Sunday, August 19, 2007


We've had vacation, moved, more or less, and are back in town. The adventure begins: of creating a new and revitalized presence of the Episcopal Church here in Brockton.
Challenges hit us immediately this week: 11 murders already this year on the streets and in the homes of these people. Domestic violence, crimes of passion, anger, fueled by drugs and alcohol and the craziness they engender. St. Paul's Table, where we feed 75 people a day who have no where else to eat lunch, is a place of hope and hospitality, but also of challenge as we struggle to do all this on a shoestring budget and with good-hearted volunteers.
I spent two days last week with the federal government -- a workshop for community and faith-based organizations on how to sustain our work for the long haul. As one seasoned organizer told us, our communities need our work. People count on us, and we have an obligation to live up to their expectations that we will be there and do the work they call us -- and God calls us -- to do. For the moment, that is providing lunch and hospitality. Maybe soon there will be more for us to do, here at the corner of Pleasant and Warren.
Parishioners told me not to post my sermons BEFORE I preached them, so here is last week's. Things are heating up for Jesus, and by Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke ...

Proper 14-C Aug. 12, 2007 St. Paul’s
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 Psalm 50 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Moving is not easy.

I think our family’s move to Brockton has been one of the longest on record – maybe, by the end of the week, we’ll have our worldly goods all in one place. But then, within a few days, two of our children will leave on their own journey to adulthood: off to college.

Even though we have not been quite living in tents, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews describes Abraham and Sarah, we have been feeling just as unsettled, just as temporary. I suppose, if one were young, that kind of unsettlement would be fun. The movement would be exciting. But in advanced age, like Abraham and Sarah’s, it can’t be fun. It’s not the kind of excitement we need! So when we really think about our own life experiences – moving to a new house, immigrating to a new country or a new city, having children leave home -- and then read carefully about the lives of people in the Bible, we can find texture in those stories that make them seem real, and up-to-date. OK. So Abraham and Sarah were on a mission from God; OK, they were faithful, obedient. But all that movement, that living in a foreign land, in temporary housing, waiting for something permanent to be built: they set out, not knowing where they were going! It certainly wasn’t easy for that old couple, and it probably wasn’t fun. All they had was a promise: someday all this will be yours, descendents as numerous as the stars in heaven. Someday no longer strangers or foreigners, but at home, on a firm foundation, in the beautiful city of God.

One of the things that disturb me about Christians is when they get all too certain about right and wrong. Many Christians must be truly ignorant about the Old Testament because they read it so selectively. Take today’s reading from Isaiah. Chapter 1, verse 10: God is chastising the people of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sin. God is angry. But this passage is NOT about homosexuality. God is angry because these people are wasting their time with the blood sacrifices of bulls, goats and lambs. They are praying the wrong way, and apparently God is sick of it. Then Isaiah lists the evil the people are doing, the evil God wants them to stop: they are avoiding justice, they are condemning the oppressed, they are abandoning orphans and widows, the poor and the dispossessed of their cities. Amazingly – and I think many Christians never understand this – God even says, “Come now, let us argue it out.” God condemns these sins -- red as crimson – but God believes in the relationship – God is willing to argue, to persuade, to cajole the people into doing good. This is not about the merely personal. Through prophets like Isaiah, God is calling the PEOPLE of God to repent, to cease to do evil and to learn to do good. God doesn’t care about a little goat here, a little lamb there, the sacrificial behavior that makes us think we can get off the hook. God cares about the big picture: be obedient to that, like Abraham and Sarah, and you shall eat the good of the land. God’s promises of abundance are as big as God’s demands for justice.

Jesus brings an even greater sense of urgency to these demands of God. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” Be alert when the master comes, for the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour. I’ve said this before, that each of the four Gospels gives us a slightly different picture of Jesus. Here in Luke, many scholars say, we see Jesus at his most powerful. In his first speech, in his hometown synagogue, remember, he quoted Isaiah, saying that he was come to set prisoners free, to enact those demands of God for justice and compassion. Luke’s Jesus is a liberator, a healer of the broken-hearted and ill, the one to restore the outcast to the center of God’s promises of abundance, the one who gives us the example of what it means to do good. Jesus sees the big picture – God’s big picture – and is impatient with those who are not ready to act on it.

We people of God are stuck in two places: we live knowing the promise of the heavenly city, the place of God’s reign of justice and mercy, and yet we also live in our flimsy and portable tents. We are strangers and foreigners and sojourners, knowing our true home is up ahead, leaving our past behind knowing we cannot look back. We know what it is like to live in places where thieves can break in, where the rules are unfair, where the dice is loaded and the deck is stacked against us. But like Abraham and Sarah, we live in the promise and hope for that better country. And because we do, because we press on, and struggle, and even though we don’t always have much fun or feel we are making much progress, God is with us. Unlike those foolish people making foolish sacrifices, focusing on foolish small-minded things, God is not ashamed to be called our God. God is preparing that heavenly city, and welcoming us home.