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Yesterday, I printed a hand-out for those who were interested in taking something home to reflect upon this week. It included two versions of the Gospel from yesterday (Matthew 25:14-30) and some information about Collects in general, and then specifically, the Collect of the Day yesterday.  In case you missed worship yesterday, here is the information and scripture.

What is a COLLECT?

A COL-lect (emphasis on first syllable) is a word that signifies the summing up of the prayers of all the individual people who have come together to pray and worship together. In other words, a COL-lect col-LECTS (emphasis on second syllable) the prayers. The Collect of the Day, which comes right after the Salutation (“Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. . .”) serves, on some level, to “the collecting of the people at the start of the Mass.”[1]

Over the years (since the 1549 Book of Common Prayer), the Collect acquired a formal structure—kind of like Haiku. The simplest form has three parts: a preamble (address, invocation), a petition, and a conclusion (mediation). No matter what Collect we pray on Sunday, it has these three parts. In many Episcopal Churches, only the priest says the Collect of the Day. At St. Philip’s, our norm is that all of the gathered pray it. The priest alone prays “The Collect for Purity” on behalf of all of us.

HISTORY OF THE COLLECT FOR PROPER 28

“New emphasis on the Scriptures in the Reformation period is reflected in this collect, composed for the 1549 Book. It is based on Romans 15:4, the initial verse of the Epistle for the second Sunday in Advent, the day with which this collect was associate in earlier Prayer Books. The word ‘learning’ means ‘instruction,’ not ‘memorization’ and the phrase ;by patience and comfort of thy holy Word,’ in the traditional version means ‘by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures’ (Revised Standard Version). The word ‘all’ in the preamble recalls the criticism of the medieval service books in the preface to the first Prayer Book (Historical Documents, (pp 866-867 [of our BCP]): course readings from scripture were so often interrupted by saints’ days that the Scriptures were never read in their entirety toward the close of the middle ages. The first Prayer Book provided an orderly arrangement for reading almost the whole of the Scriptures within the course of each year in the daily office.”[2]

 COLLECT FOR PROPER 28                    (Traditional, prayed at 8:00 service)

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that, by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Contemporary, prayed at 10:15 service)

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

[1] Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book, (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995), 163.

[2] Ibid., 195.

Matthew 25:14-30                 Common English Bible (CEB)      Parable of the valuable coins

14 “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them. 15 To one he gave five valuable coins,[a] and to another he gave two, and to another he gave one. He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability. Then he left on his journey.

16 “After the man left, the servant who had five valuable coins took them and went to work doing business with them. He gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two valuable coins gained two more. 18 But the servant who had received the one valuable coin dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.

19 “Now after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received five valuable coins came forward with five additional coins. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

22 “The second servant also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

24 “Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. 25 So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven’t sown and that I gather crops where I haven’t spread seed? 27 In that case, you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest. 28 Therefore, take from him the valuable coin and give it to the one who has ten coins. 29 Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them. 30 Now take the worthless servant and throw him outside into the darkness.’ “People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 25:15 Or talantas (talents)

Common English Bible (CEB) Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

Matthew 25:14-30               The Message (MSG)     The Story About Investment

 14-18 “It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.

19-21 “After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

22-23 “The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

24-25 “The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

26-27 “The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

28-30 “‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

talentsMatthew 25:14-30

The man stood and watched the master of the house stride away. The master was off on a journey, and he had not said exactly when he would return. The servant clutched the coin tightly in his hand. He had other things to do this morning, and he was unsure about what he should do with this money. This was a lot of money. To earn a talent, you had to work fifteen years. Fifteen years. So the master must have had some confidence in his ability to take care of this talent. Finally, he tucked the coin in his pocket and went to do his chores.

Yet throughout the day, he checked constantly to make sure the talent was still there, because he was afraid he might lose it. Later, as he rounded the corner of the barn, he overheard two other slaves talking. The master had given one of them five talents. That servant was the highest ranking one on the farm. The master had given the other one two talents. The third servant was in awe. Five talents? That was more than most people could earn in a lifetime. You would have to work seventy-five years to earn such an amount of money.[1] Most people in his world didn’t live that long. He listened to the others discuss what they planned to do with the money the master had given them. As they walked away, he thought he heard them say they were going to do some investing. Maybe they could double their money. There were some risky ventures out there, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

shovelThe third man shivered. He was a careful man—even frugal. He was not about to take risks with this money. He knew his master was a fair man, but the master brooked no nonsense from his servants. He ran a tight business operation and held them all accountable. No sir, he was not going to gamble this money away or risk losing it. If he did, the master would deal harshly with him when he returned. The servant took the coin out of his pocket, turned it over in his hand, watched the sun glint off its surface. Then, making a prudent decision, he walked over and picked up his shovel. He strode to a nearby tree and began to dig near one of the big roots.

The master has said goodbye. We do not know when he will return and say hello. In between the goodbye and hello, we must live our lives.

The Christians who heard this parable from the writer of Matthew’s gospel knew that Matthew was not talking about a human being who owned a farm. He was referring to Jesus as the master, one who had lived, died, ascended. One who would someday return. Yet the disciples had no clue when this might happen. When Jesus left them, they thought he would be back soon. Yet by the time Matthew’s gospel was written—probably between 80 and 90 CE—Jesus’ disciples had had to reconcile themselves to the fact that they did not know when he would return—or if he would. So how were they to live their lives in such ambiguity?

Jesus had had confidence in all of them. It seemed clear that Jesus had chosen each one for their different gifts that could be used for the building of God’s kingdom on earth. Yet some had not used those gifts well. Judas, for example, had used his talents poorly. The result was betrayal, Jesus’ death, and a close-knit group that was left fractured, grieving and scared. Now, as the remaining disciples came to terms with the truth that Jesus might not return in their lifetimes, they had to decide how to live. How to preach the good news that Jesus had taught them. Would they pull inward, depend on each other, and stay close to home? Would they go back to fishing, working in the tax office, farming, and remembering Jesus when they met in the market place or worshiped in their local synagogue? Would they go back to living their lives as they had before Jesus called them to follow him? Or would they move beyond safe, familiar boundaries and preach the gospel to all nations as he had commanded them?

Tea Candles Holy Wed There is one truth about seeing light in a dark place. Once you have seen light, you are never as satisfied with the dark. When the light of Christ shone into the lives of these ordinary human beings, their lives changed dramatically. Transformed by the love and witness of Jesus of Nazareth, the disciples did go into all the world. Tradition tells us that Thomas ended up in India. James journeyed to Spain. By the third century, the next wave of apostles had gone further—for example, St. Alban went to Britain and was martyred there. By the eighth century, St. Boniface had preached the gospel in what we know today as Germany.

The light of Christ spread far beyond the shores of the Galilee. This would not have happened if the original disciples had buried their gifts. It would not have happened if they had held tight the love and devotion they had for Jesus within their little group or if they had withdrawn in fear. Instead, while the master was away, they stopped living in fear and started living in faith. They stopped living in anxiety and started living in peace. They stopped withdrawing and started to expand, allowing their faith in the light of Christ to flow throughout the world. Just as the master in Jesus’ parable knew the character and abilities of his servants, and entrusted money accordingly, Jesus knew the character and abilities of those he left to live between his earthly goodbye and the divine hello at the end of time.

So what does it take for you and me to live into the abundance and grace of the gifts God has given us? One thing we might consider is that the master in Jesus’ parable did not entrust his money to his servants, then stay and micro-manage them. Instead, he went away. As one writer has noted, he left “distance and room needed for others to lead, grow, take chances, and flourish.”[2] I wonder if God does the same with us. God gives us gifts of love, of faithfulness, of leadership. God then gives us space and room to develop those gifts.

Do we bury our talents because we fear they are too small to make a real difference? Do we use our gifts frugally, limiting them to groups in which we feel comfortable? Do we sit back and wait for someone else to step forward, when perhaps we are the one God is expecting to step forward and lead? Do we expect someone else to feed us spiritually without taking responsibility for our own spiritual education and nourishment?

People in this parish have many gifts. In the past six months, new voices have joined the choirs. In the past four months, Dr. April Stace Vega, has joined this parish community. She is now working with a group of parishioners on a new focus and vision for spiritual formation of youth and children. In the past couple of months, a group of eight people has begun to work with Renewal Works, a project that included a survey for parishioners about spirituality. Soon, that group will make recommendations to the Vestry. Be advised, however, those recommendations will not get lived out solely by your rector and your vestry. These are ideas that will impact our church, our community, and we need you to step up.

All of us have gifts to offer. That gift could be to contribute a financial pledge. Some of you have the gifts to lead a Bible study or book study. Step up and offer your gift. You can help lead an “Episcopalian 101” class and help others learn what being an Episcopalian is all about. Don’t worry; you will have help. Some of you have gifts to be a Vestry member. If you are asked to run for Vestry, do not think you are incapable of helping to lead the church. Think about it, then be willing to serve on Vestry. Some of you could commit to helping plan an alternative Saturday evening service that welcomes people who shy away from traditional church.

You have gifts. So step up. Be counted. Invest the gifts God has given you. And if you wonder if I am talking to you, I am. Between goodbye and hello, live fully, in response to God’s deep, abiding love. Furthermore, do not ever underestimate the gifts God has given you. Never bury them in the ground. Instead, invest them wisely, with a heart of abundant love. Open your hands. Open your hearts. If you do, you will learn in amazing ways how you can serve God and your community, using the gifts that God has given you.

Who knows what astounding treasures we may find—treasures we never knew we had. Don’t bury them. Invest them—in God and in each other. Amen.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

[1] David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 311.

[2] Ibid., 311.

Picture of talents and picture of shovel from Google images.

Picture of tea candles taken by McJilton

Untitled

Mama and Daddy 1 sm

My mother has been dead many years

And yet,

My breath catches

At the sight of

Her picture–

 

Auburn hair still vivid,

Brown eyes still warm,

Love still flowing from two dimensions.

 

I wish I could see her now,

Her heavy, earth body

Become heaven-light,

Her brown eyes filled

With God’s perfection.

 

I wonder how many dimensions

She has become?

02/15/1980

 

 

rejoice stone“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, Rejoice!” The apostle Paul is not having the best time of his life. In fact, he is having a most challenging and difficult time. He sits in prison—not sure that he will ever leave alive. He is deeply concerned about what is going on in one of the churches he has founded. Some missionaries have come into the Philippian faith community, undermining Paul’s gospel work with their own opinions. Two of the leaders—both women—are quarreling over something in church work. The community is in danger of conflict and division.

Despite these challenges and difficulties, Paul writes a letter full of teaching, encouragement and love. He calls the Philippians “brothers and sisters” and “my beloved.” He gently chides Euodia and Syntche and encourages them to work out their differences—although as one commentator has noted, we know that this conflict situation has not gotten totally out of hand. How do we know? Because Paul calls them by name (he rarely names people with whom he disagrees) and speaks “warmly of their work for the gospel.”
Clearly the Church in Philippi is not having the best time of its life either. Yet Paul sends a fellow worker with a letter to be read to the Church. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice,” Paul says. And although we do not get this from the English word, Paul’s “rejoice” is in the plural. So if we were in the South, that would be translated as “Rejoice, you all!”

Paul’s encouragement is not just for Eudoia. It is not just for Syntche. It is not just for individuals in the community of faith. It is for the entire faith community. For all of these who profess Jesus Christ as Lord, those who struggle daily to be disciples of Jesus in that city, in that time, in those dark and difficult situation. Yet Paul is not being a Pollyanna. He does not promote denial of real life. He does not dance around his prison cell singing “Clap along with me if you feel like a room without a roof, clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. . .” No. Paul knows that joy is not always a simple or spontaneous emotion. Joy is an intentional choice to view and live life differently than just by emotions.

Paul wants these Christians to be intentional about their perspective in life. One of his goals “is to help form in the Philippians (and us) the dispositions, habits, and skills needed to understand themselves and their world in Christ.” In other words, can these people stand in the midst of darkness, cultural opposition and internal conflict, yet at the same time be joyful, gentle and peaceful? Can they practice their Christian beliefs—not because of, but in spite of—challenges and worries? Can they see God’s light shining in the depths of their human darkness? Just as critical a question is this one: can we, here today, see God’s light shining in the depths of our human darkness?

Rejoice_title“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, Rejoice!” As always, all we have to do is read the newspaper or watch television to find examples of human darkness. All over the world, conflict erupts. Politics are polarized in this country. The deadly virus Ebola has robbed the lives of thousands in Africa. As of Friday, several cases had been diagnosed in the United States. On Thursday evening, eight Catholic University students were robbed at gunpoint. Darkness seems to be everywhere we look.

The Episcopal Church is also in a dark, difficult, conflicted place. in the past several weeks, eight professors at General Theological Seminary in New York City—some tenured, some not—issued a letter to the Board of Trustees. In it, they stated that they would not attend worship or teach classes in what they perceived to be a hostile atmosphere between them and the current dean. They have accused him of racist and misogynist statements. Within several days, the dean accepted their resignations—although they had not, in fact, been tendered. The Board of Trustees backed the dean. Then the news of the family fight exploded beyond the walls of that cloister. Articles popped up in the Huffington Post and the New York Times. Then I read an article in the Washington Post, entitled “Episcopalians battle behind walls of NYC seminary.” Really? And we wonder why an increasing number of people seek God in almost any other place than church?

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, Rejoice!” Closer to home, many people in this parish are in situations that are challenging and difficult. For some of you, you work hard, but fear that you might lose your job. Or you are looking for a better job. Some of you are working long, hard hours just to make ends meet. Some of you feel like a human taxi as you struggle to get children to school, soccer, baseball, dance lessons, music lessons, play dates, while still finding time to monitor homework. Others among us have suffered from sexual abuse, physical abuse or emotional abuse at the hands of people in positions of power. Some of you work on your Twelve Steps as you recover from alcohol or drug addictions. There are those who suffer from deep depression, so you know what it is like to exist in a prison, even when that prison is emotional or mental, not physical.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, Rejoice!” How do we do that? How do we rejoice in a world without joy, whether that is a global or personal world? That may seem to be an impossible dream. However, we must always remember that while our dreams may seem impossible, God’s dream is always possible. God’s dream gets lived out in our lives at unexpected times, in unexpected situations, unexpected ways. In my own life, it has been in the darkest of times when I could best see God’s light. Maybe it was because I had none of my own. Many years ago, in the throes of a difficult divorce, severe financial hardship and single parenthood, I had no light of my own. I had to depend on the light, love and support of others. I clung to the discipline of my faith in worship on Sundays, choir practice on Thursday nights, early morning devotions, the necessity of taking care of my young son. I cannot tell you how I made it. When I look back, I shake my head in wonder. I did not always see Jesus in my life then, but Jesus was there: on my right, on my left, behind me, in front of me, beside me, inside me, above me. A constant companion in my darkness. Was I joyful? Not if you mean that emotional sense of joy. Sometimes I felt relief, when someone did a kindness for me. Sometimes I felt encouraged. Sometimes I did feel that peace that passes all human understanding. I had to claim my faith that somehow, some way, God would get me through the darkness to a lighter place. God did.

To be a Christian does not mean that you put on your happy face, gloss over the deep, difficult challenges, keep your chin up and say “Praise the Lord.” To rejoice is not to sing happy songs. To rejoice is to know that God is with us, no matter where we are or in what situation we find ourselves. In the moment, we may not see, hear or feel God. We may suffer scars on our bodies or hearts. Yet someone’s love, kindness and healing gifts may eventually soothe or help heal those scars. To rejoice means we deliberately choose our perspective—and sometimes change it from our dream to God’s dream, because God’s dream is more possible than ours.

You and I are called to walk with each other through the darkness. We gather together as community to pray, to worship, to take God into ourselves in bread and wine. We must work out our quarrels. We must practice some discipline of prayer and Bible study to nurture and strengthen ourselves. We must wonder together where God is in our darkness. If you are standing in the light today, rejoice. If you can sing songs of praise, rejoice. If you have questions about your faith, rejoice. If you struggle with deep, difficult challenges, rejoice. Look around you this day. God is on your left. God is on your right. God is behind you and in front of you. God is in this place. Christ is in you, the hope of glory, even when you don’t see that or hear it or feel it. Just trust it. And if you can’t trust that, trust the people who love and support you.

Rejoice in the Lord. Always, always, always. Again, I say, Rejoice! Amen.

Dove of Peace 1

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton
Picture of “Rejoice with Attitude” and “Rejoice stone” accessed through Google images
Picture of Dove taken by McJilton in Columba Hotel garden on Iona, Scotland

desert-sky-721487Bearer of curse and blessing,

I left home to stumble into the desert.

Exhausted and empty,

I watch fierce sun set over silent stones.

Stars ascend toward midnight.

The wind moans through desert canyons,

And clouds drift across a full moon like shimmering angels.

Broken and empty, I come to you, O Lord God.

In a desert midnight,

There is no smell of blessed fields

No grain

No wine

No fatness of earth

No sweet dew of heaven.

Archangel MichaelAlone, I sleep on holy stones,

Under stars that blaze fierce and countless as dust.

The wind moans high above me, through desert canyons.

Clouds veil the moon.

Strong, shining faces of angels appear.

Michael

Gabriel

Raphael

Lean down to earth.

Their glittering swords carve stones into steps to heaven.

Angels descend in silence to gaze into my fact.

Angels ascend in silence to bear my deceit away.

Then in a shimmering, celestial dance

Of turning wings

Swirling wings

They sweep aside clouds.

I see a heavenly host as countless as dust.

I hear a heavenly host, their voices joined by joyous stars.

Glory to God in the highest.

And on earth. . .peace.

Their alleluias echoing high above desert canyons,

The Holy One descends from the gate of heaven

To stand beside my stone pillow.

To wrap my empty fears

In an eternal mantle of blessing.

To hallow the ground on which I sleep.

Michael veils the moon with his wings.

And the only light I see is God.

I left home, soul that raged with wild emptiness,

And in this desert wilderness,

Angels carve holy names for sleep.

They dance a path between me and You,

O Lord God.

You have found me, broken and empty,

On holy stones that ascend to the very gates of heaven.

And you have not cursed me.

In a desert midnight, I know

The smell of blessed fields

Grain

Wine

Fatness of earth

The sweet dew of heaven.

star-of-bethlehemI will tell of You, O Lord God,

To laughing children who bless my tent,

To strong children who become tribes as countless as dust.

I will tell them of desert midnights filled with blazing stars,

Of fierce angels who carve holy stones

And dance with glittering swords among clouds,

Of hymns sung by joyous stars over Bethel

And over Bethlehem.

(c)  ~ The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

Published in the Anglican Theological Review

Winter 2000, Vol. 82, No. 1

“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Washington is a power town. We hear the word “power” a lot. Senators and Representatives in the House move about “the halls of power” on Capitol Hill. The President, the Secretary of State and others hold power. This week, we have heard a lot about “air power.” Power. Authority. How are they used? How are they different?

“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

In today’s gospel, Jesus stands in the Jerusalem Temple. For centuries, foreign powers have ruled Jerusalem. For centuries, the chief priests of the Jews have ruled the Temple, Israel’s “holiest shrine.”[1] But if we stand with Jesus in today’s gospel, we know that yesterday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt. As Jesus rode into the city, people spread cloaks or palm branches on the road. They heralded Jesus as a king. Following this little parade, the country boy from Galilee walked up the steps to the Temple Mount. When he saw merchants selling and buying in the temple, he began to overturn tables, set doves free, and caused an uproar. According to Matthew, “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.”[2] [Note: the blind and the lame were considered unclean, so they could not legally come into the temple. But here they were.] Then children roaming around the Temple began to chant what they’d heard at the parade: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

The chief priests and the scribes could not tolerate all this commotion and breaking of rules. You don’t charge into church and start tearing stuff up and disrupting the liturgy! And what do you mean, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”? Who is this man, and who gave him power? We’re in charge! The official power-holders were angry. They exchanged words with Jesus, who then left the Temple   and walked to Bethany, where he spent the night—probably at the home of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Now, the next morning, Jesus returns to the Temple. He resumes teaching. The priests and scribes surround him.  “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  In other words, “What we really want to know is ‘Are you the Messiah’ but we don’t dare ask that out loud, because you probably won’t say yes, and if you say no, we are not sure we will believe you. Instead, we will play word games and try to trap you politically. Then we’ll be able to charge you with heresy.”

Of course the underlying issue is authority and power. As bishop and scholar Tom Wright has noted, Jesus walked into the Temple like he owned the place. “The only person who might conceivably have greater authority in the Temple than the high priest was God’s anointed king, the Messiah—if and when he showed up. Nobody knew when that would be. Other would-be messiahs had come and gone. Now here was Jesus behaving as though he had the right to do what only the Messiah could do. So, naturally, they ask him: by what right are you doing all this? And who gave you this right?”[3] The people with official, institutional power are nervous, because this country boy from Galilee has assumed power. If he is who they fear he is, Jesus will change the status quo.

In fact, Jesus already has. With every act of preaching, teaching and healing, Jesus has shown people a new way to hope, to believe, to live. God’s kingdom has come to life in a new way. The Kingdom is here. Right now. In the midst of their struggles to pay their bills and feed their families and take care of their elderly and sick. Jesus says, God is here. Not just in the Jerusalem Temple, in the Court of Priests, not just in the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest was allowed to be. God does not come among you just when you dress right and act right in church. God is with you every day. In the lilies of the field. In sparrows. In the laughter of children. In the breaking of bread at the dinner table.

More to the point, the Kingdom of God that has come to the people means that the officially powerful will have that power ripped from them. God will scatter the proud. Bring down the powerful from their thrones. Lift up the lowly. Fill the hungry with good things. Send the rich people away empty. Rich people are not used to being empty.

Where will that leave the Church elite? With no real power or authority. And they know it. Jesus tells them a little story about two brothers. The father asks one to go work in the vineyard and he rudely says no. But later, he changes his mind, repents, and does what he was asked to do. He goes to work in the vineyard. The other brother says “Sure, I’ll go,” but he never does. So his action—or non-action—says more than his words. The first brother represents the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the people whose daily lives “seemed to be saying ‘No’ to God,    but when they heard John [the Baptist] they changed their mind and their lifestyle.”[4]

The second brother represents the Temple elite—the priests and scribes who confront Jesus—because while they sound good and look good and go through the right motions, their actions do not match their words. They had refused to listen to John who challenged them to repent, to change. Now they refuse to see God’s kingdom brought to life in Jesus of Nazareth. The bottom line is that the church officials have power. Yet Jesus—who has no official power—claims his authority.

What is the difference? Some say that power is taken. Authority is given. Authority almost has to be discussed in the context of community, how that authority operates in a particular time and place. For example, as an Episcopal priest, I am under the authority of my bishop. +Marianne has been consecrated as a bishop. I am canonically resident in her diocese. So she has official power over me. Yet what I see is that she seems to know who she is, deep within herself, and that God has given her the authority she claims.   From my perspective, she uses that authority wisely. Therefore, I trust her as my bishop. That means that even when I disagree with her decisions, I trust her judgment and authority.

Jesus has power, but it is not official, institutional power, such as that claimed by the scribes and Pharisees. His power and authority come from deep within, because Jesus knows who he is. He knows from whence he really came. He knows the work God has given him authority to do in his time on earth. Further, Jesus trusts that he has done what God has asked him to do. He has done it in such a way that this work will continue after his earthly journey is over.

So do we continue to do God’s work? If so, how might we do this? Perhaps we need to look at the way we live every day. Do you claim the authority God has given you in your baptism? If so, how do you do that? Do you nurture your spiritual self with some prayer and Bible reading every day? Do you strengthen your soul by gathering regularly for worship or fellowship? We say we follow Jesus. Yet do our actions match our words where we are—not just in church, but in the places where we spend our days—in the office or classroom, on the baseball or football field, in the grocery store, at home with our families?

I believe that we Christians have not sufficiently claimed the authority given to us in Christ Jesus. However, that must not be authority in an “exterior” way. We must be careful not to be like the scribes and Pharisees—who cared more about buildings and power and rules than about people’s hearts, souls and spiritual hunger.

Power and authority. The truth is that in the twenty-first century, the institutional Church has virtually no authority in this culture. The number of Spiritual But Not Religious people has grown exponentially. W can you and I do about that? How can we claim our baptismal authority? How can we do what Jesus would do: to reach out in new ways to people whom we have not yet welcomed to this table—the people who are not here today? How might we envision worship in some new ways—possibly the kind of service that enables our children to do what Dr. April Vega noted this week: enable them not only to learn about Jesus, but to love Jesus? How might we shape a new worship service for people who are not familiar with our liturgy or traditions, our Episcopalian We’ve Always Done It That Way kind of service? What might that look like or sound like?

I do not know the answer to those questions. But I do know this: God gave authority to Jesus the Christ to teach, to preach, to heal, to make disciples to bring God’s realm to reality in this world, not in some sweet by and by. Through Jesus, God has given you and me the same authority. As your priest and pastor, I claim that authority today in new ways. As the people of God, baptized with water, anointed with oil, claimed by the Holy Spirit, I challenge you to claim your authority too.

Here is the question: Will you?

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila McJilton

[1] Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone: Part Two, (Louisville: SPCK/Westminster John Knox Press, 2002,2004), 75.

[2] Matthew 21:14.

[3] Ibid., 75.

[4] Ibid., 76.

SONY DSCGod’s people are complaining. It is just the middle of the second month after their midnight escape out of Egypt. The Israelites have set up camp in the Wilderness of Sin. Miriam’s victorious song by the Red Sea has hardly faded before the joyous choir turns into a grumbling mob. The thrill of freedom has already evaporated into the hot desert air, and the people have formed a “Back To Egypt Committee.” Now, they whine and complain to Moses and Aaron. Remember the good old days in Egypt? We had plenty to eat then. We had meat to cook for our families. We had plenty of good bread. Now here we are, out in this hot desert, living in tents and starving to death. It’s your fault, Moses. It’s your fault, Aaron.

The members of the “Back to Egypt Committee” have selective memory. They have forgotten how a harsh Egyptian Pharoah and his taskmasters forced them to toil for long hours in the broiling sun.  Forced them to make bricks without straw, forced them to push and pull heavy equipment, to build whatever Pharoah demanded be built. Back in Egypt, they had no rest, no Sabbath. They had never had pots full of meat or unlimited bread. They scrounged for whatever food they did get. They were slaves to the Egyptian empire. As one writer has noted, “Prior to their liberation, the Israelites knew only life in Egypt, an empire where they constructed storehouses for food (Exodus 1:11), where they were exposed constantly to a hoarding, competitive ethos, and where human lives were abused and broken in order to fuel the hunger of the elite.”[1] In other words, the ten percent lived off the backs of the ninety percent.

Back in Egypt, the Israelites had cried out to God for deliverance, for mercy, for freedom. God heard their prayers. God promised to save them, and God did—through Moses, who led the people out of slavery to freedom. Now, as the people complain and blame, God intervenes again. God tells Moses that God is going to provide for the people—despite their lack of faithfulness. But it seems that God has a specific set of requirements for these whiny Israelite. God says to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.”

God is doing more than just testing obedience. God wants the people to depend totally on God for their daily provision so God is going to send meat every evening and bread every morning. Moses and Aaron tell the Israelites how God wants them to gather the manna. But no one really knows why God is telling them to gather only enough food for one day except for the sixth day. It could have been so much easier if God had explained. “Okay, people, here’s the deal. Just gather as much as you’re going to eat that day. Trust me when I tell you that if you get greedy, gather more than you really need      and try to hoard your supplies, you’re going to wake up the next morning to find that the bread is full of worms and smells horrible. But on the sixth day. . .that’s different. That day, you can gather twice as much bread as on the other days. That’s because the seventh day is Sabbath. The day I want you to rest. To enjoy each others’ company. To thank Me for all I have provided.

God didn’t explain because God wanted the people to have faith. Do the people have faith? Do they trust in God? Of course not. They think they know better than God—just as God’s people have thought since that long-ago day in the Garden of Eden. Moses and Aaron deliver God’s instructions about the bread and meat. They also remind the people that it is the Lord who is providing bread and meat. That it is God’s glory they will see in this food. They say God “has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” In other words, “Stop shooting the messengers. This exodus was God’s idea. Your God.The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God of Sarah and Hagar.The God of Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. Remember that when you were slaves, working in the hot desert sun all day long, you cried out to God? God heard you. God freed you from Egyptian slavery. So stop complaining.The Lord your God will always provide all you need—even in the wilderness.”

MANNA-005S

God does provide for the people in the wilderness. God provides quails every evening and bread every morning. Of course the people have never seen this kind of bread—bread in frost-like wafers. But God has provided from the very desert itself.  You see, a special bush grows in parts of the Sinai Peninsula. When insects suck its sap, some is excreted “in the form of globules that crystallize in the sun and fall to the ground. This sticky substance is rich in carbohydrates and sugars and can support the life of a starving wanderer.”[2]   Why haven’t the people seen this manna? Perhaps they saw it but just didn’t know what it was or how to use it. Perhaps they just didn’t notice it. Perhaps they are spending too much energy whining, pointing fingers and blaming their leaders. They think they remember that in Egypt, at least they had plenty to eat. Yet they have forgotten how brutal their lives were in Egypt. All they see now is a harsh desert terrain where days are brutally hot, nights are cold and sand stings their eyes when the wind blows. Where a person can easily die from starvation, thirst, or exposure to the elements.

God’s people do not want to see God in the midst of difficult lives. They want the kind of life they think they had. God’s people do not want to rely on God. They think they can take matters into their own hands, make things right. But they cannot. Finally, when God’s people struggle beyond their own abilities and resources, then—and only then—does God provide meat and bread in the wilderness. It is theirs for the taking, even if the meat and bread look strange. “Man-hu?” or “What is it?” Moses explains about the “man-hu.” “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” The Lord’s bread. Given to us and for us. Given by God.

The whining, complaining and blaming did not end with the children of Israel. Throughout the millennia, God’s people have behaved this way. For example, today, we look back and remember “the good old days” when people could go out without having to lock their doors. When folks were more polite. When more people could think more reasonably, and were less hardened into extreme political viewpoints. We want to forget difficult economic times. We forget about the endless series of wars in this country and in the world—the wars that have been smoothly justified by the people in power—most of whom have not had to fight them. We want to forget the centuries that African Americans were treated like animals, not human beings.

In the Church, we also have selective memory. Back in the good old days, the pews were full and financial giving was strong. People in the culture cared more about faith.   Sunday School was full. The youth choir was strong. Yet I wonder how good our memories are. I wonder why we spend so much energy looking back than looking forward. The present and future always looks more daunting than the past. It’s easier to complain about the bread we don’t have now—or the bread we think we don’t have now—than to open our eyes and see God’s manna all around us. As one writer has noted, “I think the main reason we romanticize the past is that we know that we can get through the past whereas the present and future is still undecided. Kind of a “better the enemy you know” way of thinking; sure, it wasn’t perfect but at least we know we could get through it.”[3]

In every age, people have had difficult lives and difficult times. Challenges which are personal, local, national, global. Yet the important thing we must remember is that our God—our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sustainer—is not just a God of the good old days. God is. God is not “I was. I used to be. I’m done now.” No. “I am who I am,” God told Moses out of a burning desert bush. “I will be who I will be.”  The God of your grandmothers and grandfathers. The God of your mothers and fathers. The God of your sons and daughters. The God of your grandchildren, your friends, your neighbors. Your God. The God who will be with you from the first breath you take to the last. The God who will walk with you beyond that last breath as you are born into Eternity.

God tells us this day to look around. God has provided for each one of us, and for this community of faith, in so many ways. Think about how much God has blessed us here at St. Philip’s. God blesses us with your gifts and talents, your generosity the support you offer each other, with your radical hospitality, with the smile and handshake of God’s peace to another.

McJilton 7 sMMy brothers and sisters, there is plenty of holy manna to go around. Do not—like our Israelite brothers and sisters—continue to look back at the past with selective memory. Instead, look around you. Now. This day. Here, you will find God’s holy manna. Here for the taking. The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven. Given for you—and to you—by God—this very day. Amen.

 © The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

[1] Amy Erickson, “Commentary on Alternate First Reading,” from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=9/18/2011&tab=2 . Accessed through http://www.textweek.com.

[2] Harper’s Bible Commentary, James L. Mays, Editor, (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988), 147.

[3] Geoff McElroy, “Desert Scribblings: Exodus 16:2-15,” from http://gmcelroy.typepad.com/desertscribblings/2008/09/september-21-2008-nineteenth-sunday-after-pentecost.html. Accessed at http://www.textweek.com on Sept. 16, 2011.

Picture of manna from http://www.wellsbiblestudy.com/MANNA-005S.JPG

Picture of Wadi in Sinai Desert from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Wadi_with_Acacia_on_Sinai_Peninsula.jpg

Picture of McJilton taken by Susan Shillinglaw

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