Sermons 2003-2004

"It's about Power and Winning"
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church

Proper 24B 2003 Isaiah 53:4-12; Mark 10:35-45

When Bishop Lee met with his Deans and the Regional Council Presidents in a special session at Shrinemont on the 30th of September, the focus of the discussion was naturally enough on the recent and ongoing controversy facing the Episcopal Church. What emerged from the discussion was that it seemed that those most partisan on either side of the issue have lost touch with our Anglican roots and the traditions of practice in Anglican Christianity. What I mean by Anglicans is that we are a people who worship God according to an authorized version of the Book of Common Prayer and at the same time are in communion with the see of Canterbury. And Episcopalians are American Anglican Christians.

At Shrinemont the consensus among those present is that clergy need to exercise more often the Magisterium of the Church -- the teaching function of the Church -- to restore that time proved Anglican sensibility. And it is very timely, even providential, that the New Churchs Teaching Series of some twelve volumes is now complete. We have received our copies and they will be in the parish library shortly.

It is interesting to note that two of those volumes Opening the Bible by Roger Ferlo, and Engaging the Word by Michael Johnston address Scripture and the authority oif Scripture. And given the apparent intensity of the current controversy, this is what I want to address for us now.

Let me begin by saying that Scripture is normative for us. To begin with, the Prayer Book itself is at least 80 per cent Scripture. And in the course of a three year lectionary cycle, the three synoptic gospels are read aloud almost in order and entirety in our worship. And there are Bibles in our pews. And surely there is one at least one -- in each of our homes.

But having said that about the primacy of Scripture, what then? From that point on, the meaning of Scripture leads us into disagreement, often politely and with a willingness to hear and learn from each other, but in the current controversy, not so much it seems.

It was the great 16th Century Anglican theologian Richard Hooker who described Anglican faith and Christian practice as resting on a three legged stool. The three legs are Scripture, Tradition, and Reason and it has applied directly to Anglican ways of reading the Bible since that time.

In Opening the Bible, Roger Ferlo notes this:
"Like Anglicans everywhere, Episcopalians enjoy the freedom to read the Bible anywhere and at any time, and revere it as Gods own word to Gods own people. But we also inherit Hooker's judicious moderation in interpreting Gods word a moderation grounded in respect for traditions about the Bible shared by the Christian church from its earliest days. We reserve the right to exercise our God-given reason in applying the wisdom of these ancient and often difficult texts to our own lives and to our own experience. For present day Episcopalians, this faith in Scripture, tradition, and reason guides everything we do when we read the Bible. For us, as for Hooker, to read the Bible responsibly, context is paramount:

-- the context of public worship in which the Bible has been heard, prayed, and preached;

-- the context of ancient cultures and languages in which the Bible first was written and published;

-- the context of tradition, especially the first four centuries of Christian believing, when characteristically Christian methods of reading the Bible began to take coherent shape;

-- the context of almost two thousand years of intellectual, scientific, religious, and social change, in the midst of which, in diverse times and places, Episcopalians along with other Christians have wrestled with the meaning of the Bible in our lives." (Ferlo, pp 5-6)

That's quite a mouthful. The best way I have found for doing all that is to ask these three questions of the text whenever engaging Scripture:

1. What does the plain text say as it appears on the page?

2. What is the Biblical writer trying to say (that's the context of the text)?

3. And having done that work, ask: What is this text now saying to me in my context?

Now let me say that in Anglican sensibility there are many acceptable ways of engaging the Bible, from the extreme of Biblical literalism on the one hand to the extreme of wide ranging interpretation on the other. I understand that.

I had some folks tell me the other day that they believed a seminary education got in the way of understanding the Bible. I personally don't agree but as an Anglican I found it an interesting observation worth thinking about from time to time. But I will say that there have been times in my ever longer and sometimes troubled life when I have found strength, clarity, and comfort in the simple reading of Scripture with a helpless childlike faith. And I have to say especially that the 91st psalm was such a help to me during a year of combat operations in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967. I think I reflected on it every night and still do rather often. So I am pleased it is our psalm for today. And that is why I asked us to read the whole thing.

Now because I believe that the Gospels are at the heart of the Scriptures, the Good News of Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God, God in Christ himself, and that where the other Scriptures serve primarily to illuminate our understanding of Jesus Christ they are most useful, let me turn to today's Gospel. And the Isaiah Suffering Servant passage, the psalm, and the Hebrews reading particularly help illuminate our understanding, I think.

Let me read the Gospel again for our hearing of the plain text:
"James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

"When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.""

So how about its own context? Here commentaries are most useful. To do a thorough job, one should really start with one of the Church Fathers, probably Augustine, and then read a contemporary commentary. But I'll use the one from Synthesis, an adaptation of which is used in our Sunday morning Bible study group.

Synthesis begins by relating the Isaiah passage, the Palm, and the Hebrews passage to the Gospel. Then it sets this particular Marcan passage in the context of Saint Mark's Gospel itself.

A sample:
"In this passage we read of the disciples debating as to which of them was greatest. And we have seen how Jesus dealt with their dispute by saying that whoever would be greatest must be willing to be last of all and servant of

"Apparently James and John had not learned the lesson. So a chapter later in Mark, they ask for the places of honor at Jesus' right or left hand when he enters into his glory as Messiah (10:35-37). So the Lord had to present the lesson of humility once more, but in a different way. The other ten needed the teaching as much as James and John: they were not seeking to be last of all, and were not ready to defer to James and John or to anyone else.

"Mark's Gospel (10:45) proceeds to define Atonement in a single sentence: The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. The disciples were thinking of their own futures, their own benefit personal glory. They had no thought of how that glory was to be attained. They simply sought privilege and recognition.

"Jesus did know: There was a cup of humiliation that he must drink. He must claim the sin of the world for his own. There was a baptism he must undergo. Once he claimed that sin, he would need to take it to the cross. To enter into his glory at all, let alone to seek places of honor, anyone else must undertake to share in that humiliation and suffering as well.

"The other disciples are enraged by the presumptuous actions of James and John. Jesus addresses all of them to set them straight. Worldly leaders assume the trappings of power and demand obedience from their subjects. But the followers of Jesus must not imitate this worldly pattern...." (Synthesis for October 19, 2003)

The point of the Synthesis contextual commentary is that those who desire only worldly power can do nothing to transform the world in which they seek such power.

So what is this Gospel passage telling us in our own context? It seems to me that it is saying to us that we have to be careful that the current debate is properly framed. It is about human sexuality. And it claims to be about the authority of scripture. And certainly issues of sexuality cause a visceral response in some that is very painful for them. But the weapons that are being urged on the one hand by the people who went to Plano, Texas, seem more characteristic of power plays: withholding of pledges to their dioceses and to the national church and threats of schism. It is about power, about winning, about who shall have their way instead of working together to do the work we have been given to do.

And on the other hand, the timing of the issue, forcing it to be brought before General Convention, also was a power play in my opinion. Somehow God the Holy Spirit doesn't seem to have been left much room to work.

I was pleased that the Primates' meeting in London under the wise leadership of the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury chose to follow the classical and time tested via media, the middle way. Yes, they said: The actions of the American Church has caused problems for some of us. But there is still considerable unity on the essentials of the faith. We will study the current issue some more in a commission that will make recommendations to the Archbishop of Canterbury. And we believe we now understand more about how the action of one part of the Anglican Communion can effect other parts.

The Primates' meeting remind me of a story from the Tradition: The story is in Acts of the Apostles, when Peter and others had been arrested and some members of the Council wanted them killed for preaching the Gospel, Gamaliel, the Pharisee, a teacher of the law, someone respected by everyone, stood up and said: "...if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them -- in that case you may even be found fighting against God!"

In other words, it is time to let go and let God; give God room to work. And us to get on with the work we have been given to do.

And to close with a modern parable, also in Synthesis, from Visions of Justice (1994, p. 26), the publication of the Lutheran Human Relations Association:

"Once there was a woman who lived in a little central European village. She was a nurse and had devoted her life to caring for her neighbors. She was there at birth and at death; she bound up scratches, bruises, and broken bones, as well as sitting through many nights with the seriously ill.

"In the course of time she died. She had no family, so the villagers decided to hold a lovely funeral service for her.

"But the village priest had to remind them that she could not be buried in the cemetery, as the town was Roman Catholic, and the woman was a Protestant.

"The villagers protested, but the priest held firm. It was not easy for him, since he too had been nursed by her.

"Nonetheless, the canons of the Church were clear. She would have to be buried outside the fence.

"The day of the funeral arrived, and the whole village accompanied her casket to the cemetery, where she was buried outside the fence.

"That night, after dark, a group of villagers went back and moved the fence."


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