Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
You may have noticed that the theme of the lessons we’ve heard this morning is mountain top experiences. Biblical storytellers and their listeners clearly loved mountaintop stories. This morning we heard about -
On the last Sunday in Epiphany every year we hear Transfiguration story.
It acts as transition moment - connecting us to both past and future:
The transfiguration experience takes place at a very difficult time for disciples:
Matthew tells us it occurred “six days later”. Six days before this, according to Matthew’s chronology, a set of confusing, troubling interactions occurred:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus’ prophecy didn’t fit Peter’s understanding of things, and Peter objected, earning a rebuke from Jesus, who called Peter “Satan”, telling Peter to “get behind” him, calling Peter a “stumbling block”.
And then six days later, he took them up the mountain.
The Sinai revelation to Moses took place as people of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, were most uncertain about where they were headed.
Transfiguration happened at a moment when disciples needed reassurance amidst their confusion and fear of the future.
In both cases, the mountaintop experience offered them a feeling, a vision they could hold onto, to sustain them in challenging times that lay ahead. As they faced Gethsemane and Good Friday, Peter, James, & John knew they had seen the face of God in Jesus, and that in Jesus, God was well-pleased.
Life is probably always uncertain, but the moment that we’re living in probably always feels the most troubling, and certainly there is lots to trouble us in these days of 2020.
It seems to me that three instructions included in Transfiguration story can speak to us in these moments of uncertainty:
To all these different fears, both then and now, the Gospel reply is the same: because God is God of the past, present, and future, we need not fear. This is not the same as saying that we will have no problems, or that with God we will avoid harm and hardship. Jesus’ and the disciples ARE heading toward Jerusalem, after all. The moment of joy and understanding that Peter would love to preserve by building shelters and remaining on the mountaintop will pass, just as our moments of knowing that we have caught fleeting glimpses of God also pass away.
The command not to be afraid reminds us that God did not create us for death but for resurrection, and so also God does not want us to be afraid, but rather, to move forward – even and especially in uncertain times – moving forward with courage and confidence.
Listen to him. Be raised up. Do not fear. It’s important to remember that these words are said about and by Jesus as he refuses to linger on the mountain top but comes back down again into the realities of the world – our world – as he makes his way to Jerusalem. There he will be tried, condemned, and crucified, for the world has no place for the encouragement and hope he offers. But the story does not end with the courage of one man defying the world. It continues with the promise that God raised this Jesus from the dead so that all of us might have hope that there is more to this life than we can see, that God will be with us every step of our way, and that love and life are stronger than hate and death. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
I am one of those people who love order. I make my bed every morning. I love grammar and was one of those freakish kids in Middle School who actually enjoyed learning how to diagram sentences (not that I could do it now.) I gravitate toward knitting patterns that involve very symmetrical cables and ridges.
For those of us who love order, and I think there are many of us, we like having the rules that tells us what to do. We prefer to have a recipe to follow, directing us to moral behavior in life’s tricky situations, rather than having to weigh up complicated factors and reach our own determinations.
This is the dilemma that we find Jesus addressing in this morning’s gospel from the Sermon on the Mount. But before we look at the particulars, let’s remind ourselves what we know about the Sermon on the Mount in general.
It’s surely one of great passages in the New Testament. It may or may not have actually been a single sermon, and may or may not have taken place on a mountain.
Mark, the earliest of the four New Testament gospels, doesn’t include the Sermon on the Mount material, while Luke does, but Luke has Jesus preaching it on a plain, at a different point in Jesus’ ministry. Many New Testament scholars believe that in the early days of the Church there was a written collection of Jesus’ teachings in circulation (though it’s now presumably lost to us), and that Matthew and Luke excerpted passages from to include in the gospel narratives that they were constructing to share the “good news” with other believers.
The sermon begins with the Beatitudes – Jesus’ assurance of blessedness, of being God’s beloved children – and then continues with the “salt and light” passage that Heather reflected on last week, reminding us that at our core, we carry within us the saltiness and light of God’s love, to be carried into and shared with the world.
One of my seminary professors described the Sermon on the Mount as “the Constitution for the Kingdom of God”. Jesus began his ministry with the declaration that the Kingdom had come very close, and in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us exactly what God’s realm in this world will look like.
The gist of Jesus’ teaching is that living God’s will, living in right relationship with God, is about living from a heart that is attuned to God, rather than living by specific standards.
In the particular context and community to whom he is preaching, Jesus explains how to live in relation to Jewish Law that he and his disciples have been taught.
The passage actually begins in reading we heard last week:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
So it’s important to remember what the Law meant to Jesus’ disciples: Jews – then and now – understood the Law of Moses, found in the Commandments and statutes received at Sinai, and recorded in Torah, to be a precious gift from God to Israel. We heard this in today’s first reading, in Moses’ final sermon to Israel before they entered the Promised Land:
If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, and walking in his ways…, then … the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
Jesus’ community understood “The Law” as the terms of Israel’s Covenant with God: through their commitment to G’s will, lived out as commitment to the terms of the Law, their own redemption and redemption of world would take place.
Jesus did not understand his own teaching to be an alternative to or replacement of Law of Moses, but rather, a fulfillment, perhaps a clarification, of what Israel had already received.
The section we read today (and it continues on beyond what we’ve heard) is known as the “Antitheses” – (which is a pretty misleading term, because Jesus was not talking about “opposites”) - Jesus repeatedly instructs his hearers that “You have heard that it was said”, explaining obligation under Law of Moses, then follows with “but I say to you”, reinterpreting that obligation.
And this is where it gets hard, especially for those of us who really like having rules to follow. Jesus teaches that Kingdom of Heaven, or God’s Realm – life lived together in right relationship with God – is less about specifics of what we do, than about maintaining an inner world of respect and mutual care in our relationships with others:
Jesus calls us to help bring the Realm of God into realization - here, and now. Jesus reminds us that our relationship with God is made right to the degree that we not only treat others with respect and compassion, but also view others as God views them.
No question about it – it’s a crazy tall order. Setting our hearts as God’s heart is set is much, much harder than following recipes and rules. For myself, feeling charitably toward the needy of the world is easy, and I’m glad to use my resources to help them where I’m able.
On the other hand, having charity toward the powerful who I see as abusing their power, recognizing THEM as God’s beloved children, is very difficult. Overcoming my prejudices about those who claim to follow Jesus but hold very different views than I do of what that means is extraordinarily hard, and I can’t claim that I’ve made much progress with it.
Part of our work in following Jesus is to think hard about our relationships. For those relationships that are healthy and balanced and sustaining, we can give God thanks.
For those relationships that are not where they ought to be – that are strained, that involve hurt, or anger, or distrust or resentments – whether on own own side, or the other’s, or both, we must consider what we can do to move them toward healing and wholeness, and lift them to God that God might help us do so.
How do we experience the closeness of God’s Realm and help bring it into being? By aligning our hearts to the heart of God.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
As we continue through the Epiphany season, we are remembering the call of the disciples. Last Sunday we heard John relate one recollection of the moments when the first disciples began to follow Jesus. This morning we’ve listened to what Matthew has to tell us about how the first disciples came to form the community traveling with and learning from Jesus.
Matthew’s account, which is much like Mark’s and Luke’s, takes place after Jesus has been baptized, has spent time in the wilderness enduring temptation by Satan, and has made a home in Capernaum in Galilee.
And now it seems that he is ready to begin the ministry to which he is called. He begins by repeating the same proclamation we’ve heard from the Baptizer: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
And Jesus takes a stroll by the Sea of Galilee and observes two groups of fishermen – Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and brothers James and John, sons of Zebedee.
Seemingly without knowing anything of the four apart from their occupation - though some scholars observe that there’s nothing in the story that precludes an already-established relationship between Jesus and the fishermen – Jesus summons them to take on the activity of “catching people”.
We have a lot to get to this morning, and I promised to be brief! Let me suggest a couple of observations about the call of the disciples and then, an observation about how that call is connected to our business, this morning, in our Annual Meeting, as we take stock and inform ourselves about our life as the parish of James and Andrew.
Regardless, Jesus brings a message about a different kind of human community that reflects what Michael Curry calls “God’s dream” for humankind; Jesus envisions a community in which we all recognize ourselves and every other person as beloved by God, and we work together to care for one another, and to build a world characterized by peace and justice.
Jesus cannot do the work alone, and so he specifically recruits folks who can help him in the work of “catching people”. Jesus doesn’t go to the Temple to get priests onto the team, or to the palaces to summon the powerful, or to the academies to recruit the best educated. He wants the fishermen.
Like the Good Shepherd of a later parable, Jesus is out to save the lost. It is the fisherman, rather than the priests or the powerful, or the well-educated who can best help him do it.
But we also need to remember that Jesus’ call to Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John came because he had a job for them to do. He didn’t say “Follow me and you’ll find comfort.” In fact it was quite the opposite.
We are called too, however we may experience that call.
We’re called to share the news that the kingdom of heaven has come near, and to help bring that kingdom into being.
We’re called to be the community that proclaims and enacts God’s Love, that works so that God’s dream may become reality –
kind word by kind word
meal by meal fed
forgiveness by forgiveness offered
sharing by sharing
Pray that we may hear the call and follow.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
2 Epiphany A 2020
All of these Epiphanytide stories are about the presence of God being recognized in Jesus by those who encounter him. The Epiphany season invites us into our own new discoveries of God’s presence, our own fresh recognition of Jesus.
Today’s story of the call of the first disciples is pretty fascinating. When we think about the calling of the disciples, we generally think of Jesus passing by the fishermen as they’re mending their nets and inviting them to come join him, which is actually the gospel lesson we’ll hear next week.
John’s version of the story (which we’ve just heard) is distinctly different.
For one thing, the first disciples in John’s story are not approached by Jesus; they are already disciples of John. Clearly, they’re already on some kind of spiritual quest, and have left behind their other concerns to spend time with a prophet who they find to be speaking to the spiritual questions of the day.
But when John identifies Jesus as the one about whom he has been preaching, declaring him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, and “the Son of God”, two of his followers, Andrew and another, begin to follow along behind Jesus, and an exchange takes place.
Noticing the two, Jesus asks “What are you looking for?”
It’s a pretty big question, don’t you think?
We can imagine lots of reasons why they may not have been ready to say what it is they were looking for. The two, instead of answering, counter with a question of their own – maybe a deflection: “Where are you staying?”, they ask.
And Jesus, in a manner we know well, does not give a direct answer, either. Instead he issues an invitation: “Come and see.”
Last Sunday we began the first session of this year’s class for inquirers – Episcopal Church 101. It’s a dive into the beliefs and practices that make up “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement”, which we offer when the Bishop is coming to visit. It aims to assist with discernment by those who are considering becoming “official Episcopalians” through Confirmation or Reception, but it’s also a refresher for those who may be feeling that they’d like to learn more about a tradition in which they have already been members.
What does this have to do with anything?
We began the conversation in that first meeting with Heather asking, in effect, Jesus’ question: “what are you looking for?” She asked it more diplomatically, of course, asking something like “What brought you to take part in this class?”, and we went around with each participant sharing something of their own spiritual travels and the current state of their seeking.
The sharing was amazing to me, both for the diversity of experience that we heard, and for the depth and openness of members’ willingness to speak about themselves.
The group gathered included
But all of those taking part in the class were doing so because something they have experienced in the Episcopal tradition as it plays out here at James and Andrew that caused them to want to find out more.
I don’t want to overstate the analogy, but it seems rather like Andrew and his companion following the impulse to trail along after Jesus.
Here’s some of what we heard in listening to the group:
I’ll bet Andrew and his companion might have shared a very similar list.
Come with me on one more digression, if you would –
There’s a movement that started in the field of business leadership that has made it into church leadership circles. It started with a guy named Simon Sinek who developed an idea, gave a TED talk and wrote a bunch of books about “Finding your Why” (W – H – Y)
Sinek says that the difference between the ordinary, or even the good leaders and organizations, and the great leaders and organizations, is their ability to know and talk about their “WHY”.
He has a diagram he calls “the golden circle”, that has three concentric rings.
Every organization, Sinek says, can talk about what they do, and how they do it. The harder task is articulating why, communicating the core purpose that drives the how and the what.
He uses the example that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the only Civil Rights leader of his time, or the only great orator. King, he says, was uniquely effective in mobilizing and inspiring change – not that we have yet achieved the change we need - because he knew and could communicate at deep level WHY racial equality matters.
It’s the getting to “WHY” that fueled us here at James and Andrew in working to formulate a statement of mission, a year after we became a new parish. If you think about the statement we developed, we can see the golden circle, and it starts with our “WHY”:
We believe God is calling us to cultivate a community of love, joy, hope, and healing.
How do we do it?
Jesus is our model for a life of faith, compassion, hospitality, and service.
And then, finally, we say “what” it is that we seek to do:
We strive to be affirming and accessible, welcoming and inclusive; we seek to promote reconciliation, exercise responsible stewardship, and embrace ancient traditions for modern lives.
Jesus asked Andrew and his companion “What are you looking for?” It is such a fundamental, critical question, and we need to ask it of ourselves, over and over and over again, in order to remain connected to our purpose.
Why are we here?
What are we looking for?
Why does it matter?
It is only when we know these things that we will be able to be the Body of Christ that serves God and changes the world.
Meet our preachers
Lay Preacher, Faith Community Nurse
The Rev. Jane R. Dunning, Priest Associate
Coffee with Clergy
Do you want to get together to talk about your spiritual life or learn more about our community? Contact us and we will find time to get together.