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In This Generation—the coming of the Son of Man

The Rev. Stephen Smith, November 29, 1015

            How many of you have heard of David Wilkerson? Not many hands I see. David Wilkerson was a pastor form the Midwest who had a vision that led him to go preach the Gospel in the inner city of New York.  He wound up converting a whole Latino gang led by a young man named Nicky Cruz.  The story was told in the book and movie, The Cross and the Switchblade. Ah, so now some of you remember and know the name.

Because of this amazing work Wilkerson become a noted speaker in Christian circles throughout the 1960s and 70s. In the late 1970s he started saying that the world was coming to end.  He even predicted when: sometime in the early 1990s Jesus would return and history would come to a close. And . . . we are still here.

A few years back a pastor form California actually declared the day that Jesus would return and the world would end, and . . . we’re still here.

With the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 some predicted Jesus’ return and the end of the world, and . . . we’re still here.

The delay in Jesus’ return, his second coming as it is often called, has been a source of some embarrassment for the Church since, well since our beginning and our earliest writing.

Scholars know that the letters of Paul are the earliest writings of the New Testament. The Gospels, which tell the story of Jesus’ life, where actually compiled much later than Paul’s letters. The stories of Jesus were the early oral preaching of the disciples and early church leaders, and as these leaders (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) began to die off their communities said, “Maybe we’d better write this stuff down.” And they began to assemble the Gospels. But this was later than the letters Paul wrote to those churches he founded.

We know when to date Paul’s letters based on some of the historical events he mentions and we are fairly certain that the earliest letter is Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, which we read from today. In it Paul talks a lot about the second coming of Jesus. In fact, the idea of the rapture, all the faithful being gathered out of the earth and into heaven at Jesus’ return comes from this letter to the Church in Thessalonica.

When we get to what scholars believe is Paul’s last letter, his letter to the Romans, he doesn’t even mention the second coming at all. The second coming, over the course of Paul’s writings becomes less and less emphasized until it totally drops away.

Yet here in Luke’s Gospel the second coming is proclaimed again, much later than Paul’s writings.  And Luke dares to say that his generation will not pass away before they see the coming of the Son of Man, the coming of the Christ in glory. This generation will see it.

Maybe it’s because they wanted Jesus to come back and set things right. You see, by the time Luke’s community assembled his Gospel things were bad. You wouldn’t know it by reading Luke and its companion book the book of Acts.  Luke tells the story of Jesus and the book Acts tells the story of the early Church, and they are meant to be one piece. Luke’s story begins with the babe in the manger. His Gospel is the only one that tells this story.  Jesus was born in a barn in a little town of no account in the Roman Empire, which probably had only 500 people living in it. But his life, death and resurrection had such an impact that finally his story spreads over the entire Roman Empire and Acts ends with Paul going all the way to Rome and hoping for an audience with the Emperor. From a boy born in a barn to an audience with Caesar, what a triumphant story?

But Luke’s community was experiencing nothing like this triumph as they assembled the Gospel and the book of Acts.

Paul was dead, and so was Peter. Rather than having an audience with the emperor they were killed by Nero when he blamed the Christians for the fire in Rome that he started.

What’s more the origins of their story in Jerusalem were laid waste by Vespasian.  He sacked Jerusalem and tour down the temple, leaving it in rubble.

Judaism, looking for someone to blame for this disaster began to accuse the Christians of promoting heresy by following this Jesus. They were kicked out of the synagogues and so began the feud between Christianity and Judaism which led to thousands of years of violence, especially form Christians against Jews.

And if all that weren’t enough it was about this time when Luke’s Gospel was coming together that the Roman governors in Asia Minor, in Galatia and Ephesus, began to notice the rise of Christianity.  And so the first organized persecutions of Christians by Roman authorities had its beginnings.

So maybe Luke’s Gospel was hoping for Jesus to come back and set things right. And like so many others, Luke’s community was disappointed.

Nevertheless countless generations have hoped for that day. Even now, we’re a mess.  The world has gone crazy, with mass shootings, and ISIS wreaking havoc around the world. We want Jesus to come back and set things right or at least get us out of here.  The current generation’s fixation with the rapture is all about saving us form the mess of humanity by getting us out of it. It’s an escape plan. We seem more interested in escape than engagement.

But if we were engaged with Jesus coming back what would that look like? In fact, that’s what ISIS thinks it’s doing. They are engaging the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus to make things right. I did not know until this year that Islam believes in the second coming of Jesus.  Why not? Islam came out of Judaism and Christianity and shares many of the same stories; why not the second coming? Just like us they believe that the end of the world will come and God will be in charge. This will be preceded by the coming of the prophet (for them, messiah for us) Jesus. ISIS believes this is the time and they are giving God a helping hand by killing all their enemies and anyone who would disagree with them.

That’s even worse, when we think that God setting things right needs our assistance through violence for God’s sake.  That’s just crazy. I cannot imagine Jesus cooperating with this kind of idiocy.

And in the midst of all this insanity still, just like in the early Church, the second coming is delayed.

But wait a minute.  Let’s give the early Church a little more credit. Maybe the statement in Luke’s Gospel about the coming of the Son of Man in glory was not a prediction of an end, but the acknowledgement of a reality already present in their community.

After all, each week, despite persecution, they gathered and shared the bread and wine and said, “Here is the Son of Man, here is the presence of Christ in our very midst.”  They created a community of love and support and looked around at each other, the gathered Church, and said, “Here is the coming of the Son of Man.  It is the Body of Christ we call the Church.” And then they took the love they experienced in that community out into the world and shared it with those who were on the margins of society, those who needed the love of God, and said, “Here is the coming of the Son of Man, here is the Christ, given for you by the community of God’s love.” And despite all the troubles they were experiencing, the death of Peter and Paul, the destruction of the town of their origin, Jerusalem, the conflict with Judaism, and the Roman persecution, despite it all they were growing.  In their generation they witnessed the coming of the Son of Man, the coming of the Christ.

My brothers and sisters, we too, in our generation witness the coming of the Son of Man, the coming of the Christ. Because we gather each Sunday and share the bread and wine and say, “Here is the Son of Man, the Christ, in our very midst.” We look around at one another and say, “Here is the gathered community which we call the Body of Christ.  It, too, represents the coming of the Son of Man, the coming of the Christ.” And then we go out into the world to share the love of God, and in those acts the Son of Man, the Christ, comes to the world around us. Not at the end of time, but in our generation, right here, right now, the Son of Man is revealed among us.  Despite the insanity of the world, the craziness of ISIS, mass shootings, and all that fills us with fear. We have seen the coming of the Son of Man in our generation. Amen.

 

December 2015 Newsletter

Breastplate – December 2015

Check out these opportunities

Adult Forum this Sunday Nov. 22 A look at excessive Saints. This week Margery Kempe and Oscar Romero.

Volunteers needed for Nominating Committee The vestry is looking for two volunteers from the congregation to serve on the nominating committee.  They have a big task for 2016, recruiting vestry nominees, new wardens and new delegates to Diocesan Convention. If you would like to serve please see Dwight King.

“Purls of Wisdom” Annual Advent Sale  is November 29 through December 20. All items are handmade and make great holiday gifts. This sale supports Lissa Barker’s Honduran Medical Mission.

Advent Begin Sunday November 8

We celebrate an extended Advent at St. Patrick’s. We seek to focus our Advent attention to the reign of God and not just provide a countdown to Christmas. None of the lessons that we read will have changed from what we normally hear. They are, however, set in a context of preparation for the coming of God’s dominion, which culminates in the birth of the Christ Child.

The Adult Forum for Sunday, Nov. 8:  The 3 reasons for 7 (not 4) Sundays in Advent

Harvest of Hope for the Dublin Food Pantry

Help fill 350 Thanksgiving boxes by donating BOXED POTATOES & JAR GRAVY. Place your donation in the basket in the narthex. Our youth will deliver to the food pantry.  Please bring your food donation no later than November 15.

 

The Annual Global Village Collection Fair Trade Store Sale

What’s your favorite? Coffee, tea, chocolate? Handmade purses, gloves, or jewelry? Don’t forget the elephant poo paper! Get a jump start on your Christmas and Hanukkah shopping after the morning services on November 15. Our friends from the Global Village store in Delaware make their annual trip to St. Patrick’s to offer these fair trade items to you. Please support their efforts, which support sustainable living around the world.

November 2015 Newsletter

Breastplate – November 2015

When God is Absent

See what's new at St. Patrick's.
See what’s new at St. Patrick’s.

Divorce and Grace

Mark 10:2-16 October 4, 2015
The Rev. George Glazier

Picture this: Sitting in my office are two people who are in love. They are holding hands and we have gathered for the second session of pre-marital counseling. We have talked about their lives, how they met, how they fell in love and we are beginning to talk about their expectations for their marriage. It is all cozy and soft and romantic up to this point. Then I ask the question: “What could happen that would jeopardize your marriage?” I go on to say: “I am not talking about divorce but I am talking about situations that could lead you to a divorce.”

Their reaction is like someone who has had a cup of cold water thrown in their face. What was cozy, soft, and romantic suddenly turns to uncomfortable, hard, too real. They are shocked. It is much the same way that I react to Jesus’ words about divorce in today’s gospel – shock.

So what is Jesus saying and why is he saying it?

Really I cannot go there yet. This is not an academic question for me. I am a once divorced, happily remarried man. The words of Jesus, even though I have studied them and I understand what he is saying, what I hear and still hear is condemnation. Woe is me.

There are some killer words and phrases in scripture that seem to pronounce a verdict on certain people. Or, they have been taken by the church or the society in such a way as to pronounce a verdict on certain people. Though the gospel is primarily about grace, love and forgiveness, this does not change the fact that for some people what is first heard is judgment. That is the way it is for me when I hear Jesus speak of divorce. So I have to pause.

Divorce in my experience was a kind of hell. I have had worse experiences but not many. It has had a negative impact on me and on my children. So I can understand those who want to take this passage as use it as some kind of firewall to stem tide of divorce. Jesus says NO to divorce. So don’t, ever.

But that does not work.

First, it ignores the fact that that couple in my office, along with all the other divorced people I have ever known, wanted to have a loving, lasting, happy marriage. But some made mistakes and at some point the mistakes overwhelmed the marriage and they had to accept divorce as an unwelcome but real fact of life. I have never met one single person (though I am sure they are out there) who took marriage so lightly that they assumed divorce would happen. To a person they all thought, as I thought, this will never happen to me, to us.

Second, this Jesus-says-NO-to divorce attitude also ignores that after the hell of divorce there can be an experience of grace, of God’s grace, when we enter anew, chastened by sorrow and failure, into a new relationship. I really did not fully understand the overwhelming sense of God’s grace until I met and fell in love with my wife, Pam. The negative impact of divorce was more than mitigated by the her presence in my life and in the lives of my children.

Finally this ignores the fact that adultery, addiction, abuse, and a host of other situations can, untreated or unacknowledged, can put an end to a marriage. There are responsible reasons for a divorce.

So, stuff happens. Grace happens … because God loves us and God, who has promised to never divorce us – though God certain has cause – can enter our lives through just about any experience, even divorce.

So what is Jesus saying? And why is he saying it?

He is saying what all lovers instinctively know whether they stand in the midst of love or in the ruins of marriage gone sour. He is saying that the intention of God, like the intention of all lovers, is to make marriage a joyful, life-long union in which the two people grow in grace and love, becoming fully the people God has created them to be.

This is why straight people marry. This is why gay people want to and should be married. This is why God blesses all those who are willing to make the commitment to be in, grow in and stay in marriage. The intention of people and the intention of God is the same in regard to marriage, at least at the beginning. But life can be hard, marriages can take a beating, some of them fail.

The context of this passage is Jesus answering a question from the Pharisees. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Or, I think the better way to frame it would be when is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife. The first question is easily answered by Jesus or anyone quoting Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The process whereby a husband can divorce a wife is laid out in this passage. Yet, one of the most disputed questions among rabbis in Jesus’ day had to do with the legitimate reasons a husband could divorce a wife. Some rabbis held that the only grounds for divorce were adultery. Some held that something as small as disrespect from the wife could justify a divorce.

So this is what the Pharisees are asking. They actually are having an academic discussion about the rules of divorce. The fact of divorce is never disputed. But Jesus will not enter into this academic discussion. He goes off on another tangent altogether. He goes to God’s purposes in marriage – life-long, loving, joyful union.

He then highlights and underscores the male prerogative in divorce as it was practiced in his day. Wives had almost no right to divorce their husbands for any reason. He holds this up and says in effect:

Moses allowed this for the hardness of hearts of you men.

As with other scriptures of condemnation, it is interesting how the church has taken this scripture to persecute those whose life situation was threatening to others. No medieval village wanted a lot of single, unattached divorce people, men or women, in its ranks. In a day when women were seen as property of either fathers or husbands, no place wanted women free and unattached. So, there are clear historical reasons that the church highlighted and underscored these words of Jesus, turning them into a prohibition of divorce rather than encouragement of a life-long union.

So, what about a new understanding in which we agree with the intention of God and the vast majority of those who enter into marriage: That marriage is meant to be life long, happy, and place where the two people can grow in love and grace. But we also agree with the fact of life that some, for many reasons, do not succeed in this. Our response to divorce is not condemnation or judgment but the response that Christians always are enjoined to make: to have mercy on those going through divorce and to assure them of God’s love and ours.

At the time of my divorce I was blessed to be a priest in the Episcopal Church that has been pioneering this attitude to divorce for 50 years. While some other branches of Christianity has stayed mired in a prohibition understanding of Jesus’ teaching, we have taking a more gracious and loving approach. I was blessed to be in a local church that gave me just those things – mercy and love – when I was going through my divorce. I did not expect such a gracious response because I underestimated the love of God and the love of church people. It was transformative for me and my life and I have seen it replayed again and again in lives of others.

How to tick off Jesus

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith

Sermon September 27, 2015, Mark 9:38-50

I am really glad the children are out for Sunday School during the reading of this Gospel. Jesus’ imagery about tying a millstone around someone’s neck and hurling them into the sea, or cutting off hands or feet, or plucking out eyes is pretty graphic stuff. I know we read a lot of the Gospel of Mark this year, but we don’t read it all. We could have left this part out.

I don’t like this reading because over 30 years ago I knew a young person who tried to pluck out his eye because he was afraid he would be sent to hell. And I have heard far too many Christians complain about other Christians they disagree with by quoting the passage about the millstone, as if it should be applied literally to their opponent.

To understand this lesson we need to remember that Jesus is using hyperbole. He is over-exaggerating to make a point. He does not want anyone to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck. He does not want anyone to cut off hands or feet. Or pluck out eyes. Remember, all the tools of rhetoric were established hundreds of years before Jesus. Our ancient ancestors were pre-technological. They were not dumb. In some ways, language was their technology and they pondered over every word and phrase to get just the right message across. And in this case the use of exaggeration by Jesus gets across the message that he is angry; very angry.

To give a modern example it would be like what my mother used to say when the three of us boys were acting up. She would say, “You boys better shape up or I am selling you to an orphanage.” We knew she was exaggerating. We knew she wouldn’t sell us to an orphanage. But we also knew she was angry.

So what is Jesus so angry about? In general he is angry that his disciples do not get it. He is talking about servanthood and giving his life for the world, and all they can think about is, “What’s in it for us?”

But the specific issue that sets Jesus off, the straw that breaks the camel’s back (to use another hyperbole) is the disciples resorting to us and them thinking.

“Master,” they say. “We saw somebody casting out demons in your name and since he wasn’t one of US we tried to stop him.”

I hate to admit it but it has taken me over 35 years to see this connection. I have read this passage dozens, maybe hundreds of times, and only this week does it finally dawn on me. Jesus is angry because his disciples can’t see the good that is happening outside their own little group and so want to stop it. It is as if Jesus is saying, “Are you nuts!? People are being healed. Demons are being cast out. Good things are happening. And you can’t get on board with that simply because the people doing it are not in our group!? You idiots ought to have a millstone tied around your necks and be thrown into the sea. Cut off your hands and feet and pluck out your eyes for all the good you are.”

Now do you get the idea? He is ticked off and venting at his disciples for the stupidity of their “us” and “them” thinking.

Unfortunately we have been very fond of that kind of thinking in the Church. We are always quick to judge who has it right and how has it wrong, and name a “them” we would like to exclude. I know we have our disagreements but I try to remember that good things happened even with Christian groups with which I disagree. As you know I do not like fundamentalism. I do not think it is a proper way to interpret scripture. And if you read my column in the newsletter you know I am thrilled that fundamentalism is on the decline. Thank God. However, I know that there are countless fundamentalist churches where good things happen and where their pastors do great work. Demons are cast and people’s lives are made better. They are “us,” not “them.”

I do not like a lot of the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. I think it subjugates women and I think the celibacy requirement for priests is kind of silly. It does not change the fact that there are many good Catholic churches with excellent leadership where people’s lives are changed for the better, and the demons that hold them down are cast out. They are “us,” not “them.”

I am sure these Churches have their own complaints about us as well. But we still strive to do good work, to make people’s lives better and cast out the demons that hold them down.  When we see our combined good work then there is no “them.” It is all “us.”

We could say the same about other religions, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, if they are working to make people’s lives better, to cast out demons that hold people down, then they are “us,” not “them.”

Now I am not so naïve to think we have no enemies. I will never sit down with the late Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church unless they make some changes. And ISIS is clearly the enemy of all who seek to do good through religion.  They represent all that can be horrible about religion: extreme fundamentalism that leads to killing and atrocities, all in the name of God.

Yes, there are those who are not us.  But most people of good will are closer to us than we think.

Sadly, the Pope’s visit last week contributed to even more “us” and “them” thinking, not because of what he said but the spin put on it by the media. On one side people said he spoke to “our” issues of sexuality and family. On the other side people said he spoke to “our” issues of immigration and climate change. I heard it all last week. I listened to all sides. I even listened to Rush Limbaugh. I wanted to hear what was out there. And it was all about choosing sides. Actually, the pope spoke to all kinds of issues on both sides of our political divide. Then he said that the leaders of the world need to work together for the benefit of humanity and the safeguarding of the planet. Work together. Do good. Nobody reported on that! The media was too busy picking sides. But I think the real story was his call for leaders to work together to create a better world. That’s news!

We are a long way form that. The “us” and ‘them” thinking is so dominant in our culture that when John Boehner stepped down as Speaker of the House he started singing “Zippity Do-Dah!” He was so glad to be out of that morass he broke forth in song.

And yet Jesus reminds his disciples and us that when we work together for good there is no “them” it is only “us.” And if we persist in this “us/them” thinking it only makes things worse. And it’s a really good way to tick off Jesus.

Let us pray:

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

A Joyful Community of Faith