the hospital, after receiving several gunshot wounds himself from police, Bowers yelled out, “I want to kill all the Jews!”

He yelled the same thing some minutes later in the Emergency Room.

Ironically, a medical team led by a Jewish man treated Bowers in the hospital.

In the end: eleven worshipers had been slain, gunned down in a crime of hate, making this the largest massacre of our Jewish sisters and brothers in our nation’s history!

Holly and I visited Temple Beth Sholom here in Temecula on Friday night—to stand in solidarity and pray with people we love.

And, you know, a Jewish prayer service is really not all that different from a Christian prayer service! There are minor differences, sure—some of the readings are in Hebrew, for instance—but, at the core, Christians and Jews are largely the same: trying our best to find and serve God according to what we know—according to the revelation God has given us.

So:

The 300th day of the year!

The 294th mass shooting!

That’s nearly one mass shooting a day.

That’s more than a thousand people, already, who have lost their lives this year to gun violence.

And why?

2.

This week the Christian church around the world celebrated Halloween (a. k. a. All Halloweds Eve, or All Saints Eve); as well as All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Along these lines, a large portion of the Americas also celebrated Dia de Los Muertos.

It is a week when Christians focus on the people we have known and loved who have passed before us through the veil of death and beyond. In fact, during the Prayers of the People today I will offer us a time to name loved ones who are no longer with us.

These are days of grieving; and mourning. For we miss our beloved friends and family members with whom we’ve journeyed through part of this life together. We see a photo or speak their names or catch a scent that reminds us; and we’re suddenly reduced to tears.

But these are also days of rejoicing, of celebrating the lives and legacies they left behind.

We rejoice and celebrate because we hope in the resurrection. Death, we know, is only part of the story. And it’s the smaller part! For, we also know, death has been truly and finally vanquished by our Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and Friend Christ Jesus.

Which is why, by the way, the liturgical color of a funeral is white—same as a wedding!—same as today! It’s not so much about mourning as it is about rejoicing; not so much death as resurrection; not so much old life as new!

That’s how it’s supposed to be, at least.

But what if, instead, it feels like the mourning and grieving ought to take precedence—like when the loss is still too fresh to focus on much else; like now, at this moment in our nation’s history, when hate crimes are almost a daily occurrence?

How can we maintain any hope at all when such despairing obstacles get in the way?

3.

And then there’s this troubling question: What about the man who pulled the trigger?

I wonder, what would you have done in the Emergency Room doctor’s shoes? What would I have done?

The Jewish community in Pittsburgh is relatively small—Squirrel Hill, the neighborhood where you’ll find nearly all of the Jewish community, has a population of about 25,000 people—and it has been there for several generations, certainly since the first half of the nineteenth century, possibly quite a bit earlier.

The Jewish network in Pittsburgh is tight; and it runs deep.

Imagine, then, with this kind of network, you’re leading a team of medical professionals in the E. R.; and a man is rushed in with gunshot wounds, bleeding, in need of urgent medical attention.

And he yells out, “I want to kill all the Jews!”

What do you do when you connect the dots?

What do you do when you suddenly realize, with horror, that this man before you is the very man who just entered the Tree of Life Synagogue and unleashed violence and death on the worshipers?

What do you do when you learn that he took the lives of eleven innocent people—eleven of your people?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could carry on. As much as I know, in my head, that I have a duty to seek to do all within my power to heal each person in my care, my emotions might just carry the day in this particular situation. I think I might have to find another doctor and say, “Take this one, please; I simply cannot.”

But the Jewish E. R. doctor did take Bowers under his care; along with a Jewish nurse, whose father just so happens to be a local rabbi.

Dr. Jeffrey Cohen caught wind of this unfolding drama. Dr. Cohen is the president of Allegheny General Hospital, where the perpetrator was taken for care. In fact, sitting in his office, Dr. Cohen heard the gunshots from the shootout. Even closer to home, Dr. Cohen is a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue; and personally knew nine of the eleven victims.

You know what Dr. Cohen did? He went to the E. R. and told the doctor and nurse attending Bowers that he was proud of them.

Then he approached Bowers himself and asked how he was doing, whether he was in pain.

Bowers said he was okay then asked who he was; to which Cohen replied, “I’m Dr. Cohen, the president of this hospital.”[i]

I don’t think I would have been able to do any of that. I don’t think, in that moment, I’d have had any hope at all. Would you?

4.

In today’s Gospel, death confronts Jesus with a number of despairing obstacles.

First, Jesus was delayed. If only Jesus had been able to get there earlier, Mary lamented, her brother Lazarus would not have died.

Then, second, Jesus could not lay his hands on Lazarus, or even look at him, for a large stone stood in the way, blocking the tomb’s entrance.

Third—suppose someone were to roll the stone away—there’d be the stench! Death has already claimed Lazarus, made certain by the smell of decay.

And, finally, in case all that weren’t enough already, Lazarus is wearing grave clothes—already clothed in death.

Death has won! All hope is vanquished.

There’s nothing left for us, we think, but to despair, be angry, and hate.

But see what Jesus does!

He weeps with Mary and the others.

He goes to where Lazarus lies.

He includes others: “Roll away the stone,” he says.

He then calls Lazarus forth.

And he tells the others to take off Lazarus’s grave clothes.

Jesus overcomes all the obstacles that death throws at him, taking each in turn; until, truly and finally, death is vanquished!

5.

For us today, many despairing obstacles stand in hope’s way. To name just a few:

  • The heavy stone of hatred, bigotry, and prejudice.
  • The decaying stench of intolerance and racism.
  • The fearsome grave clothes of homophobia and xenophobia.

These obstacles aren’t death itself; but they point to it.

Unless we weep with those who weep, confront these obstacles squarely, and roll them away together, death is all we will see: our hope is eclipsed.

Oh, but when we do, it’s Easter all over again!

Every year, on November 1, we remember all the saints—all those who have believed, do believe, or will believe that Jesus is the pathway to the divine.

But this isn’t enough; so every year, on November 2, we remember all souls—every person who has lived, does live, or will live.

Every soul!

Including all the holy women and men of the church!

Including all those who lost their lives a week ago in Pittsburgh!

And including even the perpetrators!

Vanquishing death forever means vanquishing our hatred now; including our hatred for the perpetrator.

Today, Dr. Jeffrey Cohen gives me hope.

[i] See https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2018/10/30/im-dr-cohen-powerful-humanity-jewish-hospital-staff-that-treated-robert-bowers/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.86137fad168a.

Wrapping up the Scandal

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on October 28, 2018 by timtrue

Mark 10:46-52

1.

Today wraps up a larger section in the Gospel of Mark that began back in chapter 8, verses 22-26. I’ll read that opening story to you now; as I do, listen for similarities to today’s passage:

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

There are some obvious similarities here: there’s a blind man; people bring him to Jesus; Jesus heals him. These similarities provide us with clues that the two stories are connected.

And yet, there are also some significant differences.

The blind man by the Pool of Bethsaida is rather passive, not saying anything that we know of and allowing himself to be led along by others; whereas Bartimaeus is proactive, shouting to Jesus even when the crowd discourages him from doing so.

At Bethsaida, Jesus never asks the blind man what he needs; with Bartimaeus, however, Jesus asks, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

Over here the man is healed in two parts—at first the people look like trees, walking, he said; he sees clearly only after Jesus lays hands on him a second time. Over there Bartimaeus leaps up and throws off his cloak, and his own faith makes him well.

Jesus tells one man to go home without even setting foot in the village; he tells the other man, “Follow me.”

Now, all these observations are worthy of contemplation. But the thing that scholars have long noted—where I want to dwell today—is that these two stories form a pair of bookends.

It’s characteristic of Mark: he does this elsewhere. He tells a story; a little while later he tells a parallel story; and everything in between relates to the bookends.

2.

So then, the easy question is, What are these stories about? Blindness, we answer.

But the more difficult, corollary question is this: How does everything in between relate?

This corollary question is not so easy to answer; but I think we can figure it out. For, if you’ve been in church at all since Proper 19—September 16th, this year—we’ve been talking about it every week—this in-between stuff.

That’s the last seven Sundays in a row, including today: How does blindness thread its way through these seven weeks?

So, here’s a quick review:

On Proper 19 I preached a sermon entitled, “Crying ‘Fowl.’” I told a story from my childhood of an encounter with a bobcat. My neighbor caught the bobcat by means of a trap with a spring mechanism.

This entire section of the Gospel, beginning with the man born blind and ending with Bartimaeus today, is sometimes called the Scandal of Mark. Skandalon, the Greek word from which we get our English word scandal, originally meant “a trap with a spring mechanism.”

We wondered together if Peter may have felt like he’d walked into a trap when Jesus rebuked him: “Get behind me, Satan.”

Next, Proper 20, I preached a sermon called, “Greatness and Awkward Silences.” That day’s passage was structured around two awkward silences: the first because his disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them; and the second because they’d been arguing along the way about who among them was the greatest; and they were embarrassed.

At the conclusion of this passage Jesus called a little child to himself and said, “Whoever welcomes a little child welcomes me.”

On Proper 21 we wondered together what constitutes a community, for Jesus’ disciples had encountered a man who was doing signs and wonders in Jesus’ name but wasn’t a part of their community.

Like the disciples, we like to say we’re welcoming and inclusive, but what does this catchphrase really mean? I considered a few models with you—church as country club, church as museum, church as hipster joint—in this sermon entitled, “Called to Do Welcoming and Inclusive.”

Then, on Proper 22, in a sermon called, “The Kingdom of God and MeToo,” we took on a difficult passage about divorce, remarriage, and adultery, concluding that with the kingdom of God it’s not about what’s permissible but what’s possible.

We human beings like to come up with rules and regulations to govern our institutions, including the church. Jesus says it’s more about who we are called to be than what we should or should not do.

Again, he concluded by calling a little child to himself, this time to say, “Unless you receive the kingdom of God as a little child, you will never enter it.”

Next, on Proper 23, I preached a sermon called, “Wealth Intervention.” This was about the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” But he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

How difficult it is for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus warned—maybe because it blinds? Remember the bookends.

And last week, Proper 24, I preached a sermon called, “Assessing Effectively,” where we contrasted effective self-assessment with self-absorption.

James and John were at it again, their egos in charge, arguing once more about which of the disciples were the greatest. This time they asked Jesus if they could sit at his right and left hand in glory. They were self-absorbed, not self-assessing.

And yet (we got our noses out of the details and looked at the bigger picture), after they learned to deny themselves and assess themselves effectively, in a kind of holy irony they did in fact become two of the greatest disciples ever.

Which brings us to today, and the story of Blind Bartimaeus.

Do you see (pun intended)? We began with the man born blind; we end with blind Baritmaeus. Everything in between complements and amplifies blindness; or, in other words, what it means to be spiritually blind.

3.

Now, here’s the hard part. Throughout this section, the Scandal of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ followers—not his opponents—are the focal point. It is his followers who demonstrate spiritual blindness.

It’s Peter to whom Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan.”

It’s the twelve who do not understand what Jesus means when he says he must suffer and die and rise again.

It’s the twelve who fall into petty arguments along the way about who among them is the greatest.

It’s his closest disciples who shoo away the little children, the very ones whom they are supposed to be like.

It’s the rich young man who respects and comes to Jesus eager, wanting to learn from him—but then goes away sad because of his many possessions.

It’s James and John, who’d lived with Jesus day in and day out for three years, who approached him with an audacious, even rash, request.

And did you notice the crowd today? As the passage begins, they’re shushing and otherwise rebuking blind Bartimaeus. But then, when Jesus speaks up and says, “Call him here”—

It’s the fickle crowd who suddenly changes their tune. “Take heart,” they say, “get up, he is calling you.”

Bartimaeus may be physically blind; and yet, isn’t it blind Bartimaeus who really sees more than anyone else?

Throughout the Scandal of the Gospel of Mark, everyone around Jesus, including his closest disciples, is characterized by spiritual blindness. His followers are the focal point; and, today, we are his followers.

That means, like it or not, spiritual blindness characterizes us.

Whether you come to church just a few times a year, attend weekly, volunteer, sing in the choir, serve in leadership, or are ordained as a deacon, priest, or bishop—to some extent each one of us is spiritually blind.

Shouldn’t we work, then, to become more spiritually awake? Shouldn’t we pray daily that Jesus will increasingly open our eyes? Right now we see to some extent: people look like trees, walking. Shouldn’t we want to see people as they truly are?

4.

That’s the hard part: the bad news, if you will.

But there’s good news here too—there always is with the Gospel. We see it today in Jesus’ patience with us.

Jesus rebuked Peter, this is true. But very soon after that—through and beyond the rebuke—Jesus honored Peter. “Look,” Peter said, “we have left everything to follow you.” And Jesus said, “Yes, Peter, I get it. Truly I say to you, anyone who has left anything behind for my sake will receive a hundredfold in the kingdom of God.”

The rich young man came to Jesus and, looking at him, the text states, Jesus loved him.

Today, the crowd is fickle. They shush the blind man; then just as quickly, when they realize that Jesus actually wants to include the blind man in his mission, they welcome and include him. Yet Jesus doesn’t even make an issue of their fickleness. His patience towards them is beyond measure.

So it is with us. As a community of Christ-followers, we have our differences and distractions—whether wealth or ego or interpersonal squabbles or our inability to comprehend the mission Jesus left to us.

Does anyone have the patience for this kind of stuff?

But Jesus does.

Jesus’ patience with us is infinite and eternal. That’s the real scandal of the Gospel!