Sermon–Can we imagine Jesus’ Way? November 11, 2018


25 Pentecost—Proper 27-B/November 11, 2018

William Bradbury

1 Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 World War One came to an end. Wikipedia says that “An estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a direct result of the war, while it is also considered a contributory factor in a number of genocides and the 1918 influenza epidemic, which caused between 50 and 100 million deaths worldwide.” It is also generally agreed that this war and the Treaty of Versailles that ended it 100 years ago today, led directly to instability in Germany, the rise of the Nazis Party, and the Second World War.

I imagine most of us have seen movies depicting the horror of armies using 19th century tactics against 20th century weapons, with great numbers of men charging across an open field of mud, only to be slaughtered by long-range howitzers, machine guns, and poison gas.

Jesus came into the world proclaiming the Kingdom of God in which the only sword drawn is the sword of love. Another way to talk about the kingdom is that Jesus came to make our broken world whole. Jesus’ mission is “Whole-Making”, says Ilia Delio. Jesus method is sharing his experience of God. See The Emergent Christ—a great book for scientists.

We see Jesus’ Mission as Whole-Making when he heals the man born blind or the woman with an issue of blood. We see this mission when he is willing to help make whole those who were outside his Jewish tribe—like the Centurion or the Samaritan woman at the well. He makes people whole on the inside and he makes communities whole on the outside.  

We see Jesus’ method of sharing his experience of God when he describes what happens at his baptism: After coming out of the water, Jesus experiences the veil between heaven and earth torn apart, so heaven and earth are now one, not two, and in that union a divine voice crashes through his ego to the very depths of his being saying, “You are my beloved, my son, with whom I am well-pleased” as the Spirit of God descends into Jesus.

Here we see God as Father, Son, and Spirit. This transformative experience reveals God as complex unity whose mission is wholeness for the human community and through them for the cosmos. 

Jesus teaches us how to pray for his experience: he says go into that secret place in your heart and there you will find the Father who is already there. He teaches us to make forgiveness a centerpiece of our life together by praying “Our Father”, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

In his last prayer at his last supper Jesus says, “Father, the glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.” John 17:22-23 This is whole-making at the deepest level. It is the Son’s mission, because it is the Father’s and the Spirit’s mission.

As we share Jesus’ experience of God, then, we see that at the heart of all things is Love which seeks to heal all divisions. God is seeking to lure and love creation into holy communion, where prejudice, fear, and hatred are no more. A future where World Wars, mass murders, and splintered civic life exist no longer.

As we experience Jesus as the one who makes us Whole, we must realize it is not the time to huddle up in clutches licking our wounds and hating our enemies. Rather, it is the time to be Whole-Makers ourselves through the power of the Spirit of Jesus dwelling in us. So we stand in solidarity with the marginalized and scapegoated. We make it our mission to bring peace to those in our own family and to those in our place of work who are afraid and think that dividing the nation is the only way to save it.

But how, you say?

In the gospel today Jesus points out both a way that doesn’t work and a way that does work.

Jesus points out that some Scribes, but not all Scribes, think they are connecting to God when they show off their religion. They confuse that warm glow we get when others are impressed with our religiosity, as the same thing as experiencing God.

But you better be careful here—for who do you know that goes around in long robes, gets the best seat in church, and makes long prayers in public? That would be me and other clergy!

One of the men Thursday night at the Bible study at MCI-Concord said he was present when Mother Theresa visited the prison back in June 1988. He said there were church and elected officials everywhere, along with the media and security personnel. Since the crowd was too big for the chapel, which will only seat about 200, they had the Mass in the gymnasium. They arranged a seat up on the stage for Mother, but she said she came to be with the prisoners—so she sat with them!

We don’t grow closer to God through external gratification and ego enhancement, even when we are showing off for God.

Rather, Jesus says, look at the widow giving away her money to the temple.

Some recent scholars suggest that Jesus is actually lamenting the woman giving up her last money to such a corrupt institution as the Temple, which he symbolically cleansed and which anyway would be destroyed in 40 years by the Roman legions.

However that may be,  think Jesus is impressed by her generosity and her trust in God. Because Jesus, himself, would also give up his life at the end of that week.

And so there is always a cost—or a cross—for those who would be made whole. Theologian Miroslav Volf puts it this way: “we can be recipients of [Jesus’ wholeness] only if we do not resist being made into its agents. What happens to us must be done by us.” Ibid. page 67

On this day I think of Paul Jones, who attended the Episcopal seminary in Cambridge, Mass. He was elected Missionary Bishop of Utah in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I. Although the United States did not enter the war until 1917, Jones spoke out against the war, saying war could not be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus. He also clearly opposed Germany and lobbied for other ways to oppose them. Many laypeople and clergy defended his right to speak his mind, even though they were as enthusiastic as most about the war. But in 1917, vestry members from two large Utah parishes organized a campaign against Jones. A Commission investigated him and the House of Bishops forced him to resign, which he did on April 11, 1918.  Maria Evans in

So here we are, it’s almost the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 100 years after the horror of that war ended. Plenty of folks can’t imagine any other way to deal with their enemies than locking them up or killing them.

The Risen Christ calls us to imagine a different way—a way of peace, justice, and non-violence in which we join the cruciform mission of Whole-Making.

For “What happens to us must be done by us” through the energetic love of Triune God.