Members of Christ Church enjoyed a fun community event last Sunday at the Sheridan Library's Annual Ice Cream Social.
In additional to the ice cream consumers shown above, Phil and Cynthia Shackleton, Judy Aaker and Frank and Beverly Ford also attended this delicious and musical event.
A sermon preached in Christ Episcopal Church, Sheridan MT, by the Rev. Bruce McNab
16th Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 18, Year C. (Text: Luke 14:25-33)
When we were little kids, many of us had very clear likes and dislikes. (Some of us still do.) We loved hot dogs and hated fish sticks. We loved mac and cheese and hated broccoli. We loved to go to Grandma’s house, because she always had a glass of milk and our favorite chocolate chip cookies, warm and ready for us when we arrived. And she had a big toy box. But we hated to visit Great-aunt Sally, because she believed that children should never be served snacks between meals. She would give us a glass of ice water and invite us to go out back and look at her garden.
Those of us who have been preaching for long time have learned about the likes and dislikes of typical congregations—what people have a taste for and what they’d rather not think about—or at least not think about too often. Congregations love sermons with a little humor, a good story or two, and a clear moral lesson. They like preachers who make a single memorable point (and do so in less than fifteen minutes). They hate sermons that scold, ask for money, make them feel guilty, or last too long. A smart preacher will offer what people like a lot more often than what they don’t like.
However, there are times when the word of the Lord on a given Sunday is a difficult word, but one that needs to be heard and thought about, nevertheless. This is one of those Sundays.
The first thing we hear from Jesus today is shocking: “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.” “Hate” my parents and my spouse and my kids and my family and even my own life?! How can that be?! We hear those words and we think, “Doesn’t Jesus tell us to love one another? How can he ask us to hate anybody, especially our nearest and dearest?”
In this hard saying, Jesus’ use of the word “hate” is the easiest issue to resolve. It’s mere hyperbole. Aramaic speakers used a lot of hyperbole, just the way Arabic speakers do today—and Hebrew speakers, too. These languages use a lot of “over-statement,” the very opposite of English with its frequent use of understatement. This is alien to the way we usually talk, but it’s not too different from the way children talk about foods they “love” and foods they “hate.” Those two words merely express preference not emotion. We could re-translate Jesus’ sentence to make the language less emotional, and it would still mean the same thing: “Whoever comes to me and prefers father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, more than me cannot be my disciple.”
See? Isn’t that easier on the ear? But it’s still a hard word. It’s a challenge: to be his disciple requires that we make Jesus first in our life. Number One. Ahead of our mom. Ahead of our dad. Ahead of our spouse. Ahead of our kids. —And ahead of our job. …Or our golf game. …Or whatever else commands our attention in retirement.
Of course, it’s possible that we don’t want to pay the price that it takes to be a disciple of Jesus. That’s something to think about. Being a disciple is not required for salvation. The Lord died on the cross to take away the sins of the world. He won our salvation, and it’s his gift to those who trust him. We’re with Martin Luther on this: we are sinners who have been put right with God by faith. St. Paul says that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
However, Jesus asks those who have been saved by faith also to become disciples--to become people whose daily lives reveal him in the world, to become people who aren’t just waiting for the Kingdom to arrive when they die but who want to live in the Kingdom of God right now, here in the midst of this mortal life. Being a disciple is about living as Jesus did. For disciples, Christianity is a way of life, not just a way of thinking about God.
Why do you think so many people were drawn to Jesus? It was because they found him magnetic. They felt the presence of God when they were with him. They learned wisdom from him about how to live. They experienced healing of their bodies, minds, and spirits when he touched them. And so they followed him around the country. Many of them wanted to be like him, if they could be. —Would it not be glorious to experience the same intimacy with God that Jesus had? To pray the way Jesus did? Or to be able to help other people the way Jesus did?
But, in the gospel passage we heard this morning, as well as in others, Jesus warns the adoring crowd that being a disciple will be costly. He invites the people who are following him to count the cost of becoming his disciples. He advises them to do what we’d call a “cost-benefits analysis.” That is to say, study whether the “benefits” of being a disciple will be worth the cost. We read, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” I can re-translate this one for you, too: “No one can become my disciple unless you’re willing to say good-bye to everything you claim as your own.” But that’s no less challenging. Believers who want to be disciples have to be willing to put their lives and all their resources—spiritual, personal, physical, and material—at the Lord’s disposal.
I would suggest that 100% of us here this morning have made sacrifices—big sacrifices—for causes we believe in. Many of you have laid your lives on the line in our nation’s service. Most of you have sacrificed in order to provide for your children or care for your own parents in their old age. Some of you have paid a high price—in money or years (or both)—to acquire an advanced technical education, or to acquire artistic or musical skills. We made those sacrifices because we believed in the value of that for which we sacrificed.
Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest painters who ever lived. And not only was he a painter, but he was also a sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He was a genius, the quintessential “renaissance man.” There are relatively few paintings and drawings still in existence that can definitely be attributed to Leonardo himself. But there are more which the experts say are “of the ‘school of Leonardo’.” They are the work of his apprentices. For those hard-working, dedicated, self-sacrificing young artists of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, I’m sure it meant everything to know that people would one day look at their work and say, “Oh, this painting is clearly of the school of Leonardo. Look at the brush work. Look at the perspective. Look at the use of color. Here we see Leonardo’s own technique so well. This apprentice learned well from the teacher.”
Wouldn’t it be worth the high cost of discipleship for us to know that someone—maybe who doesn’t even know who we are—might one day witness something we do and say, “here I clearly see Jesus at work. This disciple has become like the Teacher.”
It’s worth whatever it costs us to become one who is “of the School of Christ,” an apprentice of the Master.
For a pdf version of this sermon, please click here.
A sermon preached in Christ Church, Sheridan, MT, by the Rev. Bruce McNab.
August 25, 2013. (Proper 16, Yr. C. Text: Luke 13:10-17]
The Ten Commandments are very popular in this country. There are about 4,000 public displays of them in various places, including the Supreme Court building and the Library of Congress. Maybe there’s one here in Sheridan somewhere.
Zeal for the Commandments runs high among Americans, but the zeal is diluted by ignorance. A few years ago a poll showed that nearly 80% of Americans oppose removing displays of the Ten Commandments from government buildings, even though another survey the same year showed that fewer than 10% can name more than four of the ten. (I wonder which four commandments people know? The poll didn’t say. Apparently it’s more important to post the Commandments in public than to remember them. —And what does that tell us?)
Most people say that the function of the Ten Commandments is to help us know the difference between right and wrong. They say the Commandments show us what behavior to punish and what behavior to reward. They say that obeying the Commandments will make us a more moral society. Maybe so, maybe so. But those are modern answers, not Biblical answers, because none of them make any mention of God. The Biblical answer is different: the Ten Commandments reveal the will of God for his People. They identify the kind of behavior that sets God’s People apart and marks them as God’s own. Thus, the Commandments are about holiness--about “being holy as God is holy.” To keep God’s law is to belong to God. All the commandments were strictly observed by Jews in our Lord’s time—as they are today—and the Fourth Commandment received particular attention: “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” Observance of the Sabbath and the dietary laws were part of the Jewish way of life that set them sharply apart from everyone else.
The commandment to keep the Sabbath demands positive action. It isn’t a “thou shalt not” sort of commandment. The People of God are to mark the seventh day as “holy” (which literally means set apart in Hebrew). The law doesn’t command worship on the Sabbath, but rather rest --a cessation of all labor for everyone. The Hebrews had been slaves in Egypt, and slaves must work every day. They work till they drop. They work till they die. But having delivered his people from slavery, God now not only permits but commands them to rest from their labor, just as God himself had rested after his great work of creation. Israel’s rest on every seventh day was to be a perpetual reminder that God had delivered them from slavery, a testimony to their freedom from human masters and their submission to God. And the Sabbath rest was for everyone—men and women, children and adults, Israelites and foreigners living among them, masters and slaves alike. Even animals were to rest. The Sabbath created equality in the community.
Although the Fourth Commandment didn’t designate the Sabbath as a day of worship, that custom evolved on its own. I suppose it felt logical to treat the Sabbath as a day to thank God for Israel’s deliverance and to gather together to hear and meditate on God’s word.
Thus it was that Jesus often preached in synagogues on the Sabbath, as we see him doing in today’s gospel. Into that Sabbath gathering comes a crippled woman. She seems to enter after the service has already begun, while Jesus is speaking. This is understandable. The poor woman probably moves slowly, since she is bent over and unable to stand up straight. Walking in a crowd is very awkward for someone who is permanently bent over at the waist and can only look straight ahead with difficulty. The synagogue is packed, since Jesus always draws a crowd, and since it is small—as village synagogues usually are—she can’t make her way into the room and find a place without being noticed.
The woman doesn’t want to call attention to herself. Quite the contrary, she doesn’t want any more attention than she already gets. The people of the village know her well because she is their neighbor, and she’s almost certainly doing exactly what she does every Sabbath day—joining the community for worship, arriving just a few minutes after everyone else has gone in. But Jesus sees her, and he interrupts his teaching to invite her up to where he’s sitting on the speaker’s platform. He lays his hands on her and says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Immediately she stands erect and with a sudden broad smile and in a very loud voice—for an old lady—she begins to praise God for her deliverance. She is healed.—Hallelujah! Glory to God!—And all her friends, all the people in the synagogue, are happy for her. It is a moment of great joy for the whole village.
However, although he may be happy for the woman’s healing, the chief officer of the synagogue immediately starts complaining, muttering to the elders sitting with him on the platform. He regards Jesus’ healing people as Jesus’ work. He says, “This man used to be a carpenter and now he’s a healer, isn’t he? A professional healer, like a physician. And no one is supposed to do his work on the Sabbath, not carpenters and not healers.” He may have added, in a stage whisper audible to everyone nearby, and especially to Jesus, “This woman has been crippled for eighteen years. Her affliction did not just strike her this morning. Why can the Teacher not wait and heal her after the Sabbath is past? She has been waiting many years to be healed, what possible difference might a single day make? Does the Teacher not honor the Lord’s commandment? God himself gave Moses the Sabbath law, and though the sages permit a worthwhile exception if it is necessary to save someone’s life, this woman’s life is not threatened! The Teacher works as a healer. That’s part of what he does. Fine. But let him do his healing work on one of the other six days of the week, not on the Sabbath of the Lord our God. ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy!’ ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’”
I am sure Jesus heard this and rolled his eyes. He has heard it all before, in other places, and he will hear it again. And every time it makes him mad. —But, from the perspective of the synagogue leader and most of Pharisees, “the rules are the rules!” This healing is not an emergency. If people start making exceptions, then the law will ultimately stop being a law and become merely a suggestion. This must not happen.
What do you think? What does this conflict about Sabbath observance mean to us? It is absolutely true, as Jesus points out in the gospel, that those in the synagogue who are scandalized by his healing on the day of rest regularly lead their own donkeys and oxen to water during the Sabbath, even though the animals would not die of dehydration if their owners chose to wait until sundown, when the day officially ended. So why, then, shouldn’t Jesus’ simple act of setting a woman free from an awful physical affliction be acceptable on the Sabbath? The Sabbath observance was established to be a weekly celebration of God’s deliverance of the children of Abraham from slavery. That’s why Jesus says to his critics, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan enslaved for eighteen long years, be set free from her bondage on the Sabbath day?” This miracle is the grace of God in action. And every Sabbath is meant to be a reminder of God’s grace.
That makes sense to us, doesn’t it? But how do we square law and grace? This is one of the classic questions of Christian theology.
Lutheran theologian and preacher David Lose says that all law is essential “because it gives order to our lives and helps maintain peace. It sets boundaries that create room in which life can flourish. The law matters because it encourages us—sometimes even goads us—to look beyond ourselves so that we might love and care for our neighbors.” Lose writes:
“Important as law is—and notice that Jesus doesn’t set aside the law but rather offers a different interpretation of it—[the law] must always bow to mercy, life, and freedom. Law helps us live our lives better, but grace creates life itself. Law helps order our world, but grace is what holds the world together. Law pushes us to care for each other, but grace restores us to each other when we’ve failed in the law.
“Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God, and while the law helps us make sense of and get more out of life in the kingdom of the world, it must always bend to the grace that constitutes the abundant life that Jesus proclaims. For above and beyond all the laws ever received or conceived, the absolute law is love: love God and love your neighbor. Or, perhaps, love God by loving your neighbor.”
And so, of course, Jesus heals on the Sabbath.
And, of course, the woman gives thanks.
And, of course, the crowd rejoices.
And, of course, all of us here say, Amen!
For a pdf version of this sermon, please click here.
Faith is the assurance of what we hope for.
A sermon preached in Christ Church, Sheridan, MT, by the Rev. Bruce McNab
12th Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 14, Yr. C. (Texts: Gen. 15:1-6; Heb. 11:1-3, 8-16)
I want to show you something. Here’s a Bible. This much of it is what we call the “Old Testament,” the Hebrew Bible, the Bible of Jesus and Peter and Paul and the first Christians. The most important human character in this Bible is the man called Abraham. Three great religious communities – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – revere Abraham as their primary spiritual ancestor. Did you know that? Christians take Abraham as the example of what we mean when we talk about faith.
As the story goes, Abraham was born and lived for the first part of his life in a place called Ur, one of the oldest cities we know about. We don’t know what Abraham did for a living there, but he seems to have been a city boy, not a country boy. Maybe he was a gentleman farmer, or a merchant, or a potter, or a banker, or a camel trader. Nobody knows. We do know from the Bible that he had an elderly father named Terah, a wife named Sarah, and a nephew named Lot who lived with them because his father, Abraham’s brother, had died. But Abraham and Sarah had no children of their own. Abraham had made money; but he had no heir to whom to leave it all.
One day Abraham had an experience unlike any he’d ever had before. He heard God speaking to him! We don’t know how Abraham heard God, but the Bible tells us what he heard God saying: “Leave this place, your family and your father’s house, and go to the land which I am going to show you. And I will give you that land to be a heritage for you, and I will make you a great nation. Your descendants will be as numerous as the sands of the seashore or the stars of the sky. I will bless you to be a blessing, and by you shall all of the nations of the earth bless themselves.”
Well, Abraham packed up his wife and his old father and his little nephew Lot and they just left Ur. I wonder what the neighbors said when Abraham left his family home and his established business, and just took off. Maybe, “That man doesn’t even know how to ride a camel or put up a tent, and there they go!” And what did Abraham say to them? It’s not an everyday event for most men to tell their neighbors, “I’m moving away because God told me to. Yes, that’s right; GOD spoke to me. God told me to pack up and go to, uh…somewhere. Somewhere. He’s going to tell me when I get there.”
Neighbors with common sense—who recognize the value of order, stability, and a dependable income—are usually a little put off by settled, prosperous, middle-aged businessmen or farmers (or whatever else Abraham might have been) who tell them that they’ve“heard God!”
And such people tend to become particularly skeptical if their formerly very sensible neighbor not only says that he has “heard God,” (which is pretty out of the ordinary, after all) but that God has told him to sell his house, close down his office, liquidate his business, pack up his family, and go to some as yet unidentified place which God says that he will point out later.
The Abraham story is important to us because although Abraham obeyed God and left his hometown, it was a long time before he got to the place God had promised to give him. A really long time. And it was an even longer time before the child of the promise was finally born to Abraham and Sarah.
Other than Jesus, Abraham is the great hero of the Bible. And not just the Old Testament; the New Testament points to him as the perfect example of faith and obedience. (Those two qualities always go hand-in-hand.)
Please hear this: There’s a message for you and me in the story of Abraham and his journey to the Promised Land. And the message is that you can go your own way, or you can follow God’s way. You can make your own plan, or you can stick to God’s plan. You can trust your own wisdom, or you can rely on the recorded wisdom of the saints who have already made this journey. You and I have a choice. We always have a choice.
Abraham had a choice too. When God spoke to him, Abraham could have said, “This is nuts. It’s just a dream. There can’t be anything to this. Why on earth should I leave behind everything I’ve built to follow a dream?” --But Abraham believed God, and so he acted. He believed and he obeyed. He had faith. You might say he sold his office building on Main Street and his pretty ranch just outside of town, bought himself a Winnebago, and hit the road—for the rest of his life. Now that’s obedience.
Faith is a decision. It’s a choice. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt; it’s certainty. As the Bible tells us today, “Faith is the assurance of what we hope for, the conviction of what we can’t yet see.” Abraham heard God calling him to set out on the road to an unknown destination. He had no GPS. No map. There were no road signs. Travel directions would be supplied by God on an as-needed basis. Did Abraham worry? Did he have doubts? You bet! Lots of doubts. (Just read Genesis.) But doubt can be the midwife of faith. --By faith, Abraham spent a lifetime on the road.
So, what is God’s call to us? Is God speaking to you and me about where he wants us to go with our lives? God is speaking to us. Are we listening? Jesus has given voice to God’s call to you and me. And this is what he’s said: “Follow me. Follow me!”
Jesus came to Peter and Andrew as they were casting their nets in the Sea of Galilee, and he said, “Follow me!” He came to James and John, who were in the boat with their father, and he said, “Follow me!” He came to Matthew the tax collector, sitting at his desk, and he said, “Follow me!” They didn’t ask him, “Where are you going?” They just dropped everything and went with him.
The first disciples learned the lesson of Abraham. On the way…through a lifetime…Peter and Andrew and James and John and Matthew and the others learned what the journey was all about. They learned to live in faith and hope—just like Abraham. They learned the law and the language of the Kingdom of God along the road, on the journey, following Jesus. And that’s what God is calling us to do: discover the meaning of the Kingdom of God as we follow Jesus!
A sermon needs to be at least a little bit practical. So, let me ask you: In practice, what do you think it means to follow Jesus? I don’t think it’s mainly about Sunday church attendance. That’s good, but it’s not the main thing. Following Jesus is not mainly about religious practices. It’s about believing Jesus, trusting Jesus, obeying Jesus — pondering his words, patterning our life according to his example, yielding ourselves to his Spirit, and expecting that as we do this —step by step, day-by-day— one day we’ll wake up and realize that we’ve crossed the frontier and we’re living in the Kingdom of God. —But we weren’t aware of exactly when the cross-over from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God happened. We just woke up and said, “Hey! We’re there!”
Remember Jesus’ first words in the gospel lesson this morning? “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” The Kingdom is God’s gift to us, but we don’t know exactly when we’re going to receive it. Or when we’re going to enter it. We just keep believing and moving on.
Here’s my point. You’ve probably already guessed it. It’s in the journey itself that we find the destination. It’s in believing God, staying on the road with Jesus, moving on, moving on, that we discover, all of a sudden that we’ve entered the Kingdom of God. We’re in the Promised Land — regardless of where we might be on a map of the world. But we can only live in that Kingdom if we keep moving on, trusting God to give us directions for the next day’s journey.
Faith is the assurance of what we hope for, the conviction of what we can’t yet see.
For a pdf version of this sermon, please click here.