Sunday, May 17, 2015

There’s a fundamental tension in Christianity. We believe in an incarnate God, who was born and dwelt among us. We believe in a bodily resurrection, where Jesus came back from the dead not as a spirit, specter, or ghost, but as an embodied soul, a living human being, with physical scars from his crucifixion and breath in his lungs, who ate and drank and embraced his followers. A living human being who can never die again, who can never become an disembodied spirit. If Christmas is about the incarnation and Easter about the resurrection, they both celebrate a world in which God, in the person of Jesus Christ, walks around with us, wholly God yet also a human being with a physical body.
So where is he? Where is Jesus? If incarnation and resurrection are at the core of our belief system, and they are indeed, then the incarnate, resurrected God should be here, right? Like Thomas, we should be able to touch his hands and his side, and embrace our Lord and God. We too should be able to walk by sight, and not by faith. Because if we can’t, it rather puts a damper on this bodily-resurrected, incarnate God of ours, no? If God has a body, and we don't know where that body is, it adds a new urgency to the evangelicals' question, "have you found Jesus?"
Despite our faith in Christmas and Easter, we live in a Pentecost world, a world marked by God as Spirit. We walk by faith, and not by sight, and depend on the gifts of an unseen Holy Spirit to perform our ministry in the world. In this Pentecost world, we are called to see Christ in the least of us, and to be the hands of Christ to one another. This understanding of God is no less real, but more spiritualized — the ordinary people, things, and institutions of the world are imbued with the Spirit of God to take on divine significance. In this Pentecost world, the Body of Christ less resembles a particular literal human body and becomes more elastic, more conceptual. The Body of Christ can be the Church, a consecrated loaf of bread, the poor, a particular person in need, a particular person doing God’s will — all at once, and in many places simultaneously. That’s a different reality than seeing a person called Jesus standing on a particular hillside outside Jerusalem.
How do we get from one to the other? How do we go from the fleshy God of Christmas and Easter to the spectral God of Pentecost? What connects these two disparate understandings of God?
The point in the church year that we've reached now is so vitally important. Last Thursday was the feast of Ascension. We celebrated Jesus being taken up bodily into heaven. Today we hear about choosing a successor apostle to replace Judas. Today, we are still celebrating Easter, but things have changed. In the 1928 prayer book, we would have put out the Pascal candle on Thursday. We keep it burning now, to remind us of the continuity of the Easter season, but it's not the same sort of Easter we celebrate today that we celebrated last week.
This season we have arrived at is the bridge between the Pentecost reality we live and the Christmas and Easter faith we profess. At its core, Ascension is an acknowledgement of this juxtaposition: Jesus used to be a person who walked around on the earth like other human beings, and continues to really be present with us, but our experience of Jesus’ presence today isn’t the same as the apostles’ experience. Encountering Jesus after the Ascension is not the same experience as encountering him before the Ascension. He was with us then, he is with us now, but something is different.
The move to replace Judas that our first lesson today describes is another sort of bridge. Shortly after the ascension, Peter told the other apostles that they needed to select someone to replace Judas. Another follower of Jesus needed to join the ranks of the apostles, to "become a witness with us to [Jesus'] resurrection."
Now witness doesn't just mean that this new apostle would have seen the resurrected Jesus. Both of the candidates for the position had seen the resurrected Jesus, as had many others. But to become a witness is more that to become one who has seen. A witness testifies to what he or she has seen. Peter needed someone to become a witness because he needed someone to join the ranks of those giving testimony.
Why now? Judas had been dead for weeks. Why the sudden need to appoint someone else to take his place? The apostles were not yet empowered and emboldened as happened on the day of Pentecost. Today's account falls right between the story of the Ascension and the story of Pentecost. Today's account falls after the physical body of Jesus went away, and before the coming of the Holy Spirit was made known. Between these two earth shattering events, we have this administrative reshuffling in the church.
This Ascension makes it all the more essential to bear witness to Jesus' resurrection. The apostles can no longer point to Jesus and say, look there he is. Proclaiming the resurrection is less obvious, and requires more work. And what's the first thing the apostles do after Jesus is ascended into heaven and is no longer among them in the same way that he was? They hold an organizational meeting. They elect a vestry. They select wardens. They set up a structure for the church. Those apostles were good Episcopalians.
Now the work of the church is to bear witness to the Gospel.  The work of the church is to proclaim in word and deed the good news. The work of the church is to make the love of God known in this broken world. The work of the church is not to perpetuate the structure of the church. And yet…
And yet the apostles bothered to take the time to restructure the church at this critical point in its history. The author of the Acts of the Apostles bothered to include this inside baseball story between the dramatic accounts of the Ascension and the Pentecost.
How we structure the church isn't important as an end of itself. Proclaiming the good news is the end. Mission is the end. But the structure of the church matters if it helps us to do mission. It matters to find someone to do Judas's job because Judas did important work for the church, and in his absence, the administrative work he did (one Gospel said he was the treasurer for the disciples) helps the movement the Church exists to advance move forward.
When people can't see fleshy Jesus walking around with wounds from the crucifixion, testifying to the truth of he resurrection becomes so much more important. It doesn't take any great persuasive effort for me to point to our rector over there and say look Laurel is alive. You all can see that. Believing in the incarnation takes no great leap of faith in a Christmas and Easter world. But in this Pentecost world in which we live, it is harder to see the body of Christ. The persistent witness of those who believe can help the world to see that God in fact has taken flesh and dwellsamong us. The body of Christ is among us now as much as ever. And the world so desperately crave that body of Christ. But they cannot see it unless we testify to it. Unless we, like Mathias, become witnesses.
The church is there to strengthen and support us in this ministry, and to call and to challenge us to go forth and do it. It is for this reason that as each of our liturgies end, our service in the world continues with a charge to go forth into the world being the face of Christ all those we meet. We are called to be that bridge between the incarnate Christ we encounter at the altar and the world so desperately in need of his presence.
And so let us continue the liturgy. Let us be fed at the altar in our encounter with the incarnate Christ, and then let us go forth into the world, testifying, witnessing, bringing, being that incarnate Christ to all those we meet. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Friday, April 3, 2015

The fact that crucifixion is slow and painful is almost the least of the horror of it. Far worse is the fact that it is completely another human being's choice. It isn't an accident, or a by-product of getting what they want, like getting shot during a robbery. It can't be explained by a fit of rage, or carelessness, or indifference. It's pure evil harm inflicted on someone, with full premeditation, and continuing over an extended period of time. And then countless spectators watch it slowly unfold, powerless to help. It's a scary world out there when we realize the horrors human beings can unleash upon each other.
It is an even scarier world in here when we become participants in this macabre drama. Last Sunday, we celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We waved palm branches, and acted out the part of the crowd cheering Jesus on as he entered town. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”
But today, again acting out the part of the crowd, we shouted, “Crucify him!” The crowds in these stories are all too much us. Through history, Christians have tried to duck that identification, and indeed horrible anti-Semitism has been launched in response to identifying the Jewish crowds as "other," but John's audience would have known that we are the crowds as much today when we shout "crucify him!" as we were last Sunday when we shouted "Hosanna!" In our hearts lies that very real potential to wish terrible evil on others.
I saw a cartoon this week of a priest opening a box and finding a cross and nails and a statue of  Jesus, with the caption "Suddenly Fr. Schober wasn't so sure he should have bought the new crucifix at IKEA." When "assemble it yourself" turns into "crucify Jesus yourself," it rightly gives us pause. But the sin and evil that caused Jesus to die is sin and evil that we participate in. No less than assembling a do-it-yourself crucifix, we are the crowd that made the long voyage from shouting "Hosanna" to shouting "Crucify him!"
What changed? Why did the crowd turn so dramatically on Jesus? What did he do wrong?
Messiahs are supposed to win.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds’ expectation was clear. This was not just a healer, a miracle worker coming into town for Passover. When they shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” they had something very concrete in mind.
Passover is the feast when the descendants of Jacob celebrate their liberation from slavery at the hands of a foreign king, the Pharaoh of Egypt. Passover is the feast when the children of Israel celebrate the end of their status as a subject people, and the beginning of the journey to self-rule in their own land.
Jesus’ miracles showed that he was favored by God. So when this great leader favored by God came to Jerusalem for the great feast of liberation, people thought it was time: God was about to drive the Romans out, and put a descendant of David on the throne again.
After centuries of first exile and then oppression, the Messiah was at hand to re-establish the Kingdom of Israel. This Jesus was the one. The crowds gathered in Jerusalem that Passover just knew it, so they hailed him as the coming king when he entered town.
But then he committed the most unthinkable of sins for a Messiah: The worst a military deliverer can do is to lead a failed uprising. Drive the Romans out and you’re almost everyone’s hero. Unsuccessfully attempt to drive the Romans out and no one wants to have anything to do with you. The message to the Roman governor isn't "*Crucify* him," it's  “Crucify *him*”: “We were just kidding when we said this guy was the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Governor Pilate, sir, we know you represent the real king. We’ve got nothing to do with this ‘coming kingdom’ bit. Don’t crucify us too.”
John’s gospel, which we heard today, paints a favorable picture of Pilate, but the historical record shows that Pilate had a well-established record for cruelty, even compared to other Roman governors. The crowds had ample reason to be afraid of him. Could his repeated offers to release Jesus have been a perverse loyalty test? A Messiah who tried and failed to overthrow Pilate was a dangerous thing indeed for the people of Jerusalem.
Fear won out over hope: No one could free them from the Romans who wasn’t more powerful than the Romans. No one could deliver them from Pilate’s ever-present threat of torture, death, and destruction who couldn’t defeat it personally. If this would-be Messiah can’t stick it to the Romans, they’d better rid themselves of him, and fast, before the Romans get upset. It’s better for the Romans to torture to death this one person rather than lots of them.
If might must be toppled by greater might, if the way to overcome an army is to shock and awe them into submission with superior military force, then Jesus was an utter failure. Crucify him, Pilate, and forgive us for even thinking about backing the wrong horse here.
And we, too, give in to fear. We want the powers that be to lock up the bad guys, keep away the people that make us uncomfortable, smite our enemies. We want to feel safe and secure and undisrupted. And we buy into the same systems that led the Lord of Life to death on a cross.
Where’s the good news here? A man travels around for three years proclaiming that a new kingdom is at hand, and performing signs that indicate he’s really someone out of the ordinary. He enters the holy city at the time of year they’re expecting a deliverer. The crowd hails him as the coming king. He gets arrested, the crowd realizes that he’s not unbeatable, and the occupying army tortures and kills him.
Some agent of an all-powerful god. Some “good” news.
And yet we do call today Good Friday.
In today’s events, Jesus didn’t merely overthrow the Romans; he made them utterly impotent and irrelevant. Because their stock in trade for running an empire was fear, and Jesus didn’t let fear of their power to torture and kill him change his course of action. Jesus didn’t overthrow the Romans; he overthrew death itself, and in the process, negated the need to fear mere Roman armies.
Today we remember how good triumphs over evil. Because, yes, the crucifixion really is a triumph of good. But there’s also an awful lot of evil. Abandonment and cowardice and cruelty and pain and torture and death are all too real, both on that Friday almost two thousand years ago and in our own day.
The crowds wanted a Messiah who would overthrow the Romans. If Jesus was taking on more than that: death itself, for instance, we’d still like a more spectacular demonstration. Because Jesus suffered, and died, and yes, he defeated death, and yes, it no longer has dominion over him, as we’ll sing on Sunday, but there’s still a lot of people suffering and dying now. If the crowds thought Jesus was a failure as a Messiah for not making a more spectacular public show of driving out the Romans, we’re not all that different. It sure would be nice for us now to see a more spectacular show of driving out suffering and death. We know that death doesn’t have the final word, but the word it does have is pretty intimidating.
The crowds didn’t see it. His closest followers didn’t see it. Even today, sometimes it’s hard to see. But in the actions of this day, the Messiah completely and utterly overthrew the reign of not only the Romans but anyone who would attempt to enslave God’s people. The crowds didn’t realize, but today their savior ended the need to live in fear of the threat of death. A conqueror could threaten to kill them, but death no longer had the final word.
We might wish Jesus had somehow destroyed death, rather than just neutralizing it. But if Jesus had met power with power, we who don’t have omnipotent power would still need to fear power. Jesus didn't defeat the Romans. He defeated the whole idea of the Romans. He defeated the Romans and the Nazis and the Stalinists and ISIS and anyone who would subjugate others through fear of unspeakably horrible acts. Because he lived out perfect love and said he wouldn't fear their unspeakably horrible acts.
If Jesus had met the Roman army with the hosts of heaven, we who don’t have legions of angels at our command would still need to fear the might of earthly rulers and the horrors they can do to us.
If Jesus had met death with immortality, we who are mortal would still need to fear death from those who would inflict it on us.
Instead, Jesus stood in the face of all the pain and suffering that evil could throw at him, and let it wash over him. He endured mocking, beating, sinister betrayal by Judas, cowardly betrayal by the crowd, abandonment by his closest followers, flogging, humiliation, lugging heavy beams, drinking sour wine, and even death itself. Jesus stood before the evil of the world, and somehow, through amazing grace, he didn’t use his infinite power to drive it off.
He let evil do its worst, and it did not prevail.
The good news here today is that evil can’t win. If we are baptized into Christ’s death, we share in this passion today. We share in Jesus’ facing up to all the terrible suffering that the mightiest empire in the world could throw at him, and not resisting it precisely because the worst they had to give was incapable of destroying him. The man who said “Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you. Bless those who curse you.” didn’t need to add a clause “unless they’re about to kill you; then, nuke 'em.”
The crowds we acted out today represent the victory of fear over hope, but the passion of the Christ represents the victory of love over fear, and we are baptized into that victory. Evil has no power over us, because it can do its dreaded worst but not change our trajectory.
The crowds in today’s Gospel seemed to have in mind the old admonition “do unto others before they do unto you.” All this talk of loving enemies is great, but when things are really on the line, sometimes you have to be realistic, right?
But the triumph of the cross is the triumph of idealism over realism: Jesus said no to the temptation to abandon the strength of nonviolence, the power of selflessness, the might of love. The cross today is the ultimate act of practicing what one preaches. This passion and death that we heard in today’s gospel is the very enactment of the Sermon on the Mount.
The world is too much with us. We have much in common with the crowds we acted out today. We often let fear win out over hope, and power over love. Sin and fear are all too present, and we do not always live with the awareness of the present Kingdom of God. Disease, cruelty, loss, and death are realities. And even Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, even when he was about to bring him back from the dead moments later.
But our baptism into Christ’s passion and death helps us to share in Christ’s triumph today: sometimes, in moments of hope and glimpses of grace, we can act differently than the crowds in today’s story. We do not need to act out of the fear of suffering or death. To Jesus, death did its worst, and now death is all used up. Even when it’s hardest to see that it’s true, death doesn’t have the final word. All of us go down to the dust, but even at the grave we make our song. Amen.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Jews were longing for a messiah, a leader anointed by God to restore their freedom from their oppressors. Now there was a great deal of flexibility in the Jewish tradition who that anointed leader could be. In Isaiah, the Messiah is proclaimed to be Cyrus the Mede, who wasn't even Jewish, but whose defeat of the Babylonians ended he exile and allowed the people to return to the promised land. The stumbling block about Jesus is that the one critical feature of a messiah is that he's supposed to win! He's supposed to deliver them from the oppressors, not get killed by them.
Now the Greeks were looking for a philosophy: prudent rules to live by, a consistent moral code. This enemy love thatJesus preached sounds like foolishness: it sounds like utter suicide in the face of hostile forces that want you dead.
And the Romans? They proclaim Christ crucified, although the opposite of the Christian message! They did it, after all. They crucified him. This is what the Pax Augusta is all about: peace through strength. If you stand up against their law and order and they will make an example of you to keep the peace
Paul didn’t write about Jews and Greeks as “them”. They weren’t the other. Paul’s community was made up of Jews and Greeks. Paul himself was a Roman citizen! When Paul sets the cross against the expectations of Jews and Greeks, he shows us how our own expectations resist the message of the cross. We are the Jews. We are the Greeks. We are even, all too often, he oppressing Romans at whose hands Jesus died. In each of us is a resistance to the radical, absurd love of God witnessed by Jesus’ passion. But, by the grace of God, we can receive the message about the cross. As we fear danger, we cling to wisdom and power, but the cross of Jesus offers another way: a way of fearless nonviolence, of powerful powerlessness, of foolish love.
Jewish tradition teaches that the Torah, the law, contains six hundred thirteen commandments. And yet there are ten that hold a particularly special place in our memory. The first lesson we heard today isn’t known as “ten of the commandments”; we call it “The Ten Commandments”. As if these ten were so special that beyond them, there are no others. What’s so special about these ten?
There’s a long rabbinical tradition of trying to summarize The Law, and perhaps the ten commandments do that. They start by recalling God’s relationship with the people: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
And then continue:
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them.
You shall not make wrongful use of the Name of the Lord your God.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
We sometimes divide the commandments, saying that those are about the relationship between God and humans, and the rest are about the relationship among humans: Honor your parents, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not covet.
But they aren’t in neat categories there. When we covet things that do not belong to us, we both hurt our fellowship with our neighbor and reject what our God has blessed us with. When we do not allow those who work for us to keep the Sabbath, we defile God’s holy day and we exploit our neighbor. And what more wrongful use of the name of the LORD is there than to invoke the name of God to oppress our neighbor? To use the holy name to gain power over others?
When Jesus was asked to summarize the law, continuing in that rabbinical tradition, Matthew 22 tells us that he said
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with 
all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great 
commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt 
love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments 
hang all the Law and the Prophets.
Hear that transition: “The second is like unto it.” We’re not talking about two completely different things. Our relationship with God shapes our relationship with our fellow humans. Our relationship with our fellow humans is a necessary consequence of our relationship with God.
Love the Lord and love Humankind – these are two sides of the same coin. And this love was brought to its fulfillment in the cross. Jesus doesn’t abolish the law, he fulfills it. The Law, the 613 commandments, the ten commandments, the two commandments – the cross of Jesus demonstrates their most full expression. But the message about the Cross is indeed foolishness to those who are perishing.
The wisdom of the world says protect yourself. The wisdom of the world says be strong, to fight off your enemies. The wisdom of the world says hold back from helping others, and be sure you can take care of yourself first.
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who embrace worldly wisdom.
The commandment to love others as much as you love yourself resists seeking of power for self-preservation. The commandment to love others as self says the impulse to help oneself – to save oneself – is only to be embraced as a part of the helping and saving of all humankind. And there in the heart of the summary of the law is the message of the cross.
The Christian message about the cross is that the ultimate manifestation of power and strength is to totally empty oneself. To lay down one’s life in resistance to evil – not by fighting it, but by bearing witness to the power of God. Love God with every fiber of your being, and love yourself as a part of loving all humankind.
The Roman message about the cross is that power can bring order. The cross itself was a tool of Roman subjugation. Put down rebellions, quell dissent, keep calm throughout the known world.
The power of the cross, to the Romans, was in fear. People who dared to defy them were hung up on display, so everyone could see them very painfully die.
But the Christians embraced the cross as their own symbol. The cross became not something to fear or be ashamed of – look, your movement’s leader was tortured to death here – but rather a source of strength. When Jesus died on the cross, and yet rose from the dead, he showed that the ultimate symbol of violence, the ultimate symbol of peace through strength, the ultimate claim that “power over others makes you strong” was, in fact, powerless against him.
Without fully loving, hoping, believing in the power of God, Jesus could never have embraced the cross. The first of the great commandments makes the second one possible. We have the courage, and grace, and power to serve others only because we are first fed by our God. We go forth into the world to serve only in response to the abundant grace that God first gives us. We can engage in the crazy, foolish, subversive act of loving neighbor as self only when we are animated by the love of God.
But where are we today? Which side are we on? Are we Jews, longing for someone to effectively deliver us from our oppressors, and looking for signs of hope? Are we Greeks seeking safe prudent dictums to live by? Are we Romans, living out the creed of peace by strength, shock and awe, and law and order? Or do we dare to embrace the cross, the strength of weakness and the wisdom of foolishness?
On Thursday February 10, Dr Randy Beckum, the chaplain of MidAmerica Nazarene University preached to the university community on the message of the cross, on love for enemies, and challenging American militarism as another Pax Augusta and how patriotism and Christian faith were not always complementary. He pointed out the the movie Selma might be a better Christian witness than American Sniper, and that the higher revenues the latter earned compared to the former might indicate that as a society, we worship the empire more than the crucified one. There was much outrage that he might suggest that, and less than two weeks later, he was removed as chaplain of that university.
Which side are we on? Are we Jews, Greeks, Romans, or Christians? Do we dare to embrace the utter foolishness and weakness of nonviolent servant leadership? Do we dare to embrace the cross?
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

So you could call today mother-in-law Sunday. The one day we hear the story about the healing of Pater's mother-in-law, that only has a chance to occur once every three years, and even then there's a 40% chance we'll miss this reading because Easter falls early, and the season after Epiphany is short enough that we don't get to today's gospel. The story appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but only the Mark version makes it into the Sunday lectionary at all. It's almost like the people putting the lectionary together had it in for mothers-in-law. Mine has been out of town for the past two weeks, and I'm eager for her to to return home. She's a retired minister, and I usually talk with her about my sermons before I preach, so today you all might miss her too if this sermon turns out to lack something because I didn't talk to her.
In baptism, each candidate is asked Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
And  Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
In the sacrament of confirmation, or in the renewal of our baptism, the bishop asks each candidate, Do you renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?
Our response is this: I do, and with God’s grace I will follow him as my Savior and Lord.
Claiming Jesus Christ as both our Savior and our Lord lies at the heart of our identity as Christians, central to our initiation into the Body of Christ, the Church. Despite this, the phrase "our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" might be such a set phrase that we tune it out. It's just a clue that the prayer is coming to an end — one more churchy thing people say, but does it mean anything? What does it mean for Jesus to be both Savior and Lord? Do they mean different things? Is this an abstract theological distinction, or does it shape how we live our lives? Today's lessons give us a clue.
The name of Jesus comes from the Hebrew for "YHWH saves," an affirmation that our right relationship with God is what gives us health and strength and deliverance from the forces that threaten us. Because Jesus himself came to reconcile us to God, to restore our right relationship with the source of our being, we can say by extension that Jesus saves.
St. Paul was not in right relationship with his God, despite trying with all his power. He upheld the Law of Moses with all his might, and was zealous in persecuting the followers of the Way, as the early church was known, because he thought they had turned away from true worship of God. And yet, he was deeply at unease, because he could not obey the law in its fullness. Despite his best efforts, he could not obey the Law of Moses completely, and did not feel connected with his God.
And then, on the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Paul, and called him to transform his life. Through Jesus, Paul entered into a new relationship with his God, and was reconciled and healed.
In our own lives, Jesus heals. Jesus reconciles. Jesus loves. Jesus is our savior.
Today's lessons, though, point beyond the identity of Jesus as Savior to that of Lord:
Jesus gives us a mission. We have work to do, because our response to Jesus' saving love is to follow him as Lord. To work for the spread of the Kingdom.
Today's reading from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, though, tells us that Jesus is not just Paul's Savior. Jesus is clearly Paul's Lord. Paul was not healed and reconciled then spent the rest of his life basking in his newly restored relationship with God. Instead, he observes that "an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!"
The story of Peter's mother-in-law is perhaps one of the most striking connections between Jesus as Savior and Jesus as Lord. Simon Peter's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
Not even a separate sentence. Jesus as Savior, and then, Pow! Jesus as Lord. The fever left her and she began to serve them.
We are not healed as an end unto itself; we are healed to be agents of the Kingdom of God. We are healed to spread healing to others. We are reconciled to bring reconciliation to others. We are loved and we then spread love in the world. We are restored to connectedness with our creator so we can help all creation also become new.
In one of our Eucharistic prayers, we ask God to "Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal."
Today's lessons seem to drive home that Jesus is Lord. That discipleship is work, and that we are called not only to be in relationship with the God who heals, reconciles, empowers, restores, and strengthens us – that is, the God who saves us – but to act on that relationship in our lives. As the epistle of James reminds us, faith without works is dead. Our relationship with our savior empowers us to follow him as Lord.
Next week we will hear about the Transfiguration, a glorious mountain top experience where Peter and James and John encounter Moses and Elijah and Jesus in resplendent glory. And Jesus has to admonish Peter not to build tents to stay up on the mountaintop, but rather to go back down the mountain after the encounter, because there is work to be done. At the end of our liturgies, we are prodded to go out into the world bringing the peace of God we encounter at this altar to a world that so badly needs it.
And sometimes we need that prodding. Sometimes we need the encouragement these lesson seem to be giving us: don't just be in relationship with God; do something. Be healed, then get up and start serving.
But after Jesus healed so many people in Capernaum, he went out to a deserted place to pray. He spent time simply being in relationship with God, the source of his strength and love.
As much as we sometimes need prodding to be delivered from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal, we also need deliverance from the presumption of looking only for strength and not for solace; only for renewal and not for a restored relationship with God.
Eventually, our relationship with God needs to inspire us to spread God's love. Eventually, our relationship with our Savior inspires us to follow our Lord. But that must not discount the importance of healing. The importance of solace. The importance of drawing near our Savior and rejoicing in that loving presence. Yes, we will eventually be called to leave. But let's not forget to draw near. Let's not neglect to be healed, to be reconciled, to be present with our glorious God, whether on the mountaintop or at the altar or in healing or reconciliation or wherever we find our God. We can't stay there forever. We will need to get up and serve, to proclaim the Gospel, to share the love we receive. But we first need to receive it, to be fed, to be restored.
Sometimes, like Peter's mother-in-law, we move immediately from encountering God to serving God. Sometimes we need to spend more time on feeling God's healing love in our lives. Sometimes we need to linger at the altar, on the mountaintop, at Jesus' side. Sometimes we need to go out to that deserted place and spend time not doing, but being with our God who loves us. Sometimes it's hard to strike that balance between needing a Savior and following a Lord.
And that's when we need to pray and listen the most. We need solace AND strength, pardon AND renewal. There are times to get to work proclaiming the kingdom, and times to be still and know God. What is God saying to you today? Who is God to you now? Savior? Lord? W see God differently each day, but our God is both.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.