Monday, December 4, 2017

Sermon on Mark 13:24-37

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
St. Joseph-St. John Episcopal Church, Lakewood
December 3, 2017
Advent 1, B
Mark 13:24-37

Doesn’t this sound familiar?
“It is like a man going on a journey,
when he leaves home
and puts his slaves in charge,
each with his work,
and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.”
We heard this a few weeks ago, didn’t we?
In that version, though,
            the master gives the servants money
                        that they either invest
                                    or don’t.
In this story from Mark,          
            the master (Jesus)
                        expects people to keep doing their assigned work.
The doorman is given the charge of keeping watch —
            especially watching to see when the master is returning
                        to sound the alarm and be sure everything is shipshape for his return.
This Mark Advent text is about as dour as it gets.
If we ignore what the lectionary has given us,
            we miss the fact that for the most part
                        Advent isn’t’ about waiting for Christmas.
It’s not a chocolate countdown calendar
            of 24 days.
In Advent the Church tells us
            to get ready for the Son of Man coming in clouds
                        and the angels collecting Jesus’ followers.
In Advent the Church tells us
to get ready for the beginning of Christ’s reign.
In Advent, it’s the end of the world as we know it.

In Anglican tradition,
            the role of the homily or sermon
            is not to teach line by line or word by word
                        it’s not to give a Bible study lecture from the pulpit.
In Anglican tradition,
            the role of the homily or sermon
            is to take a text,
                                    and say why it still matters.
My job as a preacher
            is to challenge you to change your lives
                        because they’ve already been changed
by an encounter with Jesus the Christ.
You’ll read in Joyful Noise this month   
            that someone at Starbucks
                        made a generic, vague reference
                        about why we come to church.
His comments were very broad
            but suggested that he was hoping for church to be a disconnect
                        from the reality of living in Washington, United States, 2017,
                                    a disconnection from the world around us.
He didn’t say that we come to church to feel good
            or to be made to feel good.
Our text from Mark’s Gospel
            makes clear that that can’t be why we come to church.

It’s hard to feel good when Jesus is saying,
“the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
That actually sounds terrifying to me
            unless I rest in the comfort that those are signs
                        that Jesus is returning.
Jesus’ returning, though, isn’t just a cake walk
            of unicorns and rainbows.

Right after Jesus says that the dark sun and moon
            are signs of his returning
            he says that as he’s gone
                        everyone has a job,
                        and they really need to be doing it.
Our jobs as followers of Jesus,
            as we understand them in The Episcopal Church
                        are laid out in the Prayer Book.
The mission of the Church
            is to restore all people to unity to God and each other in Christ.
We do that by keeping our baptismal promises
            which we renewed on All Saints Sunday
                        and again on Tuesday
                        and will again on January 7 for Baptism of Jesus.
We have been given work to undertake
            and I’ll be offering
more concrete tasks for that
as we move forward together,
don’t worry.

I’m not up here to make you feel bad,
            but I’m not up here to make you feel warm and fuzzy either.
I’m up here because I believe
            that Jesus and his church have called me
            to lead you
in making Christ known as Savior and Lord.
I’m up here to preach the hope of salvation offered to all
            through Jesus Christ.

To make that happen
            we don’t have to knock on doors
                        asking people if they’ve accepted Jesus
as their personal Lord and Savior.
We do have to keep feeding the hungry.
We do have to keep giving water to the thirsty.
We do have to invite people to join us
            when the salvation we’ve known
                        could be their salvation.
I’m up here because I believe
            that following the Son of Man —
the Son of Man who will come in clouds and majesty
but came as a helpless baby
            and shows up in broken bread —
following him will change the world.
Following him in action,
            not just words,
                        does change the world.
Like the servants in Jesus’ short parable,
            that’s the work we’ve been given to do:
                        change the world by following him.
We don’t know when Jesus will return,
            so we can’t fall asleep
                        or fall down on our tasks.
We must be alert

and keep changing the world.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 25.31-46

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
November 26, 2017
Last Pentecost, A, Proper 29
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
Matthew 25.31-46
           
We’ve reached the end of Matthew 25,
            the end of Jesus preparing those hearing him
                        for the end of the world
                                    when God judges all things and all people.
After these verses,
            the plot to kill Jesus gets underway
                        and we heard that during Lent and Holy Week.
After this Sunday,
            we won’t gather again on a Sunday in this liturgical year.
We start a new year and new book
            next Sunday when we start Advent.

The last two weeks we were warned:
            Keep your lamps trimmed and burning
for you don’t know when Jesus will return;
            Be good stewards of what you have
                        because God owns it all and expects a good return.
Today Jesus tells us in far more words:
            Love all you encounter,
                        for in encountering them,
you encounter me.
The image of God separating the sheep and the goats
            is on that is popular and persistent.
It’s easy to imagine and grasp:
            sheep go to the right and to heaven,
                        goats go to the left and to hell.
Angry Matthew is back at it
            with lakes of fire and eternal darkness
                        as Jesus condemns those who fail to love their neighbor.
Because this image
of sheep and goats is co clear, so visceral,
            we may miss the roles we play in this story.
We may want to interpose ourselves
            into the role of shepherd
                        rather than that of sheep
                                    or if we’re not careful, goat.

When I first dove into Jesus’ talking about
            the Son of Man coming in his glory
                        sorting the sheep who fed him without knowing it
                                    from the goats who sent him away in the same ignorance
                                                I wanted to use it as a litmus test.
I was rejecting aspects of my upbringing,
            aspects that led one of Billy Graham’s grandsons to say in 2008,
                        “We’re not supposed to be building houses or having food drives.
                        We’re supposed to be saving souls.”
My sponsoring priest flatly said,
            “That is Gnosticism, and it is heresy.”
That idea of what Christianity means
            rejects in full Jesus’ directions in today’s Gospel passage.
Even as I was rejecting that notion of Christianity,
            I was all the while making myself the judge,
                        making myself the shepherd.

Jesus doesn’t say,
            “When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
                        those who think of themselves as sheep will sit on the throne.”
Jesus says,
            “When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
                        he will sit on the throne of his glory.”
Jesus’ charge isn’t to decide who is being cast into outer darkness
            but to pay attention to what he teaches
                        and then follow it, to do it.
Following Jesus isn’t for the weak or for the lazy.
Following Jesus is exhausting y’all.
I’m learning that here as your vicar
            because our community’s habits are so built
                        around seeing Jesus in everyone around.

If we asked, “Jesus,
when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food?”
He’d say,
            “Every Wednesday at 6.
The Second and Fourth Wednesdays.
Whenever you give someone in need a bag of dried food.”
If we asked, “Jesus,
            when was it that we saw you thirsty and gave you something to drink?”
He’d say,
            “Most mornings at 9 a.m. and sometimes 1 p.m.
                        when those blessed wanderers of Lakewood
ask for a bottle of water.”
If we asked, “Jesus,
            when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?”
He’d say,
            “On Sundays when visitors come.
            When you open the doors of the church to Family Housing Network.”

To be so small,
            we do so much!
It’s exhausting, too,
            especially when there’s a skeleton crew
                        making up so much of the work.
But we do it,
            and we don’t do it alone,
                        because we can’t do it alone.
Today’s collect says,
            “Almighty and everlasting God,
whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son,
the King of kings and Lord of lords:
Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth,
divided and enslaved by sin,
may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.”
Throughout the Gospels,
            Jesus says, “The Reign of God is at hand!”
Because God’s Reign is here, now,
            God is working through us as Christ’s body
                        to restore all things.

Community dinners,
            Family Housing Network,
                        bottles of water,
                                    these are all part of that restoration.
All that work of restoration is tiring,
            and we can’t and don’t do it alone.
The Reign of Christ
            is here, is now,
                        is already-not yet.
We get a glimpse of it
            when we show up here
regardless of how we feel
            when we break bread
                        and remember Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.
The Son of Man will come in his glory
            and look for how we have treated
the least of those among us.
Jesus will come in his glory,
            but his reign is already among us.
Before the glory,
            we're not the shepherd.
We’re the workers who’re given
            tasks of love that are
physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychically taxing.
We glimpse Jesus’ glory
            at this altar
                        as we hold Jesus,
                                    who comes in both humility and glory as Bread
                                                who feeds us to keep our strength up.
When we leave this place,
            they'll know we’re Christians by our love
                        as we trust and hope we’ll hear,
                                    “Come, you that are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world.” 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 25.14-30

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
November 19, 2017
Pentecost + 24, Proper 28, A
Matthew 25.14-30

Today’s parable from Matthew
            isn't exactly a deep cut.
Even before seminary,
            before college Bible studies,
                        I knew the parable of the talents pretty well.
Jesus tells a story where a
 master goes on a long journey,
                        and distributes funds to three of his slaves.
He gives five to one,
            two to another,
                        and one to another.
The first two take what he’s given them
            trade with it
                        and double what they have.
The third one,
            saying he’s scared of the master,
                        hides it in the dirt.
At least he doesn’t lose any money, right?

After a long time
            the master comes back
                        and wants his money back.
He’s been gone along time,
            and Matthew says that the first two slaves
                        only doubled what they had.
But they doubled it immediately.
They’ve done a little work
            and made the master richer
                        so he welcomes them into his household.
“Well done, good and faithful servant”
            may be the translation you have written in your heart.

The third slave, though,
            he didn’t make the master any extra money.
He says, “I knew that you were a harsh man,
reaping where you did not sow,
and gathering where you did not scatter seed.”
Basically, “I was scared of screwing up,
            so I didn’t even try.”
The master wants to hear none of that.
He says that if anything,
            the slave should have put the money in a bank
                        to earn interest.
If he knows the master is so harsh,
            he should have prepared for that
                        and made a little more.
Making nothing isn’t okay.
If we look at the text,
            it's possible that the first two slaves
                        could have made a lot more.
They immediately go do their trading,
            double their trusted funds,
                        and take a break.
The master is gone for a long time,
            but they stop at doubling.
The master doesn’t care —
            they tried, and succeeded.

He cares, though,
            that the person he gave the smallest amount to
                        doesn’t try to do anything with it.
He cares that that slave
            lets his fear keep him from
                        doing the work he’s been given to do.
He doesn’t accept, “I was scared of screwing up,
            so I didn’t even try.”

While this passage has Matthew’s anger in it —
            throwing servant to the outer darkness
with wailing and gnashing of teeth,
            it’s also one that doesn’t need a lot of inspection to interpret.
It’s hard to find context
            or Jesus’ audience
                        because he’s on a multi-chapter
                                    rant about people being prepared for his return.
He’s denounced the scribes and Pharisees,
            and he’s talking to them
                        and to his disciples.
Jesus, talking in some code about his return,
            is talking to us.
The message is abundantly clear:
            don't let fear of failing paralyze you
                        and use the gifts God has given you
                                    to build God’s reign around you.
We have to use the gifts God has given us
            to build God’s reign around us.

If you’re visiting us today,
            welcome!
Don’t let what I’m about to say
            keep you from coming back.
I’ve been here right at three months
            and I know you to be a generous people.
From coordinating and attending the gala,
            giving generously at the auction
                        right after I got here
            to helping to pay for major expenses
                        as they’ve come up
                                    you give of your time, talent, and treasure.
Thank you for your faithfulness and care
            in the gifts you have been given.
This was a hard week for our finances,
            [and there may be an announcement
after the sermon about that.]
No one seems to be in panic mode
            so I’m not either!

However,
            with the parable of the talents appointed for today
                        after a week of squeaking through
                                    a vicar would be remiss to not mention that pledge cards are out
                                    and are due on December 17.
Our pledge in gathering will be December 17 because that is Rose Sunday,
            a break from Advent penitence
                        a day to celebrate joy —
                                    and God’s gifts to us.
Just because they’re not due for a month         
            doesn't mean you should wait a month to get them turned in.
I’ll leave the threats
            of outer darkness to Matthew’s Jesus
                        but I do want to invite you to prayerfully consider
                                    what and how you can give and can plan to give.
I particularly want you to think about
            proportional giving.
Whether that’s half-a-percent
            or an historic ten-percent tithe
                        dedicating a fixed amount related to your means to God.

Jesus has been gone a long time now.
Last week we heard to keep our lamps trimmed and burning
            and soon we’ll hear to stay awake
                        for the know not the day nor the hour.
I personally don’t know Jesus
            to harsh,
                        reaping where he doesn’t sow or
gathering where he did not scatter seed.
I know Jesus
            who actually scatters everywhere
            and hopes to reap from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Jesus in today’s parables
            is calling his disciples
                        to be faithful stewards of what’s been entrusted to their care.
When I was ordained
Bishop Andrus handed me a Bible and said,
            “Receive this Bible as a sign of the authority given you
to preach the Word of God and
to administer his holy Sacraments.
Do not forget the trust committed to you
as a priest of the Church of God.”
I know you love this community,
            and I know you love this church.
I pray that you’ll join me
            empowered by Christ’s Body and Blood
                        in rejecting the fear of,
“I was scared of screwing up,
            so I didn’t even try.”
Please prayerfully consider proportional gifts
            so that we can keep building the Kingdom of God around us.
Amen.