July 2019 Sermons
July 7, 2019 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
Details, details, details… I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: pay attention to the details of a reading like today’s Gospel, which contains a lot of detail.
- Seventy were sent out, in pairs.
- They were told specifics of what not to bring: purse, bag, sandals
- What to say upon entering a house -- “peace”
- To stay in the house that welcomes you
- Share meals and eat with them
- Tell them “The kingdom of God has come near”
- Cure the sick
- And if any do not welcome you, just move on.
Very specific details for Jesus’ ambassadors, people sent out in his name. Very detailed and specific, I believe because it was meant to offer a vision very different than another experience the people of Israel had in the time of Jesus – the experience of being the subjects of Rome.
In the first century of the common era, the first century AD, the Roman Emperor was the most powerful man in the world, and he commanded and controlled the most powerful military in human history to that point. The emperor was treated like a god and claimed to be god. He sent out his armies, his military, throughout the known world to establish the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome. Their goal was to make everyone in the whole world subjects of Rome, through force and fear and intimidation and conquest.
Imagine what it would be like to be living in a village in Palestine in the first century when soldiers sent from Rome show up. You would now be required to swear allegiance to the emperor, to pay taxes, and to give your young men for military service, to give food and water to support the troops. No longer free, you are now subjects of a foreign power, forced to swear allegiance to a human being claiming to be god. For a practicing Jew this was idolatry. They were an occupied people, not at peace, because peace is more than the absence of war. This was the experience of the people in Jesus’ day.
So, Jesus sends out the seventy (seventy being a symbolic number, because it was believed there were seventy nations in the world at the time). When Jesus, the king of Love, sends ambassadors, seventy of them, out into the whole known world, seventy nations, they come into the towns and villages very differently than Rome’s forces had…
- They carry nothing, no implements of war, no arrows, spears or armor
- They say “peace” upon entering the house, rather than “we command you to open up or else”
- They stay and share meals to build relationships, something soldiers would have no interest in
- They say “the kingdom of God has come near,” the kingdom of compassion and mercy and peace and love, not a kingdom of violence and fear and intimidation and subjugation.
- They invite people to swear allegiance to the true Son of God.
- They heal and cure. They do what they can to help, they come to give and not to take.
- They moved on if they are not welcomed. No one is forced to swear allegiance to the king of Love. They are free to accept or reject. Can’t imagine Rome’s forces doing that.
A very different experience when Jesus’ ambassadors showed up at the door. When the kingdom of Rome came knocking, there were demands and threats and intimidation. When the kingdom of God arrived, there was peace, hospitality, healing and love. Which was meant to teach them, and us, that we are called to swear allegiance not to any earthly king, but to the king of love and His kingdom is founded on life, rather than death, or relationship, rather than enmity, on mutual hospitality, rather than walls of division.
And now it’s up to us, fellow ambassadors of Christ; we are sent to proclaim and to build, not an earthly kingdom, but the kingdom of God. And what we bring to build this kingdom is more powerful than even the armies of Rome. We bring love – the love of God in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.
July 21, 2019 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
Hospitality in Today’s Gospel
Take our hands, we ask you,
Take our hearts, we love you,
Take our lives, oh Jesus,
We are yours, we are yours.
The Hospitality of Martha and Mary – a famous bible story. A famous line: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…” Those of us who find ourselves worried and distracted get a twinge of guilt… ohhh, what am I missing, being so caught up in worry? I must confess I have often imagined this little story of Jesus and Martha and Mary as a dinner party. Jesus, a special guest, has been invited over for a family dinner, and there is much to do with all the cooking and setting the table and making drinks and entertaining. And Martha is doing all this work while her sister just sits there – it’s not fair! Help me out, Martha says. But we must remember something, something important about Jesus and the imperative of hospitality that day. Jesus was homeless.
He was on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. He made that turn in chapter 9 vs. 51 and in vs. 58 of chapter 9, Jesus says: Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.” “No where to lay his head”, homeless. Instead of thinking that Jesus was invited over for a fancy dinner party, let’s imagine Him, a homeless man, showing up at Martha and Mary’s door… Let’s think about the importance, the imperative of hospitality then….
Earlier this month, 40 teenagers and their adult leaders participated in “Hands Across Duluth” here at St. Paul’s. This service-learning experience took us to the Loaves & Fishes community right out our back door on Jefferson Street. Loaves & Fishes provides hospitality and housing to the homeless who show up at their door. It started more than 25 years ago, when a wonderful man named Steve O’Neil and his family opened their home to the homeless in our community, not waiting for a government program or a committee meeting, they opened their door, offering hospitality and housing.
Our Hands Across Duluth team did a lot of work. They were like Martha. Cutting up shelves, scraping and painting, cleaning, preparing meals for the freezer, weeding, moving dirt, etc. Hospitality is hard work; it takes action. But our teens also heard stories – from Joel at Loaves & Fishes, and Lee Stuart at CHUM – stories of how people find themselves homeless:
- The young mother who moved here from another state with her three kids, fleeing domestic violence
- The young man who got sick and could no longer work
- The teenager kicked out of his home because he is gay.
Something people who are homeless and living on the streets often say is that one of the most difficult things is that people pass by and don’t even look at them. Out of fear or embarrassment, perhaps. They are made to feel as if they don’t even exist. And that’s more difficult than life on the street.
Hospitality. Hospitality in today’s Gospel: a homeless Jesus shows up, a stranger at the home of two women, and they open their door and offer hospitality, a warm meal and a place to lay his head and an open mind and heart, to listen and hear his story, and be changed. Hospitality requires both – Martha and Mary – Action and Contemplation – Hands and Hearts. May we, individually and collectively, offer both to the Jesuses in our midst.
Take our hands, we ask you,
Take our hearts, we love you,
Take our lives, oh Jesus,
We are yours, we are yours
July 28, 2019 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
Lord, teach us to pray
“Lord, teach us to pray…”
I love those words, because they point out that the disciples, the closest followers of Jesus, did not know how. They did not know how to pray, which is how I feel sometimes. I wonder what prayer is all about. Am I trying to talk God into something? To change God’s mind? I promise to pray for people who are sick or facing surgery or going through some struggle or difficulty – and I do pray for them – but why? Isn’t an all-knowing God aware of their needs?
I pray for people I do not know, like children in detention at our southern border – but why? God already cares for them as God’s own, beloved, precious children, what does my prayer do?
Perhaps Jesus’ teaching can give us some insight, the “Lord’s Prayer” as it has come to be known. Jesus says, “when you pray, say: “Father, hallowed by your name.” “Father” – prayer is relationship. We can experience, we can hear, we can know God, the way we can experience, hear and know a parent, God knows us the way a parent knows her child. Relationship. God isn’t a proposition or an idea floating around in the air, God is as knowable and real as a living, breathing, loving human being. Father.
“Your kingdom come.” The kingdom of heaven, yes, a life beyond this one, and also your kingdom here on earth. The reign of God made manifest in peace, justice and love in this world “as it is in heaven.” Prayer is bigger than just my personal, individual needs and wants.
“Give us each day our daily bread.” Give us enough for today. The manna in the wilderness could not be kept, because it would spoil. Give us bread for today, hearts willing to share so that no one will be hungry. We trust that you will provide tomorrow.
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive others.” Gulp. This is a tough one. We can easily mumble this petition thoughtlessly, but it’s good to pause and remember what we’ve asking – that God forgive us the way we forgive others. I don’t know about you, buy I’m tempted to hold grudges, thinking I’m hurting someone who’s hurt me. But the prayer compels me to forgive so that I will be free.
“And do not bring us to the time of trial.” Keep us from danger and harm, walk with us through our difficulties and challenges so we know we are not alone.
One of the things the Lord’s Prayer teaches us is that prayer isn’t so much about trying to change God, as it is about changing us. We are changed through prayer.
Through relationship with the Holy One we can experience and know. One who loves us the way a parent loves a child. Who promises us a wonderful kingdom of love in the next life and inspires us to build the kingdom of justice, love and peace here, in this world, so we will get a taste of heaven. Who provides for us, daily bread, our physical needs, asking us to share and to trust and to be grateful for our blessings. Who forgives us and asks us to forgive so that there will be peace and harmony. And who is with us through it all, through every trial and tribulation we might face. We are never alone.
Prayer is relationship. A relationship that can change us. Helping us to see the world as God sees it. And to love the world and the people in it as God loves, each and every one.
Let us be people of prayer. Amen.