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Third Sunday after Pentecost — Monnie Riggin

I Kings 17:8-24

Please pray with me: Gracious God, put into my mouth the words you would have me to speak, and put into our hearts the words you would have us to hear. In your holy name we pray, Amen

In our Old Testament Lesson today, God continues to test Elijah by telling him to go and stay in Zarephath, where God had commanded a widow to feed him! Times were really hard in Zaraphath; in fact throughout the land of Israel times were really tough. They had a horrible king, Ahab, who had an equally horrible wife, Queen Jezebel, both incredibly evil and who worshipped a pagan god. They both wanted to kill Elijah for what he had done. In reality, it was because of their evil ways that everyone, everywhere was starving.

We know Elijah to be a man of great faith but he thought God had “the wrong man,” as Moses and many other great prophets did before him. Elijah was skeptical, not only because he didn’t think he had anything to offer, but because this whole plan seemed strange or problematic.

For instance:  Continue reading

Fifth Sunday of Easter — Rev. Karen Barfield

Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
who creates, redeems and sustains us. Amen.

“Love one another.”

Peter was there that night,
along with Judas and the others
when Jesus said, “one of you will betray me.”

One of us?

These disciples had spent three years of their lives following Jesus,
giving up their livelihood,
risking derision, rebuke and threats of death.

They make furtive glances around the table considering who it might be until Peter motions to John to ask Jesus.

“It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it into the dish,” Jesus responds.

After dipping the bread, he hands it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.

Judas, the most trusted of the disciples,
the one who held the common purse,
ensuring the needs of Jesus and all the disciples were met…
and the needs of the poor as well.

responsible Judas.

After receiving the bread, Judas immediately went out.
And it was night.

It was night without – and within.

Not only for Judas but for them all.

For all except Jesus.
Jesus begins to speak about glory! Continue reading

Third Sunday of Easter — Rev. Karen Barfield

John 21:1-19

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
who creates, redeems and sustains us. Amen.

The lives of the disciples have been quite topsy-turvy over the past weeks!

Things were going along just fine…
well, as fine as life can go when following a man who chooses love
over power.

But, despite scrapes with the law, and occasionally hiding out, each morning when they got up they knew they would do good that day…touching the outcast and healing the maimed, lame, blind and possessed.

They had committed their lives to following Jesus – whatever that meant.

Until the unexpected happened.

Jesus had really ticked off the powers that be, and Judas…
well, Judas had succumbed to greed.

So a detachment of soldiers along with the police from the chief priests and the Pharisees interrupted the quiet of the garden, and violence erupted as Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the chief priest’s slave.

From that moment nothing went right.

Jesus was arrested and bound and taken to the high priest for questioning.

As he was being questioned Peter stood outside,
warming himself by a charcoal fire,
and it was then that fear overwhelmed him,
and he denied even knowing Jesus
not once,
not twice,
but three times.

Three times!

The cock crowed,
and Peter hung his head…how could he have done such a thing?
He would never have done such a thing.

If this wasn’t bad enough, Jesus was flogged and struck on his face, and a crown of thorns pierced his head.

After he was condemned to die, he had to carry his own cross to the site of crucifixion.

their Messiah, their hope,
was to die a shameful, painful death for all the world to see.

His crucifixion was too frightening and painful for the disciples to watch, except for the disciple whom he loved and a handful of women, including his mother who already had endured the shame and pain of his birth and could not leave him to bear his pain alone,
despite her breaking heart.

This life upon which they had staked their hopes and dreams was over when Jesus uttered the words, “It is finished.”

With haste his body was buried, and the mourning began.

Until the unexpected happened. Continue reading

Second Sunday of Easter — Dr. Sam Laurent

It is our custom in the church, and I include myself in this, to wax rhapsodic on Easter. The magnitude of the resurrection, paired with the buildup of Lent and the pull-out-all-the-stops liturgy for the day set us up emotionally to go over the top a bit with our rhetoric. Easter becomes the panacea for whatever it is that’s really bugging us about the world right now.

I’m not here to criticize that. I gleefully take part in it every year, and have been moved to tears by that moment in the vigil where a priest proclaims “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” A huge burden lifts, both liturgically as the lights come on and also spiritually as we feel the onrushing grace of the moment.

In the wake of Easter Day, though, I find myself feeling like the disciples have maybe not been treated fairly in our hearing of the story. Last week we heard about how, after the women reported that the tomb was empty, Peter rushed out to see it himself. He was, we might speculate, a bit incredulous about their story, and no doubt still emotionally raw from the events of Good Friday and his tri-fold denial of Christ as things got grim.

Jesus had told them he would be raised, and Jesus had been right about pretty much everything else. So, on Easter, we kind of feel like Peter, instead of going to see for himself, should have maybe high-fived Mary Magdalene, and said “sweet!”

It seems like Peter wanted to believe the women. He did go running to confirm the story, which he might not have done if he were so skeptical. Why run to the tomb?

Peter wanted to know. Faith is great, and will move mountains, but knowledge is so, so much easier to maintain. He needed to witness the Resurrection himself.

This week, doubt’s Christian mascot, Thomas, takes center stage. Jesus has appeared to the others, but Thomas wasn’t there. Let’s spot him that credit first. The others had seen the resurrected Christ, and he hadn’t. But Thomas needed to know he wasn’t hallucinating it, or that some elaborate disguise was not at play. He wanted to see the wounds from the crucifixion, and to touch them.

Jesus, as we all know, obliges, and Thomas gets his tangible proof of the Resurrection. And then Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” The point is simple enough; not everyone is going to get proof like Thomas gets. For me, and for you, the Resurrection is an article of faith. For Thomas, it was an article of knowledge. Maybe you join me in being more than a little jealous. Continue reading

Easter Vigil — Rev. Karen Barfield

Romans 6:3-11
Luke 24:1-12

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifying Spirit. Amen.

Two weeks ago at our Wednesday night Eucharist, I had finished distributing the bread and was standing behind the altar waiting for James to finish with the chalice.

As I looked around, I saw a young boy with a beaming face turn to his mother and say:
“It is good.”

As I smiled to myself, I let what he said sink in.

It is good.

It is good that we should gather together to celebrate our life in Christ,
to be nourished by his Body and Blood,
to receive strength for our journeys.

Those words “it is good” then immediately took me back to the whole of creation…the true beginning of our story this evening.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light.

“And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” (Gen 1:1-4)

God created the earth and the seas and saw that it was good.

And when God saw the earth put forth plants and fruit trees, God saw that it was good.

God made the two great lights: the sun and the moon, and it was good.

And God created the creatures of the sea and the winged birds, and it was good.

The earth brought forth living creatures of every kind, and it was good.

And God created humankind in God’s own image, and iit was good.

“God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen 1:31)

Tonight the story we retell reminds us of God’s redeeming Grace throughout the span of history…a history that begins with creation and ends with a call to proclaim and live into a new life, a new creation, through Jesus’ resurrection. Continue reading

Palm Sunday — Dr. Joel Marcus

Luke 19:28-40

Today marks a somewhat schizophrenic point in the liturgical calendar. This is Palm Sunday, a joyous celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the acclaim of the crowds, shortly before Passover in around AD 30. The keynote of the actual Palm Sunday Gospel passage from Luke, which we read outside before we processed into the church waving our palms, is “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” If the words “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” ring a faint bell, they should, since they echo the beginning of the Gospel. There, at Jesus’ birth, a multitude of the heavenly host praised God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.” There is, then, an echo of the joyous Christmas story in our Palm Sunday celebration.

But, of course, our Palm Sunday celebration also takes place in the shadow of Jesus’ coming crucifixion. In the literary setting of the Gospel, that shadow may help explain the slight difference between the angels’ words in the birth narrative and the crowd’s words here. We hear no longer of “peace on earth” but of “peace in heaven”—perhaps because peace is about to flee from the earth, as Jesus is driven to the cross. And this shadedness of our Palm Sunday celebration is also why, after we entered the church, we heard the whole passion story read. On Palm Sunday Jesus entered the city where he would soon die. Continue reading

Third Sunday of Lent — Dr. David Walbert

The eve of destruction

Luke 13:1–9

It’s 30 AD, give or take. Galilee is abuzz with the news of yet another atrocity of the despised Roman governor Pontius Pilate—one not related by other historians but perfectly in keeping with what we know about Pilate’s character. The best guess is that a band of Galilean zealots who acknowledged no lord but God and refused to pay tribute to Rome had run afoul of Pilate and been ruthlessly repressed. Pilate has, as we hear, “mingled their blood with their sacrifices” in the Temple. Jesus hears the chatter about this incident—maybe someone tried to trap him into taking a position, as people often did to get him into trouble, into either sympathizing with or condemning the zealots—and instead of commenting on the case at hand, let alone the politics of it, he says, “Do you think they were worse sinners than you? Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

If that doesn’t cheer everybody straight up, Jesus tells a parable. A man plants a fig tree, and for three years running it bears no fruit. He wants to cut it down because it’s a waste of good soil. The gardener says no, no—let’s fertilize it again and wait another year. Maybe it will bear fruit next year.

And if it doesn’t, then we’ll cut it down.

Doesn’t sound like good news.

I mean, you were probably hoping to hear something about God’s infinite goodness and mercy, and here he goes setting deadlines.

It is valuable, I think, to remember that while God’s grace and mercy may be without limit in scope and magnitude, they do seem to have an expiration date: we’re all going to die. Maybe there’s hope after that, but the Bible doesn’t say so. Best not to risk it. You have another year. Make the most of it.

There’s also value in remembering that whatever the quality of God’s grace and mercy, our fellow humans with whom we have relationships may not be so patient. You have today. Make the most of it.

If that’s all we took away from this story, that would be something. It would be a pretty good lesson for Lent. Don’t wait. Repent now. Start atoning today. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

But I think we need a little more than that from this story. I need more from this story, anyway. Jesus was, after all, responding to a discussion about politics—about the terrors of oppressive regime and the foolishness of the zealots who were trying to overthrow it. People were upset, legitimately upset and fearful, and Jesus seems to be frankly dismissive of their fears. I don’t think he was: I think he was answering them—albeit a little sideways. Continue reading

Second Sunday after the Epiphany — Dr. Joel Marcus

“On the Third Day”

Isaiah 62:1-5
John 2:1-11

Our Gospel reading from John is a beautifully symbolic story, perfect for this season of Epiphany. The symbolism already begins in its first few words, which speak of a wedding “on the third day.” In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah—and this is not the only Old Testament passage in which this happens – a wedding becomes a symbol for the hoped-for reunion of Israel with its God. The wedding spoken of here symbolizes the end of exile, the return of the Jews from Babylon, their triumph over all the nations that have oppressed them—in short, the beginning of the redemption of the world.

So the wedding is the controlling symbol here, but there’s also symbolism in the fact that it takes place “on the third day.” John doesn’t usually tell you what day events occur on; he’s usually content with vague expressions like “after that.” So when he does tell you about a particular day, it’s worthwhile to pay attention. And probably John’s first audience couldn’t have heard this expression, “on the third day,” without thinking of Jesus’ resurrection “on the third day” after his crucifixion. A little later in this chapter, Jesus will refer to his resurrection elliptically by saying, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”And the other miracle that Jesus performs “on the third day” is his resurrection of Lazarus. So the third day is especially associated with resurrection. So when, at the end of the story about the wedding at Cana, we are told that Jesus “revealed his glory” by the actions he performed at this wedding, it seems clear that this is meant to foreshadow the glory that will dawn on the world when he is raised from the dead, and thus begin the restoration of the world that Isaiah prophesied.

But this manifestation of God’s glory takes place, in our story, against a background of dearth, insufficiency, and anxiety. The third verse of the story begins, “And when the wine had run out,”and the significance of this depletion is highlighted by Jesus’ mother saying, “They have no wine.” The lack of wine is what Alfred Hitchcock called the “MacGuffin” in the story—the problem, or absence, or question, which sets the plot in motion. The whole narrative is based on the contrast between the promise hinted at by “after three days” and the problem hinted at by “when the wine had run out.”

This phrase, “when the wine had run out,” points to a familiar feature of our world—the pervasiveness of dearth. Your gas tank approaches empty. Your refrigerator runs out of food. Your town runs out of clean water. Or you yourself run out of energy–you just don’t feel like you have the resources to face the world anymore. Continue reading

Fourth Sunday of Advent — Dr. David Walbert

Children of the (Christmas) Revolution

Luke 1:39–55

May I speak in the name of the one holy and living God, to whom we give all glory.

That’s a heck of a greeting Mary gets from her cousin. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

Still, you don’t meet a lot of people who would respond even to that by crying out “My soul magnifies the Lord!”

If you tried that, people would smile pacifically and back slowly away.

On the up side, you’d have that seat on the bus all to yourself.

Seriously, though, did you ever wonder what kind of person Mary really was? We know so little about her, and we have so many agendas. Growing up Methodist I didn’t hear much at all about Mary; we didn’t have pictures of her hanging up in the church, she barely got a mention. Except at Christmas — when suddenly she’s everywhere, loitering on front lawns with her husband and the kings and the lone representative shepherd that came packaged with the Wal-Mart crèche. It’s hard to learn much about her from most of these setups, and those you can… well, let me give you an example.

Take the people who used to live next door to me in my old neighborhood. I knew they were churchgoers, because the bumper sticker on their car said so. They had the polite but stern and unhumoring quality I had learned as a child to associate with certain classes of evangelical Protestant. They had a perfectly maintained lawn that they never, ever used, not even the clean white porch swing in the side yard. And every Christmas they put a crèche out front, a simple one: Mary, Joseph, Jesus in the manger, and a tiny shelter representing the stable. There may have been an angel; I don’t remember. What made this display noteworthy was that all of them — Jesus, Joseph, and Mary — were represented as babies. It was the complete inversion of the Medieval practice of representing the infant Messiah as a miniature adult, with adult proportions and an adult expression. Out on my neighbors’ lawn, even Mary and Joseph had disproportionately large heads, like babies of almost any mammalian species—it’s how you can tell Charlie Brown is a little boy and not a balding old man, and how the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind were made to look safe and innocent instead of weird and scary. Worse, they wore the placidly idiotic expressions of baby dolls. They were cute, like pandas or someone else’s puppy. If they hadn’t been made of cheap plastic they might have been cuddly.

When my former neighbors bought that house and I saw their crèche for the first time, I was not a Christian. I was coming out of a long atheist interlude, drifting in a direction people call “spiritual but not religious” — sensing that something was missing, casting about for it, open to ideas and suggestions and potentially convincing narratives.

What I saw in my neighbors’ front yard was not a potentially convincing narrative.

At best, it was nice. Pleasant. Polite. Sentimental, yes. Safe? Very safe. But I didn’t need pleasant and polite. I didn’t need sentimental. I could find those things elsewhere, plenty of places — and they weren’t enough. I didn’t need a god who was merely pleasant. Although I may not have recognized it at the time, I didn’t need a god who was safe. I needed a god who could shake things up — who could change things — who could change me, who could save me. I needed a god who could kick some butt — mine, when necessary. And that was going to take more than a really super nice guy. It was going to take more than a god who would pick a babydoll to be his mommy.

Now, having been raised Christian, having been exposed in my collegiate singing career to Latin masses and the works of Thomas Tallis, and having studied and written about the Old Order Amish, I was aware that Babydoll Crèche did not represent the full breadth and depth of the Christian experience.

Nevertheless, when I saw that crèche… well, I thought, if these people don’t take their god seriously, why should I? Continue reading

Third Sunday of Advent — Rev. Karen Barfield

Canticle 9: The First Song of Isaiah
Luke 3:7-18

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
In whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.

Today the voice of John the Baptist still echoes from the walls…

“You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Get over yourselves and let go of your arrogance.
Even as we speak, the ax is lying at the root of the trees.
Time is short: bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

And after that tirade, someone actually had the nerve to ask, “What then should we do?”

The crowds of people stuck around because they were filled with expectation…
expectation that the Messiah would come and turn things around,
make life worth living again.

And perhaps this man, John…perhaps he was the Messiah.

So they ask:
What do we do?
How do we live?

The necessary beginning, John says, is to take a look at yourselves…
a deep look…
an honest look.

Move beyond assumptions about yourselves and your community,
thinking that just because you are the people of God that you’ve got it made.
God has the power to raise up holy ones out of folks you’d never imagine.

Taking a deep look at ourselves is perhaps the last thing we want to do!
It is a frightening prospect. Continue reading