This the sermon the Rev. Canon Janet Waggoner preached on the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 13, 2021.
Year B, Proper VI - Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4,11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10,14-17; Mark 4:26-34
I speak to you in the name of the Living God - holy Trinity, ever one. AMEN.
If I were to name the theme of today’s Gospel lesson, it would be
“God is in charge, and we are not.”
God means for that to be good news for us, words of comfort to us as God’s beloved children.
But some of us get all tangled up wondering, if God is in charge and we are not, what does that mean about the role each of us is supposed to play. I mean, we hear all the time that we’re the hands and feet of God in the world. And in the collect this morning, we prayed that God’s grace would allow us to “proclaim God’s truth with boldness” and “minister God’s justice with compassion.” How are we supposed to know what we’re supposed to do? How much giving and striving and working is enough?
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what it looks like for God to be God in our lives. Seeds are scattered on the ground and just left there. Meanwhile, the sower goes about his or her business, sleeping, rising, working, playing, doing whatever is next on the endless list of things that need to be done on a farm. The seed draws what it needs from the earth and then does what seeds do, it grows. When the sower next encounters the seed, it’s ready to be harvested as food for his family or seed to start next year’s crop.
I grew up on a farm. Chores started before dawn. When chores were done, my dad would often wash up, hop in the pick-up, and go to town to Ted’s Café to have coffee with the farmers gathered there. There were farmers there every single morning except Sundays. Mostly, they talked about the weather. The sun, the wind, the rain, how their crops did last season, how their crops might do this season. Then they would get back in their pick-up trucks and go home to work in the barn or in the fields or on whatever else needed building or fixing that day.
As a child, I was mystified by this practice of “having coffee.” First of all, it seemed like a waste of time - not to mention gas money - to drive to town to have a cup of coffee, especially when Dad just drove right back home, to have another cup of coffee with breakfast. Second of all, the weather was the weather. Talking about it didn’t change it, so why talk about it all the time?
Years later, I realized that daily coffee at Ted’s Café was the farmers’ way of coping with the fact that they poured their lives and their money and their blood and their sweat into the soil - and yet had absolutely no control over whether or not they would end up with any harvest at all. Rain, wind, heat, blight, bugs, hail, anything could happen - and often did. Daily coffee at Ted’s Café was the way these farmers practiced surrendering to whatever was to come and supported each other in the midst of it all.
Some people practice these same things in AA. Some wrestle through to them in Bible Studies. Some people hash through their struggles in counseling. Some take in the body and blood of Christ and find in it the strength they need to get through another day, another week.
God is in charge, and we are not.
So, if God is in charge, why bother to do anything? In today’s story from the Book of Ezekiel we hear God saying that God’s got this. When God wants a tree, God just plucks a sprig off of one tree and plants another, and it grows on its own, without any tending. Not only that, but if there’s leveling out or pruning or watering to be done, God can do it.
God doesn’t need us, but God wants us. The God-who-is-in-charge loves us and the rest of all creation. The God-who-is-in-charge longs to be with us - so much so that God sent Jesus so that we “might live no longer for ourselves.” And if we give ourselves over to God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s way, our lives are hidden in Christ who died and rose for us. And then, as the apostle Paul says, “there is a new creation” - meaning God’s love makes us new and then we get to work with God as God creates newness around us.
Sounds pretty good, eh? All that goodness, all those promises, all of that hope . . . But did you notice, all that still doesn’t answer the questions: How are we supposed to know what we’re supposed to do? How much giving and striving and working is enough?
Here’s a closing thought about that - from the farm and from the Gospel.
If you follow a farmer around all day, you’ll notice that the farmer isn’t doing a lot of running. Even though she has an infinitely long list of things that “might should get done,” she’s walking at a moderate pace, going from one project to another - “easing along,” as my father used to call it - so that at the end of the day, the farmer still has enough strength and energy to do the chores and then make supper.
In the parable of the seed, what does Jesus say the farmer is doing while the seed is growing? “Sleeping and rising.” Nothing heroic. Nothing out of the ordinary. Taking care of business and taking care of himself, so that when the grain is ripe, he’s ready to harvest it.
Our crazy Protestant work ethic might lead us to believe that every minute of our lives needs to be accounted for, every day has to be full. But the God-who-is-in-charge can manage things without us, while we are resting or reading or hanging out with friends or doing whatever refreshes us, so that when the God-who-is-in-charge calls, we are ready for God to create new things through us in our neighborhood or elsewhere in our world.
May it be so. AMEN.
This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 6, 2021.
Proper 5B – Mk. 3:20-35
June 6, 2021
The Rev. Karen A. Calafat
I had a spiritual awakening in my mid-20’s which left me completely filled with joy and excitement about this new-found grace of God I had experienced, this new-found love of Christ. It was all I could think about, all I wanted to talk about. I discovered an entirely new genre of music -- Christian pop – and I wanted everyone to listen to it. My family was convinced I had lost my mind, gone off the deep end, become a bonafide holy roller, a Jesus freak. I really just wanted everyone to experience the grace and love that I had discovered, but I was too over-the-top for my family and friends’ comfort level.
That is my personal point of connection with the confusion and misunderstandings that are part of Jesus’ story in Mark’s gospel.
It might be helpful for us to get a running start on this one, remembering that on the 2nd Sunday of Advent we heard the beginning of the “good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God” and John the Baptist appearing in the wilderness proclaiming baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the coming of the one who would baptize in the Holy Spirit. Through the season of Epiphany we heard from the Gospel of Mark each Sunday, including Jesus calling the 12 disciples and performing healing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Mark, the emphasis is on Jesus as prophet, teacher and healer – the human Jesus whose work can be seen. The lens through which we might approach today’s lesson is verse 15 of chapter 1: Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Now, to be honest, I wrestled with this reading all week in order to find the “good news.” The Rev. Susan Butterworth’s words helped me. She writes, “In today’s passage, we have it all. Human Jesus misunderstood and at times impatient, and divine Jesus, actor in the eternal drama of good versus evil, conqueror of Satan.
By the time this passage begins, chapter three of Mark has established Jesus as prophet, teacher, and healer. He has cast out unclean spirits and appointed twelve apostles to aid him in his work.
Ironically, in Mark 3:11, the unclean spirits recognize Jesus as the Son of God, while in today’s passage, the crowd, the family, and the scribes just do not get him at all. “He has Beelzebul, (which is literally “lord of the flies; lord of death and decay”) and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” They see Jesus as out of his mind, possibly even possessed by evil spirits. As he has done so many times in his earthly life, Jesus is called to respond to the confusion of friend and foe alike. He teaches, in a parable about Satan, and calls the scribes and his family to account.
The structure of the passage is interesting, important, and enlightening. We have a story within a story: the controversy with the scribes about exorcism and the parable of defeating Satan inserted into an episode about Jesus’ family. The structure is called chiastic, meaning that ideas are introduced in order, then developed in reverse order. In this case: Crowd, family, and scribes are introduced in that order. The parable of Satan is the story at the center. Then, in reverse order, scribes, family, and crowd are addressed.
The structure is important and enlightening for the way it focuses on the central idea at the heart of the pattern – the conflict with Satan, the cosmic battle of good and evil. First, the crowd gathers, followers of Jesus and witnesses to his deeds and teaching. Then family and scribes put forth the misguided, mistaken accusation that his power to exorcise demons comes from Beelzebul. We can almost hear Jesus’ frustration in his words: How can Satan cast out Satan? Carefully, he explains, if Satan is divided, he cannot survive. In casting out unclean spirits, Jesus defeats Satan bit by bit, undermining his power.
But Jesus draws the line at confusing Satan with the Holy Spirit. Being misguided, blind, mistaken can be forgiven. The people may be slow to comprehend that Jesus, the man who heals, is in fact the Son of God. Make no mistake, however – Jesus’ healing power comes from the Holy Spirit. To call the Holy Spirit an unclean spirit is a blasphemy too far. Jesus is called upon to speak with authority yet again.
So, in the reverse order of the chiastic structure, Jesus reprimands the scribes, then his family re-enters the scene, and the passage resolves with Jesus addressing the crowd.
Does Jesus reject his family, his mother and his brothers and sisters, when he asks rhetorically, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Rather, when Jesus looks at the crowd and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” perhaps he is connecting his earthly self with his divine self. He has a human family, and he has a spiritual family. And that spiritual family includes us, part of the crowd, followers of Jesus and witnesses to his gospel.
Today’s complex and rich passage from Mark’s gospel reveals the tension between the human and divine aspects of Jesus. He has a family that doesn’t understand him, that doesn’t see him clearly, or fully. A family, friends, a religious establishment, that do not see that he goes beyond humanity, and is the eternal Son of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, healer of bodies, healer of souls, destroyer of Satan, the Messiah who overcomes death to usher in the kingdom of God.
The power of the Holy Spirit is a strong message. It is a Pentecost message. We are in the season which celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s people, the moment when the Spirit empowers God’s people to be witnesses and spread the Good News. Jesus’ ministry is outward-looking, expansive, as Christ welcomes all.” Therein lies the Good News. The Holy Spirit helps and empowers us in our own struggle against sin and brokenness. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be receivers and bearers of the grace of God and the love of Christ. So share that love and grace, even if people think you are out of you mind. Go ahead, be a little crazy for Christ’s sake!
Susan Butterworth, M.A., M.Div, is a writer, teacher, singer, and lay minister. She leads Song & Stillness: Taizé @ MIT, a weekly ecumenical service of contemplative Taizé prayer at the interfaith chapel at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She teaches writing and literature to college undergraduates and writes book reviews, essays, and literary reference articles.
This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached on Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021.
A new preacher in town was trying to find his way around. Finally, he asked a young girl for directions. “How do you get to the Town Hall?”
The girl gave him directions, then asked, “Why do you want to go to the Town Hall?”
“Because I’m to give a speech there.”
“What will the speech be about?” the girl asked.
“How to get to heaven.”
“How to get to heaven? And you can’t even find your way to the Town Hall?!”
I feel a bit like that today in addressing the concept of the Trinity. I don’t even pretend to fully know my way around this God who is 1 in 3 and 3 in 1, so let’s not even try to define the Trinity, but more see what we can glean from the readings and from our own experiences about our Trinitarian God.
I visited with Linda Taylor last week about the Trinity. This is how she described her experience: I am “filled with wonder for the beauty of this world and by the presence of the CREATOR who is always with us, always creating, always bringing new life into being. In times of sorrow and distress, I have been comforted by the compassion of the CHRIST who lives with us in suffering and brings us through the difficult times into new life. And I remember all the times when the power of the SPIRIT has brought goose bumps to my arms and filled me with new life and energy.
Energy and creativity are part of my experience of the Trinity. I think that is why the image of dance resonates with me in relationship to the TRINITY. The Divine Dance, the dance of our faith, that pulls us inside the circle of love that is our Triune God.
Richard Rohr writes, “In our attempts to explain the Trinitarian Mystery we overemphasize the individual qualities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but not so much the relationships between them. That is where all the power is! That is where all the meaning is!”
You have seen the traditional folk dances of the Middle East— where people are holding hands or locking arms and moving about together in a circle, swaying together - side to side and in and out - but together in one connected circle. I believe that is what the Divine Dance is like - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit -- the Creator, the Christ and the Spirit - united in love, purpose, energy.
My favorite image of the Trinity is Rublev’s icon. The three figures are present to each other and invite us to join with them at the table. It is thought that on the original icon, there was a mirror at the table where the viewers would see themselves at the table with the Trinity.
We are invited to participate in the Trinity dance, to be part of the interaction that brings continuous renewal and fresh new life…. The dance where we are invited. God in three persons invites us to experience the Holy in whatever way is most accessible to us. The great good news is that God continues to seek us out. God continues to woo us into ever-deepening relationship. That is why the icon, simplified on the cover of your leaflet, is my favorite depiction of the Trinity. Being circled up, creating together… connected and related… welcoming.
Theology Professor Ginger Barfield says, knowing where to start with the Trinity is key. It is difficult to grasp and difficult to explain, but the best starting place seems to be with "the reality of God’s activity in Jesus."
So, what is God’s activity in Jesus' interaction with Nicodemus and what might it teach us about the Trinity?
Nicodemus comes to meet with Jesus at night. We don’t know why he chose that time. It has been said that he was concerned that he would be seen in Jesus’ company, but it may be that he was simply a very busy man who came when his workday had ended. Nicodemus was a leader of the Pharisees, highly educated and who well grounded in the teaching of his religion. He knows a lot of stuff. This learned man recognizes that Jesus is a holy man, and he begins the conversation by acknowledging that God must certainly have sent him. Jesus responds by telling him that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they have been given new birth by the Spirit, then goes on to tell Nicodemus that he has knowledge without understanding. It is the action of the Spirit that brings us understanding, and we can easily imagine that it was the action of the Spirit that called Nicodemus into this encounter with Jesus.
It must have been quite unsettling for Nicodemus to approach Jesus, for Nicodemus is viewed as an expert on God so perhaps it was humbling or maybe even embarrassing, for him to ask Jesus anything about God; he may have even feared Jesus’ response to him -- a Pharisee, who Jesus regularly scolded for their self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes toward others. But it seems Nicodemus was so moved by the Spirit he could no longer resist talking to Jesus. The conversation is something of a riddle.... Jesus says one must be "born from above" and Nicodemus takes the "born" part literally, apparently not wondering what "from above" means. Jesus ignores his question and goes on with the explanation of "being born of water and Spirit." ... We might learn from this that Jesus does not answer all the questions we ask. "Jesus does more. He tells us what we need to know, not what we think we need to know." (Ron Lavin)
You see, we are called to know God, not simply to know about God. Our experience of God changes in every moment, with every change in our awareness of the world around us. We are called to be in relationship with God, just as the persons of the Trinity are in relationship - a relationship that is a never-ending, ever-changing dance. The Creator, the Christ and the Spirit are in continuous movement—always changing, yet always the same.
Jesus, the Christ, who did not lose patience with Nicodemus’ lack of understanding, also does not lose patience with us in our human struggles – whatever they may be. So as you move through this week, may you have moments of dance. May you be awed by something in the world of the Creator; comforted by the compassion of Christ; and inspired by the energy of the Spirit. May you grow not necessarily in knowledge, but in the experience of the Holy Trinity.
As you approach God’s table today, place yourself in Rublev’s icon -- imagine yourself in that Divine Dance with the Trinity, where there is always, always room for you.