A rich man

A sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 25, 2016

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

There is a deep irony to this last sentence of today’s Gospel. The Gospels are not written as mystery stories with a surprise ending. They are the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ who rose from the dead. This story that Jesus told is not about the dead, it is about the living. The story starts, “There was a rich man…”

monopoly-manA lot of the stories in the Gospel of Luke have those words:  The rich young man who asked Jesus how he might attain everlasting life, the rich man who tore down his granaries to build bigger ones, the rich man who had a steward, the rich tax collector Zacchaeus who followed Jesus. If you look at all of these stories, there is no particular animosity towards wealth or the wealthy—rich people certainly existed in the ancient world. But there weren’t that many, so why do they show up so often in the gospels?

In the Gospels, the stories are there to be readily understood, to make their point clear. And one thing that was clear in the ancient world was that if you were rich, you were free to act. As opposed to almost everyone else, whose lives were pretty much circumscribed, especially the slaves. There was, after all, very little of what we consider middle class in Jesus’ time. So it was only the rich who had almost total control over their lives and the choices they made, which is why the rich show up so often in Jesus’ stories – as examples of people who could choose to live responsible – or irresponsible lives.  And Jesus’ listeners could realize that they too, could take responsibility for their own choices.

Which means that these stories apply equally to us.

So Jesus is telling a story. A folk tale or a parable, really. It’s about a rich man and a beggar whose name is Lazarus. That is to say, a person responsible for his own actions and someone who was suffering and unable to take care of his own needs. The rich man is described as feasting sumptuously every day—that appeared to be the sum total of his occupation. In fact, the rich man isn’t even given a name because there isn’t anything to say about him beyond that he was only taking care of himself, and ignoring the needs of others, or, in this case, Lazarus. Even after the rich man dies and is begging Abraham for relief, he wants Lazarus to be used as a slave, to bring him water.

This story isn’t moralistic in the way we understand fables. It’s not saying that the rich man learned anything after he died and was in the same miserable condition as Lazarus. Look what he does: He asks for the servant to return from the dead to warn the members of his family about his heritage or legacy. He still gives not one whit for Lazarus the beggar, nor the people of Israel – he cares only for himself and his own. And there’s no reason to believe that the brothers he wants warned were any different. They weren’t going to change and respect the warning of Lazarus—even if a man were raised from the dead.

This story is about the respect of the living for the living. The prophets spoke to Israel about justice, about respect for the poor and the weak. The books of Moses spoke about respect for the strangers living in the land. The rich man in this story had no excuse – because of his wealth he was fully responsible for his actions. His lack of compassion was his own, it was not forced by God or by circumstances. Yet somehow he behaved as if it was. “Let Lazarus bring me water.” “Send Lazarus to warn my brothers.” As if some special personal warning would guide them to take care of their interests, as if God owed them those things that they denied to other human beings, as if their only problem was a lack of information. This man’s life was impoverished because he lacked compassion and mercy, the basic building blocks of an abundant spiritual life. He was free and able to avail himself of all the generosity of God, the wisdom of the Torah and the passion of the prophets, but instead he looked to himself, to his own self-centered benefit—and ultimately, self-pity. There was no magic solution, some astonishing miracle was not going to change that.

This story is deeply ironic. Jesus WAS raised from the dead. But it is not the impressiveness of the miracle that makes that significant, it is the depth of his compassion. Jesus faced death—suffered death as a free person with compassion to all, even his executioners. His resurrection is the compassion of God for all of us. His mercy and compassion do away with indignity, and indifference. We are one in Christ, let us do away with indignity and indifference, and respect all those, even those most different from us, with the mercy and compassion of Jesus.

 

Mammon, Inc.

A sermon for the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 18, 2016

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

For the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

Today’s gospel reading is well known among preachers as one of the hardest of Jesus’ parables to interpret and preach on. Part of that is because people often think that Jesus’ parables are allegories where one of the characters is God; and another piece is that we often expect Jesus’ stories to be moralistic and tell people how to behave. Today’s parable proves that those things aren’t always true. Jesus’ stories are about the real world of human experience. There is nothing particularly moral about anybody in this story and the rich man is definitely NOT God. Let’s step back a bit and just listen to the story as a story. It’s easy enough to retell this in a contemporary idiom:

There was a CEO of a very large company, a national or international concern that makes a lot of money in many ways. big-short It came to his attention that one of his regional or divisional managers was not doing so well. The manager had been there a long time and had a very good salary, but unlike the rest of the company, this manager’s area of responsibility was on the decline—accounts were being cancelled and going to competitors, market share was declining, revenue was down while at the same time expenses were up.  Something was wrong. It probably wasn’t criminal—an embezzler would cover his tracks better. The CEO sends a message notifying the manager that there would be a Special Review of that division’s performance. The manager in question didn’t just fall off the turnip truck—he knew what that meant. In this company, a Special Review meant the end for the manager. And usually those Reviews were used to document how to justify eliminating most of the severance and bonus eligibility for the manager on the way out.  He still had kids in college, lots of expenses and it was way too early to retire.  And the job market at his level for people his age was none too good, especially because his most notable achievements were years ago.

So our manager considers his situation. And he comes up with a plan. He finds the most important of the accounts that his division oversees and he goes to see the person in charge of each one. I can’t say the specifics of what he worked out with them. It may well have involved criminal actions—it certainly violated the terms of his employment arrangements with his company. In a few days, he had made personal and professional arrangements that were so advantageous to the clients that they made consulting arrangements with him that guaranteed enough income for his kids to get through college and for him to reach retirement with at least as good a situation as he would have had if he had served his time with the company without being fired.

When it came time for the Special Review, the CEO could see what had happened, at least in outline. In all likelihood, the company would decide not to get investigators involved in the details of its operations and finances, and its attorneys would simply work to contain the damage and keep the manager from expanding his advantage. They wouldn’t necessarily be pleasant, but they weren’t going to be able to recover much either.

The CEO shakes his head, and says to the manager, “Wow! If you had been this creative and aggressive for the company for the past five years, I would have put you in charge of a lot more!”

That’s how I read the end of the parable when it says, “And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” Jesus tells a realistic story about his time, which is exactly parallel to this modern story. Nobody in the story is a moral exemplar—each person was out for his own advantage.

Jesus is talking to his disciples. He says, look—even out there, the unrighteous find ways to adapt, they find ways to get done what is important, when to take a risk to achieve a goal. The manager who had been indolent and wasteful and complacent was not shrewd or commended by either the CEO or by Jesus.  The children of light are sometimes just that complacent thinking that the life of faith is a passive thing; that loving sisters and brothers can be done by just letting someone else do it; that somehow being forgiven takes away all responsibility for being resourceful and performing our best for the Kingdom of God.

There’s a word in today’s Gospel that occurs a couple of times and is translated as “wealth,” or “money.” It’s actually a Hebrew word that is nonetheless used in the Greek gospels: Mammon. Mammon is a word that doesn’t appear in the Old Testament but it’s found in several other Hebrew texts. It means property, or assets. It has a neutral connotation in itself. Of course when you look at the dealings of this manager, you are looking at “unjust Mammon.” The priorities of the CEO and the manager were indeed Mammon. They were shrewd and efficient in how they dealt with it, and obtained it—the point at which the CEO decided to call in the Manager to discipline him was when he was not shrewd and efficient with the Mammon entrusted to him. His later faithfulness to Mammon was what got the CEO’s admiration.

Jesus is bringing the Kingdom of God, the love of God, the fellowship of God. And his expectations of his disciples with regard to what is entrusted to them—that is to say what is entrusted to us—are not less than the CEO’s expectations of that divisional manager of Mammon, Inc. Jesus’ expectations are far higher, to serve the Kingdom of Love with shrewdness and single-minded commitment. To live, without counting the cost for ourselves, but rather the benefit for the children of God.

At the end of the lesson, Jesus makes it clear that the priorities of the CEO and the Manager are not those of the Kingdom of God. We are the slaves of God, not of wealth: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

There is a collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, that brings this all together. Let us pray.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who declarest they glory and showest forth thy handiwork in the heavens and in the earth. Deliver us, we beseech thee, in our several callings, from the service of mammon, that we may do the work which thou givest us to do, in truth, in beauty, and in righteousness, with singleness of heart as thy servants, and to the benefit of our fellow men; for the sake of him who came among us as one that serveth, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lost Sheep

A sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 11, 2016

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

“Which of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”

The Gospel today is the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Not many of us have herded sheep, though I remember a couple of days of sheep shearing on my grandfather’s farm. Jesus could count on more of the people who listened to him understanding what was involved in being a shepherd. A hundred sheep was a pretty good-sized band for one person, and it would account for the bulk of that person’s assets and income.

sheep-on-hillsideA shepherd would take the sheep out into open country to graze—generally that land didn’t belong to the shepherd, it was just open country and he made his living by finding grass and water so that the sheep could grow and reproduce so that there would be wool, and meat, and new lambs to replenish the flock or sell. The sentimental side—of how sweet or cuddly the lambs might be and how much he loves them—didn’t make that much difference to most shepherds, but tending these living creatures so that they thrived and were kept safe was the whole job—if the flock dwindled or did not grow, the shepherd failed to have enough to maintain himself or his family and there would not even be any food.

The shepherd had to protect the sheep from predators and thieves, so you didn’t just leave the sheep alone. But when one turns out to be missing, the shepherd has to take the risk to leave the bulk of the flock there grazing and go find that sheep.

I was the director of a theological library. I was a librarian for over 25 years. We had about 175,000 volumes in our library, but when it came to my attention that someone wanted a book and it was missing, I became a bit of a terror until it was found. I would set aside other projects and look—where the book should be on the shelf, where it might be in transit, where it would be likely to be mis-shelved, where it could be mis-processed, where it was last seen alive… until I was sadly satisfied that the book couldn’t be found and apologize to the person who needed the book. I usually found the book. Some might question the management efficiency of having the most highly-paid administrator using all of this time to search after a single book. However, we want students and researchers to expect that the books and other resources that we say we have will be there when they need them. It is not acceptable to not care about that. The integrity of the system hangs on caring about the important details. So it is with the shepherd and this one sheep.

I’ve read commentaries, probably written by people who haven’t actually herded sheep, that say that it was irresponsible or not a good risk for the shepherd to leave the flock alone while looking for the one. Yet the integrity of the herd was broken by missing that one, and the shepherd’s job was to restore that. The image is that the shepherd searches: diligently, intelligently and quickly and he sees that sheep. He walks up to it and picks it up and puts it on his shoulders—‘you aren’t wandering off any more today’—and then hurries back to the rest of the flock, hoping that nothing has gone wrong.

The shepherd has to care, that’s his job. That’s what Jesus is getting at in telling this story: God cares, and Jesus cares, and as Christ’s body, we have to care—that’s our job. The religious leaders and the lawyers were criticizing Jesus because he was hanging around with the wrong kind of people—he shouldn’t be caring about THOSE people. But for Jesus, it was precisely the people that nobody cared about who he was there for: the children, the disabled, the homeless, the ones that we would rather just let somebody else welcome.

Today is September 11.  Fifteen years ago, Paula and I vacated our apartment on Canal Street in New York a couple of months before that date to move to Washington, D.C.. I remember frequently looking out the back windows that framed the two towers of the World Trade Center. I have a friend whose view was of a fire station in midtown Manhattan. On September 11, he watched fire companies leave for the World Trade Center. That evening he saw the fire engines return without their crews. A member of our new church in Washington commanded a unit that had moved out of the affected part of the Pentagon only six weeks before.  It was a tearing event, a time of great loss. With an injury like that, you can’t just recover a lost item, or rebuild a building. The body must be healed, the integrity of the whole must be restored. That takes time. But it also takes the building of trust between people, knitting together the different sorts of people who make up a country like ours, and the body of Christ. Turning inward into groups in fearfulness and anger disrupts the healing process—it is the opposite of going to find that lost sheep and restoring the integrity of the flock.

The church doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to Christ. And it is important to Christ that everyone can expect welcome in his name whenever they enter one of his churches. No person and no congregation is insignificant, the Good Shepherd seeks us out, every one of us. And every one of us is called to care for all of Christ’s flock.

The Church of England, and The Sex In Sexuality

Wisdom from Beth Routledge, a physician and member of the Scottish Episcopal Church. She has put it better than I can.

The Road Less Travelled

The Church of England spent this last weekend finding that they have a gay bishop in their midst, and then by turns tearing its hair out about it and pretending to be completely relaxed about it.

Late on Friday, the news broke on the Guardian website that the Bishop of Grantham, the Right Reverend Nicholas Chamberlain, had given an interview to Harriet Sherwood about his sexuality and his relationship by way of pre-empting a Sunday newspaper that had threatened to out him. He is a gay man, and he is in a long-term relationship that he describes in the most positive of terms: “It is faithful, it is loving, we are like-minded, we enjoy each other’s company, and we share each other’s life.” It is also sexually abstinent — a requirement of all clergy in the Church of England in same-sex relationships, although not of clergy in opposite-sex relationships.

And…

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Come-go down to the potter’s house

A sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost

St. James Church, Lincoln, California

“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”

The prophet Jeremiah was invited by God to observe a potter at his work. We might expect this to be an image of the potter lovingly crafting a pot, gradually smoothing it into the desired and perfected shape. Certainly that’s the implication of some popular religious songs about the potter and the clay.  But is that what Jeremiah saw? The potter Clay_Mixing_for_Potterywas working on the vessel, something didn’t go right, and the potter smashed it down, destroyed it and started over on something new. Not nearly as comfortable an image as we might expect.  And these are the words of the Lord to Jeremiah:

“At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good thing that I had intended to do to it.”

God is free, and won’t be played for a fool. In the imagination of our hearts, we may think that God has promised us things will be a certain way.  But at any point, the Divine Potter may look at that vessel, that vessel of our imagination, take it, smash it, form it back into a lump and start something new.  God is not to be controlled by human expectations.

This can be frightening in many ways because what it means it that we are not protected from God.

Two sociologists interviewed teenagers about their religious beliefs and found that, for many of these young people, their belief system boiled down to: One has the right in life to be happy and to feel good about yourself and we don’t need God’s presence unless we need a problem solved. Many modern adults ascribe to a similar theory of religion. But that’s not what this passage from Jeremiah is telling us.

What this text is saying is that God is faithful to God’s mercy and justice. God is sovereign in bestowing grace. God promises good, and that good is a gift. But grace is not a right, it is a free gift of a free God. We can’t manipulate God into a corner.

There’s a movie, written and directed by Kevin Smith, entitled Dogma. It’s a comedy, with a well-earned “R” rating, in which a couple of fallen angels have learned that the Catholic Church in New Jersey has set up a plenary indulgence so that any person who enters one particular church building will have her or his sins forgiven and will go to heaven.  These fallen angels figure that if they can get there, have their wings removed so that they become mortal and enter the church, they will go to Heaven, despite God’s eternal decree assigning them to Hell. The film maker is actually leading his audience into a serious reflection on the meaning of the Gospel, even though there was quite a bit of horrified reaction from certain ends of the religious spectrum when the film came out.

But these angels—they were trying to game God. Their premise was that God was rigidly bound by every pronouncement. You’ll have to watch the movie to see how it works out in the movie, but in the real world, God will not be gamed. It is only God’s love meeting human repentance that remains in the end.  It surprises us, who God loves. It certainly surprised the princes of Judah, when Jeremiah told them that their enemies were forgiven.

Jesus surprises us. He turns to the crowds, who are expecting him to be nice and to talk about nothing but love, and he says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” There is no avoiding that this is an intense statement.  When Jesus uses the word, “hate” it is the opposite of the word, “love”. However, we moderns tend to always default to thinking of “love” and “hate” as matters of feeling, indeed of personal feelings. But love is a matter of behavior.

A renowned scholar puts it this way: “The terms denote attitude and modes of action, not emotions. The point is not how one feels toward parents and family but one’s effective attitude when it comes to a choice for the kingdom.”[i] Jesus is the embodiment of the compassion of God. We are invited into that compassion. But that invitation is not to go along with the crowds, or a political party or faction, or our own neighbors and family. The invitation is to accompany Jesus—and his life defines compassion, not any of those other things. Jesus walks with us into the truth of the free God. That freedom has its cost, as the parables about the tower builder and the king going to war that end today’s Gospel lesson indicate. A Christian life in the world in which we live involves loss, suffering and sacrifice and with Jesus, we accept that squarely, without trying to avoid it, or push the consequences away, leaving others to endure the consequences.

The promise of God is God’s mercy, his mercy to all. The Gospel is God’s freedom that sets us free. Manipulation and scheming are of no use. We are free of the need to make excuses, or to make ourselves look like we are the ones who are in the right. We do not know how things will come out—we live in the freedom of God. What we do know is that God is the God of Love. God’s mercy extends beyond our imaginations. But wherever we suffer or doubt, God’s mercy is there for us.

 

[i] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Liturgical Press, 1991, p. 229, n. 26.

Yesterday and today and forever

A sermon for the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 28, 2016

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

That sentence is the culmination of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Hebrews is an anonymous discourse, written in the first century.  Of all the writings of the New Testament, its writing is the most literary and polished.  The more polished a piece of writing is, the more difficult it is to convey in translation. I realized this when I looked at the Greek to see what word was translated as “mutual love” in the first sentence: “Let mutual love continue.” There is nothing wrong with the translation that we have—it translates the words and sentences accurately.  But on first reading, it can appear that it’s just a list of good things to remember, not particularly connected with one another. But in Greek, these exhortations are tied together by related words that show us the progressive logic of the Christian life of love.

Let me render this in awkward English to illustrate: “Let brotherly/sisterly love continue, but don’t neglect love of strangers, for hidden in that, some have entertained angels. And remember the prisoners, as though suffering the mistreatment they receive along with them in your own bodies. (And speaking of being in one shared body) keep the marriage bed undefiled. Be not-silver-lovers but be content with what you have.”

This passage weaves together the different kinds of love and not-love that make up the everyday Christian life and experience. It starts with the familiar: the everyday experience of love of the sisters and brothers who we know well and care for. This kind of love isn’t less than other kinds—it’s pretty much the foundation.

But what’s being emphasized, is that Christian love doesn’t stop there. Christian love isn’t just for insiders. Even more important is the love of strangers, which is what that word “hospitality” really means—the stranger. Not the ones we know and have social obligations and relations with, but the wanderer on the road, the one we will never see again. By illustration the text alludes to Abraham, who received his greatest blessing—that is to say, the promise of his son and a legacy of a great nation—he received that blessing by stopping and welcoming three strangers on the road on a hot summer’s day.

But it is not just the strangers who we may encounter, but also those who are locked away and out of sight. This could refer to Christians, who like St. Paul found themselves imprisoned because their witness to the Gospel challenged those in power to seize people and lock them up. Or it might recognize that people were seized for arbitrary reasons and held in terrible conditions unless they had the wealth or influence to gain release. These distant people who we can’t see; we are one with them as well, as if we are one body with them as we are with Christ.

Next, there’s the reference to a shared experience in the body, the text circles back from the most distant and invisible of relationships, to the most intimate and familial— “Let the marriage bed be held in honor by all.” All this love of brothers and sisters and strangers and far-away prisoners does not reduce one’s obligation to those closest or change those obligations. No other kind of love exempts us from the basics of cherishing those in our own household and maintaining the integrity of those relationships. After this exhortation is another word that contains “love,” but in this case it has the prefix that means “not”—literally, a “not-lover of silver,” is what the readers are exhorted to be. The opposite of being one in flesh with another is to focus your love, your life and your future on dead metal, on cash.  Chasing money will not take care of insecurity or of anxiety about it.

This is a simple summary of the Christian life, but Hebrews continues: “God has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’ “  So, when this text says, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever,” it is this simple Christian life of love that it is referring to, living in generosity, with care for others, near and far, and with responsibility to one another, not looking for shortcuts through greed or self-indulgence.

Weekday lunch at the Church of the Holy Apostles, NYC

Weekday lunch at the Church of the Holy Apostles, NYC

In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus has occasion to observe some people in a situation which they probably thought was hospitality. But rather than love of stranger, or even brotherly love, the gathering was quite the opposite: everyone was jockeying for power and prestige, looking for the best seats, which indicate proximity to power and would command high regard. And the host was a big part of this—the guest list was compiled with an eye to enhancing his prestige in the community and perhaps even enhance his wealth. Lives more akin to silver-lovers than stranger-brother-sister-lovers. And Jesus—who is the same, yesterday, today and forever—he gives them advice: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed.”

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

She stood up straight and began praising God

A sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, August 21, 2016

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

“She stood up straight and began praising God.”

It is a pleasure to join with you this morning here at St. James as your interim priest. What does that word “interim” mean?  I’ve been a priest for a long time, and expect to continue as one, pretty much permanently, so it’s not my being a priest that is interim. And St. James, Lincoln, has been a church for quite a while, and will continue as a vital congregation in the Body of Christ, long after I have left, so St. James is not an interim church. But together, we will be spending an interim season; a season of growth and discernment.  The job of a priest in an interim time is to help guide the congregation into the best possible spiritual state, so that all the decisions of the congregation will be to choose the best possible blessing that God has in store.

But before we talk about the possibilities for the work that God has put us here to do, let’s turn to our Gospel lesson.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is in a congregation, teaching. In that congregation is a woman who has been crippled, bent

over and suffering, for eighteen years. Let’s pay particular attention to the text here. When we moderns see a description of a person who is suffering, we usually think of specific physical problems that we hope can be addressed by the wonders of modern medical science.  But what the text in the Gospel says is that the woman had a spirit that had crippled her. Injuries or disease are not actually mentioned. In the Gospels, Jesus heals and casts out spirits as often as he teaches—perhaps more often. What are these spirits? They are not the horror movie creatures we think of, or the stuff of superstition. Spirits are not material, but they are very real. They are woven into our life to the point that we don’t even notice them.

God’s love is simple and God does not create malign spirits. Human love likewise should be simple, but human fear, hate, greed and many other manifestations of our lesser selves distort relationships. And it’s not just individuals—it’s the whole of communities and societies. Over time all of the negative things weave together and generate spirits.  Since so many people’s fears and desires are involved, these spirits are beyond the control of any single person, rather they influence people and groups in ways that the people involved usually don’t understand.
And we can see that in this Gospel story. Jesus calls the woman over, lays his hands on her, and she stands up straight and begins to praise God. God healed her, the spirit that weighed her down was gone. But right away, the manifestation of the spirit shows up again. A leader of the congregation is very upset at Jesus for healing this woman.  His reasons were actually bogus because pronouncing God’s blessing and touching another person are not prohibited on the Sabbath. But the man’s anger was real, and the argument was intense.

What’s happening here?

Psychologists and therapists use systems theory to talk about similar things that they see. Frequently, when a member of a family who has been ill or troubled in some way becomes well, someone else in the family becomes ill or begins to behave in inappropriate ways. The spirit that may manifest itself in an individual seeks to maintain itself and it affects the other people who are involved with the person who has undergone a change.

This woman stands up straight and is healthy. And the leader attacks Jesus—making this woman well changes things, this man’s comfort and control of the situation, perhaps his prestige—are all destabilized, all called into question. He probably thought he was just enforcing the rules. But it was his fears, and the fearfulness of the entire community—going back at least 18 years—that were speaking. It was definitely not the love of the God who had blessed Abraham and guided Moses through the wilderness.

How does Jesus respond to the man’s fear and anger? He didn’t criticize those fears, and accuse those affected by the spirit, or try to diagnose them and tell them what they should do; he healed the woman and helped her to stand upright.  He explains the law, in terms of the love of God. Everyone will lead their animals to life-giving water on the Sabbath, as Jesus led this woman to abundant life. It takes courage to be healed, and it also takes courage for a community to live with healing within it.

Spirits don’t quickly disappear, it takes honesty and acceptance, the courage perhaps to accept changes in one’s own position, to rejoice that others are loved and healed. Jesus came to heal us all—he paid the price for healing our spirits—and he rejoices with us, with that woman who stood up straight and with every healing of a person, or a relationship, or a community, or a world.

From what I have seen already in my short time here, St. James is a place that has gone forth offering courage, hope and healing for this congregation and for its community. This church has been enriched by the care and artistry of many in its past and those who are with us now. It’s a blessing in this town and this place, with the beautiful community garden serving our neighbors, a relationship with the high school choir, a blessing of the animals in the public square each year. St. James is a blessing to all who attend, in times of celebration and fellowship, and in times of grief, pain and sorrow. In my brief time here, I have become aware of the sincere concern and caring for members of the community who have suffered loss, or who are in pain, as well as rejoicing with them on happy occasions. In just over a week, members of this congregation will venture north to support Aidan Rontani and take part in his ordination as a priest. St. James is a welcoming community and my wife Paula and I certainly feel welcomed here.

St. James is blessed, but St. James will continue to be blessed by God. Together we will discover that blessing.

As we follow Jesus together, there will be healing and change—perhaps mild, and not as dramatic as the story in the Gospel today, or perhaps surprising. But Jesus will heal our spirits. This is how the Gospel lesson today ends: “the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.”

Let us pray, once again the collect for today:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with your and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.