Monthly Archives: July 2017

Sermon for July 30, 2017: Teach us to pray (preached at Grace Episcopal Church, Martinez, CA)

You can listen to the sermon here:

One day my husband came home really irritated.  He rides his bike to work and on his way home a teenager threw a full cup of soda out a car window at him.  “I was,” he said, “tempted to ride up to them at the next red light, take a picture of their license plate and turn them in to the cops – but then I thought I should be able to ignore it.  And then I thought if I didn’t report them that then they’d get away with it and do it again.  And then I thought I should be able to forgive them.  But then they turned the corner so I couldn’t catch them anyway.  Otherwise, I don’t know what I would have done.”

I don’t know what I would have done either – because while I can tell you that theoretically ignoring the slights of others, praying for your enemies – doing what Christians call “turning the other cheek” – is the right thing– the truth is, it’s really hard sometimes.  Maybe ours are small annoyances, but these little frustrations add up and, if you’re like me, you have days when it seems like it would be easier to remove the calories from chocolate than to let go of your irritation.

So, how do we do it?  First of all, we have to ask for help.  In today’s first lesson, God appears to Solomon in a dream and asks him what he’d like as a gift when he becomes king. Somewhat famously, Solomon asks for wisdom instead of riches or beauty, but that’s not the whole story. First of all, if you look carefully at the narrative, you will notice that Solomon does not ask for intelligence; he asks for discernment – or, in Hebrew, a “listening heart.”  I talk a lot about my belief that many spiritual seekers won’t go to church because of preconceptions about “religion,” even while what they are looking for is right here.  Solomon’s story gives us an example of how a popular modern construct can show up in an ancient religious text.  When Solomon responds to God in his vision, his answer is very similar to what we think of as the Serenity Prayer: “God,” says Solomon, “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference” – with the emphasis on wisdom to know the difference.

Solomon knew what he needed. Despite calling himself one, Solomon was not a child when he became king; he was an adult – a very sinful adult who had, among other things, murdered his brother in order to ascend to the throne. By admitting to his ignorance and immorality, Solomon demonstrated humility and, because he asked for the right thing, God gave it to him.

So, how do we know what we should ask for when we pray?  Because as far as I’m concerned, knowing the difference between what we want and what we need – knowing what to pray for -seems pretty hard.  Luckily, we have help.  We have been given a lens – a rule of thumb, if you will, to help us make these choices.  Jesus tells us that sin is “separation,” separation from God and one another – so we know that things that cause separation – that cause sin– are probably not things we should be praying for.  So, in Gary’s case, it meant not praying that the kid who threw soda at him would slip on his own ice and crash into a tree.

Praying for things that unify rather than separate is exactly what St. Paul told the Romans to do almost two thousand years ago.  According to Paul, like us they did not know how to pray as they ought. The way they ought to pray, he said, was with the understanding that all right prayers are already answered.  Then, after detailing some of the earthly powers that cause separation- hardship, distress, persecution, reckless leadership, famine, nakedness, peril, war, death, everyday life, dwelling on the past, and worrying about the future,– he told them that none of these things could separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Unless we let them. Unless we willingly separate ourselves from God and our neighbors by ignoring or subverting the ethics of God. For the psalmist, those rules were determined by Torah – “instruction”- from their ancestors. For Christians, our template is the wisdom, teachings and behavioral example of Jesus the Christ.  We believe that it is through Jesus that we are saved from sin – from separation. Given that understanding, all we have to do is to look to Jesus to figure out what– and what not – to pray for.

In order to do this, it’s helpful to remember that Jesus’s instruction always comes through two lenses – tradition and context.  As a devout Jew, Jesus bound himself to the laws of his tradition – to Torah- but he also tied these ancient ethics to the realities of life.  He talked to people with examples and images they could understand –farming, cooking, buying and selling –things his disciples did every day.  The question for them – and for us – is what these things have to say about the nature of Christian discipleship and the kingdom of God.

In today’s gospel, Jesus uses mustard seeds, yeast, and hidden treasure to describe what the kingdom of God is like, so let’s look at these things.  Mustard is a weed that most farmers of Jesus’s day would have pulled out of the ground so it wouldn’t create chaos and take over their fields of more orderly crops.  Yeast was an unpleasant compound considered to be impure and potentially toxic.  As to the buried treasure dug up by the searching merchant, lest we forget: It wasn’t his field!  So the kingdom of heaven, then, is like a pushy only minimally useful weed; a polluted, potentially lethal bit of rotten food, and stolen merchandise.  The kingdom of heaven, in other words, is not what you might expect.

For Jesus’s followers, that was good news – that God’s kingdom was not like the one they lived in – the Roman Empire. The question that we need to ask ourselves is whether our church, our denomination, and even our country are consistent with Jesus’s vision of the kingdom of God. “What,” we might wonder, “if a society resembles the empire of Rome more closely than it does the empire of heaven, expressing in policies and budget the values of social inequality and redemptive violence”?[1]

If that’s true, then we need to change it- and one of the most significant things we can do to bring our world closer to that of Jesus is to pray. We need, like Solomon, to pray for the power to discern – to listen with an open heart.  We need, like Paul, to pray to understand how we are called to work together for good.  We need, like Jesus, to pray for a world in which “the marginalized, the unclean, and the left out” are as important as the accepted, the beautiful, and the wealthy.  We need to pray for the understanding and moral conviction that is true wisdom.  And we need to pray fervently for the arrival of the kingdom of heaven here and now.  Because when we are one with him and with one another the kingdom of heaven is in us -and it is the place where we do not need to worry about how we pray, because our prayers are already answered.  It is the place where our desires and those of God become one.  It is the place where our prayers and those of all people demonstrate humility in the face of God’s goodness.  The kingdom of heaven is the place where we are able not only to forgive – not only to live with –but to actually love those with whom we struggle- and in God’s kingdom, that will not be hard at all.  AMEN.

[1]Ibid.

Sermon for July 23, 2017: We are not God (preached at Grace Episcopal Church, Martinez, CA)

You may listen to the sermon here:

Sermon for July 23, 2017:  We are not God

Last week I gave blood and during the course of my donation I chatted with my phlebotomist, who asked me what I do for a living.  When I told her that I am a priest, she said, “Oh, how nice for you.”  She said it politely, but it was clear that she was not a fan of religious folk.  I was not put off.  I love the opportunity to evangelize.

But she was a tough customer.  Raised in a strict black Christian family, she described herself as “barely believing” in God.  When I asked her what drove her away from the church, she said, “Hypocrisy” and mentioned, among other things, mega-churches with extremely rich pastors and priests who have committed sexual abuse.  “What,” she demanded, “does your church do?  Do you have a lot of fundraisers”?  I told her that we support people both in and outside of our congregation in a variety of ways. “You know who does a lot to help people,” she asked, “the Mormons.”  “Indeed they do,” I agreed, “but they also believe that it is important to convert everyone to their religion.”

This was interesting to her, as her biggest gripe with organized religion is that churches don’t practice what they preach. She wanted to know specifically what our church does to help others.  I told her that we work to feed and house homeless people, and advocate for those in need. She seemed suspicious, so I also told her about a study I had just read that found that while, ”At least half of Americans realize that churches feed and clothe the poor… far fewer are aware of other social services that congregations provide.”[1]  According to the author, “Though the Bible speaks of clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, a significant number of Americans haven’t heard of churches providing [these things].”[2]

I said I thought this was sad because many people seek opportunities to help others but the church seems to be the last place they go to find them. She said that might be because religious people seem to believe that they have the right and/or the ability to decide who is good and who is evil – who belongs and who doesn’t. I agreed with her and suggested that most religions, including Christianity, including this denomination, have been guilty of this very sin of exclusionism.

The “My God is better than your God,” game is an ancient one.  We heard echoes of it in today’s Isaiah passage.  In it, God seems to be on the defensive from non-believers. “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.  You are my witnesses!”  Wait – it’s up to us to stick up for God?  But how can we, when we sometimes doubt God ourselves, when we like so many others have had prayers go seemingly unanswered?  We can, if we remember what God has done for us- not the material trappings of success, all of which mean nothing in the eyes of God – but the times we have tested God and been saved, the periods we have walked in darkness and been forgiven, and the moments we have been alone and found community.  “The true witness of one’s faith comes alive in the dark moments when it is difficult to see the blessings of God,”[3] but when we truly remember, we can see that “Even in the midst of suffering and pain”[4] God is present.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to complain. Today’s psalm is an excellent example of what scholars formally call “lament.”  The psalmist is afraid and anxious – perhaps even angry at having to deal with his enemies – but these feelings do not drive him away from God, but rather toward God. The psalmist is not ashamed to ask for help, as we so often are.  He complains directly to God because he believes that God is present and God will help him. He has faith.

He also knows what to ask for. The psalmist doesn’t ask God to destroy his violent enemies – instead he requests strength to deal with his enemies, that “those who hate me may…be ashamed.”  In other words, he doesn’t want his rivals to be terminated but rather transformed. And he understands that he needs to do his part for that to happen.

Paul also understood this. While Paul’s letters have often been interpreted to argue that if you are saved by Jesus Christ you don’t need to worry about anything anymore, what you believe is more important than what you do – I think that is exactly the opposite of what Paul repeatedly says.  He does not tell his people they can wait passively for salvation, but rather that they must wait actively – patiently enduring suffering with hope.  For Paul, all of our struggles, all of our pain, all of our worries are not a hardship but a gift – because they remind us of our intimate link to Jesus Christ.

This is not the most user-friendly message: “Join our group and you can suffer patiently for an unknown period of time for a reward we can’t prove you will get.”  (Let’s put THAT on our Facebook page)!  But explaining Christianity that way misses the point; the point is not that we suffer, but that our God understands our suffering and is willing to share in it –that our God is fully present to us – all the time.  Our God is patient.

Which is a good thing, because human beings generally aren’t.  Nonetheless, that is what the Parable of the Weeds tells us we are supposed to be whenever we are tempted to judge someone else. Written in the context of a growing and changing church in which members were dealing with issues of new cultural and racial diversity within their ranks, this parable acknowledges that there is evil in the world – and in the church, but we are not equipped to accurately identify it.  This story isn’t about categorizing evil – it’s about dealing with it – the same way God deals with us, patiently.  Despite the fact that the servants in the story, like us, push the master to help them separate the wheat from the weeds because they want to “settle forever the problem of who is in and who is out,”[5] Jesus tells them to wait -wait until both the wheat and the weeds are fully grown, because then the reapersnot us – will separate the evil from the good.  In other words, be patient – and trust in God.  “The God who is glimpsed in this parable models for us an infinite patience that frees us to get on with the crucial business of loving, or at least living with, each other…a God who does not merely tolerate endlessly a world that is a mixture of good and evil…but who finally, in God’s own good time, acts both to judge and to redeem the world.”[6]  This is a God with an endless capacity to love – a God to whom everyone has the opportunity to belong.  It is not our job to decide who is a sinner – who should be separated from God.  That is not our calling. We have been called to wait with patience for God’s judgement, and, while we wait, to contribute to God’s good harvest by seeking to bring about God’s kingdom in this world, welcoming and loving our sisters and brothers, attempting to alleviate their suffering even as we endure our own, and inviting into community all those who are seeking the path that leads to God’s eternal and unfailing light. Let anyone with ears listen.  AMEN.

[1]Adelle M. Banks, (July 20, 2017), “Good works of churches often go unnoticed,” Religion News Service,  http://religionnews.com/2017/07/20/good-works-of-churches-often-go-unnoticed/

[2]Ibid.

[3]John L. Thomas, Jr., (2010), in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation], 246.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Theodore J. Wardlaw, (2010), in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation], 265.

[6]Theodore J. Wardlaw, (2010), in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation], 265.

Sermon for July 16, 2017: Hope, the long game (preached at Grace Episcopal Church, Martinez, CA)

You can listen to the sermon here:

One of the great privileges I have as a clergy person is to spend time with people during significant moments in their lives.  Sometimes these occasions are full of joy – such as seeing and blessing newborn babies – and others are quite sad, like when I visit with people who are seriously injured or ill.  These opportunities are one of the reasons that it is a blessing to be a priest.  But it can be difficult – and one of the hardest things to witness is the moment when people begin to lose hope.

I have been confronted with this loss of hope several times recently.  Many of you know that this past week the Canon to the Ordinary of the diocese, Stefani Schatz passed away after a long battle with ovarian cancer.  Stefani was first diagnosed while on pilgrimage in Iona, Scotland in May of 2016 where she collapsed and was subsequently and shockingly diagnosed with cancer.  Early this year, after having significant surgery, Stefani was doing well enough to return to work full-time and appeared on the road to recovery.  Unfortunately, in April Stefani was found to have a new tumor which was growing aggressively.  After a visit to Texas to meet with specialists she was told that “cure” was no longer an option. They were told there was no hope.

Many other people face hopelessness. There’s James, “a single, 60-year-old man…diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer” who lives in fear that Congress will enact a new health care bill which will dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and without its benefits he will “be bankrupt.”[1]  Janice is a homeless woman who was recently “cleared out” of a Martinez s encampment by police just two days before her appointment with an agency that places individuals in housing, and now believes she will never find a permanent place to live.  And there’s Donna,[2] whose spouse has been fighting chronic illness for years, and whose eyes I looked into this week and realized that she has begun to lose hope.

In such situations as these, it has always been hard for me to know what to say or do to help someone, and this feeling has intensified since I became a priest.  Perhaps it’s just my perception, but it always seems like I should have the ultimate answer to that omnipresent question, “Where is your God now”? Where is your God when people go hungry?  Where is your God when people are homeless?  Where is your God when people become sick and die?

For me, the answer to that question lies not in deep and complex theology, but in the realm of human experience – the place where fear, anger, and despair originate -and in our holy scriptures, which frequently and fearlessly address the struggles of humanity.  And, sure enough, today’s psalm responds to that desperate question, “Where is your God”?  The answer is “right here.”  Because the God described in Psalm 65 is not a clockmaker God who created the world, wound it up and stepped back to see what would happen.  The God of Psalm 65 is an active God – a god who visits, prepares, provides for and blesses the world he created.  This is not a god who takes away; this is a god who gives. And one of the things that God gives is hope.  And hope, I think, is what today’s lessons are all about – which is good, because we can all use more of it about now.

When I was a child and I would say my prayers, I would always ask God to bless things, “God bless Mommy.  God bless Daddy. Etcetera.”  And then I would ask for things.  “God please give me a new bike for Christmas.”  “God make my grandma better.” And when I got a little older, “God, help me to meet my one true love Jimmy Osmond.”  It didn’t occur to me until later that I almost always said the exact same things when I wished on a star.  “I wish so-and-so was better,” “I wish I could have thus-and-such,” “I wish Mr. Perfect loved me the way I love him.”  My wishes were prayers without God in them, and my prayers were often merely wishes.  “So what,” I began to wonder, “is the difference”?  The difference is faith.  Faith is the thing that says you believe that whatever you wish – whatever you pray for – is possible – and it’s possible for a reason.  It is possible because there is someone out there who loves you enough to listen to your desires – even the stupid ones like meeting Jimmy Osmond – and to give you what you need.

Notice I said, “what you need,” and not what you want.  Because, as we well know, believing in God does not mean you will get everything you want.  Believing in God does not mean we will not suffer.  Believing in God does not mean we will not die. Believing in God means that all things are possible.  Believing in God means that we have hope.  If we have faith – if we believe that God can and will give us what we need, then we will always have hope.  This is what Isaiah means by saying that the word of God does not come back empty.  Hope says that even in the midst of struggle, we expect that good will be the ultimate outcome.[3]

But hope can sometimes be hard to find- and hard to give.  As it was when I recently looked into the haunted eyes of someone whose beloved is emaciated, weak and laboring to breathe.  “We live on this side of the veil of heaven and can often see only pain and loss.  We do not see all that there is in creation.”[4]  We do not know the reason for what is happening to us.  We do not know God’s purpose.  That makes it challenging to see the possibilities for our lives – to envision an outcome without pain or fear or grief. That’s because we are always thinking in human terms.  And the greatest power that human beings ever experience is death.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about sin and I said that sin is separation – separation from God and one another.  In today’s reading from Romans we hear Paul tell the early Christians that we are condemned when we try to earn salvation through our own power –when we decide that we don’t need God to help us – when we separate ourselves from God.  But our power is limited. We are bound to this world and its restrictions, and ultimately there is nothing we can do to overcome death. But God has already overpowered death.  And if we believe that then we will have faith that anything is possible.  We can hope.

It’s a difficult concept to understand – that the things we think of as most valuable – money, power, fame, beauty – are ultimately unimportant and that giving up power could lead to life and peace.  It seems impossible to think that suffering could ever be a good thing.  We simply cannot accept that a god who is both loving and all-powerful would allow good people to suffer.  But God does not make sense.

The parable of the sower is familiar to most of us as a story about what makes a good Christian.  We have all heard the story of the seeds and the fates that befall them, and we have all been told that we need to careful not to be “bad seeds.”  Don’t be the seed on the path; deeply engage with God’s word, lest you be swayed by those who don’t believe in God (the birds).  Be faithful to your belief in God, or else when times get tough you will give up on her (like the seeds on the rocky ground).  And watch out for the hot sun, otherwise known as the worldly dangers of money, fame, sex, and pride.  Focus instead on the right things, and you will grow and thrive.  In other words, being a Christian, like anything worthwhile, requires effort.  It requires us to do our part – to be good seeds.

But I think that when we focus on the seeds we miss something important about the sower. What this sower does does not make sense.  This sower does not act like a rational farmer.  Think about it: instead of sowing seeds only on good ground, this sower sows seeds all over the place.  This sower throws seeds in bad and broken places.  This sower throws seeds out as if he believes that all of the seeds – no matter where they are planted – have the same potential to grow and thrive – that even in rocky, dry, thorny ground surrounded by predators, something wonderful can grow.  This sower believes that even when we are surrounded by illness, fear, poverty, and immanent death, something amazing can happen.  In other words, this sower, our sower, our God, has hope.  And so should we.  AMEN.

[1]The Editorial Board of the New York Times, (June 24, 2017) “If we lose our health care…” The New York Times Online, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/24/opinion/sunday/obamacare-repeal-health-care-bill.html?mcubz=0.

[2]Pseudonym

[3]John L. Thomas, Jr., (2010), in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation], 218.

[4]Thomas W. Blair, (2010), in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation], 222.

 

Sermon for July 2, 2017: How do I know? (preached at Grace Episcopal Church, Martinez, CA)

You may listen to the sermon here:

This week I was challenged to welcome several surprising visitors to Grace, including a prophet of doom (the tree guy who told me that two trees behind the Parish Hall are dying), an angel in disguise (someone who dropped off a donation that will probably cover the cost of the tree removal), a bicycling evangelist, and a lunching “Charismatic Christian,” among others. It was a week in which I struggled with my own fears and biases to find grace in anxiety, trust amidst paranoia, and hope in a sea of desperation.  It was a week in which it was hard to know who to trust and what to do.

It’s an old problem, and one the people of Judah struggled with too.  About six centuries before the birth of Christ, the Judeans were living in subjugation under the Babylonians and deciding if they should rebel – so they asked their religious leaders what to do.  But, just as it so often happens in our time, they found that their religious leaders didn’t agree with each other.  And, like us, they didn’t know who to believe.

This led to that precursor of pro-wrestling: the prophet stand-off.  Two prophets with completely opposing views, both of whom claimed to be speaking with authority from God.  In one corner: Hananiah, popular, powerful and with a message that these oppressed people wanted to hear.  “We should rebel. We are God’s people.  God is on our side.” In the other corner: Jeremiah – wild, grubby, wearing a yoke tied around his neck, and delivering a really unpopular message.  “Don’t fight for your freedom.  God wants you to submit to Babylonian rule.”  Who are they going to believe?

It seems to me, that if it were us, we’d put our money on Hananiah.  After all, isn’t faith about believing that God is on your side?  Don’t Christians think that we have been saved by our belief in Jesus Christ and that our faith will protect us – no matter what?  Actually, no – that’s not what we believe. What we believe is that we have a covenant with God – that we are in relationship with God, and that God will be faithful to that relationship no matter what. But “that covenantal faithfulness is not an insurance policy that kicks in automatically when [we] think [we] need deliverance from hardship…[It is a] relationship that requires asking, what is God’s will today?… God’s will may very well be that our tribe is not ascendant in all times and places.

What is certain is that God does not abandon us.  Today’s psalm tells us that God pledges “hesed,” – a word that means steadfast love, loving-kindness, devotion, and faithfulness.  But God never promised to give us everything we want.  Contrary to what proponents of the so-called “prosperity gospel” argue, scripture tells us that being religious is “no guarantee of material or spiritual abundance.”[1]  What it is a guarantee of is the opportunity to become our best selves – the opportunity not only to be loved for who we truly are, but the chance to love everyone else that way too.

One of my unexpected visitors this week really made me think about how to figure out what is right.  This person reported that she was baptized Roman Catholic, but then her mother was “seriously saved,” and she has been a charismatic Christian since that time.  We had a lovely chat, agreeing on many things, including the need for all Christians to find common ground, that Christianity is not about seeking and using power, and that “the bottom line” of Christian teaching is Jesus’s command to love God and love one another. She asked if she could pray for my ministry and I gratefully accepted.  It was a wonderful, hopeful encounter – until I said that it was important for people who do not have the same exact doctrine to support one another in their basic Christian beliefs. At which point she stopped me and said, tapping her Bible meaningfully, “As long as their doctrine is consistent with what’s in here.  The problem with religion these days,” she continued,” is that no one talks about sin.  People need to be told when they are sinning – and then she began to list groups of people whom she identified as sinners. When I suggested that perhaps it was not ours to judge, she agreed and said that she would never judge.  She said she believes that it is up to us to simply inform people they are sinful – inform them with love.

Our conversation left me with a significant amount of emotional turmoil.  On the one hand, our talk had ended pleasantly.  On the other hand, I had failed to tell her that I believed that what she was saying was, in fact, opposed to scripture -that it’s impossible to “inform” someone that what and who they are is “sinful” with “love.” That excluding anyone from the opportunity to live in relationship with God and with other human beings is simply wrong.  In fact, just as she had suggested, I, a church leader, had, in the interest of maintaining harmony between us, failed to talk about sin.  So I’m going to do it now.

Sin is not about breaking rules.  Sin is about breaking faith. I’m going to say it again: Sin is not about breaking rules, it’s about breaking faith – with one another and/or with God.  Sin is separation.  Yes, it is a sin to steal, to kill, to commit adultery, to lie, to cheat and to take God for granted – but not because those are rules, but because the result of breaking them is to separate us from one another and from God.  But sometimes keeping rules for their own sake is just as separating – just as sinful.  I believe that it is a fundamental contradiction to say you are a Christian and then argue that anyone should be condemned for who they are.  I think it is unchristian to say that there are some sins that are unforgivable.  And it is my opinion that it is completely inconsistent with scripture to suggest that hate is ever a good or godly thing.  What our scriptures actually tell us is that human beings are imperfect and prone to sin.  I don’t think that’s news for anyone here.  The real news – the good news – is that “holiness is [actually] what we were made for.”[2]  We are meant to be and can be without sin, but not by our own will.

That is what St. Paul was talking about in his letter to the Romans when he admonished them to be “enslaved to God.”  He was not suggesting that in order to be saved we need to give up our intelligence or our sense of justice or our compassion for other people.  To believe that is to misunderstand the context in which Paul was writing. When we speak of slavery, we are talking about the depravity of taking away the will and freedom of other people – of treating human beings as possessions – of the evil that people have perpetrated in order to serve themselves.

But that’s not what Paul is talking about.  When Paul talks about slavery, he is saying that everyone serves someone or something – be it your country, family, or some other passion.  For Paul, it is when you choose to focus on an earthly concern more than your relationship with God– when you become a true slave to fashion, or television or money – or religion – that you sin. That is why he calls it slavery – and it is a sin because it takes away our freedom to choose to submit to the holy relationship that God offers us.  It is a sin because it separates us from God and from one another.

And separation is the last thing God wants for us.  God sent Jesus Christ into the world so that we would never be separated from God’s love again.  That’s why Jesus’s last command to us was to share his love – to offer it to everyone and anyone who asks – to welcome others with the “hesed” – the loving kindness and compassion – that he gives to us.  This is not always easy -because we are not only called to welcome those who are like us.  We are not called to change those who are not like us.  We are called to welcome all people with love and compassion.  It doesn’t matter that ”love is not always met with love…Sometimes…we are called to love in the midst of hate…Jesus calls us to put our love in jeopardy so that that its blessings are made manifest in our lives and in the lives of others.” Because that is the right thing to do.  AMEN.

[1]Robert A. Cathey, (2010), in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation], 178.

[2]Ted A. Smith, (2010), in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation], 186.