June 25, 2017

Pentecost 3   June 25, 2017   Matthew 10:16,26-33; Romans 4:13-18, Genesis 21:1-21 **************************************************************** When I moved back to Vermont to serve my first churches there, I couldn’t help but notice – how people would often remind me – “Be careful what you say about anyone here… We’re all related.” Sometimes adding “Or we used to be… Or…we’re going to be.” And… The story of the banishing of Hagar and Ishmael is a reminder – we, too, should be careful what we say about any of the characters in our biblical story. Because all of us who follow Jesus are children of Abraham. All part of one large, messy and complicated family… And perhaps quick review may be helpful…. As we rejoin our story in progress… Abraham and Sarah are introduced without much ado (in Genesis 11), but next thing we know, here’s God, saying to Abraham – “Get up and go to a place to be named later. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you, and in you all the families of earth will be blessed.” Abe and his wife Sarah leave home, ages 75 and 65, traveling into the land of Canaan. There God promises Abraham – all this land will belong to your descendants. But then famine strikes – and Abe, Sarah and their entourage of extended family and servants go down to Egypt to survive. Sarah, we’re told, is a beautiful woman. (No details are given as to how she manages to stay beautiful into what sounds like well into her ’90’s, but…) Abraham fears he’ll be killed by someone who is after Sarah. So be puts the word out that she’s his sister. Her beauty then comes to the attention of Pharoah, king of Egypt, who takes her into his harem – giving flocks, herds, male and female slaves to Abraham in return. Pharoah learns the truth about this couple when plagues break out in his household. He sends them back to Canaan, where they continue childless, in spite of God’s promise of offspring. After many years have gone by, Abraham starts thinking the wait is taking too long. He complains to God “I still have no offspring, and my servant will inherit all I’ve got.” God takes Abe aside, tells him to look up into the heavens. “Count the stars, if you can count that high. That’s how numerous your descendants shall be.” Abraham believes. God reckons him righteous. Right with God. But then in the very next episode of As the World of Genesis Turns Sarah also decides… all this waiting has gone on for long enough. ‘God helps those who helps themselves,’ she apparently thinks. (Everyone’s most popular bible verse that’s not in the bible.) “Here’s my Egyptian slave-girl Hagar.” (Given, most likely, by Pharoah as part of the deal for Sarah.) “You can have her as a second wife. We’ll adopt if you have a son.” (Surrogate mothering like this was not uncommon among those with in those times.) We don’t know all the back-story. Perhaps Sarah is getting tired of her husband’s or her community’s disappointment (either expressed or implied) over her… not being able to have children… Perhaps she guesses – Abe, now in-his-mid-eighties, may not be able to father a child. (And…) If no...

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June 5, 2016

Pentecost 3 June 5, 2016   Luke 6:12-16, Acts 1:12-26, Acts 6:1-7 ********************************************** Today we’re listening-in, as disciples are called and chosen… First, in Luke’s gospel, Jesus prays all night before choosing his original twelve apostles… Who now become his starting team all through the gospels and on into the book of Acts. (Luke’s gospel, volume two.) Next, in our reading from chapter one of Acts, we hear again the names of the twelve, minus Judas Iscariot. Immediately after Jesus has ascended into heaven, his disciples gather again in an upper room, just as they did during Jesus’ last week on earth. And just as Jesus prayed in Luke’s gospel before choosing the apostles, now apostles pray before selecting the one to take the place of Judas. In this upper room scene we see how they’ve learned from Jesus, the importance of getting away from busyness and distractions… As they pray and practice discernment together before making the decision… And there’s no shortage of decisions to make…following Jesus. Just a little while ago in Acts, the whole church was “all of one heart and soul,” sharing all things in common.’ (Acts 4 tells us.) Now division seems to be popping up for the first time in Acts. Requiring new decisions. Now in our last reading today, from Acts 6… The Greek-speaking Jewish Christian community complains that the majority “Hebraic” Aramaic-speaking church is short-changing their widows in the church’s daily feeding program. We don’t know the details – the original language actually only says “in the daily distribution” or “in the daily ministration…” Translations like ours today add words indicating distribution of food or meals, based on Peter’s response about prioritizing serving the word of God over waiting on tables…We don’t know if the church was serving sit-down meals or running an early version of meals-on-wheels or perhaps providing money to buy food where people lived. We do know taking care of widows is something inherited from our Jewish ancestors in faith. Jewish communities of the time had various ways of providing for needs of widows, of whom there were many. Women typically were married to older men, who often passed away before their wives… The law of Moses (Ex 22:22 etc) and the prophets (Isaiah 10:1-2 etc)  command the whole community to take care of widows. And – it’s important to notice – no one seems to doubt the Hellenistic community’s complaint has merit. So the apostles gather the whole community of believers together. Peter, probably remembering what Jesus did when he sent first, the twelve, then seventy more disciples, out on mission – Now the apostles commission the whole church community to choose seven men to serve the identified need. We’ve been told several times now, the church is growing like topsy. Probably the apostles are a bit maxed-out from serving the gospel, day and night, to more and more people. Probably they’re excited but also tired and stressed. Probably they know they need help, need to delegate. But someone has to push that envelope to get it started…. Which now the Greek-speaking community does… And now apostles delegate to the whole church. Saying, ‘choose seven from among you, full of the Spirit and wisdom.’ Everyone agrees. Seven are picked. Hands are laid-on in prayer. The Holy Spirit is...

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June 14, 2015 – From small beginnings

Pentecost 3 June 14 2015   Ps 92, 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, 2 Corinthians 5:11-17, Mark 4:26-34   From small beginnings ************************************************ From a tiny little seed… grows the largest of shrubs – big enough to give generous shelter and plentiful shade to the birds of the air. But what’s this got to do with the kingdom of God? What do mustard seed and birds in trees have to do with God’s kingdom? And – a seed grows secretly, day and night, bringing forth a harvest all by itself. The gardener has no clue how it grows… I love the image. But again I’m wondering… A seed grows all by itself – the gardener doesn’t do anything but reap the harvest. There’s nothing here we’re even told to do or believe…. How can this be a parable for the kingdom of God? The parable of the mustard seed isn’t so hard to understand on one level – Something big grows from something very small.. Somewhere else Jesus talks about a little yeast makes a large batch of bread… We get the concept…at least… Till we learn that mustard was considered a nuisance weed by farmers… As still today. Mustard can take over a whole field quickly once it gets started… Now the kingdom of God’s starting to sound a little dangerous… Biblical parables work in different ways. Sometimes a parable can be just another name for an allegory…Or for a proverb… Or a riddle. A parable literally means a saying that comes along side of – in parallel. A parable suggests a parallel way of looking at things, alongside of something else. But somewhere in any Jesus parable there’s pretty much bound to be something designed to mess with minds… and cause us to see, hear, and believe…differently. At the end of our gospel reading we’re told “With many such parables Jesus spoke the word, as they were able to hear it…” And…‘He didn’t speak to them except in parables….’ He did explain everything to disciples in private…we’re told… But we have only a very few of those discussion transcripts preserved in our gospels… And if anyone’s sure they understand all the parables, it’s a very safe bet…They don’t understand at all… The parables of Jesus are meant to leave us wanting more explanation. But the best attempts at explanation… don’t over explain. Maybe there’s a bit of like Father, like Son here. God never gave Adam and Eve an operator’s manual telling them how to take care of the garden. God let Job wonder a long time what’s going on… never really explaining except in a long string of parables…that say in so many words… I’m God and you’re not… Even when he restored Job’s fortunes, God didn’t explain much. And as I read God’s book, it sure seems designed to prompt pondering and prayer…and more questions… much more than simple answers. Not that God never gives simple answers. God gives a simple enough answer to the prophet Samuel, who doesn’t immediately comprehend God picking an eighth-round draft choice to be Israel’s king – the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse, the one considered too young to even be invited to the grown-up’s dinner table – getting anointed to be next king. What’s going on, Samuel wonders. And God tells...

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June 29, 2014 – In the garden

Revelation 22:1-2 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. John 20:20-22 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit….” Genesis 2:4-25 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no...

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