Sermon–October 29, 2017


21 Pentecost Proper 25-A-2

October 29, 2017

William Bradbury

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18, Psalm 1, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46

On October 31, 1517, 500 years ago, a young Roman Catholic monk, named Martin Luther, nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, calling for a debate in the Church on the meaning of the grace of Jesus Christ. This action marks the beginning of the protestant reformation.  We continue to struggle with the meaning of grace, because it’s easier to preach law. Just tell people what to do! Just post the 10 Commandments in the courthouse and the schoolhouse and all will be well.  

So the story goes that Moses comes down from talking to God on Mt. Sinai and he says to the people, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is I talked him down to 10.The bad news is that adultery is still one of them.” 

But no one likes to be told what to do.

We know the feeling: someone keeps telling me, “I must, I ought, I should” and pretty soon we’re ready to push back! Author Lewis Grizzard from Georgia, used to talk about all the people from the mid-west who moved to Atlanta in the 1980s who gave advice about how we should do things in our beloved city. Finally, Lewis had enough and he says, “If you love Ohio so much, I’ve got good news, “Delta is ready when you are.”

But the problem runs deeper than our dislike for commandments. We understand with Paul that they can also be counterproductive. Paul says in Romans 7:

 “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet, if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”

So an expert on the Law asks Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus says to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Jesus knows the commandments, but notice he doesn’t make them the centerpiece of his message: After his baptism Jesus doesn’t say, “these are the two greatest commandments, do them and all will be well.” Rather he says, “God’s realm is now here, full of grace and truth, turn towards it, and you will find your true life, the one you were created to live.”

Jesus’ message isn’t about the Law we must follow to find God, but about the grace of God that finds us.

In his hometown synagogue, Jesus fleshes out his vision of grace-in-action, quoting the Prophet Isaiah:

He says,

“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

When he says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”, the people get angry, because they are cemented to the law-and-order status quo. But many others catch the vision and give up everything to be part of what the Creator of the cosmos is doing through Jesus.

After three years the law-and-order crowd has had enough of such Grace, so they execute Jesus, hanging him naked in the hot sun.

Well, surely that is the end of that.

Until God vindicates Jesus who then revives the disciples with his vision that is still burning.

But some say, “Oh, that’s nice and all, but Jesus’ vision of grace in action isn’t practical, it’s not real world. Following Jesus is just about what you do in the privacy of your own head. That’s why many Christians live a fragmented life: they say they follow Jesus on the inside, while they serve the world’s agenda on the outside. So Theologian Lee Camp says that’s how, “Christianity becomes chaplain to the Empire’s agenda.” Mere Discipleship

Camp writes that centuries ago a particular Quaker is publically proclaiming his pursuit of Jesus’s vision of non-violence and someone remarks, “Well, stranger, if all the world was of your mind, I would turn and follow after.” The Quaker responded, “So, then, thou hast a mind to be the last man to be good. I have a mind to be one of the first and set the rest an example.” Quoted in Mere Discipleship from The Believer’s Church by Donald Durnbaugh page 237

The catechism in the back of the prayer book says the mission of the Church is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

At All Saints’ we live this mission through our worship, education, outreach, fellowship and pastoral care.

When we make a financial pledge to All Saints’ we are saying, “Yes, count me in. I want to support what Jesus is doing through our ministries to touch and transform lives.”

I hope you’ve been reading our parishioner stories in the ebulletin and insert about how these ministries touch and transform them and others.

Here’s the deal: There is a feeling that our country is coming unglued; that “E Pluribus Unum” no longer applies. The center can’t hold because there is no center. There is only demonizing of the Other, as if dividing people is a strategy for success.

At All Saints’ we have been following Christ for 150 years. We don’t have the luxury of falling apart or giving up hope because we have been given a job to do: to enact Christ’s Grace as those who have been touched and transformed by Grace.

Dame Julian of Norwich, the greatest of the English mystics, creates a special word for the work of restoring all to unity: she calls it “Oneing”.

Oneing means God in Christ is healing the cosmos and calling us to manifest that “Oneing” in every facet of our lives: through our ministry and yes, through our money.

It was reported in 2002 that the average Episcopalian gave approximately 2% of their net income to the work of Christ in the local church. Years ago I found it very helpful to know what percentage I was giving to Christ’s work, because first it saved me from deceiving myself about what a generous giver I was and second it allowed me to make a plan to increase my giving by 1% a year in order to grow in generosity and grace. I know people who’ve done this and once they reached the Biblical standard of 10% they just kept going. Why? Out of guilt and duty? No, because it feels so good to live a life of generosity and joy.

Before you fill out your pledge card I encourage you to get quiet before the Master and figure out what percentage of your net income you are now giving to the church. I say net income because I understand that taxes, school loans, alimony can add up. I know we all feel stress around our money—whether we make $500,000 or $50,000. Yet I also know how easy it is to spend thousands on entertainment, while nickel and diming the work of Christ.

The point here is not to create a new law, but to find a way into generosity and action that frees us from the prison of passivity and scarcity that keeps us from the joy of following Christ.  

I also know how easy it is to sit in the cheap seats and watch others play the game of transforming our world. It is harder, but more fulfilling, to get into the game, strap on the grace of God and bear witness to the vision of Christ.

Martin Luther did it 500 years ago. Today it’s the only game worth playing. So we play for all we’re worth.