Pentecost 7 – Children’s sermon

– Can you recite the “Our Father”? Do you know it by heart?

“Our Father” is in the Gospel. Jesus taught it to his disciples…(Lord’s Prayer). Twice in the Gospel: Luke and Matthew. 2 different ways of saying it…Luke has “a shorter version” than Matthew.
Is it weird or not really important? The fact that there are two different versions shows us that it is not about the exact sentences. Yet “Teach us how to pray”…became “teach us what to pray” : We end up just reciting the Lord’s prayer w/o thinking about it much / BCP. Nothing wrong w/ those prayers, they’re great prayers, except when we start reading / reciting instead of praying.

– Praying: having a conversation w/ God instead of having something ready made. Like when you receive a Hallmark card and the text is already written and the person just sign or when they took a blank card and made time to write something very special just for you.

Jesus wants us to feel at ease with God. I think this is what Jesus tells his disciples when he tells them to call God their “Father”. Father b/c Mary was his mother / the idea is = there is a relationship of trust between us and God, like should be between parents and children…Trust: not being afraid.

God is close: Version of Luke – not even mention that God “is in heavens”
God close to the children, the little ones, humble (not pretending to be something else) those who open their hearts. Requests are very direct in the Lord’s prayer.

– Which means: be honest w/ God, tell God what’s going on, what we need, ask for good things (even if you can say you’re angry!). We ask for our needs, material or spiritual: Bread or forgiveness, help when we have difficulties.

Prayer is not complicated. When we talk to our parents, or to someone we really trust, we don’t worry about finding the right words…We know we won’t be judged or rejected. (It’s not like when we have to talk to someone who is difficult)

Simple words. Different ways of saying “Hello / I love you / Please / Sorry / Thank you”.
Sometimes we need to say more than that / sometimes we can’t say anything b/c we’re too sad but important to remember that Jesus tells us that his door is always open.

– Sometimes we need to ask Jesus to help us how to pray…he is still willing to do so. We may ask something and then realize we need to ask something else.

We may experience at times that God does not answer but it isn’t b/c God does not give us exactly what we want that God does not answer. Sometimes God just give us the strength, comfort to carry on… (Like a good friend) Need patience to see the results of God’s work – its hard for us!

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you” —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

– Prayer is meant to transform us. Your will be done: your pleasure, your dream for me. Transforming me in the person you would like me to be. Not somebody perfect who never does any mistake, but somebody full of life, joy and love. Someone happy who wants to make other people happy (=the meaning of love).

God transforms us so we can help others. Look what God did through Paul, Peter or Mary. We give God’s authorization to work through us when we pray…Sometimes we would like to change the world and we can’t…but we can let God change us and that can make a difference.

– Other part in the Gospel we’ve heard today: Prayer is like helping a friend. Giving an egg or a fish to a child / or in the story: giving bread to a friend or for a friend’s friend. In God, even other people’s friends are our friends and we need to help them.

– We often think about the prayers requests we make to God but what about the prayers requests God make to us ?
If we forgive, God forgives. When we give, God gives. People make prayers to us all the time, ask us to help them, and we don’t realize. Yet we could experience that often the response to our prayers come in the help, attention of somebody else. We have a phone call, a hug, a nice meal…

– The question we can ask ourselves is: How can we answer each other prayer? Help them with their needs and their dreams? Our Father: we all are a big family. So we do things for one another.

– This week I had a letter from a friend. Like when Paul wrote letter to other churches, my friend sent me a letter / sent a letter to us at Christ church…Asking me for help / asking me…not for bread but close enough! (read the letter)

Guilène studied with me and became a priest too and now she is in Haiti…

Anyone knows where Haiti is? She has a church and a school…
How can we help her? Money…but also our prayers and our love.
Send cards. Sometimes you just need to know you are seen, you are important.

Pentecost 6

As I was preparing this sermon, I was reminded of a joke my mother used to tell – She was an English teacher – the joke goes like that:

“What is the feminine form of Sitting on the couch?”
and the answer is: “Standing in the kitchen

The Gospel we have today, the short story of Martha and Mary, has given rise to a lot of comments because of the way Jesus seemingly dismisses the value of the humble domestic work, telling Martha it’s more important to sit with the boys, listen to the Master rather than to worry about her pots and pans.

Of course, it’s such a stereotype, offending feminist sensitivities…We know somebody needs to get those things done, right?

So today our task is to wonder if we can pass beyond the stereotype and hear afresh what Jesus is really saying. My guess is that actually you can’t really understand this Gospel if you’ve never had a big sister bossing you around – but we’ll come to that later!

The first thing we need to notice is that when Jesus talks, his words teach – there is information, meaning in what he says – but also – as the word of God – Jesus’s words do something, they have a certain effect on reality, like when he says to people: You’re healed, you’re forgiven…Something we can experience at our level when we promise or apologize. We say words not only to inform but to do something: a vow, an excuse…(Performative)…And in this Gospel, Jesus is not only teaching something, but doing something.

Let’s start with what Jesus is saying / words themselves / the teaching:Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

– So we often understand this saying as Jesus downplaying earthly realities for the sake of heavenly ones. Downplaying those humble tasks nobody notices that need to be done and are often taken care of by women. This interpretation does not make sense though, b/c of the rest of the Gospel. Jesus always notices the humble tasks: the woman putting yeast in her bread, the widow giving her last coin…Jesus himself did humble tasks, like serving food, washing the feet of his disciples. The examples are legion, actually half of the characters Jesus meets in Luke’s Gospel are women – often shown as examples: witnesses of the Resurrection, founders of the early church in the book of Acts (written by Luke). In some stories of the Gospel, sometimes Jesus even changes his mind after having talked with women! Like with the Canaanite woman who tells Jesus even the little dogs get the crumbs, we see that at Cana when his mother asks him for a miracle!

– So in this wider context, we can hear that Jesus’s words aren’t negative but positive, there are words of empowerment b/c of the way he believes in women. If we are offended by what Jesus responds to Martha, imagine what if would be if he had said: “Mary, your sister is right, return to the kitchen (where you belong)”…Mary has her place at Jesus’s feet – listening to Jesus’s teachings with the men in the house, which was very unusual at the time.

For Jesus, women are not second class disciples. This scene may remind us of Jesus at 12 sitting in the Temple with the doctors of the law. Jesus invites us to think outside the box about the roles society has in store for us based on our age, our origin, our gender…Not only for women, for men also! I read recently a book written by a man who talks about this culture of violence most men grow up in, how they are taught that they “can’t be a real man if they’re not tough” and the author says it has been a very liberating experience for him to realize how Jesus dared to express his feminine side, being open about his emotions, like when he cries in public, talks about his fear of dying…

– Indeed, Jesus teaches today about human limitations, “God given roles” in life that are actually not “God given” but cultural!…More than what society teaches us to be/do, we are first called to be disciples, doing “the one thing” God gives us to do. God has a very different work ethics than we do. In our society, the more we work, the better. We pride ourselves on being busy. Yet, work in the Bible isn’t always seen in a positive way. Amos, 8th c BC: God does not approve prosperity that enslave people or abuse them. People are meant to serve God first, then they can work to make a living. Most of us, we are only gifted at doing a few things – maybe it’s because God does not want us to do too much but to do well what we have to do, to have our hearts in it so by our work we may be drawn closer to loving God and our neighbor. Doing better instead of doing more.

– Sometimes we can’t avoid being very busy of course but always doing more isn’t a holy way of living in the sense that it does not make us closer to God. Jesus notices the way Martha is worried and distracted, and of course it is something that should speak very strongly to us today in a world where we worry a lot and are more distracted than ever. But it’s not new! Worries and distractions are part of who we are. A movement of philosophers beginning of the 20th century: being human is about being worried b/c we are finite. We look for completion and accomplishment…But what those philosophers say is that we can spend our lives running from one thing to another and probably wasting our time and energy, or we can go deeper and try to understand what we really long for: “the one thing” – this could be our quest for God / meaning. We cannot get rid of anxieties but maybe, we can try to look at our anxiety in the face: What is it I am really worried about / what is it I am really looking for? I wish I had an answer to this question..I don’t…Maybe it’s different for everyone of us, but one thing is sure: Jesus tells us we’ll come closer to find our answer if we accept to sit and listen, than if we just keep on doing business as usual frantically.

– So yes, for Jesus there is more to life than pots and pans…it does not mean you can’t find God in pots and pans! Brother Lawrence (17c) used to say: God is in the kitchen. He found God while cooking as well as when he went to worship because he made himself fully available. Sitting and listening: It’s not so much about what we do than about the way we offer ourselves, we made ourselves present to God whatever we’re doing.

That’s for the teaching…Now, what is it that Jesus is doing by saying what he says to Martha?

– Well, maybe we are right to be a bit offended by his words b/c they are probably a little harsh. My guess is that Jesus is putting Martha in her place / sort of telling her to mind her own business…but he does so to take Mary’s defense, to side with her. He is not criticizing the fact that Martha is doing the cooking – Jesus is upset by the way Martha is treating Mary. The reason I said you can’t understand this Gospel if you’ve never had a big sister to boss you around! Yet, if Martha would have really wanted her sister to help, don’t you think she would have asked her directly, discretely? But now, if you can imagine the scene, she interrupts Jesus as he is teaching, in front of all the guests, to point out the fact that her sister is being useless and lazy, when she, Martha, takes care of everything. Martha is also doing something when she speaks this way: She is humiliating Mary in front of all the guests and of this Jesus Mary loves so much (She is also the one who poured the perfume at his feet)…We don’t know how cruel it is, but it is certainly mean…and yet, does not this scene feel terribly real? How often do we do that? Putting people down to make us look better? And also: being controlling, knowing what people need to do, or not? How often do we spend time criticizing the way people do their work / don’t do their work correctly? Our spouses, co-workers, the employee at Walmart…

– And we don’t only criticize people in front of others people, we criticize them also in front of God, like Martha criticizes Mary in front of Jesus! We had to have a good laugh last week during adult education, talking about prayer, when we realized how often the way we pray for others turn out in the end to pray God that God may change their behaviors… “Jesus, tell my sister to help me!”. Actually we should ask God to be the ones to change and to see people in a different light, with their very own gifts. We often rejoice in our diversity, and we are right to do so, but diversity is not only about race, age or gender. It’s about doing things differently. Being introvert or extrovert, fast or slow, active or contemplative…

– Last thing Jesus is doing is that he’s keeping Mary with him / to himself – She won’t go back in the kitchen. Jesus likes Mary as she is – and it’s not the first time he takes her defense. Judas and the disciples criticize her harshly when she pours the perfume on his feet. It seems that Mary forgets everything when Jesus is here: how she is expected to behave, what she is supposed to do…Jesus acknowledges the great love Mary has for him and no doubt he finds comfort in it as he heads to Jerusalem and to his death. Hospitality is more than food, it’s about enjoying each other’s presence. We are even more sensitive to that when we come closer to the end of our lives. Most of the people who are about to die will tell you: All the little worries, distractions, our little wars with one another… they really don’t matter at all.

– To conclude: The Gospel we have today follows the one we heard last week, Good Samaritan, where Jesus reminds us of the great commandments: Loving God and Loving neighbor. Last week we heard how the love for neighbor was about serving them / doing extraordinary things for them as did the Samaritan, but today Jesus reminds us that sometimes love can be as simple as this: Enjoy. Enjoy God for the mere pleasure to be in God’s presence, enjoy who your neighbor are, just because they are who they are. Amen.

Pentecost 5

Parable of the good Samaritan is well known, but it’s interesting to hear the whole passage though b/c the story is so striking that we often forget the context in which it was told: A lawyer comes to Jesus and asks: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. It’s not the first time Jesus is asked this question – You may remember the rich young man in Matthew…in Luke it’s actually a lawyer like today, in Chap 18, who asks the same question:  A certain ruler asked him: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. So I was wondering, maybe Luke made two stories out of one, as it happens, he found a way to integrate one of Jesus’s parables into a wider context. Yet my guess is that Jesus was probably asked the same question often: How to “Inherit eternal life”…We often think about: living for ever / living beyond our physical death – yet the hope of Resurrection wasn’t a belief well spread among the Jews: Some of them believed in R (Pharisees), but some didn’t (Sadducees). The question is more about: What is it to live the life God intended for us to live, to live a godly life? What is the meaning of life? All these things you teach about, Jesus, what does it come down to, in the end?

And Jesus, as always, recenters on the love of God and love of the neighbor. It all comes down to love. “Love and do what you want” (Augustine). Jesus, as a good teacher, says it again and again many times…each time, there is something more to learn though. Story of the rich young man: How wealth can get in the way. So the question for us today: What does the parable of the good Samaritan have to say to clarify the great rule of loving God and neighbor?

Centered on “who is the neighbor?” It adds a certain tension / a certain delay to the dialogue. The lawyer gets it that he has to love God and neighbor but yet…He is not really ready to do so. He wants some specifics. When we read the passage of the Gospel we have today, we may overlook it because we know the story of the Samaritan so well…But it is interesting that, instead of just listening to the words of the text, we also have a look at the structure of the text: its rhythm (like a poem: sometimes the rhythm says more than the word themselves) and the way it is structured is:

Q/A (the rule) + “Do this, and you will live”
Q/A (a story to illustrate the rule) + “Go and do likewise”

There is a parallelism. Jesus is urging the man to act…“Just do it”. Love the foreigner / love the one who is wounded / love the one you find on the road. Love everyone / Love anyone.

And Jesus tells a very simple story / apparently simple / almost a joke. A priest, a Levite, a Samaritan…(Joke inside the joke, since the third person you would expect would have been a lawyer, or an Israelite instead of a hated foreigner like the Samaritan) and then Jesus asks…Who has been a neighbor? when the response is obvious, of course. Does Jesus want to say that religious people are all hypocrites? Not sure. Nothing tells us that situation is tense between Jesus and this man (“Test” was common between rabbis, they argued about the law all the time), but there is maybe this consideration that simple people get it better, they just know what to do when a situation shows up. They don’t ask that kind of questions / they don’t ask too many questions. They get it. Not so focused on doing the right thing / they just do it. That’s why the story is so simple, the response so obvious. You just have to help the man.

And it should probably speaks to us as well – As Christians, we often wonder what God expects of us…what is God’s plan for us…What is the best we can do with our lives…And maybe at some point, we start to take ourselves a little too seriously. Jesus reminds us to do the good that is right in front of us, to have the obvious response to the obvious problem. The neighbor is the one in front of me, the one who need helps. Even more – since actually Jesus says that the one being the neighbor is the Samaritan, the one who helps not the one being helped – I can choose to become a neighbor / I can be proactive: come close, help out, comfort, heal. To the question: Who is my neighbor? Who deserves my attention, my love, my help? The answer is: “Be a neighbor”, love the one who’s right here. Take your eyes off the sky, or even stop looking right in front of you “eyes on the prize”, but look at those who are in the ditch and pick them up. This parable should speak to us very strongly when we know how immigrants are treated right now at the border. The question is not about what’s right or wrong, we may have very different ideas about immigration, but what God asks of us it’s just behaving like decent human beings towards these people: feed them, give them to drink, give them a place to sleep and some soap and a toothbrush, and you let them hug their children. You don’t blame it on them: They knew the risks, they knew the road (between Mexico and Texas)was dangerous (as was the road from Jerusalem and Jericho).This is really a no brainer for Jesus: We have to act as decent human beings, and we cannot try to find a way around that – a loophole, as did the lawyer, asking: Surely, not everybody is my neighbor? Well yes…

Brings us back to the question of knowing what is right and what is wrong: How should I know what God expects from me? Simple response: Have mercy – Eleos / gut feeling. Word in this text is also used by Luke when he speaks of God: God has mercy. We already know deep down what to do. We may try to rationalize, but most of the time, we know what is the right thing to do. If it feels wrong, it’s probably wrong. If it feels right, it’s probably right. It’s not only in our heads, it’s in our hearts, in our bodies, with our guts, with all we are. It’s our humanity. We recognize the other one, our neighbor “as ourselves”: we connect on the level of our humanity. (We already mentioned that in other sermons, to be godly, we have to be humane / to inherit eternal life we have to live this mortal life). I find it interesting that the Samaritan let the man touch him (in his heart) before he touches him (physically) by pouring wine and oil on his wounds (to disinfect and to soothe). He let himself be touched and that’s so important. Barbara Brown Taylor once said that at some point, she realized she had become a good priest and it scared her. Scared her b/c yes she did everything “right” but she didn’t “let anyone near her heart”, she realized she was acting out of duty but she didn’t let herself be touched anymore to avoid being hurt by the pain she encountered in her ministry: people leaving the church, suffering, dying…It’s not only what can happen to ministers, it’s true for all Christians, for all those who strive to love: we may get hurt. Yet we have to take the risk. And I think this is what the Samaritan is willing to do. To be touched and to take a risk: The risk of feeling for this man, the risk of stopping on this dangerous road, the risk of going down in the ditch, the risk of being mugged, the risk of touching somebody unclean, the risk of carrying him on his back, the risk of giving his money, the risk of being a fool…

And so in the end, I think the specific Jesus adds in this parable to his bottom line “Love God and neighbor” as the key to everything in life, is that love takes chances and love takes risks. Love is brave. You cannot love if you don’t take a chance, you cannot love if you don’t risk losing something, getting hurt or being taken advantage of. If you want to love, you can’t always walk on the safe side. You know, the attitude of the priest and the Levite was very reasonable, it was indeed a dangerous road, a road on which you didn’t want to stop. But you cannot love if you’re always afraid to do something stupid. It does not mean you have to be stupid all the time, but if you really have to make a choice, well, I think Jesus tells us that maybe it’s better to be stupid by taking chances for the sake of others. Famous lines by Paul we hear at each weddings: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. It’s a beautiful summary of Jesus’s teachings, but there is maybe even more, because love is brave.

Love is brave. Powerful parable but we made something so dull with it: The good Samaritan, we call it. The nice one. Some translations go “the one who showed kindness” instead of “mercy”. It’s great to be kind. It’s great to be a good Samaritan, to be a good Christian. But it takes more than that, to love truly, to live the godly life, to inherit the kingdom: you have to be brave, to have mercy, to go with your guts sometimes not really knowing what you’re doing…

So maybe we need to think about that today, this week…What is the brave thing to do in our own lives to be more loving, to be closer to the godly life, to whom do we have to come closer to? Where do we need to stop on our journey to meet the unexpected?