Audio of October 29, 2017 Sermon:
Audio of October 22, 2017 Sermon:
Audio of October 15, 2017 Sermon:
October 29, 2017 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom, freedom is coming.
The irony of this day is not lost on me, an Episcopal priest, former Roman Catholic, standing before you on Reformation Sunday. We remember that five hundred years ago, October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg beginning the movement that would become known as The Protestant Reformation.
Back in 1517 the church, at that time there was only the Catholic Church, the church had become corrupt selling indulgences, selling God’s grace, to support building projects. Worship services were in a language most people didn’t understand, as was the Bible, which most people couldn’t read or understand.
The average person’s life was short and difficult so the church encouraged people to focus on the life beyond this one. Life is difficult now, but heaven is wonderful, strive for that. By being good, by doing good works, you can earn a place in paradise. If you don’t you’ll wind up in that other place, hell, eternal torment, even worse that the painful struggles of this life.
Young Martin Luther embraced this outlook. He lived in fear, fear of God, fear of a God who was keeping score and willing to send him to hell. Luther became a monk and immersed himself in the monastic life, confessing his sins, doing penance, praying and doing good works, but he always slipped back. As hard as he tried to be good he would fall back and sin. He would fall back into fear of God who was just waiting to punish him. But then, as the story goes, Luther began to study the Bible, especially Paul’s letter to the Romans.
There Luther discovered the passage we heard as our second reading today. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works presented by the law.” Salvation by grace through faith and not by the works of the law, Luther found it in other places in the scripture as well and it changed his life.
He realized that he was already saved, not by being good but through the grace of God. Grace, God’s love, a free gift, is not earned, but freely given. Grace is stronger, more powerful than human sin. Luther found the truth that made him free, free to live without fear.
Jesus says in the Gospel, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” This comes at the end of a chapter that begins with religious leaders bringing a women accuse of adultery to Jesus. The accusers had the law on their side. It said she should be stoned to death. Jesus didn’t argue, he just bent down in silence and wrote with his finger in the sand. Then he said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” and the crowd departed. The truth stood with a woman accused. The truth set her free from death and made her free to turn her life around.
Luther and the other reformers encourage us to embrace the free gift of God’s grace, God’s “property to always have mercy,” as Rite I says, and to live it out. But, with freedom comes responsibility at every stage of life. The child is old enough to play in the neighborhood, she must look both ways before crossing the street. She gets her driver’s license and she must follow the rules of the road. She turns twenty-one and must consume responsibly if she chooses to do so.
The freedom spoken of in the Gospel, the freedom won for us by Christ is not license to do anything, to say anything. It is the freedom to be obedient children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ united by bonds of love into the family of God. We Americans cherish our freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, our individual rights.
These are good things, but over the past days, I have been distressed, stunned even, as I have seen women post “Me, too” on social media sites. Me, too, saying I’ve been sexually harassed or abused. Colleagues and friends have experienced it. Has freedom of expression led to treating other people as objects? Is freedom of speech license to say degrading, demeaning, objectifying things? We are never free to say or do anything that treats another as anything less than a beloved child of God.
In one of his most famous treatises entitled “On Christian Freedom: Luther wrote (and I ask you to excuse the exclusive language) “A Christian man is the most free Lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.” Today our scripture readings and Martin Luther remind us that we are freed by the gift of God’s grace, we can live free from fear, and we are subject to one another.
We are children of God, members of one family, brothers and sisters in Christ, honoring, respecting, loving God and each other as members of the Church, reformed and always reforming.
October 22, 2017 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
“Give to God the things that are God’s”
In today’s Gospel, the religious authorities attempt to trap Jesus with a question about paying taxes. If He answers yes, the Torah allows paying taxes, He gets in trouble with religious folks who believe it is wrong that their money supports pagan temples and the Roman armies who oppress them. If He answers no, the Torah forbids paying taxes the Romans can arrest Jesus for suggesting people break the law. He’s trapped, right? Not so fast.
Jesus asks for a coin and they give Him a denarius. The denarius was a Roman coin, one-tenth of a troy ounce of silver with an image stamped on it, the image of Tiberius Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. Jesus asks them the questions, whose image is on the coin and whose title? They answer ‘the Emperor’s,” and Jesus said, “Give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s.” There’s a nice picture of that on the front of your bulletin, Jesus with the coin in His right hand, His left hand pointing up, so it’s clear enough.
Caesar’s face and name are on the coin, give it to him, but Jesus adds “and give to God the things that are God’s,” this is the key phrase, the one this passage turns on. That command compels the listeners, and us, to ask the question, what belongs to God? You. You belong to God.
There’s a wonderful scene in the now old movie, Toy Story. In Toy Story a boy named Andy has a beloved cowboy doll named Woody who’s afraid he’s going to be replaced by a fancy space toy named Buzz Lightyear. Woody’s afraid Andy doesn’t love him anymore. One of the other toys tells Woody to look at the bottom of his boot, and he does. He sees the name, “Andy.” He belongs to Andy. Andy’s name is written on his boot; he’s beloved, known by name as our first reading says.
Maybe we should do that to remind ourselves to whom we belong. Write the name of God on the bottom of all our shoes so that when the world or anyone in it tells us we are anything less than a beloved child of God, we can look at our shoe and be reminded we belong to God. We are beloved. God’s image shines through us.
Genesis 1, vs. 27: “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them.” We are created in the image and likeness of God. Write the name God on your shoe or your hand or on your sleeve so that when the world or anyone in it tells you you only have worth insofar as you have things, or good looks, or power, you can look at the name and be reminded that you belong to God and you are beloved.
Caesar’s image is on the coin, give it to him. God’s image is on you, give your life to God. Every aspect of your life belongs to God. Use your gifts and talents to serve God. God’s name is written on your hearts and souls in baptism.
Today we will baptize little Maielle. We baptize in God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. We pray that she will always know to whom she belongs, to God who is love.
She may not write God’s name on her shoes, but it will be written on her heart and her soul. God’s love forms an indelible seal on the hearts and souls of all who believe in God’s love, on all who believe that God’s love is the most powerful force in the universe, stronger even than death.
In today’s Gospel Jesus asks the question whose image is on the coin. Caesar’s, so give it to him. Now whose image is on you? God’s, so give your life to God, the one to whom you belong. The one in whose image and likeness you are made.
Let us pray.
we were created by you,
let us live in your image.
We were created for you,
let us act for your honor and glory.
We were redeemed by you,
let us give you what is yours,
our hands, hearts, minds and voices.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
October 1, 2017 Sermon by Rev. Dr. Barbara Elliott
When was the last time someone let you down—said they would do something and then didn’t follow through? There is also the other side of the same issue: when have you let someone down by saying you’d do something and then not done it? In today’s parable, Jesus also describes how there are those among us who say we cannot help and then actually show up to help out. This parable leaves each of us wondering how many times we have each done these things.
These questions are actually part of the much bigger story that makes up today’s Gospel. The real issue in this reading is about authority and Jesus’ role in the church. One of the reading’s major points—and it has entertainment value too—is how Jesus leaves everyone confused in the encounter described here. In this story, Jesus is face-to-face with the church leadership, where he is clearly trying to change things. He has been challenging the ‘human rules’ devised by the church in that era with ‘God’s rules’. In order to create the social change he was proposing, he found himself challenging the authority of the church.
The first question the church leaders ask of Jesus in today’s Gospel is essentially: “Who do you think you are?!” They knew that their longstanding leadership was being challenged by Jesus’ words and his followers. The church leaders had every intention of staying in charge, but they had met their match in Jesus.
Notice how Jesus maneuvered in this conversation: first he answered their question with a question about John the Baptists’ authority that trapped them: they knew that whatever they said in answer to Jesus’ question would cause religious and political trouble for them. When they declined to answer, Jesus then used the parable to push the issue of their authority even further. Jesus asked which of the sons in the story did the right thing? The church leaders answer the question correctly—which then trapped them in a paradox. Even though they gave Jesus the correct answer, their response revealed that their decisions and actions were not consistent with God’s rules. Yes—Jesus was clarifying for everyone present that the church’s rules were not consistent with God’s-rules.
Think about how the church leaders must have felt. No doubt, they felt like you and I do after some of our conversations too: feeling out-maneuvered, uncertain about what had actually been actually been said, frustrated, and knowing that nothing has been resolved.
Yes, when we observe how Jesus used his responses and the parable to make his points, he was ‘playing them’ to make his points. Jesus is all about social change, and this encounter with the Jewish leadership shows how Jesus was working to put God’s rules back in charge.
Just as the world we live in today, the social system that Jesus was part of was based on rules created by humans; Jesus’ work was to focus our lives on our love for each other and for God. And of course, love in community settings is known as justice.
In any case, we are all actively participating in on-going social change today, too. This brings us back to the parable and the questions it raises regarding how our personal life decisions play out today, and how our actions line up with our beliefs that we ‘love our neighbor and love God.’ Jesus’ parable is clear that we are to make decisions and act in ways that use God’s rules, enhancing how we love each other and love God. Jesus’ point is that by doing this, we will build a Beloved Community based on that love and justice.
So, yes, we each have made promises we did not keep. And we have stepped away from commitments, only to return to them for the right reasons. This is on-going: two very current examples are a) We say we want to love our neighbor, but we don’t share our resources with immigrants or refugees. And a second example: b) we say undocumented youth need to be deported, but there may also be a way to let them stay... There are lots of ways we do exactly what the men in the parable did.
Nonetheless, and despite our honest anxieties about what tomorrow may bring, today is another chance to give Jesus authority in our lives: another beginning to recognize and build a world with God’s rules. We keep trying to love each other, love God, and build this Beloved Community. AMEN