Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sermon -- 29 June 2008

PROPER 8 / 7 PENTECOST — 29 June 2008
Trinity, Iowa City — 8:45 am

Romans 6:12-23 Psalm 13 Matthew 10:40-42

Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.

It hasn’t been a good couple of weeks, at least for a lot of us. For some of us directly, and for the rest of us at least for people we know. As I said a couple of weeks ago, we are grateful to the many people, and to God’s grace empowering them, who have pitched in to help the many who have suffered and are suffering, a lot or a little, because of the flood. This may not be a perfect community in which to live, but it’s a good community, and we thank God for that. (And we need to bear in mind that it isn’t just churchy people who have helped share the burdens — a lot of the folks just care about each other, and that’s a sign of God’s grace whether folks recognize it or not.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, all kinds of distressing and annoying things are going on. As Episcopalians, we tend naturally to be caught up by the Adventures in Anglicanland. I’m not quite sure what to say to you about that. On the one hand, I am a great believer in transparency in the life of the Church, and therefore I don’t want to sound like I’m telling you that the stuff that’s going on is not important and you really don’t need to pay attention and fret about it, just let the clergy worry about it! If you are interested or concerned, I’m willing to discuss these things with you and point you to a number of sources of news and information. [*] On the other hand, if your attitude is that following Jesus is quite enough of a job without being distracted by Anglican politics, I assure you that you should not feel guilty about that! In the end, Jesus is Lord and we really don’t need to fret. And in any case, most of the rest of the world — not only non-Anglicans but a lot of Anglicans too — really aren’t paying a lot of attention to our ecclesiastical internecine disputes, not compared with the multitude of real, critical human problems that face us in this world.

You may have noticed that in the case of many of these critical human problems that face us in this world, religion is not part of the solution!

In the Gospel reading today (incidentally, you may have noticed along the way that I generally do not regard the Gospel and Religion — even the Christian Religion — as coterminous. If you display them in a Venn diagram, they do overlap, but I think not as much as we often assume. But I digress.) In the Gospel reading today, from the tenth chapter of St. Matthew, we have been hearing Jesus’ instructions to his disciples about their mission of proclaiming the good news and healing the afflicted. Today we hear the conclusion of these instructions.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” Note that Jesus does not tell them, “In order for their welcome of you to count as welcoming me, they have to sign this application for membership in the Jesus Club.” He does not say, “Be sure you show your Jesus ID card first before you ask them to welcome you.” He says, “If they welcome you, then they are welcoming me — whether they know it or not. And furthermore, if they are welcoming me — whether they know it or not — they are welcoming God who sent me — whether they know it or not. ‘Whether they know it or not’ is for the Father and me to deal with — it really isn’t up to you. Your message — whether you proclaim it aloud or whether you proclaim it in your actions of healing and service — is simply 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'"

“Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” A Semitic locution that means “If they welcome you as a prophet because they perceive that you are a spokesman for God’s kingdom” — without passing any further doctrinal exams — then they will share in the life of God’s kingdom. And “whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person” — because they perceive in you the love and justice of God, even if they don’t yet realize that it is God who is the source of love and justice — they will share in God’s grace drawing them into God’s holiness.

“And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple” — if you minister even in very simple ways, a moment of caring, a little help from a friend so they can get by, a random act of kindness, just because you follow me, then you will not fall short of life in the kingdom. However (the Gospel doesn’t say this, but I think Jesus means it:) “Don’t use me as a club to beat people over the head. Minister to the needs of people — not just thirst, but any need; not just children but all God’s ‘little ones’ who need our care. They don’t have to meet any preconditions. They don’t have to join the club. They don’t have to sit still for a sermon first.”

You know, there are some folks performing “Christian service” who seem to convey the attitude, “Personally, I think you are undeserving scum, but for the love of God and out of Christian duty I will help you.” Jesus says, “Don’t care for your sisters and brothers because you love me; care for them because you love them! That’s how you share in the life of God’s kingdom, and it is the life of the kingdom that is your reward.”

“As you go, proclaim the good news,” Jesus said a couple of weeks ago, “‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment, give without payment.”

And now, O Lord, have mercy upon us. Thanks be to God.

[*] In the sidebar to the right there is a link my other blog, The Liturgical Curmudgeon. In the right sidebar of that blog there are links to several good sites for news and information.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sermon & Bishop's Pastoral -- 15 June 2008

Proper 6 / 5 Pentecost — 15 June 2008
Trinity, Iowa City — 7:45, 8:45, and 11:00

Genesis 18:1-15;[21:1-7] Ps 116:1,10-17 [Romans 5:1-8] Matt 9:35-10:9[9-23]

“As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”

A couple of weeks ago we decided for the summer to read just two of the three appointed Scripture lessons. I’m not quite sure why (though that’s what we always do at 8:45). Mel thought it was a good idea. Easy for him to say. He’s in Greece. Anyway, what this meant is that two weeks ago we heard Romans and did not hear the reading from Genesis, parts of chapters 6, 7 and 8. Yes, that’s right. The story of Noah.

Who knew?

But I’m not going to make Noah jokes, because this really isn’t funny. And this week it’s going to get even unfunnier.

I’m not going to go on too long this morning, partly because the Bishop has sent a pastoral letter that he requests be read today in all churches in the Diocese of Iowa, and I think what he has to say is more important and better said than anything I would say. We also may run through some extra announcements that we have gathered.

The gospel today is about the proclaiming of the good news of the kingdom of God. Jesus is going about Galilee and attracting great crowds of people — evidently more than even he can handle himself. He commissions the Twelve with “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” He tells them, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”

What is it we are to be about? What does it mean to follow Jesus? What are we saying when we proclaim Jesus as Lord? The reading today shows us at least some of what Jesus means when he calls us to discipleship. And it’s not what an awful lot of people seem to mean by “religion.” Proclaiming the kingdom of heaven isn’t just about going to the “good place” when we die instead of the “bad place” — or maybe not even primarily about that. (The notion of “heaven” as someplace up there, off somewhere, where God lives instead of here, is a notion we thought up a few hundred years ago — I’m not really quite sure just when — but it doesn’t have very much to do with what Jesus means by God’s kingdom.) Proclaiming, enacting, living in God’s Reign means a ministry of healing, of reconciliation, of restoration. It’s about fullness of life, about beauty and truth, about love. Being a follower of Jesus is not about me. It is not a business. We aren’t here to get anything. We are called to give freely, because we were given freely.

In times like these the basic realities of our life and of God’s call to us in this world become very vivid. By God’s grace this is a community in which countless numbers of people, people of faith and people whose faith (as we say) is known to God alone, have been and will be pitching in to help one another as we recover from this devastating flood. If you have an opportunity to help someone (or some institution or business) that needs help, I encourage you to take it; if you need help, please let us know. I’ll say a bit more about this in a few minutes. But know that this is indeed a dimension of our vocation as followers and disciples of Jesus — a dimension (at least generally if not specifically) of that for which we prayed in today’s Collect: that we be kept in God’s steadfast faith and love, that through God’s grace we may proclaim God’s truth with boldness and minister God’s justice with compassion.


Sunday, 15 June 2008

Dearly beloved in Christ,

We gather today in difficult circumstances. We are mindful of the young men lost last week to the tornado in Little Sioux City and the heroics of their friends that saved lives. We may have spent hours on the sandbag lines, saving our city downtown, or seeing our efforts less successful. We have homes suddenly caught in the middle of rivers turned lakes. Our farmers are faced with an uncertain crop and livelihood from their mud-filled, lake like fields. Our houses have taken on a distinctive odor as we continue to bail out our basements or worse.

One month ago we were grateful for the gift of water (as every baptismal liturgy helps us recall). We were celebrating Waters of Hope, and now our new web-site for blogging our stories is simply “Iowa Waters”. What needs to be said or done at this time?

First of all, we continue to wrap each other and our communities in prayer. We share this as every moment together with God. There was a photo in the Des Moines Register of a man sitting on his favorite bench yet knee deep in water and clearly out in a large patch of flood water. He was catching his breath and perhaps a moment of reflection. If praying, he could not have offered it in a more appropriate place. Prayer lifts our eyes above ourselves and it takes place in the midst of the storm, not only in quiet moments.

Secondly, we need to know that we are sharing ourselves with each other. On the sandbag line in Cedar Falls, a sixty year old Episcopal priest was sandwiched between two High School football players, who insisted on tossing her the sandbags until she let on that her strong looks may deceive and asked if he would hand them to her. We share ourselves through communicating together, which is why we have started a special blog called Iowa Waters to listen to one another. (Link through our Diocesan website, or directly to

Thirdly, we commit to a long term action of service. I was reminded that there are several stages – this watching and holding back phase; the immediate caring of the evacuees and those most affected; then the clean up crews and the planners and the rebuilding; eventually we have also decided as a Church to be present for the mental and spiritual health needs as they arise once bravery and adrenaline drop with the water levels.

Today [Friday, June 13] leaders of almost all the faith denominations held a conference call to map out how we can carry out as coordinated an effort as possible. We have offered the new web-site (Iowa Waters) which Pat Genereux put together for our communication to the ecumenical community. It is being expanded as a vehicle for news from the ecumenical community. We are talking about obtaining some volunteer coordinators in order to be ready for what we expect to be a rush of men and women eager to clean up and rebuild.
Above all we know that the Church is not the Red Cross or FEMA or the insurance business, and we need to be able to guide people for the assistance which can come from those official sources. We will wait our turn to meet longer term needs. And in the meantime pay attention as best we can to those with special needs, those without sure employment or resources, even those recently arrived in our state.

We gather then today to find God as our tower of strength, not our rescuer from hardship. As Eucharistic Prayer C says at its conclusion “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only and not for strength, for pardon only and not for renewal.” These are hard words when we really need Christ’s saving embrace; when we need the Christ who calms the storm to show up on the waves. Instead He shows up on the sandbag line, with the offertory box, in our loving embraces and our resolute spirits, in our wiping away of tears, and in our stubborn willingness of faith always to give thanks for the gift of water.

Yours in the peace of Christ that passes understanding,

+Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa