Year B — The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9)

Commentary for July 8, 2012
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2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-1
There’s something to be said for biding your time. Well, for biding God’s time, I suppose.

David has waited patiently while the drama that was Saul’s life played out. He has known for some time that he was the “anointed” of the Lord — chosen by God and sealed by the prophet/judge/priest Samuel. It would have been easy for him to have “got the big head,” as my grandma used to say.

But, he did what was set before him — no more, no less. In God’s time, it came to pass. And, it was good (well, for the most part.) Forty years of rule were built out of patient days, weeks, and months of quiet service. 

One never knows just exactly what one is being prepared for when God’s call to service comes.

Psalm 48
The psalm provides fitting accompaniment to the first lesson’s closing line: “David became greater…for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.”

It is God’s greatness that is to be praised.

Ezekiel 2:1-5
‘Zekiel got the call of the Lord…the same one that many of us as preachers get. 

“You go tell them what I tell you to tell them,” says God, “no matter whether they listen or not.” That’s not always an easy commission to fulfill. But they cannot say that there was no one to give them the words of the Lord!

Psalm 123
Servants and handmaids never had much hope for grace, unless it came from the master or mistress of the house that they served. God’s mercy is much keener than that of an earthly master; it is the perfect antidote for contempt.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
“Thank you, Lord; could you heap a few more weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities onto my life?”

I doubt that any of us are lining up to pray that prayer. I also doubt that Paul wrote this portion of the letter to glorify his suffering. The incomparable goodness of Christ that strengthens us in the midst of difficulty is one of the more quizzical components of discipleship — something that is awfully hard to explain to those who have never experienced it.

In what ways have you experienced the grace of God in times of weakness? Has it been sufficient for you? How?

Mark 6:1-13
Sometimes, we are just bound and determined NOT to believe our eyes.

It strikes me that the residents of Jesus’ hometown were perfectly willing to admit that when he spoke, his words reflected wisdom. They had no doubt that he was able to perform deeds of power with his own hands (and evidently sans smoke and mirrors.)

Yet, they still decided to “take offense” at him — because, after all, he was JUST the carpenter’s son. He really had “got too big for his britches” (which is somewhat akin to gettin’ the big head — see above.)

I have never quite figured out how one cuts off one’s nose to spite one’s face — sounds like a painful proposition — but the folks in Nazareth evidently had it perfected to an art. Sadly, even Jesus Christ himself couldn’t be a successful pastor in his own hometown. Some folks are just too hard-headed to help!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“When is a Loss a Win?”

I learned my most important lesson as a “sports Dad” when my younger son was playing coach pitch baseball. They weren’t a very good team, losing a lot more often than they won. 

They were seven years old, and most of them had the attention span of a gnat. They spent more time jostling and picking on each other than paying attention to what was happening on the field. 

After the game was over, as they lined up to shake hands with the other team, I would hear the boys ask the coach, “Did we win? Did we win?” 

If the coach said “yes,” they would cheer, if the coach said “no,” they would kick the ground. And after that they would ask, “What’s for snack?”

Adult winning and losing is often much more complicated than that. But it is important for all of us to learn to deal with losing, with failure, with disappointment, because long experience shows that most of us, most of the time, lose more than we win. And when we lose, it takes more than a snack to cheer us up and make us better.

Each of the lessons we read from the Bible deals with someone in the midst of a losing situation. We encounter these people at a time of very real and painful failure in their lives.

And their losses, their failures, go beyond competition and games and what’s for snack.
Their failures are failures at life, failures at vocation, failures in health, and failures in faith.

Ezekiel: the prophet to whom no one would listen.
Paul the Apostle: the healer who could not heal himself.
Jesus: Downhome Miracle Man who could work no miracles at home.
Each of them learned a valuable lesson from their failure.

Each of them learned how to know when a loss is a win.

Ezekiel’s story begins like all good prophet stories; the people are acting like total pagans. They have turned their backs on God and Godly ways. God decides to send a prophet to straighten them out. In Chapter 1 Ezekiel has a vision. In Chapter 2 God begins to speak to Ezekiel. In verses 1 and 2 God says, “Listen up, I want to talk to you,” and in verses 3 and 4, God complains, “My people are rebellious, I want you to tell them.”

So far, so good and so normal. This is how it works with God and prophets and the people of Israel in the Bible. 

Then, in verse 5, God says a strange thing: “Whether you succeed or not, win or lose, is not the issue. The important thing is that they hear the truth; that they know that “there has been a prophet among them.”

As it happens, the people didn’t listen, and God sent them into exile, and the people rewarded Ezekiel for this preaching by treating him very shabbily.

By all external measures, Ezekiel failed and failed miserably. But Ezekiel’s loss was a win; because he a faithful to the truth. When Ezekiel was finished, the people knew there had been a prophet among them.
Nobody knows what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” but that is not important. What really matters is that Paul prayed very hard and very long and very faithfully for this thorn to be removed and it wasn’t.

Paul lost the struggle for victory over a physical problem, and this loss created for him a spiritual problem, a crisis of faith.

This failure to pray himself out of this physical problem led him to question his faith. It was an experience that could have shattered his trust in God, but instead it humbled him and strengthened his faith in God. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a loss that turned into a win.

The story of Jesus returning home to preach occurs early in his ministry. Up until now, Jesus’ version of Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show and Tent Revival had been a roaring success. The first five chapters of Mark are filled with healing stories and reports of huge crowds of people coming to hear Jesus preach. Immediately before this he had raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead and healed the woman with the flow of blood.

So, he takes it on home to Nazareth; and falls flat on his face.

In verse 3 we read that they “took offense at him.”  And in verse 5 we learn that, somehow, their resentment resulted in his inability to perform miracles and other healings.

Verse 6 contains one of the most human portraits of Jesus in the gospels; “He was amazed at their unbelief.” Jesus just couldn’t believe their lack of belief. He was stunned, left with his mouth hanging open. Jesus learned a hard lesson; that there was a limit to his power;

it was limited by the people’s willingness to receive it.

That day in Nazareth, Jesus had a loss that was a win. From it he learned the limits to his power.

He learned you can control what you say,

you cannot control what people hear.
He learned you can control what you do,
you cannot control how people respond.
He learned you can control how you show your love,
you cannot control how people receive it.

I think when we get to “heaven,” most of us will be like the seven year old baseball players. “Did we win?” we will cry out, because we really won’t know. And the coach will smile and say, “Who wants snack?”

Amen and amen.

Year B — The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8)

Commentary for July 1, 2012
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2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
One might assume that David had plenty of reasons to exult over the death of Saul. The mad king had taunted him, hunted him, and perhaps would gladly have spilled David’s blood had he had the chance. Yet, David’s grief at Saul’s passing is evident in this song of lament.

Saul’s tormented reign brought with it much to be sad about, no doubt; yet, there is no life that is completely devoid of goodness or accomplishment. David reminds Israel of the days when Saul “clothed [them] with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on [their] apparel.”

The depth of David’s grief is reserved for his friend and Saul’s son, Jonathan. War is costly, and its price is illustrated far too vividly here. No wonder David would later write the poignant line, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem….” (Psalm 122:6)

Psalm 130
If God were determined to “keep score” of our iniquities forever, there would, indeed, be none of us who could stand before God’s righteous presence. But, the good news of the psalm text is that God does forgive — and in the great power of forgiveness there is redemption. This is a message that is badly needed still in our world today.

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24
God’s good intent in creation was — and is — for good.

Lamentations 3:22-33
No wonder the oft-used saying has such power: everything looks better by the light of a new day. Jeremiah tells us why — “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never end; they are new every morning.”

Take a minute to stop, look, listen, and feel all around you the ways that God’s mercies are reborn with the new day.

Psalm 30
There is hardly a more soul-healing verse in all of scripture than v.5: “God’s anger is but for a moment, but God’s favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Yet another reason to hope for the next new day.

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 
A great passage on the balance that comes in our giving out of our resources to meet the needs of another’s lack. This is far more than a text for the annual stewardship emphasis; it is a look into one of the core competencies of Christian discipleship. We give because Christ gave; we share out of what we have, not out of what we don’t have.

In God’s miraculous plan of economy, nobody has too much and nobody has too little. (I have to wonder, would this really be too difficult for our elected officials to understand?)

Mark 5:21-43 
Oh, the power of touch!

This wrapped-about twin healing has always fascinated me — Mark mentions (parenthetically) that Jairus’ daughter was twelve, and the woman in the crowd had been bleeding for twelve years. I have wondered if they both began their journey toward Jesus on the same day twelve years earlier? (Sorry if that’s a bit of a theological red herring, but I can’t help thinking of stuff like that!)

At any rate, the request for Jesus to come and “lay hands” on the little girl is interrupted by a woman who wants to “just touch” — not Jesus — but the edge of his clothes. Just a brush, an “I-hope-he-won’t-notice-but-I’m-going-to-give-it-a-go-anyway” act of faith.

One might argue that Jairus is bold and that the woman is a bit cowardly, or at the very least embarrassed. Maybe there is no great risk on the part of either of them since they have nothing to lose. 

What’s really cool, to my way of thinking, is that it doesn’t matter to Jesus: he takes whatever faith we are able to place in him and makes it work. 

The power of a touch.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“Of Faith and Fear

Early one fall morning when I was nine years old, I awoke to a cold and silent house. I got up and looked around. My brothers were not in their beds in our communal bedroom; the lamp would not turn on. I stumbled downstairs to the kitchen; no one was there. I ran through the entire house; it was empty. I tried every light switch, and the TV and radio. Nothing worked.

I ran out to the barn; still no one. And still, nothing worked. Then I did what every reasonable nine-year-old fundamentalist child would do; I fell on my knees and cried for Jesus “to come back and get me,” for I assumed that the rapture had come and I had been “left behind.” There was, in biblical terms, much “crying and gnashing of teeth,” as collapsed onto the cold, dewy grass in my underwear.

At that moment, I heard a tractor coming over the hill from behind the house. I had indeed been “left behind;” by my forgetful Daddy when he gathered up the family to help him get a wagon load of cured tobacco from the storehouse to take to market. That and a power outage explained my personal “rapture,” moment.

In our Gospel lesson, I was struck by the words fear and faith. 

After the woman with the flow of blood touched Jesus and he stopped and asked who touched him, it says she “came in fear and trembling, fell down before him and told him the whole truth. He (Jesus) said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

In the wrap-around story of Jairus’ daughter, at this point, the text says, “some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But Jesus says to the man, “Do not fear, only believe (have faith).”

When I was a child I had a lot of faith; I also had a lot of fear. My faith was faith in the reality of God, not any sort of trust in the goodness or compassion of God. And my fear was rooted in a fear of the power of that real but vengeful God I had conjured up from Sunday School and fundamentalist preaching and comic books and horror movies and God knows what else.

As I have grown older, faith and fear have remained in dynamic tension in my life. Just as my faith has matured and become more sophisticated, my fears have grown less generalized and more realistic. 

But they are still there as they are for all of us. All of us fear things: terrorism, avian flu, economic collapse, earthquake, fire and flood, to name a few. 

And the last few years have shown us that our fears are realistic and founded in reality, not fantasy as were mine. And the question is, as we face these realistic fears, where do we place our faith, our assurance, our hope for the future? In money and its accumulation and clout? In armies and governments and secret agents?  Where? In whom?

The scriptures call us to trust in God, a thing much easier said than done. Lamentations reminds us “that the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, (God’s) mercies never come to an end.” and then goes on to talk about those times when one feels abandoned by God. This is a realistic look at faith in the face of fear. 

The Psalm repeats this theme, as in “then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear” but also cries out, “O Lord, My God, I will give you thanks forever.” And our lesson from 2 Corinthians reminds us not to hoard our money in time of other’s need, but to share our resources with the needy, trusting in God to provide for us in our time of need. Generosity is shown to be an act of faith overcoming fear. 

In the last several years the church has been in the midst of uncertain times. The question is: are we going to face the future with fear or faith? 

Are we going to reach out to one another the way the woman in the story reached out to Jesus for comfort and healing? Remember; the church is, we are, the body of Christ, and we have God’s spirit and healing power flowing through us. Are we facing the future with fear or faith? 

Amen and amen.

Year B — The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)

Commentary for June 24, 2012
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1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Who doesn’t love a good “David and Goliath” story?

Here we have David, the prototypical underdog — a skinny, knock-kneed, snot-nosed teenager filled with ambition and foolish enough not to know any better — against the prohibitive favorite in the fight, Goliath — the mighty, battle-hardened, swaggering bully who never met an Israelite body he didn’t want to separate from its head.

If we want to help our parishioners feel some of the tension that was present on this day, we need only understand that the word “Philistine” with which we are so familiar from childhood Bible stories is the same word that passed through the Latin language via the Roman Empire and became transferred as “Palestinian.” This battle account could be today’s headlines in a “holy land” war story.

Of course, one of the prerogatives of coming out as the winner in a war is the chance to write the history books — so this one turns out A-OK for Israel and their God.  

How did the ancient people of Yahweh hear this story? With much favor, as well as fervor, no doubt! The young boy-who-would-become-king rejects not only the curses of the enemy, but the artificial aid of his own ruler and countrymen. In this account, David needs absolutely nothing other than his faith in God and his trusty sling. (A curious question — why did he select five stones, if God was going to aid him with the first shot?)

In short order, the score is Yahweh 1, Pagan Gods 0. What else can you say?
Psalm 9:9-20
Given the background of David’s victory against Goliath, I have often wondered if v.20 might not be translated: “Put the fear in them, O Lord; let the nations know that they are only human.”
1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16
We get a glimpse of the paranoid Saul — a sad departure from the days when he was the champion of Israel. After the departure of the Spirit from his life, he is left only with jealousy and rage. The figure of Jonathan, his son, is the most redemptive aspect of Saul’s life that remains. Through Jonathan’s friendship with David, the “soul” of Saul’s reign is joined with the “soul” of all that David would come to represent in Israel.
Psalm 133
Verse 1 is in stark contrast to the tone of rivalry, bitter jealousy, and rage in the earlier readings. In comparison, unity is indeed refreshing  and renewing. (Mt. Hermon is the highest point in Israel — the water that runs down from its “dews” and snows feeds the Jordan River, which in turn feeds the Sea of Galilee and most of the rest of the land.)
Job 38:1-11
The Creator God revealed in Job, who is powerful enough to lay a foundation for our earth and to cause the oceans to cease their crashing at our shorelines, is certainly powerful enough to sustain and protect us, eh?
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
After the storm-tossed passages of our lives, it truly is a blessing sometimes to enjoy the quiet of a desired haven. God is good when the storms are raging, but seems even better when they have passed.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Paul understands a thing or two about storms and being tossed (not to mention the occasional beating and prison term.) So, when he urges us to take care of today’s business today, it’s a pretty important idea. You never know where the storm will blow you tomorrow!
Mark 4:35-41     

Speaking of storms…

It is so easy to berate the disciples in this story for panicking over the waves. I’ve seen the type of boats that were used on the Sea of Galilee during Jesus’ time (not that different from the boats that are still used today) and, let me tell you, I would be a little nervous, too! The sides aren’t more than 12-18 inches above the waterline. They were getting swamped!

I am also amazed that Jesus manages to sleep through the storm; I think we’re supposed to take our cue from that and learn something about the essence of faith. Relax, God’s gonna take care of you…or something along those lines.

That is certainly true, whether we hit the panic button or not. God is going to take care of us. Notice that Jesus’ “rebuke” to the disciples is much more gentle than that he gives to the wind and the waves. In hindsight (which, they say, is always 20/20,) I’m sure the disciples could see it all playing out much more clearly. God’s provision and care depend, not on our faith nor on our confidence, but on God’s faithfulness.

So, if you get a little scared next time your boat starts filling up — it’s okay. Try to have at least a little faith.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In a move that some might find whimsical or even bizarre — which is precisely why it fits here on the Lectionary Lab — we honor the confluence of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist with the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in this homiletical offering by Bubba #1.
Texts: Malachi 3:1-4, Acts 13:13-26, Luke 1:57-67 (68-80)
Well, did you get all your “Nativity of St. John the Baptist” shopping done on time? Did you get your Nativity cards out? Did your Nativity office party go well? Boy, wasn’t it a pain doing all that decorating and putting lights on the house, particularly this time of year when it’s so hot and all? What? You didn’t do any of those things for “the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist?” You didn’t even know we were celebrating the Nativity of St. John the Baptist? Well, to tell you the truth, until recently, I didn’t know much about it either.

At a recent pastor’s meeting, our Bible study leader shared research on the celebration of the Nativity of John the Baptist and I learned a lot.

For example, I learned that it was placed on this date for biblical reasons. John said of Jesus, “I must decrease that he may increase.” Well according to the calendar in use when the date was set, June 24 was when the days started getting shorter, decreasing; just as the Nativity of Our Lord, Dec. 25, was when the days began getting longer, increasing.

I also learned that John the Baptist (the “Forerunner”) is extensively celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Besides June 24, they also celebrate;January 7: The Commemoration of St. John the Forerunner 
February 24: First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner.May 25: Third Finding of the Head St. John the Forerunner.August 29: The Beheading of St. John the ForerunnerSeptember 23: Conception of St. John the Forerunner.

(Here’s an interesting question: Why can’t they keep up with his head? I mean John only lost it once, and they had to find it three times. I tried to find out more about that but came up empty. I’ll keep looking, maybe something will turn up.)

One thing is for certain – all this celebrating points to the importance of John the Baptist, or John the Baptizer, or John the Forerunner as the Orthodox call him, or John the cousin of Jesus as he was probably know around Nazareth; for the Bible tells us that his mother Elizabeth was a cousin of Mary, the Mother of our Lord.

And the question for us today is a simple one. So what? Why should we care? Why should we think about and celebrate the people involved in the Nativity of St. John the Baptist? And what about their journey can help us as we move through our own journey of faith?

In order to understand today’s Gospel lesson, we have to remember what happened nine months before. Zechariah and Elizabeth were, like Abraham and Sarah, quite old and childless. He was one of the priests who served in the temple in Jerusalem. He was serving on the altar one day. He was in the Holy of Holies, in the Sanctuary of the Lord, where no one but the appointed priest went.

He was standing at the altar of incense when suddenly an angel appeared beside him, and scared the daylights out of him. The angel told him that he and Elizabeth would have a child, but frankly, Zechariah didn’t believe him, and said so. “We’re too old. It’s not going to happen.” So the angel Gabriel said to him, “But now, because you did not believe my words, . . . . you will become mute, unable to speak, until the days these things occur.”

Zechariah wanted a relationship with God, but he wanted it on his own terms. He wanted to tell God what was and was not possible. God said to Zechariah, “I’m not arguing with you over what I can and can’t do. I’ll just show you while you have to stand silently by and watch.” And so it was. Zechariah was unable to speak for nine months. And Elizabeth indeed got pregnant, and Zechariah could say nothing. 

Finally the day came, and the baby was born, and they went through the naming argument, at the end of which Zechariah made a statement of faith, writing down the name the angel had told him. At that moment his tongue was loosed and he was able to give voice and words to the miracle of God that had happened in his life.

Unless we believe, deep in our souls, deep in our hearts, that God can and will love and redeem all humanity; unless we trust to the very core of our being in the steadfast and endless grace and mercy of God, we have nothing to say to the world that cannot be better said by any number of secular, non-profit, benevolent organizations. 

Without that gut level willingness to throw ourselves into the arms of the divine, we are just playing church, dancing around the edges of the holy. To really believe is to make it personal, to move from ideas about God to a relationship with God, to move from discussing God with others to talking things over with God.

Zechariah knew a lot about God, but he didn’t know God, not until that day at the altar. And until he put aside the terms by which he would be able to relate to God, he had nothing to say.  But when he laid aside all his defenses and trusted God completely, his long unused voice burst forth in song.

So it is with us. We as individuals and as a community are called upon to trust the promise of God. God has promised to love us, to forgive us, to support and sustain us through all life’s difficulties and troubles.

Do we trust God? Do we trust God’s love? Do we trust God’s care? Do we trust God’s compassion? Do we trust God’s mercy? Do we?

We invited today to join in the Song of Zechariah. We are invited to feel deep within ourselves the joy of knowing that we are a beloved children of God, and as that oy wells up within us, our tongues will be loosed and our voices heard.

Amen and Amen.

Year B — The Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6)

Commentary for June 17, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
“Well, there’s my youngest boy — but I doubt you’re looking for him. He’s just a shepherd.”

You can almost hear the overtones in Jesse’s voice as he dialogues with the great prophet, Samuel, can’t you? Saul — the tall, handsome, strike-fear-in-the-hearts-of-our-enemies king of Israel is on his way out. The search is on for his replacement.

Like any good call committee, Samuel and the people he represents are pretty sure THEY know what they want. What God wants may be something else entirely.

We most likely want to be very careful in our discerning of “God’s will” in our lives — the Eliabs in our lives do look awfully good sometimes. If we can, though, it’s always best to hold out until God says to us, “Now there you go; that’s what I really had in mind.”

Psalm 20
Verse 6 seems to center this selection in its relationship to the first reading. God always helps God’s “anointed.” When God is in the midst of our choices and the direction of our lives, there is help (regardless of the number of chariots and horses we may have — or not have — at our disposal!)

Ezekiel 17:22-24
What a great image: God is the one who is tall enough to break off a sprig from the topmost branch of a “lofty cedar.” Having recently returned from some vacation time among the redwoods of California, I imagine just how impossibly high the top of one of those great trees looks to be from my location down on the ground. 

God’s reach is impressive, indeed!

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
Whenever I read this text, I hear the strains of Eugene Butler’s excellent choral setting, “It Is a Good Thing to Give Thanks Unto the Lord.”  (see a sheet music sample here, if you’re interested)

God’s presence with us is not on the clock; steadfast love in the morning, faithfulness by night — all set to the music of the lute, the harp, and the lyre. What a deal!

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Several great theological “one-liners” in this passage:

  • “we walk by faith, not by sight” — very apropos when considered with the first reading
  • “away from the body, at home with the Lord” — a concept that brings much comfort, eh?
  • “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” — says it all, really

 Mark 4:26-34
The kingdom of God — its spread, its flourishing, its end results — is so far beyond our control or even our imaginings that it’s hard to describe. But, as usual, Jesus’ parables do a pretty good job.

Our work matters; what we do as laborers in God’s field is important. But, ultimately, if you want to see just exactly how much it all depends on you or me, consider that God works whether we are awake or asleep. Our efforts are mustard-seed-sized in the totality of the kingdom; they could be blown away by the slightest puff of wind.

And, yet, God chooses to bless them and grow them — at times — beyond our wildest expectations.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Today’s Gospel lesson is the sort of text you might expect an old farm boy like me to really get into. Plowing ground, planting seeds, watching them grow. Good stuff, right?

Well, truth is, I wasn’t much of a farmer; just never really had any interest in it. I mean, I could do the work and I did it well. It just didn’t excite me.

Frankly, I found the whole business, well, boring. It took too long, it was too unpredictable, too uncontrollable, too frustrating. Plow the ground, put in the fertilizer, plant the seed, chop out the weeds, and wait and wait and wait; and pray and pray and pray.

Pray for rain; pray it doesn’t hail; pray for the rain to stop; pray for it to warm up; pray for it to cool off.  While you’re praying, you need to be spraying; spray for bugs, spray for weeds; praying and spraying for weeks on end.

And after all that, it’s out of the farmer’s hands anyway. No matter how hard you try, sometimes it doesn’t work. Most of the time; it’s too hot or too cold or too wet or too dry or prices are too high or too low.

If it’s a good year, everybody has a good year and there’s an oversupply of the crop and prices are too low. If it’s a bad year; everybody has a bad year and supply is down and prices are high, but you don’t have anything to sell.

In the end, there was too much luck involved for me to be a farmer. I wasn’t a very good farmer because I didn’t have the right disposition. I’m not patient enough. I’m not comfortable with the fact that success ultimately is in the hands of fate, or the weather, or God; depending on how you look at it.

So, you can see, this text from Mark about farming really bothers and challenges me. If the Kingdom of God really is like farming, like sowing seed and being patient; or like the text from Ezekiel about planting sprigs and waiting for trees to grow; well, I’m probably in trouble. Reading this text reminds me that the same things that made me a lousy farmer also work against me as a pastor and a Christian. I worry too much and I want to be in control and I don’t trust God enough. There, I said it and I feel better for it.

There is a difficult lesson her for those of us who have a hard time letting go and letting things take their natural, God-given course. Jesus says to us that we are to plant the seed and let God worry about the growth. Jesus says we are not responsible for making the church grow. We are not responsible for making sure everybody “gets saved.” We are not responsible for making the Kingdom of God a smashing success. Our job, our responsibility is planting the seed and reaping the harvest. God is responsible for the growth.
Faith is often defined as trust, and in this case, faith is trusting that the things we do for God will turn out right, in God’s way, in God’s time. Faith is keeping on with the work of the Gospel and trusting that in God’s own time the crop will grow, even if we never live to see it. Faith is, in part, letting go of our control over the results.

We live in a world in which people are afraid of losing control, or more correctly, of letting someone or something else control their fate. We have been taught that in order to succeed one must have a goal – after all, as Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up somewhere else.”

Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of God, the work of grace and mercy and compassion and in the world, works from a totally different theory.

These parables remind us that we are called to do the work, indeed we are called to do the work to the best of our ability; but they also remind us that the ultimate purpose and outcome of this work is not in our hands but in God’s; which is, I assure you, a reality that is both frustrating and reassuring.

It is frustrating to those of us who don’t like to wait, who like to be in charge and in control of our own fate and destiny, who like to see progress being made, who like to be able to measure and calibrate and control.

But it is also reassuring and liberating to know that in God’s eyes success is not judged by the size of the harvest but by our faithfulness in sowing seeds.

Amen and amen.

Year B — Second Sunday after Pentecost

Commentary for June 10, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
Mel Brooks made the catch-line famous, in his 1981 film, History of the World, Part I: “It’s good to be the king!” 

(Get an idea with this 4-minute excerpt from the film, set to Mel’s own “hip hop” song lyric.)

For Brooks fans, the line becomes something of a leitmotif in his other films, including Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs, and The Producers — not that that has anything to do with anything — except that I am reminded of it when God, through Samuel, tries to tell the Israelites that gaining a king to rule over them might not be all they think it is cracked up to be!

“It’s going to cost you!” is something of a biblical leitmotif where sin is concerned, yet over and over again, we humans are willing to enter the bargain anyway.  The Israelites (who play our part in this drama) use the argument familiar to every teenager who has ever been confronted by a parent over dubious behavioral choices: “Well, everybody’s doing it!”

What’s a prophet — or a God — to say?

Psalm 138
This God — the LORD of Israel — is greater than all gods; this God is the true King above all kings.

Noticeably, the LORD, as the high King, is very close to those who recognize their own lowliness; but remains “far away” from those whose self-attitude is haughty. Those who seek the help of the LORD when they are in trouble will find it; those who maintain an “I got this” state-of-mind are not so likely to find themselves aided by God’s strong “right hand.”

Genesis 3:8-15
Ah, speaking of the “fruit” of our own choices!

I have long been intrigued by the fact that God never said a word to these first humans before they exhibited their first sign of guilt; they “heard” God walking in the garden and they “hid” themselves in the trees.

Apparently, not only does the guilty dog bark first, he/she also tucks tail and hides at the first sound of accountability coming!

Psalm 130
Does God keep score?

The psalmist asks a question (v.3) that still resonates. How in the world could I ever answer for every single time I “sinned?” (i.e., broke a rule, crossed a boundary, told a lie, hurt another person, etc.)

There is something powerful to consider here about just how forgiveness works. If I can never even the score of my wrongdoing, then sooner or later I would just give up trying — and sin would progress to its inevitable conclusion: hurt, destruction, and death.

But, if there is a way to “wipe the slate clean” and get a fresh start — starting over seems like a genuine option. After a time, I know the deep need of my life for cleansing and renewal; I feel it “in my bones.” 

Honest confrontation of my shortcomings and confession of my sin are the prerequisites of right living and right relationship — with God and others. Like waiting through a long, dark night for a glimmer of hope and sunshine, passing through the anguish of repentance brings redemption to my soul.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
How thankful have I been for grace lately?

V. 15 says that “grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving….” Just makes me wonder how thankful I have been for the incredible grace given to me. Have I stopped the flow of God’s grace through my life in any way by ingratitude? 

Mark 3:20-35   
“That boy done lost his mind!”

There was a certain young man in my hometown of whom that statement was made regularly when I was growing up. Theories varied as to exactly why Ray Skinner (not his real name, by the way) was crazy — or if he even was really mentally unbalanced — but none of us “kids” were ever brave enough to actually talk to him and find out. He was sort of our local Boo Radley, I suppose.

The setting for today’s gospel reading is a very Boo Radley-like experience Jesus has with his own family — those who should have been best-positioned to know him. Jesus is, of course, talking about his “kingdom,” which was his favorite subject. He really believed that God had sent him to establish a kingdom that was sort of, kind of on this earth — but wasn’t really, exactly like the other kingdoms of the earth.

Yeah, that was some crazy-sounding stuff right there! No wonder his momma and them came to try to talk him into coming home with them.

Just how crazy are the demands of the kingdom of God for those who would claim to follow Christ today? Are we “brothers and sisters” of our Lord Jesus?

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I left home —  the farm in the foothills of North Carolina — when I was 18,  to go to college. Though I still speak with a decided southern accent, I do not sound like the folks in and around Mt. Airy, NC anymore. Years of higher education in the Research Triangle area of NC and serving transplanted mid-westerners in Lutheran congregations in Atlanta and Nashville have taken the edge off enough that when I go home to Mt. Airy I get, not the “you ain’t from around here” look, but the “you went off and got different” look — which is almost as bad.
When Jesus goes home in today’s Gospel lesson, he gets the “you went off and got different” look from his community and his family. They knew who he was, he was Mary’s boy, he was James’ brother. But then again, he wasn’t; something was different, something was wrong, he had changed.
A woman slips into the living quarters back of the carpenter shop, “Mary, I saw your boy. Yeah, Jesus the one that went off to be a preacher. Boy, he sure talks funny, like them city folks he’s been hanging around with. And, well, it ain’t just the way he talks, it’s what he says. That boy of your’n’ has sure got some funny ideas. People are talking like he’s nuts or something. You better do something about it.”
So Mary gathers up the family and sets out to find her boy. There are two motivations working in their effort to stop Jesus. One is the fact that Mary and James and the rest still live in Nazareth and what Jesus does reflects on them. Family honor and business are on the line. The second, and I suspect more powerful, motivation is love. They love Jesus. They didn’t understand him, but they loved him.

They were wrong to try to stop him, but they were wrong for the right reason. They loved Jesus as a son and brother and they wanted him to be happy, they wanted him to be successful, they wanted him to fit in, they wanted him to be safe, they wanted him to come home; if not home to Nazareth at least home to traditional values.

When they found Jesus they discovered that things were worse than they thought. Not only was Jesus talking funny and doing weird things; he was also openly defying the public officials, engaging in public argument with the temple scribes. This was serious business indeed.
The scribes were accusing Jesus of being a Satanist, of being in league with the devil. Can you imagine the fear that struck at Mary’s heart when she heard it said that her sweet, precious, first-born son was not only odd but that he was also evil? And Jesus only made it worse by arguing with the scribes, by making them look like fools.
Mary had to act and act quickly. She sends in one of the boys with a message for Jesus to come out and go home. And Jesus, unbelievably, rejects his mother and his mother’s pleas.
Jesus turns his back on his family. He looks around the crowd and says, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mothers and my sisters and my brothers; those who do the will of God!”
In that moment, Jesus redefined for all time the meaning of family. It was shocking then and it is shocking to many of us now.
For the people of Jesus time and place, family was not an important thing; it was everything. Who you were, what you did, who you married, your entire relationship to society and to God were defined by your family.
Jesus was not just Jesus who used to be a carpenter in Nazareth and was now a Rabbi. No, Jesus as Jesus, Son of Joseph, of the house and lineage of David, a descendant of Abraham. Without those family connections, Jesus was nobody, at least not anybody who had to be recognized or dealt with; he was permanently “not from around here.” He had done “gone off and got different.”
You have heard it said that “Blood is thicker than water,” but in that moment Jesus declared that “the waters of baptism are thicker than the blood of family.”
Now, this did not mean that Jesus no longer loved “his Mama and them,” as we say back in Mt. Airy. It did mean that Jesus declared a rearrangement in the order of his relationships; and by so doing, rearranged the order of our relationships too.
I am still son and brother and husband and father and pastor and neighbor and friend to many and probably am considered a jerk by more people than I would like to know about.
But all those relational definitions are secondary to one over-arching and defining relationship; I am a child of God and younger brother of Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and Savior. That relationship takes priority over all others and makes sense of all others. As long as I remember that Christ is first in my life, everything else falls in line.
For more than 600 years the Hapsburgs ruled much of Europe. In 1916 Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria died. A procession of dignitaries and elegantly dressed royal mourners escorted the coffin which was draped in black and gold silk. A military band played somber funeral music as the torch-lit procession made its way down winding narrow stairs into the catacombs beneath the Capuchin Monastery in Vienna
At the bottom of the stairs were great iron doors leading to the Hapsburg family crypt. Behind the door was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna.
The Commanding officer rapped on the door and cried out. “Open!”
The Archbishop replied, “Who goes there?”
“We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz-Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Defender of the Faith, Prince of Bohemia-Moravia, Grand-Duke of Lombardy . . . .” And so it went, through the entire list of his 37 titles.
“We know him not, “ the Cardinal said, “Who goes there?”
The officer spoke again, using the informal title, “We bear the remains of Emperor Franz-Josef I of the Hapsburg line.”
“We know him not,” the cardinal said again. “Who goes there?”
This time the officer replied, “We bear the body of Franz-Josef, our brother, a sinner like all of us.” At that the doors swung open and Franz-Josef was welcomed home.
Whoever else you may be, whatever other relationships you may have, there is one title and one relationship that can never be taken away from you; you are always a child of God, born out of the waters of baptism and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever.
Though that means that wherever you go on earth, you will be considered and bit odd and “not from around here” because you have “done gone off and got different;” it also means that you are always welcome and at home in the family and kingdom of God.
Amen and amen.