It's Your Call

Proper 16 C - Jeremiah 1:4-10
Sermon Preached at St. Barnabas by the Bay Episcopal Church (Villas, NJ)
August 22, 2010

To hear this sermon, click here and download the audio file.

The section in the sermon which references the incarnation was inspired by a comment in Lesser Feasts and Fasts on the Feast Day of William Porcher DuBose.


I Love To Tell The Story

Today's reading from Hebrews with its "sound byte" list of stories of faith led me to a sermon about the importance of Biblical literacy.  My iPod, as it turns out, was not charged and I, therefore, did not record the sermon; however, I thought it might be nice to provide a link to some of the "classics" of our faith as delimited by the author(s) of Hebrews:

  1. "By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned." -- The Exodus as told in Exodus 13:17 - 14:31 (larger context is the story of the Hebrews enslaved to the Egyptians, the story of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, and the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and their entry into the Promised Land -- Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the early chapters of Joshua (the book of Leviticus which falls between Exodus and Numbers is primarily devoted to the laws received in the wilderness)). [a great novel which "retells" the story is Zora Neale Hurston's Moses, Man of the Mountain.]
  2. "By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days." -- The battle for Jericho as told in Joshua 5:13-6:21 (larger context are the battles of conquest to secure the Promised Land for the people of God and the division of the land amongst the Hebrew peoples -- Joshua)
  3. "By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace." -- a prelude and postscript to the battle of Jericho which shows how God's plan for salvation is worked out through the most unlikely of persons as told in Joshua 2:1-24,  6:17-25 (for larger context, refer to #2 above)
The judges "ruled" over the people from the time of entry into the Promised Land (c. 1200 BCE) until the formation of the first Kingdom of Israel (c. 1050 BCE).
  1. . . . "time would fail me to tell of Gideon" - the fifth judge of the Hebrew peoples. His story is told in Judges 6 - 8. He is, by his own account a member of the weakest clan in Manasseh and he is, also by his own account, the least important in his own family; thus continues a scriptural theme of God working through the least likely of persons.
  2. "Barak" -- advised and accompanied by Deborah, Israel's 4th Judge, (clearly an oversight by the author(s) of Hebrews to omit her name!) to march to Mount Tabor with 10,000 troops to fight against Sisera and his Canaanite army and free the Israelites as told in Judges 4:4-5:31

    As an aside, as Sisera retreats and takes refuge in the house of Jael, he is killed by Jael, "Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and picked up a mallet; she crept up softly to [Sisera] and drove the peg into his temple right through the ground. He was lying fast asleep, worn out; and so he died." (Judges 4:17-22). My friends, this is the stuff great movies are made of !
  3. "Samson" (the 12th Judge) - his story can be found begninning in Judges 13:1 when his birth is foretold. Like many biblical heros, Samson is born to a barren woman (cf. Sarah and Hannah). His story is made up of some of the great story telling devices - riddles, intrigue, and betrayal at the hands of Delilah as told in Judges 16:4-31. His full story: Judges 13:1 - 16:31.

  4. "Jephthah," the son of Gilead (the 7th Judge) by a harlot, fled from his family in the land of Tob where, some time later, he is sought after by his father's people - the very persons who had persecuted him - to lead Gilead's army against the Ammonites. Jephthah becomes the 8th Judge and judges in Israel for six years before he dies.  His story is told in Judges 10:6-12:7

  1. "of David" - the Great King who, like so many, was not without his shortcomings!  His exciting story including his fight with Goliath (1 Samuel 17:1-58), his long and deep friendship with Jonathan, his visit to the witch of Endor (a great read on All Hallow's Eve, 1 Samuel 28:3-25), and the many stories of his reign as king are told beginning in 1 Samuel 16:1 and continue through the remainder of that book, through 2 Samuel, and are concluded in the early chapters of 1 Kings (1:1-2:11). He was king over Israel for 40 years.  Many of the psalms are attributed to King David. [a great song which has at its root a portion of David's story is "Hallelujah" - I'm partial to the Rufus Wainwright version.]
  1. "and Samuel," the son of Hannah who is dedicated to the Lord before his birth. (Hannah's song, which is likely a model for Mary's Magnificat in Luke's Gospel, can be found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10). Samuel is the last of the judges and a great prophet. He is teacher and mentor to Saul, consecrates Saul as King but later parts company with Saul for Saul's disobedience during the revolt against the Philistines.  Samuel remains obedient to God and is sent by God to Jesse of Bethlehem to find David, God's chocen king.  His story is told in 1 Samuel 1:1-25:1. 
  2. "and the prophets" -- the author(s) of Hebrews does not name any individual prophets, but the Old Testament is filled with great prophets - the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) and 12 minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zaphaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) - each of whom has an entire book attributed to them. In addition, the prophets are a part of the stories that fill 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God."

AMEN. Thanks be to God!

What Matters Isn't Matter

Proper 13 C - Luke 12:13-21
Sermon Preached at St. Barnabas by the Bay Episcopal Church
Villas, August 1, 2010

To hear this sermon, click here and download the audio file.

[My apologies for the delay in posting this]


Just One of the Gang AND Uniquely Qualified

AKMA Adam writes in response to the NY Times article on Clergy-Burnout that this issue (like so many before it) is much more complicated than presented (now, in fairness to the NY Times . . it was an Op-Ed piece, not a scholarly article). A portion of AKMA's response follows (full text available here).

"Once it became conventional wisdom that clergy were not vaguely superhuman angelic beings who deserve special treatment by virtue of their sanctity, many people hopped directly to an opposite point of view: that anybody whatsoever should have an equal say on any ecclesiastical topic, regardless of the depth of their familiarity with the nuances of theological or ecclesiastical knowledge. While it’s OK to laud a specialist or scholar who advocates your point of view, woe to the clergy leader, or scholar, or well-trained layperson from some other side. Any unwelcome appeal to depth may be denounced as authoritarian; any unwelcome appeal to authority may be denounced as tyrannical.

"Likewise, clergy who knew that the old 'yes, Father' model was corrupt rushed to assert their ordinariness. There’s nothing special about ordination, they assure people; we’re just one of the gang. This both denies the basis for a theology of calling and trivialises the training that the seminarian/divinity student-cum-minister has just devoted a great deal of time and money to pursuing. Both these reasons tend to undermine the standing of the minister relative to the congregation. If she’s just one of the gang, and the rest of the gang wants levity and feel-good nostrums, then who is she to oppose us? If his training doesn’t equip him distinctively to lead the church’s deliberations, why listen to him at all?"
As one who finds herself [nod to AKMA here] utilizing the "one of the gang" assertion from time to time, I feel compelled to offer at least a summary defence.  In the first place, the Catechism which begins its section on ministry with the life, work, and witness (perhaps some redundancy here) of the laity.  Second, the order for the sacrament of baptism indicates that the oil of Chrism used invites (enables?) the baptized to "share in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ" and the congregation's words of welcome ask the newly baptized to "share with us in [Christ's] eternal priesthood."  So when I emphasize, from time to time, my one-of-the-gang-ness over and against my uniquely-priest-y-ness, it is with the intent of raising up the ministry of all - the priesthood of all believers.

Having said that, however, AKMA's comments provide a corrective lens to that "ordinary" assertion by reminding that if clergy are, by virtue of baptism "no different" than any other baptized Christian, they are, by calling, by ordination, by vocation, nonetheless uniquely "set apart" for a specific ministry, a ministry which relies upon (depends upon?) said clergy's academic and vocational preparation.  A double-edge sword for  as clergy emphasize "ordinary," lay persons hear "just like me." And, as lay persons hear "just like me" they also hear, "I'm just like the clergy" - i.e., uniquely qualified to offer opinions (often stated as truth) about liturgics, sacramentology, scriptural authority, homiletics, music in worship, etc. even though I may not have (and typically do not have) the academic or vocation background to support those views.

First aside: I was watching the History Channel yesterday and was horried by the "so-called" experts who were "proving" that human beings actually are the genetically-engineered creation of extraterrestrial beings.  Reading the "fine print" under the names of these experts, one in particular caught my eye: "Radio Host." Really? The credential "radio host" was sufficient for this individual to appear on the history channel as an expert on human origins? It is any wonder then, that we (collectively) find it acceptable to be "experts" on any number of topics for which we have no academic or vocational preparedness?

Second aside: I wonder if the recent seminary financial woes are, at least in part, due to this cultural shift in understanding the vocation of the priesthood.  As more and more lay persons discount the unique calling of the clergy, they, in effect, discount the value of said clergy which, indirectly begins to erode the value (both in terms of dollars and content) of the specialized training received.