December 5, 2021 -- Second Sunday in Advent
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

2 Advent (Year C)
Luke 3:1-6
St. John’s, West Seneca
Dec. 5, 2022

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Last year this time, we were swept up in Mark’s fast and furious pace in his gospel. When I say fast and furious, I mean it. In the first 14 verses, John preaches, baptizes, is imprisoned, and Jesus is baptized, tempted and into his ministry. In 14 verses.

Luke takes a bit longer. Fred Craddock – a Luke scholar – states that Mark pushes his reader off the high board into the deep end of the pool. Luke leads us, gently from the shallow end into the deep. Luke takes 134 verses to prepare us for John and then Jesus. For Luke, these significant events need to be set up properly.

We first hear of the one who will point the way in chapter 1. His father, Zechariah, had been struck dumb for not believing what the angel Gabriel told him, that he and his wife – although getting on in years – would have a child. When he and Elizabeth’s child is born, he writes: His name is John. Then he can speak. It’s a reminder to all of us that when God sends an angel, you should listen…and believe.

Fast forward to today. Luke tells us that: "the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness…" John appears all around the region of the Jordan River, "... proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." This is good news, more so because it had been over 400 years since the last of the prophets had spoken. The silence has ended, and his hearers realize that the time of prophetic silence is over. As John writes in his gospel, once John the Baptist makes clear that he is not the Messiah, the crowd immediately jumps to the notion that perhaps he is Elijah come back or "the prophet," Perhaps a person like Moses. But John accepts neither of those identities, describing himself only as "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness," a quote from Isaiah. But no matter how John describes himself, the people hear him as a prophetic voice from God. Jesus later calls John a prophet, too.

John’s most important task is to point to another. Remember, four hundred years, nothing. Not that there were no prophets, there had been, but none had played such a role until John the Baptist. First John, then Jesus. Jesus appears on the scene, far more than a prophet, but the crowds would have recognized how his words and actions had the ring of one of the prophets of old.

So, who is this person, in perhaps more modern terms? John the Baptist is – and the prophets as a whole - to use a term from statistics, an Outlier. The definition of an outlier: “something (or someone) situated away from the main group.”

Why is this important? It’s all about the message that John the Baptist brings to the world…even today.

Yes, he was at the Jordan baptizing. This does not really set him apart, and it would not have shocked first-century Jews. It would not even have disturbed those in the ruling class. “Ritual washings in mikva'ot (immersion baths or pools) were commonplace, and people believed that this practice cleansed the body of its chronic profanity and sanctified it for worship of God.”  But John's baptism was unique. In fact, Luke amplifies one distinctive aspect of John's baptism; it flows directly from the prophet Isaiah.

This is the "so what." This "prophetic understanding of life" explains why, when John started preaching in the region around the Jordan, his primary message was not a call for all of us to treat each other better or to keep the Ten Commandments or to ensure social justice for all, although those are good things to keep in mind. No, John is calling for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In other words, the first thing people needed to do was to align themselves with God's plan, get back on track, by repenting and receiving forgiveness for their sins.

If we continue reading in Luke 3, going beyond the six verses the lectionary prescribes for the pericope, we see that John did give some specifics about how that repentance might evidence itself in behavior: Those with two coats should give one to those who have none, tax collectors should collect no more than the owed amount, soldiers should not extort money, and so on -- or, as Matthew records John's words, "Bear fruit worthy of repentance."

But John didn't start with the details of how salvation might play out in everyday life. Rather he started with repentance itself, what generations of preachers after John have described as "getting right with God."

To repent is simply to “turn around.” Turn from sin, give up destructive habits, take your relationship with God seriously, and then, as with so many things, let in flow into a holy life.

How do we do that? How do we even understand?  I went to the experts.

Richard Rohr – in Falling Upward - states: “We do not ‘make’ or ‘create’ our souls; we just ‘grow’ them up. We are the clumsy stewards of our own souls. Much of our work is learning how to stay out of the way of this rather natural growing and awakening. We need to unlearn a lot, it seems, to get back to that foundational life. This is why religious traditions call the process ‘conversion’ or ‘repentance.’”

C.S. Lewis adds this important note: "... this repentance ... is not something God demands of you before he will take you back and which he could let you off if he chose: it is simply a description of what going back to him is like." We cannot be right with God without repentance; it's like asking God to take us back without actually going back.

But it is the writer Kathleen Norris who has another way to understand repentance. She tells of working as an artist-in-residence at a parochial school and telling children something about the psalms. Now, you and I know that the psalmists are honest in expressing emotion, even anger at God. Her students were amazed at this, and she found that they readily identified with the psalmists. So, she invited them to write their own psalms.

“She tells of one boy who wrote a poem/psalm called "The Monster Who Was Sorry." He began by admitting that he hated it when his father yelled at him, and in the poem, he pictures himself responding by throwing his sister down the stairs, wrecking his room and then wrecking the whole town. The poem ends with, ‘Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, 'I shouldn't have done that.' Norris concludes her account of this boy's poem by referring to the fourth-century monks who guided beginners in the faith and suggesting that those monks would have told this boy ‘that he was well on the way toward repentance, not such a monster after all, but only human. If the house is messy, they might have said, why not clean it up, why not make it into a place where God might wish to dwell?’"

When John the Baptist preached at the Jordan, people came and they came so that they could get right with God. Just following rules was not enough. And when Jesus began his ministry, it is said the “the crowds followed him.”  They too wanted a new life, a life with meaning, and they were ready to turn around, to repent, to make their houses less messy, more ready for God.

John’s call to repentance is with us today. As we clean our houses, we will be changed and people will notice. In turn, we will find that there is always a way to introduce Jesus to new people and to tell them of repentance, the path to getting right with God. While John the Baptist was one-of-a-kind, impossible to duplicate, what we can do is take our baptismal vows seriously:
·        to live among God’s faithful people,
·        to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
·        to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
·        to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
·        and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

Doing that, we become outliers, standing apart from society by showing a better way, a joyful way. The earliest Christians were outliers, taking who they were seriously, getting right with God. They changed the world, growing one soul at a time. And that is what we are to do, this day and every day. This is the season for learning and awakening, so that we will be ready for the ultimate outlier: God’s own son.  Amen.

                                                                                Soli Deo Gloria

November 28, 2021 -- First Sunday in Advent
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

Advent 1 (Year C)
Luke
St. John’s, West Seneca
November 28, 2021

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

As you know, we have entered a new liturgical year, and so, our Gospel readings are from Luke. As I am a teacher at heart, I have developed a pattern as we begin Advent, taking the first Sunday, maybe the second Sunday, in the season to introduce you to the Gospel for that year. I began this about fifteen years ago, and no matter how many times I turn to Matthew, Mark, or Luke, I find something that I had not noticed before.

As I mentioned, it is Luke who has our attention for the coming year. Of the four evangelists, Luke wrote the best Greek, and unlike the other three, was probably a Greek-speaking Gentile. Luke’s gospel was written for a Gentile audience, and he translates Jewish names and explains Jewish customs whenever he thought it necessary. Filled with historical details, names and places, Luke is writing for those who may not be acquainted with Jewish customs, history or geography.

Luke is also the writer the Acts of the Apostles, and tradition has it that he is the “beloved physician" mentioned by St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians. What little we know of Luke’s life comes from Scripture and from early Church historians.

It is believed that Luke was born a Greek and a Gentile, and his gospel is directed towards the Gentiles. It is only in his gospel that we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, that we hear Jesus praising the faith of Gentiles such as the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, and that we hear the story of that one grateful leper who is a Samaritan.

In our day, it would be easy to assume that someone who was a doctor was rich, but scholars have argued that Luke might have been born a slave. It was not uncommon for families to educate slaves in medicine so that they would have a resident family physician. As for Luke’s profession, not only do we have Paul's word, but Eusebius, Saint Jerome, Saint Irenaeus and Caius, a second-century writer, all refer to Luke as a physician.

In his introduction to the Gospel, Luke is straightforward: "Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus."

Luke's unique perspective on Jesus can be seen in the miracles and parables that are featured in his gospel.  Luke is the gospel of the poor and of social justice. He is the one who tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man who ignored him. Luke is the one who uses "Blessed are the poor" instead of "Blessed are the poor in spirit" in the Beatitudes. Only in Luke's gospel do we hear Mary's Magnificat where she proclaims that God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

I was chatting with my colleague Sister Regina about Luke and she said, with a smile, “Ah, Luke is the woman’s gospel.” And Luke has a special connection with the women in Jesus' life, especially Mary. It is only in Luke's gospel that we hear the story of Gabriel’s visit to Mary, called the Annunciation and then Mary's visit to Elizabeth – called the Visitation. Within that visit to Elizabeth is the Magnificat. It is Luke that we have to thank for the Scriptural parts of the Ave Maria: "Hail Mary full of grace" spoken at the Annunciation and "Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus" spoken by her cousin Elizabeth. There is also the Presentation, and the story of Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem.

Forgiveness and God's mercy to sinners is of first importance to Luke. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the Prodigal Son welcomed back by the overjoyed father. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus' feet with her tears. The thief on the cross asked to be remembered and Jesus assured him that it would be so. Throughout Luke's gospel, Jesus is on the side of the sinner who wants to return to God's mercy.

Reading Luke's gospel gives a good idea of his character as one who loved the poor, who wanted the door to God's kingdom opened to all, who respected women, and who saw hope in God's mercy for everyone.

Luke is the evangelist who goes out of his way to make it clear that Jesus was big on praying. He prayed when he was baptized and after he healed the leper and on the night before he called his twelve disciples.  Luke tells us that Jesus’ last words were a prayer: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke has Jesus telling us about the man who kept knocking at his friend’s door until he got out of bed to open it, and the widow who just keeps going and going to that corrupt judge, the point being that if you don’t think God heard you the first time, don’t give up.
-----

So as we go through this year, we will be listening to Jesus talk about the poor and the marginalized, the foreigner and women. Luke’s concentration on the poor and marginalized is in turn a comment on wealth, not the wealth we have, but the place that it holds in our hearts.

We need to return our focus to God, and that is what the next Sundays will do: give us an opportunity to turn to God. The word Advent means “coming,” and it is the time each year in which we prepare ourselves for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas. In this season, we are invited to look forward in hope. We are asked to put our faith in Jesus, not in ourselves. We are called to  believe that God really has come in human form to heal us, help us, and save us. The message of Advent is that Christ is coming, for the first time, or the second. Jesus is Emmanuel: God with us. He is the One who shows us the abundance of God’s steadfast love for us, and the desire of God to save us no matter where we find ourselves.

Advent reminds us to be ready for the coming of God’s Son, again. But are we ready? Are we aware of the extraordinary thing that is about to happen? Or are these weeks just one long list of duties to fulfill, and dinners to plan and gifts to buy? Does anyone really celebrate Advent?

Well, we do. These days are not mere “this many shopping days” to Christmas, these are the days that count and that will end in the great mystery. Who looks forward to this return of the Lord? Passionate Christians do. So do compassionate Christians.

Jesus will encourage us this year to put God first, to mind where we find treasure. Jesus will challenge us to see the poor and the marginalized, and to be merciful. With Jesus guiding us, it is my hope that we will find that our treasure is in heaven.

With a pandemic that just doesn’t seem to end, a new variant – Omicron – on the horizon, with hateful language dividing us, and any number of issues we face, it is my hope that we will strive to become the people that God wants us to be. That we will hear Luke’s words about the Good Samaritan and truly know who our neighbor is. Or be overwhelmed by the love and mercy of the father as we hear about the Prodigal Son. Or perhaps be overjoyed as we walk with those two men on the road to Emmaus and meet the resurrected Jesus. And most important, that we will find that our treasure is indeed in Jesus.

“It’s said that novelists Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller were once attending a fancy party at a private home in Shelter Island, New York. Vonnegut informed Heller that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a day than Heller had earned from his best-selling novel, Catch-22. ‘Yes,’ responded Heller, ‘but I have something he will never have: enough.’”

As we come to Advent, the question is not what we have, but is it enough. With the birth of Jesus, we will have enough…and more than we could ever imagine. Amen.

                                                                                  Soli Deo Gloria 

November 21, 2021 -- Christ the King
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

Christ the King (Year B)
Daniel 7, John 12
St. John’s, West Seneca
November 21, 2021 

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

In 2007, there was an essay in TIME magazine lamenting how the seasons run together. I cannot remember the name of the author, but I do recall the title “Merry Hallowmas.” Here are portions of what the author wrote.

“’A perpetual Holiday,’ George Bernard Shaw said, ‘is a good working definition of hell.’ …It's as though we've supersized our holidays, so that they start sooner, last longer and cost more, until the calendar pages pull and tear, and we don't know which one we are meant to be celebrating.

Seasons once had a rhythm to them, tuned to the harvest or the hunt, with rituals spaced through the year to bring the rain, praise the sun, mark the time between solstice and equinox, celebrate birth and honor death. Our holidays answer our needs to feast and mourn and manage risk, our customs customized to the point that the Roman pagans had a holiday specifically designed to prevent a certain kind of mold from destroying the wheat by offering animal sacrifices to the god of mildew. We remember those we love on Valentine's Day, those we revere on Easter or Passover or Ramadan, those we fear on Halloween. Thanksgiving was a celebration of harvest, the stuffing of oneself a natural response to all the work that once went into managing one's crops and now goes into managing one's relatives. Just as meals and sleep and work and recess pace the days, so do holidays pace the year. Clump them together, and they lose their fizz and juice, the useful little monthly boosts turned into a pileup of duties and lists. When every day is a holiday--or more precisely, part of the holiday season--none really are.”

One of the more interesting points was this one: “To 17th century Puritans, of course, Christmas was largely a pagan holiday too, so they fined workers who took a single Yuletide day off. Now the Christmas season and the baseball season nearly overlap, as retailers count on Santa for as much as half their annual sales…”

The author concludes: “Celebrating these occasions serially is hard enough; handling them simultaneously makes you dizzy. Red-letter days are our measuring sticks, the fixed points from one year to the next by which we can tell how much we've changed. They let us gauge the function or dysfunction of the clan, see how our hopes ferment, our kids grow and ripen. Little sister wears big sister's Easter dress from two years ago, and you suspect she's going to end up taller. The cub scouts in the annual Memorial Day parade are eagles now. So in the spirit of holiday acceleration, let's make some early New Year's resolutions: no costume purchases in September, no holly before Halloween. Ignore the campaign as long as possible: its season will come in due course. Let's not rush but savor the holidays one by one and preserve their power, their flavor--and our sanity.” ------

If you found yourself identifying with that essay, then good. Are the holidays nothing more than a “pileup of duties and lists?” This is the time of year when we just push everything together, moving from one to the next with hardly any thought, making no holidays when there used to be two or three.

If you want the antidote to this, you have it. It is called the church year.

The church year is organized in such a way so that we, at the very least, can aspire to change our lives on a spiritual level.

 ·  Advent for preparation;

·  12 days of Christmas for celebrating the birth of God’s Son,

·  Epiphany to begin to contemplate just who this Jesus might be:

·  Lent to walk with Jesus and allow us to be a part of the greatest story ever told.

·  With such a celebration of Easter, one day is not enough, so the church year gives us 50. Pentecost marks the birthday of the church, and then we enter into the long green season of Pentecost, where the hope is for spiritual growth. It ends, today, with Christ the King.

This past week, one of my colleagues told this story. “In 1975, as I was coming home for Easter vacation from Luther Seminary, I ran out of gas on a county blacktop, just five miles from home. Thank God, a farm couple came along and brought me home. Dad filled a gas can and brought me to my car. When we got to my car, Dad mentioned, “When it’s dark like this, you should have your flashers on.(I hadn’t done that.)”

That is what the church year is, flashers in the dark to remind us when we are entering into something new, when something is ending and when a red letter day is coming. These flashers get our attention and prepare us to move on to the next part of the story. Sometimes, the flashers come at quicker intervals, as say, between Christmas and Epiphany, but our last flashing light was on Pentecost, all the way back in May.

The Bible leads the way. On the last Sunday of the church year, these call us to remember that God’s kingship is different than earthly kingship.  If you take a look at the texts today, you will see flashing lights. You will see that Daniel reminds us of the One who is coming, and whose dominion will last forever. Revelation has John addressing the early church in a time of persecution, from the “one who is and who was and who is to come…the Alpha and the Omega.”

And John in his gospel, shows us two kingdoms. Pilate represents Rome and its earthly power, and the Kingdom of God. “What is truth?” Pilate asks. Pilate was asking more than he knew. The truth that we believe in is written over and over again in the Bible. Now it may not be truth as we understand, that it, something that can be verified, rather it is the truth as seen through the eyes of faith. It is sola fide, as Martin Luther so eloquently insisted, that allows us to hear it and hold on to it, and to belong to the truth about which Jesus is talking. That truth, simply put, is the truth about God, the truth of God and that God is the truth.

John and the other texts remind us today that while all around is chaos, the word of God holds steadfast and true.

While everything else changes, God does not. God won’t change on his position of grace and peace. Despite what we do, what we leave undone and what is done to us, this remains constant. Jesus reminds us:

·   That we are loved by God, so much so that God knows the hairs on our head;

·   That God wants us to be reconciled to him;

·   That God wants us to put him first, because his kingdom is not like other kingdoms;

·   That we should love God first and our neighbors as ourselves;

·   And, that Jesus himself is "the way, the truth and the life."

And if we do not get it the first time around, so much the better. The beauty of the church year is that it comes around like clockwork, with no running together of the seasons. It is there to remind us to take our time, sometimes only twelve days, sometimes one-half a year.

This is what the church year does, setting out season by season – in progression -the works of God that cause us to wonder and to engage more fully in this holy mystery.  From expectation and longing to birth and death, miracles and signs, we are treated to the great mystery, the God who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”

Each year I hear the complaints of how all this runs together. The antidote is simple. Here in this place, we are on the church’s time, God’s time, and there is no melding together. So no Christmas carols until Christmas.

Getting back to the Merry Hallowmas essay and running things together. We would do the same here. We all have our favorite season: I love Advent.  But a year of Sundays in Advent would miss the point of the Christian life.  Yes, it is good to be expectant, and to have a sense of longing for the great mystery, yet we need a time to celebrate a birth, a time for visitors from the East, a time to be amazed, a time to be penitent, a time to be told that death no longer has the last word, a time for a birthday, and a time to grow.  The church year has a rhythm and a progression, and just as holidays recognize our need to feast and celebrate and honor, so does the church year.

Our daily calendars remind us what routine tasks must be done today or next week, or the one after that.  The church calendar reminds us that there is something far greater, far more mysterious, far more holy, than our routine tasks, and if we can enter into it fully, our lives will no longer be routine.

Yes, we have come to the end of yet another church year. Next Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent, and we begin this cycle once again, only this time, the appointed gospel is Luke. Make a church year resolution, one that takes its own time. And don’t forget to watch for the flashing lights.  Amen.

                                                                                   Soli Deo Gloria

November 14, 2021 -- 25 Pentecost
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

25 Pentecost (Year B)
Mark 13:1-8
St. John’s, West Seneca
November 14, 2021 

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A phrase that gets thrown around these days is that you are “on a need-to-know basis.” Depending on the situation, you may be offended; you may feel left out, or…you may be relieved. As we all know, knowledge brings responsibility and yes, at times, ignorance is bliss.

So, where does the phrase “need-to-know basis” come from?

Most probably the military is responsible for the expression. We all watch enough television to know that there is certain information that is “secret” or “top secret.” This information is sensitive, so therefore, there needs to be restrictions on who can see or even be informed. Only a few, limited, individuals “need to know,” and can then fulfill their duties.

But “need-to-know basis” exists in other contexts as well. For example, the website wiseGEEK, tells us that “when authorized engravers work on a new set of printing plates to produce government currency, each engraver receives only a section of the finished design. In this way, no single engraver ever sees the entire printing plate, so he or she could not be coerced into reproducing it for counterfeiters.”

Today’s passage from Mark is like that. And it seems we are the ones who are on a need-to-know basis. Jesus and the disciples are at the temple. And it made an impression. Perhaps they had seen this magnificent building…or not. Whatever the case may be, the disciples were impressed. “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”

Think of the first time you saw “the big city,” or, if your travels have taken you to more distant places, think on seeing Notre Dame, or a castle. Maybe it was a bridge that caught your attention, or a theater or stadium.

But Jesus was not impressed. Now you remember, he had been in the temple years before at the tender age of 12 when he had spoken with some of the most learned men of his time. And, according to Mark, he had been there twice before with the disciples.

Again the disciples miss the point. They are taken in by the works of man, and somehow missed what Jesus taught: God’s temple is not a building. Now we may worship in buildings, but God does not live in buildings made by human hands. God is not contained nor limited to a specific place. God dwells in the human heart.

What Jesus is making clear through all this is that the day will come when even the most magnificent building will be toppled, not by some natural disaster or even a man-made one, but by God, who is everlasting and who will make all things new. Jesus is cautioning us, reminding us that we are not to let our pride get the best of us, no matter how large the stones or the buildings. As God's people we must not attach or link our peace to the tangible, to the work of our hands only. We are not to lose our focus on what is most important to God.

That statement – that the temple will be torn down - must have made an impression, because the inner circle of James and John, Peter and Andrew, came to Jesus for a bit more information. They inquire of Jesus: “When will this be?”

In spite of all that had happened during Jesus’ three visits (yes, this is the third) to the temple, as well as all his healings and miracles and teachings, it is obvious that the disciples still weren’t able to grasp who Jesus is and what He is teaching about the kingdom. This is a common theme in Mark, this “not-knowing.” And it is easy for us to be a bit unkind, even superior about their lack of understanding. Of course, I don’t need to remind you that we have the advantage of being post resurrection people.

When the disciples ask the “when and what” that they believe they need to know, Jesus doesn’t tell. There is nothing exact here. They are on a “need-to-know” basis and so Jesus does something else. He warns them of those imposters who will attempt to use that time of testing to lure the believers away, to distract them from the task at hand. He counsels them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”

In addition, he urges his disciples not to be disturbed by the recurring conflicts between kingdoms and nations: “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” He also assures them that nature’s catastrophic events are not signs of the end of the world. He explains that “there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.” But he also points out that, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” So don’t get distracted; don’t be taken in and don’t try to figure out when the end will be. In Acts, Jesus tells them the same thing: that there are some things they do not need to know. “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”

But something else is going on as well. Not only are there things we don’t need to know, but there are things we just don’t see, just as the disciples did not see. One scholar speaks of this text using a medical condition, that of macular degeneration. Now, as I understand this, macular degeneration causes loss in the center of the field of vision, limiting vision to the periphery, so you do not see the whole picture.

So, what the disciples suffered from is spiritual macular degeneration;they focus on the periphery, on “secondary things.” They seem to miss the center. And, as I said before, it is tempting to see ourselves as superior as we disparage the disciples. The truth is, we get caught up in some of the same things.

The disciples often failed to recognize the signs that Jesus had already revealed to them. They were caught up in the moment, noticing what was on the periphery, instead of seeing the whole. They were more concerned about the “whens and wheres” than the ministry that was laid before them. And maybe that is why they were on a “need-to-know” basis, because they were so human in their vision.

We are in the same situation. There are false shepherds out there, looking for followers. They are the ones who claim inside information and tell us that they have the knowledge that no one else has. And they hint that if we care enough, we too can be part of that inner circle, knowing what they know. Jesus cautions us. What you need to know is that no one knows more than you do right now. What you need to know has already been given us, and it is laid out in the four gospels.

So the warning to “beware,” comes down to focus, and focus on what is truly important and life-giving.

As for the end times, what I believe is that on that day, we should be found doing what Jesus taught: Loving God with all our strength, loving our neighbor, and making this world a better place because of our various ministries. And, as stated in Acts and at the end of this chapter, Jesus will say that neither he nor the angels know what is known only to God.

What we need-to-know is that God keeps His promises, that God is faithful. What we need to do is be His people in this world, talking about what God has done in Jesus and yes, if appropriate, what may be in the future. But we should not get so caught up in trying to calculate the end times. What we should be doing is bringing heaven to earth, as we do pray: Thy kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.”

Knowing all is often more than we can handle, and we have to tendency to get caught up in the secondary things, a sort of spiritual macular degeneration.  History is replete with those who were sure they knew “the date and time.” They were incorrect. Our vision needs to be complete, with the right focus on the things that not only do we know, but those we can do. “It is not our job to know the future; it is our job to cling to the word of God. And that’s all we need to know. Amen.

                                                                                  Soli Deo Gloria 

November 7. 2021 -- All Saints Sunday
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

24 Pentecost/ All Saints (Year B)
Mark 12:38-44 and I Kings 17:8-16
St. John’s, West Seneca
November 7, 2021 

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In 1 Kings we see Elijah, the first prophet, wandering in a world like I described last week as being; “glutted with idols.“ King Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel did not promote the one God. These people are devoted to the worship of Baal. One author writes: “Baal is a false god whose proponents attract followers by selling the god as a kind of insanely generous game show host. And people played his games because of the great prizes he guaranteed, typically an endless supply of fertile ground for growing crops and fertile wombs for growing families. You know, exactly what ancient peoples, struggling for survival wanted to hear and needed to have.”

How many times have you been promised something and been disappointed? All things run their course, especially false gods. What we want to hear and what we need are two different things. How does a false god keep promises? This is where we find Elijah going into a place where, despite promises from this false god, there is a drought that continues to devastate the landscape. It's a drought that Elijah himself predicted and now it has come to pass, and he sees this as judgement for those who have fallen for false promises from their god.

And so, God speaks. This is the first story in the Elijah cycle, and it is a call to go.  "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.' So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks.”

So off he goes, to seek food in a specific place. He does find this widow, but this woman and her child are starving, and she believes that she is about to eat her last meal.

However, she is about to meet a God who provides whatever we need when we need it. She is about to experience a God whose promises are true. Through Elijah, she is about to see firsthand where true abundance comes from, that the God of Elijah provides. And so, “She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.”

Just as then, we live in a world where idols hawk false promises. We still live in a world full of "Baals" -- a world full of false gods promising endless supply, or perfect and immediate results. Idols come in different forms these days and appeal to us in ways that make us believe that we are doing the right thing. Do any of these sound familiar?

 ·        An idol comes to us in the idea of a lucrative job, promising success and security. That is, as long as you are willing to work impossible hours with no hint of a sabbath, or a home life.

·        An idol comes in the form of a product that will give you youth, or at least the look of it. Or the promise of a fit body in only a few weeks.

·        Idols beckon us in every latest trend and gadget that we just need to own.

·        For those who want fame and fortune, there are lotteries galore and about the same number of reality televisions shows, promising riches and fame.

Oh, Baal is still alive, and as fake as ever.

In one of the devotions for this past week, I cited Henri Nouwen who wrote: “God is a god of abundance, not a god of scarcity. Jesus reveals to us God's abundance when he offers so much bread to the people that there are twelve large baskets with leftover scraps, and when he makes his disciples catch so many fish that their boat nearly sinks. God doesn't give us just enough. God gives us more than enough: more bread and fish than we can eat, more love than we dared to ask for.

God is a generous giver, but we can only see and enjoy God's generosity when we love God with all of our hearts, minds and strength. As long as we say, ‘I will love you, God, but first show me your generosity,’ we will remain distant from God and unable to experience what God truly wants to give us, which is life and life in abundance.”

There is abundance with the widow at Zarephath, and there is abundance with the widow today. Turning to Mark’ Gospel, we see Jesus sitting down and just watching the crowd. We are told that rich people were dropping in large sums of money. A poor widow comes in and deposits two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Jesus sees this and knows one who understands what abundance in God looks like.  “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury”. The disciples probably nodded their heads in agreement with their rabbi, but somehow, I’d be willing to be that they don’t get it.  How can two copper coins equal the gold coins that the rich are dropping? Jesus continues by saying that all of the rich “contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on”.

Or as Mother Theresa once said: “If you give what you don’t need, it isn’t really giving.”

Two examples of abundance. A poor widow receiving enough flour and oil to feed her son and Elijah. And well over a millennia later, another poor widow who knows that with God there is abundance, and so she gives her all.

This is what God intends from the beginning. From Genesis on, God shows just how abundance his love and care for us is. He clothes Adam and Eve as they leave the Garden. He gives an old couple a child, with the promise of descendants outnumber the stars in the sky. But then, later in Genesis, we humans get in the way and there is a change.

Walter Bruggeman, who is an Old Testament scholar, and a man I have had the privilege to hear speak and preach writes this: “Pharaoh dreams that there will be a famine in the land. So Pharaoh gets organized to administer, control and monopolize the food supply. Pharaoh introduces the principle of scarcity into the world economy. For the first time in the Bible, someone says, ‘There's not enough. Let's get everything.’ That is when it changes from trusting in God.

Brueggemann writes extensively on the myth of scarcity: "We who are now the richest nation are today's main coveters. We never feel that we have enough; we have to have more and more, and this insatiable desire destroys us. Whether we are liberal or conservative Christians, we must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God's abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity -- a belief that makes us greedy, mean and unneighborly. We spend our lives trying to sort out that ambiguity."

This would all be so depressing, but it is not, as we have the power to change this myth of scarcity, and we have people to show us how.

As we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday, we may ask ourselves: what is a saint?  In the simplest terms, all of you are just that, people called to a task at a particular time and in a particular place. As one writer said: “The wonderful thing about saints is that they were human. They lost their tempers, got hungry, scolded God, were egotistical, or testy or impatient in their turns, made mistakes and regretted them. Still, they went on doggedly blundering toward heaven.”

A saint listens for God. The widow at Zarephath takes Elijah at his word, and there is abundance. A woman going to make an offering gives all she has, knowing that God, who is faithful, will provide with more.

The ones who died from this parish this past year were saints, and they instructed us on how to be generous, with their time, their treasures, their very lives. We add their names to the great cloud of witnesses, from the widow at Zarephath to the widow at the treasury, as well as our names, as those who knew that God keeps promises and provides more than we can imagine. Amen.

                                                                                 Soli Deo Gloria 

October 31, 2021 -- Reformation Day
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

Reformation Day and 23 Pentecost (Year B)
Mark 12: 28-34, Deuteronomy 6:1-9
St. John’s, West Seneca
October 31, 2021 

 Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The first reading and the Gospel line up perfectly this week, with the Shema from Deuteronomy and the Great Commandment from Mark.

From the twelfth chapter of Mark's Gospel comes Jesus' own commentary on the laws and traditions laid out in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. This should not be a surprise, Jesus is a teacher, especially in Mark. What is good here is that this is not a combative confrontation with a scribe, one could even say that it is positive.

But before that is Deuteronomy. In the Jewish tradition this is the Shema - the Hebrew for the first word of this command: "Hear." “Since at least the second century B.C. this has been the cornerstone of every Jew's confessional faithfulness. Recited every morning and evening by pious Jews, it has stood as the distinguishing hallmark of a monotheistic faith in a world glutted with gods and idols. The Shema - Hear O Israel - not only encapsulates the heart of Jewish monotheism, it gives specific directives that are to be carried out daily, becoming so ingrained that it will naturally be passed on to the next generation. After Deuteronomy 6:4 entreats Israel to "hear" and to repeat the oneness of God, verse 7 calls for the instruction of the next generation - "recite them to your children."

That this is so important, so life-giving, a custom developed in Jewish homes, that of the mezuzah. The mezzuzah is a small container with an enclosure that is placed on the upper third of the doorway into a Jewish home - size, shape, and design are up to the homeowner. Rolled up inside is a scroll with these verses from Deuteronomy. So, the mezzuzah literally fulfills the commandment to "write ... on the doorposts ..." the Shema.

In an observant Jewish home a mezuzah is hung on the doorway of every room, not only welcoming but reminding that all who enter that God is present and those who live in the home uphold and study the Torah. The mezuzah’s presence literally embodies the Shema in the home, making it visible to all the generations gathered under that roof.

Back to Mark. A scribe, hearing Jesus debate with the Sadducees, and being impressed with him, asks a question. Is this a test? Or is the scribe curious about this rabbi called Jesus? He asks: "Which commandment is the first of all?" It could be bait, couldn’t it?

On the subject of baiting a teacher, there is a story of a rabbi -Hillel- who lived before Jesus, and who was taunted by an unbeliever, who wanted the rabbi to "teach me the whole of the Torah while I am standing on one foot." Getting to the point, the rabbi said:  "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn it."

Jesus' response is similar. Jesus answers, putting together Deuteronomy and Leviticus to give the answer. Only here in Mark's rendition of this encounter does Jesus recite the line "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" before continuing.

Jesus combines the love that is commanded for God with the love of the neighbor.  In both cases love can be commanded because love is made apparent and clear through deeds, not just words. Legislated love is another thing. Legislated love is the reason there are 613 commandments in the Torah. Love put into action is crucifixion.

And Jesus’ answer is clear in that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In other words, in the same way that we take care of ourselves, we are to take care of the neighbor. Love for neighbor then is shown when we make the same allowance for our neighbor as we do for ourselves. Going farther, understanding what motivates the neighbor's actions and what causes the weaknesses and strengths of the neighbor - that is loving neighbors as ourselves.

What makes this encounter interesting is that this scribe agrees with Jesus. Wholeheartedly. Not only does he agree but goes on to say that while traditions and rituals may be important, and have a role in life, those are secondary. Love of God and love of neighbor always come first. No confrontation, just respect and agreement.

And then this section ends with the line that the scribe is “not far from the kingdom of God.” It doesn’t need to end the discussion, but it does. Mark points out that no one dared ask a question.

What happened after, we do not know. It could be that the scribe was impressed but did not yet understand who Jesus really was. Or it could be that he needed time to ponder all that he had seen and heard and may have followed Jesus. He is far ahead of others, in recognizing that love of God and love of neighbor come first, before all the rituals.

It is Reformation Sunday, and I would be amiss if I didn’t at least mention it. But rather than use the texts for the day, which I have been preaching on for over twenty years, I chose instead the texts for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, which is what this day is if it were not for Reformation Day.

Earlier this week I used an example that I think fits the bill for this Sunday. “When a star explodes in a distant galaxy, we don't hear it. We don't feel it. We don't even see it for thousands and thousands of years. The great distance of the star means that even though the brilliance of the explosion travels at the speed of light (180,000 miles/second), it takes generations to reach even our most powerful telescopes. Only when the light finally reaches us can we acknowledge that distant star's explosive beauty. Without the continuity of the light, tirelessly, steadily traveling towards us for millennia, we might never know that it had existed at all.”

That is what these texts are about: the light of God continuing through the ages, always being heard for the first time by some, considered by others, returned to and lived. And yes, some may not even know that it existed. We, as faithful people of God, must be able to hand on our faith with the same enthusiasm, intensity and yes, brilliance so that the light can always come anew. And we do that by taking seriously the words of Jesus, especially those today that speak of love for God and love for neighbor.

As I read about the Shema, and Torah, this past week, I realized that we tend to think of this as law, especially our laws, which are restrictive, a list of dos and don’ts.

But the meaning of Torah goes well beyond that. Rabbinical students are encouraged not just to memorize the law, but to meditate on it, to internalize it. Psalm 1 promises that those who do this will be "like trees planted by rivers of water." In the Jewish understanding, God's law nourishes the soul. God's law is life.

This is very different from what we think of as the high point of our legal education system, the bar exam. It is values-blind, and tests knowledge, only knowledge. It does not guarantee honesty.

The scribe who questions Jesus has been on a lifelong journey, and while this is knowledge, there is so much more. It is about learning God’s way of doing things. It is about love, a love that goes out to neighbor. As you noticed, the scribe is not surprised by this at all.

On this Reformation Day, let’s take it upon ourselves to not just read what Jesus says and do our best, let’s go beyond that. Think on it, meditate on it, question it and in so doing, make it part of your very soul. God does nourish the soul.

As this pandemic slows down, there are many wondering where the church is, and what we are doing. What will it be like, this post-pandemic church? So hear Jesus’ words again. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

When Luther asked for a dialogue with the church, he didn’t get it. The scribes he addressed were more argumentative, concerned with the rituals of the church, the letter of the law. And so began the Reformation, which took off like a wildfire. I would argue that the church is always in need of reformation, a rethinking. Certainly now. With the Shema and the greatest commandment with us, the church will continue, just as the light from an exploding star takes thousands of years to get here. Our love for God, our love for others, is light and it just continues, even when we may not see it. And it can be done fairly easily. To quote the ancient rabbi Hillel: "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor.” Amen.

                                                                                Soli Deo Gloria

October 24, 2021
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

22 Pentecost (Year B)
Mark 10:46-52
St. John’s, West Seneca
October 24, 2021 

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I realized this past week that in twenty-five years of ministry, I have not ever preached on this text. It comes up once every three years, but, as it is so close to Reformation Sunday, it is often replaced by a text from John. Not this year, and so I jumped into this intriguing and detailed story of blind Bartimaeus, a story rich in detail from that most spare of gospel writers, Mark.

Jesus meets many people on his way in Mark’s gospel, but today he encounters a blind beggar who can really “see” who Jesus is, as the Son of David, as a rabbi. And, not only that, he is one of the most persistent, faithful, and exuberant people you would want to meet.

Jesus and his disciples were passing through Jericho, getting ready to make the 15-mile trek from there to Jerusalem. Jesus had warned his disciples three times that he was going to Jerusalem to die, but each time they failed to understand what he was talking about. Earlier on the road to Jerusalem, James and John had come to Jesus with a request to sit at his right and left when he came into his “glory”, which they seem to understand in earthly terms only. Jesus told them again that his throne would not be the kind they were hoping for and that he had come to “give his life as a ransom for many.” Even though these disciples had been with Jesus a long time, they still didn’t see the truth about who he was and where he was leading them.

As they leave Jericho, we are introduced to Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who is sitting on the side of the road. As he was a beggar, this was a good place to be situated. Matthew and Luke also have this encounter, but Mark is the only one who gives the man a name. He is Bartimaeus. Yet, this is really no name at all. Instead, it is just the Aramaic transliteration for what Mark has just said, namely that he is the son of Timaeus. That Jesus is about to interact with a blind, nameless beggar provides a “fitting bookend” to Jesus’ only other encounter with a blind man in Mark’s gospel, which occurs right before Peter makes his confession and Jesus makes his first Passion prediction. Jesus’ healing of physical blindness is somewhat ironic, as he is unable to remove the blindness from his own disciples. There are none so blind as those who will not see, or choose not to see.

But this blind man could see the truth. When Jesus passed by, Bartimaeus began to shout out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now we know that through Mark’s gospel, Jesus attempts to keep quiet about his being the Messiah, but with this man calling him the Son of David, the secret is out. And brought out by a blind man, no less. But this man perceives more. Somehow, he understands that while David was a military figure, many of whom are not known for mercy, this Son of David, Jesus is merciful.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” is the cry of a man who sees very truly who Jesus is.

Mark tells us that Jesus stops, “stands still.” For someone who is blind, standing still means that Bartimaeus can get to him more easily.  Jesus asks those around to call him to come to him and Bartimaeus does just that. He threw off his cloak — the outer garment he likely used for a blanket and as a catch-all for donations he might receive at the city gate — and “sprang up” to come to Jesus. What had been a “dusty lump of a beggar” sitting by the roadside is changed, transformed, into a vital, vibrant man, who is eager to meet Jesus, tossing off the cumbersome cloak that had always marginalized him down.

And then Jesus asks a question. “What do you want me to do for you?” If it sounds familiar, it is because it is the same question he posed to James and John. They wanted positions of honor. Bartimaeus simply wants to see again. And in his request, he addresses Jesus as “teacher,” the same as James and John had done. It strikes me that Bartimaeus understands the lesson, whereas the disciples had not.

In their face-to-face conversation, Bartimaeus has a simple request; He wants to see again, which suggests that he once had vision. Interesting how Jesus doesn’t just assume he knows Bartimaeus’ need. Instead, Jesus takes time with this person by inquiring what he really needs.

Unlike the previous healing of a blind man in chapter eight, Jesus’ response is different. There is no leading the man outside the town, no saliva. “Go; your faith has made you well.” It is then that Bartimaeus sees. The journey continues, and Bartimaeus is not sent home or away with orders to keep quiet. He continues with Jesus on the way.

The question for us today? What can this exuberant Bartimaeus teach us? First, Bartimaeus expects to be transformed. Jesus stands still so that Bartimaeus can get to him, and get to him he does. The fun detail in this story that caught my eye was that Bartimaeus “sprang” up and “threw” off his cloak. He expects to be healed, to be transformed. One scholar notes that “a blind beggar would ordinarily do well to keep his possessions close at hand. He obviously expects a change in his status…As with other healings, Jesus can restore Bartimaeus to a place of wholeness that will demand his belonging within society.” No longer will Bartimaeus be dependent on a fickle society.

And he asks for the right thing. “What do you want me to do for you” turns out to be the question that is asked of each of us. He asks that he might see again, trusting that this Son of David, this rabbi, will be able to restore him to health and wholeness, and freedom. His answer is not about power, or authority, or a position of honor, just that he may see what this Jesus is doing in the world.

Can we have this same amount of trust? Do we believe that we can be changed, that the world can be changed? When we hear Jesus call us, do we jump up, throw off whatever we might be doing, knowing that something new and radical is before us? When Jesus asks what we need, what do we answer? Is it what we really need, or what we think we need? Or are we clinging to our possessions, our old ideas?

You may remember that when the rich man asked Jesus what he needed to do, Jesus’ answer was to sell all he had and follow. You may also remember that the rich man went away sorrowful, because he had many possessions, and that was where his loyalty lay, not to God. Bartimaeus does not go away sad and sorrowful, he is overjoyed. Can our joy be that complete?

And when Jesus asks us what we want, do we even know? Besides world peace, what do we want for the world? Do we want justice and equality, or do we just mouth the words? Do we really want health and wholeness, or that peace that passes all understanding? Are we like James and John, who want their place assured? Bartimaeus just wants to see again. But when you look closely at the text, you notice that he sees already who Jesus is.

This section shouldn’t be call “blind Bartimaeus.” He truly sees exactly who Jesus is, and when Jesus calls, he responds with joy and abandon. In our day, we too should jump up, and throw off all that is holding us back and joyfully follow where Jesus leads. Amen.

                                                                                   Soli Deo Gloria 

October 10, 2021
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

20 Pentecost (Year B)
Mark 10:17-31
St. John’s, West Seneca
October 10, 2021

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Ah, the rich young man who has all; or does he? He appears in Matthew and Luke as well, this rich young man. Here in Mark, we know he had “many possessions”.  We also know he’s trying to be a good man, which is why he questions Jesus. “Good Teacher,” he says to Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

So Jesus recites the Commandments - well, five commandments - and the rich man states that he has kept them all his life. That addition of “You shall not defraud” is only in Mark and not one of the Ten Commandments, however, it is prohibited in Deuteronomy.

So far, so good, the man is right on track. He seems to be a fine, upstanding young man.  “I have kept all these since my youth,” he tells Jesus. He has managed to maintain a standard, at least in his own eyes, while also managing to accumulate a good deal of stuff.  And since there was the belief in Jesus’ time that prosperity was associated with God’s blessing, which was a result of faithful living, this man had everything and then some. And he seems to be sincere in his answer of having kept the laws since a youth. He appears to be in a pretty good position.

To the casual observer, this guy had it all. Of course, Jesus has an answer.  Actually, it is a proposal. Jesus spells it out for the rich man: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me”.

But the man could not. He was shocked and went away “grieving.” Grieving, not a casual, “oh, well,” but grieving that he could not fulfill this one request. Keeping the commandments had apparently been a less demanding task.

And here is the interesting note from Mark that does not appear in Matthew or Luke. Mark offers up that detail about Jesus’ response. Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” This should make us pause because Mark uses as few words as possible, so this emotional and psychological detail should leave us thinking.

As in other parts of Mark, the disciples are once again confused at all this, “perplexed.”  They are unable – at this time – to fully comprehend what God’s kingdom is truly like.

And there is the key. You will notice that Jesus leaves out the first three commandments. Those are about our relationship with God. The one from whom all things come. You shall have no other Gods. Do not use God’s name in vain. Remember the Sabbath Day. The others concern family and neighbor.

In Exodus, God tells the Israelites that He is the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and so therefore, they are not to make idols. And yet, this young man seems to have done just that. His wealth has become his priority, his idol, so much so that he cannot imagine life without it.

I imagine that each of us has found ourselves in this predicament in that we wonder what our answer would be. We do have many things, and while we may not feel rich, by the world’s standards, even a modest American is. Eventually, we learn that having it all becomes more of a burden than a blessing, especially when we need to rent spaces to accommodate all our stuff. When we come to believe that our worth is bound up in all we achieve and accumulate, we become trapped in a mess of our own making. It’s ironic then, that Jesus uses the metaphor of a camel going through the eye of a needle to talk about how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. The stacks of stuff that we accumulate as a means of validating our worth can create an ever-narrowing pathway until, eventually these things own us and we can’t find a way out.

As comedian Stephen Wright once commented, as only he could, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” Indeed, not only where would we put it, but what place does it take in our lives. Is the accumulation of wealth and things our first priority?

This is not necessarily about wealth, but it is about the hold wealth has on us.  It is about God’s kingdom, where all is turned upside down. The disciples are grappling with that as well.

This comes down to something else, and that is the young man’s – and our – inability to trust in God’s ability to save, in God’s ability to provide, in God’s grace.

And, as Jesus “loved” this rich young man, and it grieved him to see him walk away - because he was loved, because he could not make that final step of faith, to trust in God’s providence.

Put yourself into this young man’s place. He could not make that final step. Yet Jesus loved him. As we are loved. When Jesus asks of us to place God first, do we walk away? Do we not trust?

God’s love is so great, so abundant that He came to us so that we could get our priorities straight and not become overburdened with the cares of the world. God comes to us with a radical, upside-down promise that the “last will be first.” God comes to us in Jesus, so that we can be the people God wants us to be, free from the fear of death and sin. Because of God’s love.

Now, if we, like the rich man, walk away grieving, God’s love will still be there. But our joy will not be.

I found a story this past week about priorities, and while it does not mention God, God is there. It’s from an unknown source.

“The American businessman was at the pier of a small, coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied only a little while.

The American then asked why didn't he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.

The American then asked, but what do you do with the rest of your time? The Mexican fisherman said, ‘I sleep late; fish a little; play with my children; take siesta with my wife, Maria; stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos; I have a full and busy life, señor.’

The American scoffed, ‘I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat; with the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.’

The Mexican fisherman asked, ‘But, señor, how long will this all take?’ To which the American replied, ‘Fifteen to 20 years.’ ‘But what then, señor?’

The American laughed and said that's the best part. ‘When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich; you would make millions.’

‘Millions, señor? Then what?’

The American said, ‘Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.’"

The rich man needed to watch over his wealth. The disciples left it all for Jesus and God’s kingdom. The choice before us is the same. We can continue to put God on the back burner as some sort of insurance policy, and go through life grieving, or working to accumulate more, or we can put God first and truly live a joyful, full life.

So, hear the words again, with a different translation.

“Jesus stopped them, ‘Guys, it's tough for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Their priorities are all mixed up -- their hearts are not right. That poor kid thinks he's kept all the commandments for crying out loud. He has no clue he doesn't even keep the first one -- 'You shall have no other gods before me.' His 'stuff' comes before God. I tell you the truth, it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom." -Alister Pate, "Comfortable Christianity," Ship of Fools Online Magazine, December 1999

Amen.

                                                                               Soli Deo Gloria 

October 3, 2021
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

18 Pentecost (Year B)
Mark 10, Genesis 2
St. John’s, West Seneca
October 3, 2021

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“There was a study done beginning in the 1960s of a town in Pennsylvania called Roseto, an Italian American quarry community where extended families often lived together under one roof. Researchers were interested in Roseto because the heart-disease rates were much lower than in the surrounding towns. They looked at smoking, exercise, diet, and environmental factors but found no obvious cause for the reduced rates. The researchers finally had to conclude that the multi-generational families and communal rituals contributed to the townspeople’s heart health. Then in the ’70s more Roseto residents started moving into single-family homes, and young people left town for college or the big city. Slowly the social fabric began to unravel, and heart-disease rates in Roseto rose to match the national average. The researchers, it seemed, had been right: it wasn’t good habits or diet that had been protecting people’s hearts for all those decades; it was connection.”*

When it comes to the creation stories, and yes, I did say stories,  I must admit I prefer the first chapter of Genesis. “Let there be light,” the pushing back of the waters to make land, and at every turn, God announces the “it is good.” There is a rhythm to it, and that pronouncement that “it is good” is like the liturgy.

Then we go on to Genesis 2, and we find a different account of the creation. It is a bit ironic that this text seems to feature male superiority. Seems to. Over the years, feminist theologians have shied away from it. The Jahwist – or J author – is suggesting an inter-related, mutually dependent connection between these two human beings. If you notice, it is very different from Genesis one, in that the creation is “not good.” The issue is that there is an emptiness, and what man needs is a helper, a partner.

In Genesis two, “The two are made equally in the image and likeness of God, and the term “helper” is in no way intended to communicate subservience.” In Seminary I learned that the Hebrew word for helper, ezer, is most often used to describe God as being a helper of human beings. This helper is strong, working to save and to rescue. The word is used twice to describe women, three times in reference to military support, and 16 times to describe God. When the woman is created to be a helper and a partner, she is not made to be inferior. In fact, it is the opposite. So, yes, there is irony in the belief that there is a superiority/inferiority factor here.

This is about relationship between humans, all humans. Whether we will admit it or not, we have a desire to be with one another, to be connected. That should be obvious since last year when the pandemic hit. What did we miss the most as we “sheltered in place?” Gathering…with families, at restaurants, here in church.

There are few in this world who can retreat totally from other human beings.  Even the great mystics who preferred the solitary life were in some way connected with a parish. Julian of Norwich was essentially walled into a small room, with a slot to the church, for food, necessities, and the sacrament, and another small slot to the street. As for us, we may walk around with our cell phones, seemingly absorbed, but we still want FACEBOOK.

So what does it look like, this being in relationship as God created us to be?

First, we are helpers, one to another. We save each other; we rescue each other. The mutual conversation and consolation of the saints, as Luther put it. Paul writes to the Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ... So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (Galatians 6:2, 10).

We bear each other’s burdens, the big ones and the small ones. Last week, my colleague was having “one of those days” and so her husband came to the hospital with treats. No, not the almond ring from Eileen’s or the Chocolate Cake from Wegman’s, but he had stopped there. Our treats were a tray of freshly cut veggies and dip, along with another tray of fruit. And…flowers, mums. This place does this well, with food and prayers and cards when there is a death, rides to medical appointments, anything that will make another’s life easier.

And this connectedness works for the good of all, well beyond the walls of St. John’s.

However, we must not take too much pride, being connected takes time and patience. We always need to ensure that we welcome others, that we provide for others, whatever their needs may be. We are created to be together.

Of course, the larger part of the Genesis text, and Mark, is the question of what happens when that connectedness breaks apart. I would be amiss if I didn’t address what Mark is saying. Never an easy text to preach on.

The Pharisees are not trying to learn from Jesus, but rather trap him. Jesus focuses not on divorce, but God's intention for marriage, not the human manipulation of marriage for the sake of divorce. Jesus does not argue about whether a relationship can be dissolved, instead speaking of marriage as positive and sanctioned by God. Only when Jesus is back among his disciples does he acknowledge the sad reality of human brokenness - a reality that includes marriages that are not good and end in divorce. This is not a new commandment. While he does not pronounce a ban on divorce, his observation is devastating - the reality of the marriage relationship is so enduring that all relationships are affected by it, with children, friends, colleagues.

What Jesus drives home in all this talk about marriage and the creation is that God is invested in every relationship.  It is because of our “hardness of heart” that divorce even came about.  And that is the key.  It is because of our hardness of heart.  Better read, because of sin, because of life as we know it.

I know that there are many different people out there, both right here and in my circle of family and friends: those happily married, those happily divorced, some still looking, some cynical, others who believe marriage is an old-fashioned idea whose time has come…and gone.

Still, no matter our personal situation, we want to be connected. One only has to look to the first reading to see that we are meant to be in community, not alone, but together. “It is not good that the man shall be alone…”  No, from the beginning, we are intended to be in relationship with one another, as partners and helps, one to another.  It is God’s gift to us that we be in community.

On to the hard part of divorce or any relationship that has gone sour. If God could have God’s way there would be no divorce because there would be no failed relationships, no spousal abuse, no alcoholism, no depression, no debilitating disease that breeds money issues, no growing apart, no mid-life crises to contend with, no discontent, no grass on any lawn greener than the one at home. If God could have God’s way, every relationship – whether between couples or family or friends and colleagues, and yes between management and unions - would be a healthy one, a fulfilling one, a nurturing one, an honest one.

So here is my take. I believe that more than a perfect world, God wants a joyful one.  I think more than anything else, what God desires of us is that we be joyful and fulfilled and productive and healthy. That doesn’t mean that you throw in the towel at the first hint of trouble, what it does mean is that given the reality of the world in which we live, a world that has sin in it and hardship and pain and faithlessness and temptation, you do the best with what you have, always knowing that true joy is found on the other side, that God will turn your mourning into dancing.

After Jesus speaks of divorce and adultery and hardness of heart he added the illustration about children, for theirs is the Kingdom.  That is not coincidental. Remember, in Jesus’ time, children had no status, and yet Jesus welcomes them as completely as he welcomed anyone. After all this talk of marriage and divorce, here Jesus is, welcoming the outsider.

We are created for community. Getting back to that story of the healthy, inter-connected people of Roseto. As times changed, so did they. We must find new ways to continue being in relationship. Not only does God want this for our spiritual health, it turns out that it is good for our physical health. Amen.

                                                                                 Soli Deo Gloria

 *—Francis Weller, interviewed by Tim McKee, “The Geography of Sorrow: Francis Weller on Navigating Our Losses,” Baltimore Sun Magazine, October 2015.