Pentecost 11, Aug. 9, 2015

Title:Pentecost 11, Aug. 9, 2015

Pentecost 11, Aug. 9, 2015  (full size gallery)

A small service this Sunday with only 27. We greeted Bill McCoy, organist and choir director for the Fredericksburg United Methodist Church, who is enjoying a month off. He enjoyed playing the organ after the service while the Altar Guild and others were preparing for Dutchy Fannon’s funeral which will be held August 13.

We provided a blessing for Roger and Eunice Key who will attend their 4th Moravian clothing distribution next week, Aug 14-15 in Staten Island. Here is a link to the event there. "In 2014, 1,772 individuals and their families were collectively served during our main distribution in August, a mini-distribution in September at the Staten Island Moravian Community Dinner, a women’s distribution and 2 coat distributions."

They first travelled in 2012 with our mission team and then helped in 2013 and 2014 .  In addition members of the Key family helped Staten Island recover from Hurricane Sandy.  (Here is a slideshow of that first trip from August 2012.  We also created a group site of the trip. This was closer to a forum with pictures, poems, posts from participants) . 

The sermon was taken from Ephesians 4:25-5:2, a continuation of that book’s consideration of how Christians deal with community. The readings are here.

Today’s Ephesian reading continues the ethical exhortation of the previous two weeks. The new life of the baptized is to be lived out in specific ways. Old patterns of behavior must be replaced with new ones.  We are called to live in peace, to work honestly to provide for ourselves and others (and Ephesians indicates that perhaps we ought to give those who have sinned another chance for honest work), to watch what we say that it might build up rather than break down—all of these are part of the way of Christ, to live for others and not for ourselves and to live our lives in ways that help build up the reign of God, by imitating Christ.   

The sermon began with a discussion from a recent jail ministry session. "This past Thursday night at our monthly jail Bible Study, a prisoner started off our discussion with this question.  

“So if you were challenged by someone who was going to take your life depending on whether or not you were a Christian, and you said you were, and then they killed you because you’d said you were Christian, would you go straight to heaven?”

"But then another prisoner pointed out that it’s not just what we say we believe, but it’s how we live out those beliefs, because how we live reflects what we truly believe.  

"This is why I like hearing from the men in jail at our Bible study, because they’ve realized that it’s not acting from our particular perspectives,but instead, how we live out our Christian beliefs that’s most important, because how we live shines a direct light on what we really believe about God, about our relationships with our neighbors, and with creation itself.  

"The writer of the letter to the Ephesians knew this—how we live out our beliefs IS of the utmost importance, and so the writer shares some advice about how we are to live as Christians in this world, and also what’s at stake.  

"God wants us to be imitators of God—to be proactive lovers.  

‘And in order not to grieve God and, instead, to become the proactive lovers that God wants us to be, the writer of Ephesians states that what we have to do is to put away ALL bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and instead, to love and forgive one another as God has forgiven us.  

"Our society encourages us to feel bitter, wrathful, and angry and to want to act with malice. If my personal rights are infringed on in any way, then the norm is to feel resentful, bitter, and all the rest, to stay stuck in that emotional morass, and to act in ways that reflect my displeasure.  

"And yet, reacting in resentful and bitter ways to the situations in which we find ourselves can grieve the Holy Spirit of God.   Why?

"Because in many cases, our anger and the responses that come out of that anger help us justify behavior that goes directly against our baptismal vow of respecting the dignity of every human being.  

"We end up wanting to get even. Let me hurt you even more than you’ve hurt me. “Don’t get mad, get even.”  

"So are we supposed to just lie down, to be doormats and to be passive about life, just taking what comes with a sense of resignation? No!  

"God asks us to be proactive.  

"The writer of Ephesians tells us—“Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”  

"The men in Bible study Thursday night pointed out that learning to be imitators of God and living in love as Christ loved us is the work of a lifetime—that we are always growing into what this means in our lives—that every moment we live is full of discernment about how we carry out this command to live in love.  

"But the effort to live in this kind, forgiving, proactively loving way cannot stop when we go back out into the world each Sunday after being here. We have to carry this way of life out with us into the world so that we can make space for God’s love to flow into the world.  

"The imperative to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” rests on the foundation of going out into the world planning to respect the dignity of every human being we meet, to carry out our work with kindness and to leave the devil in the dust by giving up our wrath about the state of our lives and of the world, and to be proactive lovers instead.  

"We will fail at this.  

"But failures on our part keep us humble—because living respectfully and lovingly is impossible in our day to day lives without God’s help. That’s why we come together each week to worship God and to come to God in prayer, and to seek strength from God, who is present to us in here in bread and wine and word and music. We also gather to seek strength from one another, and every Sunday we confess our sins against God and our neighbor and we resolve once again to try to live in love, as Christ loved us, in all that we say and all that we do—to be proactive lovers.  "

Lectionary commentary by Canon Lance Ousley, Diocese of Olympia

Sacrifice is a major theme in this week’s readings. This is an idea that has been all but left behind in our culture. The story lines of the news in recent years reflect the broad nature of the problem with corporate greed, the Madoff and Stanford Ponzi schemes, Enron and recent Big Bank debacles. But these are large scale and easy to point to in our culture. What may be a little more difficult is for us to bring this notion home and see how it may have infected our own lives, even our congregations.

Greed is an unwillingness to understand the value of another, an unwillingness to sacrifice so that all may benefit. Greed is founded on a perspective of scarcity. This story line plays out in the drama between David and Absalom. Yet David grieves at the death of Absalom, knowing that a piece of himself has died with his son.

In 1 Kings Elijah has battled against the pagan Baal worshipers exposing the futility of their pagan gods, bringing the wrath of cultural queen Jezebel upon himself. Jezebel was unhappy about her house of cards coming down around her, but not so much at the cost of the lives of many around her to try to prove her worth. Self-sacrifice was not a notion she cared to entertain.

Paul gives us a window into what the world could be like if we all were imitators of Christ in his letter to the Ephesians, even telling thieves to think outside of themselves and get a job that will not only provided for their own needs, but also the needs of others. Stewardship, true Christian stewardship is developed within us through the forming of our Christian character. Christian character understands the notion of self-sacrifice for the good of the whole, and it understands what is good for the whole is good for the self.

It has been said in stewardship circles that we should give until it hurts. But I say we should give until it hurts, then give until it feels good. It is when we give enough away that we are set free from the bonds of our possessions. (What is possessing whom, here?) It is in the midst of this dying to the self (and our selfish desires) that we find life. It is in the giving of the self that we fully make room and take in the Bread of Life. In letting go of the things of this world – the bread of this world, that we make room for what truly nourishes our lives.

We should all take care to beware of the yeast of this world, just a little of it can leaven the whole. Likewise, the yeast of the Bread of Life can feed the world and give it true life.

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