“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)When I was a kid growing up in Westfield, I remember a tiny restaurant in the North End of town. It was located by the Westfield River. It was Soo’s Chinese Restaurant. And on the weekends people would be lined-up outside of that little restaurant just waiting to get in. I don’t ever remember eating there so I don’t know how good the food was, but I do remember that there were not a lot of Chinese restaurants in town. This was the only option. Soo’s was different-food before different took-off and became so popular.
A couple of weeks ago I helped man-a-table over at the Amherst Block Party. I had gone there from another meeting, so I hadn’t eaten supper. Luckily, the Block Party was full of restaurant options, so many that it was difficult to choose what to eat. I ended up having some sort of kabob at a Moroccan restaurant and something called pork momos at a Tibetan restaurant.
Back when I was a kid, different-food was not embraced because it was different and that’s why the brave foodies of 1960’s Westfield had to wait in line outside of the only Chinese restaurant around. The rest of us were afraid of different, and I look back on that now and I see how silly it was. Soo’s Restaurant was different, but it must have been very good as those long line testified to. I shied away from different for no good reason.
In today’s Gospel, the disciple John falls into that same trap of being unwilling to give different a chance. John is known as the youngest disciple. And there seems to be some youthful exuberance in his attitude. He’s part of the inner circle around Jesus, a Jesus that the disciples are thinking is going to Jerusalem in order to usher in the kingdom of God.
This exuberance can be heard in his boasting to Jesus: “‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’” I’m sure that John is expecting a compliment from Jesus, a “Job well done.”
John was a part of the “us” around Jesus and he took a lot of pride in that “us.” Maybe a little bit too much though. The crowds hovering around Jesus were not following “us.” They were following Jesus. I think John was trying to give his part of the “us” more credit than was proper. And this may be a sign of his youthful exuberance.
But regardless, John gives voice to the motive found in all of the disciples when they tell someone outside of their “us” to stop working in Jesus’ name. This other person was different. It didn’t matter what he was doing. It didn’t matter if he was helping other people in Jesus’ name. It only mattered that he was different. The disciples wanted to reject him because he was not among their “us.”
In response, a very gracious Jesus tries to rein them in, tries to lower the walls of their boundaries, tries to help them be more receptive to different, to other, to helping them see that different is not a disqualifier. This openness is behind Jesus’ teaching: “‘Whoever is not against us is for us.’”
Jesus then moves on immediately to a strict warning against anyone who would dare endanger a child. To understand His comments, we have to distance ourselves from the mindset of 2018 and go back to the time of Jesus.
In the ancient world, children were treated far more pragmatically than today. There was the definite chance that they would not survive childhood. Their mortality rate was high. Boys were young workers. Young girls were basically sold for a dowry into marriages. Children were seen, not heard. They were marginalized. This doesn’t mean they weren’t loved, but it was a different world we’re talking about.
And in this different world where children were less cute and protected than as they are seen today, Jesus warned that no one had better harm or endanger any one of them because if they did maybe they wouldn’t be punished in this world, but God would make sure that they were in the next. Jesus is expressing, again, His concern and compassion for the powerless.
By putting this story of the children right after the story of “Whoever is not against us is for us” Jesus is forcing us to reconsider what is important as His followers. We shouldn’t be erecting walls that protect the “us” of our group from different as if that alone were a threat to the work of Christ. Instead, says Jesus, we should concentrate not on who is doing work in Jesus’ name. We should concentrate on what is being done, even to the level of the child.
David Jenemann is a professor at the University of Vermont in Burlington. He tells the story of being a part of a group that took a team of 11- and 12-year-olds to Cuba to play baseball. One day as he was heading out to play catch with his son a stranger yelled out to him in Spanish, “Oye! Segunda base?” The professor answered back with an uncertain, “Si,” “yes.” The man calling out to him sensed this and held up his left hand and spread the fingers wide. Then using his right hand, he pointed to the professor’s baseball glove. “Segunda base!” he repeated.
The professor finally realized that the stranger had recognized that his baseball glove was small and that the smallest glove on a baseball team is the one used by the second baseman. One man was from Vermont, the other from Cuba. They had a language and cultural barrier between them. But the stranger felt a connection with the professor because he recognized the size of his baseball glove.
Sometimes it’s really easy to point out the differences between us. The colour of our skin jumps to mind, the neighbourhoods we live in, the bumper stickers on our cars and trucks, that kind of thing. It’s not as easy to notice what should bring us together, maybe like the slightly smaller size of a baseball glove.
But Jesus is pushing us to look harder for the connections and to more readily look past the differences. He wants us to concentrate on what we can all do together for the weakest among us, the powerless, the marginalized, in His example, the children.
That’s why we come together as church. Church is the community that forces us to see God through all sorts of different eyes.
We’re trying to focus less on “you’re not us” and this is why we’re Open and Affirming. This is why we begin our worship by saying “Whoever you are, you are welcome here.” And we mean “whoever.”
This is why the Tri-Conference is seeking working-unions with other churches and even non-churches who are all working toward the common good of our shared values.
This is the stuff of “Whoever is not against us is for us.” May we become more and more that church and those Christians who can see as Jesus sees, who can look past the different that separates and focus on the second baseman’s glove that can bring us together.
For this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Click on this link to watch our Sunday morning worship on 18th Sunday after Pentecost.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)The United Church of Christ has a lot to offer on its website and through the different mailings it sends around. There are a lot of churches out there doing very well and being very creative to help them do very well, and they’re sharing what they do with others.
Congregations are different and what works in one may not work necessarily in another without some tinkering. This past week, for example, I was perusing the “Churches Alive” site.
I ran across it in the 2018 Annual Report that the Conference mails to all its congregations. There are a couple of copies on the back table if you’d like to look through it yourselves and then maybe bring it back for someone else to read.
Periodically, I also receive a copy of “Spotlight” from the Conference. The most recent one shared a story from the Rehoboth Congregational Church that was written by their pastor. It was about change, and as she put it, about being “comfortably uncomfortable.”
That idea of “comfortably uncomfortable” strikes a chord with me. I see in our faith constant repetition of the message that God challenges people, that part of our living the faith is to be alive, to grow, to change, and this means we need to deal with being “comfortably uncomfortable.”
Take this morning’s reading from Isaiah that Amy shared with us. It’s written by a prophet who scholars have named “Deutero-Isaiah,” which means “the second Isaiah.” There are three different prophets writing during three different times and they’re all called Isaiah and they’re all found in same book of Isaiah.
Deutero-Isaiah was writing after the destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple. He’s writing during the time when Israel was a people living in exile in a foreign land. Almost every anchor of their faith-lives was destroyed when the Babylonians tore through the walls of ancient Jerusalem and destroyed the city and deported her citizens. But the Jews in exile did not abandon their faith; they changed their faith. They became “comfortably uncomfortable.”
This is what the prophet is talking about when he shares the experience of communicating with God: “Morning by morning [God] wakens — wakens my ear to listen, as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards.”
The prophet’s calling is to listen and that doesn’t sound surprising at all. What he says next is surprising. Deutero-Isaiah makes a point of letting us know that he was not rebellious and did not turn away. In other words, God’s revelation was unexpected and maybe even unnerving, but the prophet persisted in listening. And the prophet was true to his calling because he was willing to be “comfortably uncomfortable.”
Today’s Gospel is the same powerful message, but in the negative. Jesus has just been reassured by Peter that at least His disciples realize that He is the Messiah, the Christ. Then, however, all heck breaks loose. Jesus reveals directly for the first time that He will suffer and die when they arrive in Jerusalem.
Peter has the audacity to pull Jesus aside and reprimand Him for saying such a thing. Then in Jesus’ most powerful rebuke ever recorded, He says to His disciple, “‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”
Peter wanted to follow the Messiah he expected. Peter wanted a triumphant, powerful, vengeful Messiah like he had always been told about. This expectation was so commanding that Peter dared to rebuke Jesus.
In the negative, this embarrassing account that was so bravely repeated in our earliest traditions, yells out as loudly as possible that Jesus did not come into the world to confirm our expectations or to conform to our plans. Jesus came to challenge us, to make us different, to make us “comfortably uncomfortable.”
At the Rehoboth church this idea made itself real one Sunday when the person in charge of getting the little cups used during Communion forgot to buy them. Rather than not have Communion, the sacrament was shared by intinction.
There’s a picture of intinction on the cover of the Annual Report. It’s each person coming forward and taking the bread and dipping it in the chalice of wine. This new practice caused a conversation to begin among members about intinction and whether they liked it or not. And this incident is what got the pastor thinking about “comfortably uncomfortable.”
I’d like to share what she wrote: “People do not like to be uncomfortable. They like to know what is coming next. They like their traditions to be predictable and their spaces to look or feel a certain way. We do this in the church all the time. We worship a certain way, we arrange our flowers a certain way, we set up our sanctuary and our narthex a certain way and we do not want those things to change.
We have the same events, year after year. We have traditions that we hold fast to. We often do not want to try something new because sometimes it is hard to picture something that we have never done before. Many of us are so accustomed to the way we do church here [in Rehoboth] that we cannot imagine doing church any other way.
But guess what?, the pastor in Rehoboth continues, Jesus … broke tradition. ... God’s grace is kind of a funny thing sometimes. My point is this: It is okay to be a little bit uncomfortable sometimes. It is okay to try something new. It is okay to do something that has never been done before, even if that means stepping onto a path that has never been traveled on. It is okay to walk away, even if it is just for a moment, from the rituals and traditions that we do by rote and see what else God is calling us to do in this moment.
Friends, she continues, … sometimes doing church means being comfortably uncomfortable. It means being willing to compromise so that everyone feels like their voice has been heard and that their opinion is valued. It means not immediately dismissing something just because it is different and actively listening to new ideas. … It means listening to God’s still speaking voice guiding us along a journey that is filled with a grace and love that will exceed even our wildest imaginations.
So do not be afraid to be comfortably uncomfortable. Push your boundaries. Stretch yourself. Try something new. And be amazed at God’s potential within our community. As a church, we can and will do great things.”
I thought this was a great message from our sister church in Rehoboth. Their church has also been around for hundreds of years, just like ours. And just like Hatfield, they have traditions that have been in place for generations. But they also realize that a living tradition, as in all living things, entails change.
We heard today in Isaiah and in the Gospel that God surprises. Keeping the traditions means being “comfortably uncomfortable.” Let’s try to listen as did Deutero-Isaiah to God’s Word. Let’s not try and tell Jesus what to do as Peter presumed.
As we start to talk of next year’s budget and of stewardship, let’s not only talk about the future in terms of money, as absolutely important as that is. Let’s also talk about what God wants us to do, needs us to do. Let’s let Jesus have a voice in our plans, even if that means being open to the surprises of change, and of being “comfortably uncomfortable.”
For this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
Many, many years ago I was a parent chaperone on my daughter Kristin’s school trip to the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. For lunch we walked over to a small pizza shop on Boylston Street. Almost right next door was the bookstore for the Berklee College of Music.
I love music, but am not at all musical. So as a joke I went into the bookstore and bought myself a Berklee teeshirt.
One day I’m wearing the shirt out with a friend. We’re at the Tavern Restaurant in Westfield. On the weekends they bring in musicians to play. I’m sitting at the bar with my friend having a bite to eat and one of these musicians notices my teeshirt.
He asked if I went to Berklee. I didn’t want to tell him that I was a local pastor sitting at the bar with my friend so I agreed with him, that yes, I attended Berklee.
Now I’ve committed myself to the teeshirt. The musician continues the conversation. He asks what I studied. I didn’t know what to say, but my mother was a classically trained vocalist, so that’s what jumped into my head.
Next thing I know this guy is asking me to come up and sing at the Tavern Restaurant with him – right then, right there. My friend who knows I can’t carry a tune for the life of me is encouraging all of this: “Sure, Randy, go ahead. Sing.”
Well, finally I had to insist that I just wasn’t up to it, but boy that was close. It’s one thing to say that you’re a Berklee College of Music trained vocalist. It’s another to actually be able to sing anything, to get up and just do it.
This is my intro to the words of James that were read a few moments ago. James is an enigma of early Christianity. The New Testament gives quite a few clues that Jesus’ immediate family was skeptical of Jesus during His lifetime, and it also gives clues that the James of today’s Epistle is part of that family. Then, after the resurrection they were found among His closest followers.
Early Christian tradition holds that James became the first leader of the church that was in Jerusalem. James was not a disciple of Jesus. James was not an apostle of Jesus. But James still became the leader of the most prominent church in the very earliest days of our faith.
His is a story of transformation by faith. His is a story not unlike most everyone who would have been a Christian in ancient Jerusalem. There well may have been people in that church worshipping Christ who had been at the Praetorium yelling, “Crucify Him!”
Believing in Jesus isn’t defined by the past, it’s defined by how we live now.
So when we hear the words of James as written in the Epistle bearing his name, part of which Ed read for us a short while ago, we are hearing the sermons of the earliest church. We are hearing what the very first followers of Jesus considered to be of spiritual importance if you wanted to be a Christian.
And guess what? We hear James tell those other first believers as they gathered in some non-descript house somewhere among the winding alleys of old Jerusalem: “Be doers of the word.” Put your faith into practice. Work at it.
For people in that church sitting there and listening to the brother of Jesus talking about “Be doers of the word” this was not some abstract teaching. James was emphasizing the work of faith.
These were people who may have seen Jesus with their own eyes, who may have heard Him preach with their own ears, who may have witnessed His acts of power, and even His greatest act of power which was the cross and the empty tomb.
Jesus was not some theological concept for them. These were people who were eye-witnesses themselves or who knew eye-witnesses. These were people who knew quite well how Jesus lived. They knew the example He had set.
And they knew exactly what James meant when he preached “be doers of the word and not merely hearers.” It was the hard stuff of compassion and charity not only in words, but, for example, by actually sharing what little they had with those who had even less.
It was the hard stuff of trying to get along peaceably with people, again not only in words, but by reaching out to accept others who acted, looked and thought differently.
It was the hard stuff of faith not only in words that sounded good, but by really forgiving each other because they knew what it was to be forgiven.
It was trying their best to live the example of Jesus of compassion, respect and inclusion. It was not only wearing a Berklee College of music teeshirt. It was really knowing how to sing.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus also talks about the hard stuff of living the faith. He is confronted by Jerusalem authorities. They wanted to know why the disciples weren’t following all of the legalities of religion. You can hear the frustration of Mark the Evangelist as he talks about the rules for washing cups and pots and kettles. Jesus calls these sorts of things “human precepts.” In other words, they’re distractions. They’re not the real work of faith.
Instead of these distractions, Jesus warns that faith is about redefining who we are from the inside out. In today’s Gospel, Jesus lists twelve sins, twelve being the symbolic number of completeness, and they all have to do with how we treat each other.
These, He says, are the sorts of things that “defile a person.” Not the distractions that religions love to compile, but how we treat each other – this is the work of faith. This is what it means to be “doers of the word.” How we treat each other.
This is not only wearing a Berklee shirt, but actually being able to do music.
So I can imagine some people’s reaction to this message of be “doers of the word.” They can hear it as Jesus’ insistence to work for social justice. Period. But that’s a misconception of worship, of why we’re here. Worship is not a work of faith. It’s a benefit of faith.
Those very first Christians who were listening to James gathered to support and lift-up each other. I don’t think they could have done it on their own. Church was where they heard the gospel so that they could live the gospel. Church was the community that gave them a reprieve from the harshness and selfishness of the world. Church was an oasis.
In times long before church buildings were legal, when Christians gathered it was in homes and it was around humble tables to share in Word and to break bread. That shared conversation of the gospel and that shared meal defined them as family, as brothers and sisters.
Now 2,000 years later we continue that tradition. We have shared the gospel and now we will be invited to gather at the Communion Table to break bread with each other and with Christ. And this defines us as brothers and sisters with each and with Jesus.
This is the food that gives us the strength to “be doers of the word” in our daily lives.
This is where we discover the difference between wearing a Berklee College of Music teeshirt and saying I can sing, and actually being able to sing.
So let us gather at the Communion Table to be fed by Jesus so that we can, as it says on today’s bulletin cover, go out and Just Do It!
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
You know that old cliché about whether you say toe-mae-toe or toe-maa-toe that it really doesn’t matter either way, well I know a guy who lives with his elderly mother. I mean she’s well up into her 90’s. But she still loves to garden. Maybe that’s how you get well up into your 90’s.
He has a couple of jobs. He works a lot of hours every week. He told his mom that he just didn’t have the time to also take care of a garden. But when you’re in your 90’s and you set your mind on something, you can usually get your way. The mom convinced her son to plant like 20 tomato plants. He didn’t want to, but when mom asks, what you gonna do?
His mom would actually head out to the garden to do some weeding and look things over, but for whatever reason there just has not been a bountiful crop of tomatoes for her this year. It was getting discouraging for his mom.
The son who didn’t want the garden in the first place then goes out to local farmstands, buys beautiful looking tomatoes, and brings them in to his mother with the one or two from her own garden. He tells her nothing about going to the local farmstands, and instead tells the little white lie that all of the tomatoes are from her garden.
She’s always so happy to see those tomatoes that as far as she knows have grown right in her own yard. I told him he’s a good son. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter where gifts, where the blessings, come from. It’s just the blessings that matter.
Our two readings today kind of reflect this toe-mae-toe toe-maa-toe saying. Sharon read for us the dedication prayer of King Solomon as he stood in the Jerusalem Temple. It is a beautiful prayer of place and one that still resonates today: “O Lord my God, heed the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day towards this house …” This place.
The Jesus story we heard in today’s Gospel is instead about the sacredness of person. As people of faith looked back on the life of Jesus, they realized that He had become our temple.
Pentecost convinced them that He was the Spirit among them, wherever they were.
This was hard to accept for people who after a thousand years still remembered Solomon’s words about place.
And followers, disciples, deserted Jesus. People who once came to Him as a man of God walked away. They could no longer accept Jesus’ revelation. As Jesus watches this stream of people walk away from Him, He wonders out loud if even His closest followers will join them.
This is when Peter utters those profound words that probably reflect the attitude of so many first generation Christians and of so many Christians still today: “‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
Remember my friend slipping in the farm stand tomatoes with the garden tomatoes? Place wasn’t as important as his act of kindness for his mom. In today’s readings, Jesus is the farm stand tomatoes. Place isn’t as important as His words, His gospel, His person.
That gospel shares with any and all “the words of eternal life.”
Around the time of Jesus, King Herod had rebuilt the Temple and it even dwarfed Solomon’s efforts. It was an impressive structure. In Mark’s Gospel, there is only one recorded journey to Jerusalem. The awe of the disciples in this one-time visit comes across when they say to Jesus, “‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’”
It’s like the proverbial first-time tourist to New York City who keeps bumping into people on the sidewalks because he keeps looking up in amazement at the skyscrapers.
The Temple represented a thousand years of religious practice and tradition, and it was an impressive place.
But Jesus, as we read in today’s Gospel, is in His adopted hometown of Capernaum’s synagogue.
He is among people who had known Him for a long time, and now Jesus, such an ordinary looking Jesus, no halo glowing around His head but dirt on His holy feet,
and now Jesus the friend of fishermen, tax collectors, the unclean, the unwell, the unwanted and the ordinary,
He dared to say that He Himself was the bread of life, that He Himself would raise them up on the last day, that He Himself was the Son of Man who would ascend back to His rightful place of authority and glory in heaven.
This is when those people in the Capernaum synagogue asked, “‘Who can accept [this kind of talk]?’”
This is why Peter’s words are profound not only for him, but for any Christian: “‘ [Jesus]You have the words of eternal life.’”
That’s what faith is all about. It’s trusting in the person of Jesus no matter where you find Him because the where doesn’t matter as long as we have the person of Jesus.
It’s trusting in Jesus more than impressive buildings or even impressive churches, clergy and traditions.
It’s trusting in Jesus even when it’s hard like when He preaches the parable of the Good Samaritan about everyone is our neighbour and mercy and compassion are required of us.
It’s trusting in Jesus when He preaches that we must treat others as we would like to be treated. It’s trying to put ourselves in their places, to see life as they see it.
It’s about making sure that wealth and stuff never become our idols.
It’s about loving enemies, about forgiving 70 x 7 times, about turning the other cheek, about loving first instead of loving back.
None of this is easy and just as the Temple was large and looming so are all of the examples in our modern society that would have us not listen to these words of Jesus or take them very seriously.
That’s why Peter’s words are so profound and that’s why they have been remembered and shared for thousands of years.
We still remember Solomon’s words of place. Let us never forget Peter’s words of person: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
May this place and this community help us to focus on the person of Jesus and His words. In His name we pray. Amen.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
Less than a year ago, I lived off of Sugarloaf Street in South Deerfield. While living there, talk began about building a bunch of condominiums on the other side of Sugarloaf Street, on farmland that sat at the base of Mount Sugarloaf. The ones who were opposed to this building-project gathered around the slogan of SOS, which stood for “Save our Sugarloaf.”
Well, they didn’t succeed, and those condos are now being built. That’s why I was surprised to be driving down Rts 5 & 10 through Whately the other day when another SOS sign caught my eye.
I thought it was strange since it was in a different town and was up after the fact. Then I paid a bit closer attention to the SOS sign. It had nothing to do with the South Deerfield condos and Save our Sugarloaf. SOS in Whately stood for “Save our Strip Club.”
I know that none of you here at Hatfield Congregational Church have any notion whatsoever of a strip club in Whately, but just as an FYI, there is one there. Some of the locals call it the Whately Ballet for obvious reasons. And to add to the lore of the Whately Ballet, it’s located on Christian Lane of all streets.
I don’t know who it is that has the new SOS sign out in front of their house, but whoever it is they sure are worried about losing their strip club. I guess we all have to choose what’s worth the fight.
I bring this up as a light-hearted way to talk about the darker side of the battles we choose to fight, and I bring this up in the context of this morning’s Gospel. In the middle of July when our church schedule is a bit relaxed, when we’re a bit relaxed, it seems out of season to be talking about something as morbid as the beheading-execution of John the Baptist.
King Herod was a ruthless tyrant, but John the Baptist stood up to him anyway. He called him out even though he had to know the costs.
In addition to the violence of this story, there’s also the sordid nature of this King Herod episode. Not unlike the Whately Ballet, Herod’s step-daughter danced for this old man at his birthday party and greatly pleased him to the point that he promised her anything she wanted.
She came to ask for the head of John the Baptist, and that it be presented to her on a platter at this public birthday banquet. These are boorish people to say the least, and John knew this, but for him this was worth the fight.
This story is important in Jesus’ story too. Next week as we continue reading through Mark we’re going to skip over the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000. But there’s more to that story than first meets the eye.
It’s easy to miss, but there are military overtones to that story, and you can read it for yourselves in Mark 6. The 5,000 are staged in groups of hundreds and fifties, reminiscent of military units, and Mark concludes by telling us that all of the 5,000 were men.
Is there the possibility here that these 5,000 men were ready to accept Jesus as the Messiah, but as the long-expected Messiah, the Messiah who would pick up arms and fight to liberate Israel and overthrow the Roman Empire? Were they ready to start a holy war?
Does Jesus sense this and is this why Jesus sends His disciples immediately away in a boat, by themselves? He’ll catch up with them later. He just wants to get them out of there before they get caught up in this holy war fervor.
This miracle story overlaid with the possibility of holy war follows right after the story of the beheading of John the Baptist who dared to challenge King Herod. Now Jesus turns away from fighting with soldiers and weapons against everything Herod represents, but there are other ways to fight.
The link is clear between the gory execution of John the Baptist and what Jesus will attempt by ushering in another kingdom, the kingdom of God. If Jesus is to continue with His ministry, if He’s going to continue to fight His battle even if without weapons or soldiers, the message is clear that His life will be in as much danger as was John’s. Jesus realizes this and yet continues. It was worth the fight.
Jesus’ commitment to His gospel, Jesus’ commitment to us, is all-consuming. Not even the threat of death, even execution, is too high a price to pay. Jesus chooses His battle knowing full well the cost, and still He does not retreat. We mean more to Christ than even His own life.
That’s a pretty heavy message for mid-July and the mid-summer doldrums in church, but maybe it can awaken us to think about what’s worthy of our battles.
If people can put out signs to save their strip clubs, then we as Christians must choose our battles and be ready to stand up for what we believe.
Matt read for us earlier from the Epistle to the Ephesians and there’s an important line in there that says ever since creation God has planned, in the words of the Bible, “to gather up all things in [Christ].”
Through the ages, Christian thinkers have heard in this passage that just as God created everything and everyone, so has God saved everything and everyone through Jesus Christ.
Do you see how huge our field of battle is? We obviously can’t do everything, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something. We have to choose our battles.
This is why the work of the Benevolence Committee that meets after Service next Sunday is so important. Its work is part of our front line. It’s trying to help others as close as the elementary school just behind us and people in poverty and need across the globe. Maybe think about joining Benevolence or making a donation.
I’ll tell you what this church does very well. You support your community. I was at Town Hall a couple of weeks ago and a long-time resident and very active person had nothing but praise for the way this church has always been willing to help the town however we can, whenever we can.
And I’ll mention too that I am impressed with the way you take care of each other. You call, you visit, you cook, you give me a heads-up to check in on someone. All of that is important as we fight our battles to make this a better world.
So I know it’s the summer doldrums, but today’s Gospel makes absolutely clear how important our work is as Christians. Jesus sacrificed everything for this work, and as we heard in Ephesians everything and everyone matters to Him. We have to keep up the battle of our faith even now in the summer. Again, if people can fight for strip clubs, we have to fight for Christ even in summer.
In His name we pray. Amen.
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