Monthly Archives: November 2018

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A Sermon for 11 November 2018 – Commitment Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Mark 12:38-44.  And remember that the gospel of Mark records this story as taking place inside the temple in Jerusalem.  Days before Christ’s arrest and crucifixion.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“As Jesus taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!  40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation.’  41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury.  Many rich people put in large sums.  42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.  43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

About a hundred years ago in Europe, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung met.  Freud, known as the founder of psychoanalysis, and Jung, known as the founder of analytical psychology; corresponded first, then worked together for a few years.  Elder Freud was excited about the possibility of passing on what he began to Carl Jung, who was his junior.  It never would work, however, because the two held drastically different views.  Both were curious about the messages that come in dreams.  The images that arise from our unconscious.  Freud believed it all to be a sign, while Jung believed what comes to us in our dreams are symbols; some say gifts from God to guide us on our way.  It sounds like just semantics, I know.  But meet one of them – or sit in a session with a counselor schooled in the tradition of one or the other and you will note a significant difference.  Signs, according to Freud are interpreted by the expert.  So, in Freud’s view, if you dream about water, he would tell you it has something to do with birth.  If you dream about animals or little varmint, Freud would tell you they represent your siblings.  Symbols are different.  Jung believed symbols come from the dreamer’s unconscious to reveal the dreamer’s great wisdom – the spark of the Divine living within.  While many of us approach several symbols similarly, so that Jung concluded we have a collective sense of things; only the dreamer can uncover the meaning of the symbols revealed in their own unconscious.  So, when asked, a dreamer might say that a small copper coin represent a diminishment of wealth.  A lucky penny.  Or even the greatest sacrifice of your life.

As Jesus sat in the temple with his disciples one day, he reminded them to beware.  Beware of those who want to show off their great status.  Those entrusted with holy things who crave public recognition over humble service.  Beware of those who want the best seat everywhere but pay no mind to a place for the vulnerable.  Beware of such impulses in ourselves, I think Jesus intended to say, especially to those who want to get on board in his movement.  Calling ourselves his disciples, but not so sure we’d be willing to let the last go first and the least receive the most.  He’s nearing the end of his lessons with his disciples.  In Jerusalem for one last Passover, as the great shepherd becomes the lamb.  They sit opposite the temple treasury, as Jesus invites his followers to join him to observe.  Sit a spell to people-watch.

Imagine the colorful scene.  Pilgrims from all over have traveled to Jerusalem to be a part of the great feast of Passover.  Many likely had the financial means to attend the celebration every year.  Others were there, wide-eyed in awe, as they’d get just that one chance in their hard-knock life to be there.  It’s believed widows would flock to the temple.  After all, care of widows, orphans, and foreigners repeatedly was commanded in ancient Israel.  Author Kathleen Norris reminds in a wonderful book called Amazing Grace:  A Vocabulary of Faith, that “righteousness is consistently defined by the prophets, and in the psalms and gospels, as a willingness to care for the most vulnerable people in the culture, characterized in ancient Israel as orphans, widows, resident aliens, and the poor” (p. 96).  “Look!” Jesus insists.  Those of extravagance give out of their abundance.  Large sums drop to the bottom of the temple treasury.  And even a destitute widow puts in what she can.  . . .  Though historical interpretation of this text has given the hefty givers a bum rap.  Lifting up a give ‘til it hurts stewardship plea that supposedly mirrors the giving of the heroic widow and her two little mites.  Think for a minute about what those gifts symbolized to Jesus just a few nights before he would give up his very own life.

One commentator writes:  “Those coins represent more than money.  They represent faith and belief and how these must be lived out in our lives in concrete acts” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 4, Emilie M. Townes, p. 286).  Another commentator writes:  “This is the last scene in Jesus’ public ministry.  From here all that remains in Mark’s telling is the temple discourse and the passion narrative.  So, this widow offers a glimpse into what Jesus is about.  He is on the way to giving ‘the whole of his life’ for something that is corrupt and condemned:  all of humanity, the whole world” (Ibid., Pete Peery, pp. 287, 289).  I’ve heard the two coins symbolize trust.  Trust that the people of God would live up to their calling to take care of the widow.  Her giving, then, an act that challenges her community to put their money where their mouth is literally.  Ensure she has enough; for she’s just given to the glory of God the last two coins left to her.  I could stand here on this Commitment Sunday and tell you to give like the widow – pledging on your 2019 Financial Stewardship card all you have to live on.  Or I could ask you to ponder for a bit what those coins represent to you.  What the offerings of your time, talents, and treasures symbolize for you.

I have a hunch some of us would say our offerings represent our faith.  Our trust that in life and in death we are held by God.  Sometimes by something that feels like a direct connection with the LORD of heaven and earth.  Sometimes by the hands of help offered by the person down the pew from us.  The calls of concern and willingness just to ask:  “How are you?”  Faith; trust that we are not alone in this life because of the Presence of God and God’s people may be what our offerings symbolize as we write another check, put in another twenty, or click another link online for funds to be transferred automatically from our account to the church’s.

Some might say it’s gratitude.  For once I was lost; but now I am found.  Blind, but now I see.  So, every Sunday we show up.  We joyfully give God’s tithes and our offerings because our hearts are full of great thanksgiving.  For life.  For health.  For family and friends.  For acceptance.  And forgiveness.  And new beginnings thanks to God.  For being re-created into those who know clear purpose in this life – giving of ourselves for Life in this world.  And so incredibly grateful for the gift of ever-lasting Life.  Those coins.  Our financial offerings symbolize the depths of our gratitude to God.

Another might say “my offerings symbolize my responsibility.”  A privilege not taken lightly, because of being engrafted into the body of Christ in our baptisms.  Taking vows to turn from sin and the ways of evil.  Promising before God and everyone to be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love.  Devoting ourselves to the church’s teaching and fellowship, breaking of bread with one another and being the people of God who pray for the world (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, WJKP, 2018, p. 409).  Whether taken first for us by our parents and later by ourselves in our confirmations or promised from the start on our own volition; for some of us those baptismal vows were taken very seriously.  When we first said:  “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior” and when we re-affirm that faith each week, we responsibly intend to live up to those words.  Which includes our financial contributions to the church as a way we continue together to uphold our vows.  For some of us, giving our money to the work of the church symbolizes part of our responsibility as a disciple of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

What do your offerings symbolize to you?  If you’ve never stopped to consider, I hope you will today.  And I hope you will remember each week when you give just what those tithes and offerings mean to you.  . . .  Hope that this congregation will go on serving God by serving others as we renew community together and in the wider neighborhood.  Reliance upon each other to give a portion of what we have too that together we might continue to be the people of God gathered in this place for worship and service and growth.  For respite and care and connection.  Trust that God receives all of our offerings – large and small – mixes them all together, then accomplishes so much more than any one of us could achieve alone.  God makes miracles occur in all of our lives and in the lives of everyone we meet throughout the week because of what we each have given and received here as a part of this church.

Just what do your offerings symbolize to you?  The fruit from your labors that you give?  As we prepare ourselves to make our 2019 financial pledges, remember and rejoice!  Hear God whisper back to you:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Well done!  Enter into the joy of all who give!”

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Celebrating the Saints

A Sermon for 4 November 2018 – All Saints’ Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Mark 12:28-34.  Before hearing this portion of the gospel, it’s important to know that Jesus is in Jerusalem at the temple.  And every time he turns around there, religious leaders are upon him.  At this point in the gospel of Mark, Jesus already has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday.  He’s been to the temple to overturn the tables of the moneychangers.  Next, four instances are recorded of the religious leaders coming to question Jesus – and not at all in a friendly manner; for lines in the sand already have been drawn between them.  At last a scribe, who overheard the other leaders’ disputes with Jesus, questions Jesus.  What follows is a beautiful reminder of what God really requires.  In this reading of Mark 12:28-34, listen for God’s word to us.

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?”  29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel:  the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”  32 Then the scribe said to Jesus, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  34 When Jesus saw that the scribe answered wisely, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  After that no one dared to ask Jesus any question.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

All Saints’ Sunday is the perfect Sunday to have before us the story of Jesus in the temple – at long last putting an end to everyone’s religious questions by declaring it’s all about love, love, love.  Love of God first with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And love of neighbor as ourselves – as in loving our neighbors as if we saw them as our very own selves.  Though Roman Catholicism might reserve the status of saint to those the church officially deems so after a lengthy investigative process.  A process that typically includes a five year waiting period after death, substantive evidence of heroic virtue, and at least one if not two verifiable miracles (www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27140646).  In the Reformed Theological Tradition we’re a part of, we view the saints a bit differently.  The PCUSA’s Book of Common Worship reminds us that the emphasis of the festival of All Saints’ Day “is on the ongoing sanctification of the whole people of God.”  We’re further reminded:  “While we may give thanks for the lives of particular luminaries of the ages past, we also give glory to God for the ordinary, holy lives of believers in this and every age.  (Thus) this is an appropriate time to give thanks for members of the community of faith who have died in the past year, and to pray that we may be counted among the company of the faithful in God’s eternal realm” (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, WJKP, 2018; p. 383).

During the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving today, we’ll remember the lives of this congregation’s saints – the members of this congregation who have died in the past year.  Elva, Faye, Bill, Bill, and John.  As Christians, we seek to pattern our lives after Christ – following the ways we learn of in Jesus’s life and death and resurrection.  And I think it’s good for us to look too to the lives of other followers among us.  Christians who have shared the pews with us whose lives give witness to the love of God and neighbor enacted among us today – like in our same kind of lives and in similar homes in which we too live.  Think about Elva – if you knew her.  ‘Til just a few days before she died, she sat over there.  Elva was raised in a faithful Christian family.  A member as a child at Woodland Presbyterian Church in East Nashville, she and her family became active members here in this church’s early years.  And for all those years, Elva faithfully worshipped and grew and served among us.  Quietly.  Diligently.  Through hardship and joy.  Her life reminds us to live likewise.  . . .  And what about Faye?  I’m told she too used to sit over there.  If you knew her, then you knew that in her last days, every breath was a struggle.  But Faye continued to have that welcome that graced her life with all sorts of interesting, eclectic people.  The memorial service we had here in celebration of her life reminded that Faye loved life.  And people.  No matter who it was, she opened wide her heart for strangers to become friends.  Her life reminds us to live likewise.  . . .  And Bill B.  At the beginning of the year, wasn’t he still standing with his cane right on that back row?  Bill had an incredible integrity about him.  A warmth and kindness that made him a wonderful friend and successful businessman.  His entire family admired him – from his devoted wife to his youngest great-grandchild.  Bill still is deeply missed because he cared so much for other people – making them feel special no matter who they were.  Exuding wisdom that came from deep faith.  Indeed his life reminds us to live likewise.  . . .  When I think about Bill R., I think about us visiting him just last Christmas when we caroled to him.  Remember how he took a hymnal and started singing along?  Bill loved all of our visits – especially the ones including the children of this church.  A man of few words, he had a presence of appreciation.  Some of you may remember how Bill lovingly cared for his wife for several years.  And though he knew deep pain in his life as a father, one of Bill’s greatest joys in his final months of life was seeing his son released from prison to start his life over – a sober, changed man.  Talk about the forgiving, abiding love of a father for his child!  Bill’s life shows us the power of love – a love like God’s that never gives up on us.  No matter the ways we mess up.  His was a saintly life that teaches us to live likewise.  . . .  Just a few weeks ago, we gathered to celebrate the long life of John.  A survivor the Great Depression, John (like Bill) proudly served our country.  As a naval commander, those who attended John’s memorial service heard the depth of his life’s impact.  A man who had served in the army as a part of the effort storming the beach at Normandy showed up to pay his respects at John’s visitation.  He told John’s children that if it hadn’t been for their father’s leadership by sea that day, he would have been killed in that battle.  John’s courage and steady leadership ensured others lived.  John’s deep love of his family and friends was inspirational.  The way he tirelessly gave for others needs encourages us to live likewise.

In a way, each friend we remember here today shows us what it looks like to put love of God first, followed by love of neighbor as self.  None of us does it perfectly, we know that.  But to keep our aim, as the saints of the faith have, to continue to get up each morning.  Give thanks to God for another day.  Go about our lives loving our family members and neighbors and co-workers.  Finding ways to welcome strangers and provide for those in need.  Giving ourselves in service for middle school students down the street and babies downstairs.  Using our talents in our life together here so that homebound people feel connection and hurting people have a place to come heal and others have a chance to discover new gifts and abilities, and friendship can deepen, and children can grow.  This is what saintly life looks like.  Faithful life.  Generous life.  Lives like the ones you have been living; for which we all can give great thanks!

Perhaps no pope will ever canonize any one of our lives.  No evidence will be sought that proves our heroic virtues or verifies the miracles we accomplished – though each one of us certainly has done the miraculous in the ways we have given of ourselves.  Even if a pope never deems any of us saints, no matter.  Today and every day, we look to the faithful that have slipped on before us.  We celebrate the saintly life of all who quietly continue to live among us right here each day.  . . .  Members and friends, in all the ways you have loved God first and neighbor as self.  In all the ways you faithfully have served God by serving others through your time and talents and treasures, THANK YOU!!!  Thank you!  Through it, God’s kingdom has been in our midst!  . . .  Alleluia!  And amen!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)