Saint James Episcopal Church
203 E. Glendale St.
P.O. Box 1374
Dillon, MT 59725
406-683-2735 (Cell) 334-332-3222
September 1, 2019
EQUALITY IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In ancient times, the Church was often compared to a ship tossed on the seas of disbelief, battered by the sins of the world, and persecuted by the enemies of Christ—but finally reaching safe harbor with its cargo of human souls.
All you have to do is read of Paul’s missionary journeys in the Acts of the Apostles, and his final voyage to Rome, and you can easily imagine the dangers that were a part of travel on the Mediterranean Sea, which for them meant, “The Sea in the Middle of the Earth.”
To this day, the name for the area between the Narthex and the Sanctuary is called the Nave, from the French word for “ship.” You can look above you and see what looks like the ribs of a ship’s hull. Below us, the floor is the deck of the ship, the chancel is the quarter deck, and the sanctuary is the captain’s deck.
Now consider the first gatherings of the early believers, and what the image of the ship might have meant to them. Think of the refuge and the safety that those early home churches must have been for the early Christians. As in the nave of a ship, they were held together in close quarters—worshipping, eating together, making plans, dreaming of a future, and looking for the coming of the Risen Lord. Their secret life on Sunday sustained them each week. And they depended upon each other, absolutely, completely, to sustain the life of their church and the lives of each of their members—men, women, and children.
Meanwhile, it is hard for us to imagine what life during the rest of the week must have been like for those early Christians—hounded by the Roman authorities, hated by the Jews, welcomed by no one else but their own.
We know from Saint Paul’s own testimony that he was a Pharisee and a fanatical persecutor of the new Christians, pursuing them from town to town, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Known as Saul of Tarsus then, he went directly to the high priest asking him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women belonging to the Way, “he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” where they would be tortured and put to death.
It was a most unjust and violent world, the Holy Land of the First Century Anno Domine, even after the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. And Saul of Tarsus was at the epicenter of that injustice and violence—until his encounter with the Risen Lord.
I want to offer you a theory about the Kingdom of God in the midst of this First Century AD. Jesus Christ came to free all people from the power of sin. It’s right there in our Catechism, Our Outline of the Faith: “So that with the help of God we may live in harmony with God, within ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.”
It is true. The Son of God encountered a world and a civilization of such violence, hatred, victimization, injustice, poverty, hunger, and sickness that he knew it had to be turned completely upside down. His was a message of peace, love, justice, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. He realized that the only sacrifice, the only atonement that would suffice, would be his life freely given. This would be the only way that good might overcome evil, that life would overcome death.
All of the evil and violence, all of the injustice and harm that had ever been done throughout the history of the world had been done on the basis of greed, selfishness, inequality, power, corruption, and an utter disregard for life itself.
From the moment that Cain killed his brother Abel, the world seemed to embrace the belief that the Powerful should live and prosper, and the Weak should die and go down to the dust. The Powerful were right, and the Weak were wrong. And you could hear Satan laughing. That is, until Jesus was raised from the dead.
When Jesus conquered sin and death, he proclaimed salvation to all who believe in the Life of Love, all who follow the Way of Peace, all who worship the Lord of Life. And he meant You, All who Love the Lord and Love Their Neighbors. Not the Powerful. Not the Greedy and Selfish and Corrupt.
And so our Lord established EQUALITY as an integral and necessary part of the Kingdom of God.
• So that we would learn to work together for his Kingdom. This means we become a community of the Risen Lord.
• So that we would learn to love our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. We work together, sharing our talents and skills.
• So that we would treat others fairly and with steadfast love. We do not take advantage of or use people.
• So that we would not seek to dominate or rule over others. We demonstrate cooperation and equality, not superiority.
• So that we would serve others in the Name of Jesus.
In the Church, our purpose is to raise all boats, all people.
• So that we could replace inequality and hate and violence with equality and love and peace. Love overcomes hate. Peace overcomes violence.
• So that we might cast down the structures and institutions of prejudice and racism and learn once again to love our neighbors as our selves. And the Church would make the world a better place for everyone.
When this happens, we will truly know what it means to love God with all our heart and mind and soul—and to love our neighbors as our selves. AMEN.
August 25, 2019
COMPASSION IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD
I want to begin by talking about Compassion, a central quality of the personality of Jesus. Compassion is not sentimentality or easy approval for bad behavior—not at all. Compassion is much more like honesty in action. It is an authentic reaction to another person’s trouble, and it doesn’t necessarily mean “fixing the other person,” or making the hurt go away. Now to understand this, we will need to look at the story of the crippled woman who is healed by Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
But first, let’s do the necessary work of preparation. The word, Compassion, means to show kindness or concern, to give care where possible. But it begins with genuine caring for the person in need. Jesus was this way. He could tell in a large crowd of people if there was a person in need. Someone was blind, or could not walk. Another was possessed by an evil spirit. A man could not hear, and Jesus could tell immediately. Jesus was “tuned in,” you might say, to the needs and conditions around him. He was aware of everything that was going on, and nothing seemed to pass his notice—even if there were times when he waited for person to make himself or his needs known to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus would ask. Our Lord is looking for a certain measure of self-awareness from us, and this seems to be important before he can heal us.
So caring appears to be the first step in genuine Compassion, as Jesus practiced it. He didn’t just wave his hand, or a magic wand, and “poof!” your eyes could see, or your ears could hear. He wanted to know the person, to know something of their story.
Let’s go back to the passage from Jeremiah and see what we find that might be of help.
The prophet tells us that the voice of God comes to him, perhaps at night in a dream, perhaps in a vision, and the Lord says, “I knew you, before you were formed in the womb, before you were born. And even then I chose you to be a prophet to the nations.” It’s an amazing beginning, isn’t it? I’m reminded of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, aren’t you? But here the visitor is YHWH himself and the news comes directly to Jeremiah, who is still a boy.
“Ah, Lord God,” the young Jeremiah cries. “I don’t know what to say. Are you sure you have the right person?”
Well of course he does. This is YHWH, after all. The Lord reaches out and touches his mouth. He gives Jeremiah the holy words. He appoints him over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to build and to plant.
The message I get is this. Any time God has an important job to do, God sends a man or woman, or a boy or a girl, to do that important work. So get ready. Pay attention. And realize that if God chooses you for the job, you are chosen. No resume required. Just a remarkable amount of caring—followed by the next skill set—which is Confidence.
We find these in Psalm 76, which we read IN UNISON because I wanted everyone to know and realize that these words pertain to each of us.
We take refuge in the Lord.
God is our strong rock, a castle to keep us safe.
God is our crag and our stronghold.
God is our hope and our confidence.
God has sustained us all our lives and given us strength.
We have Confidence that we have everything we need to live with Compassion in the Kingdom of God—well, almost everything we need.
We are going to need a big dose of Humility, otherwise we might start thinking that WE are essential to God’s plan, or that WE might even be Jesus, or that WE have all the power and authority of the Holy Spirit—which is nonsense, of course.
But thank goodness, we have the Letter to the Hebrews, which reminds us that we have come “to something that cannot be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet.” We have come to Mount Zion and “to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels” in white shiny outfits, and to Jesus himself, whose voice shakes the earth and heaven. It is then that we know we are not in charge, and we are here to offer to God “an acceptable worship,” for “our God is a consuming fire.”
Compassion, then, is not complicated, or work done only by professionals. It begins with genuine Caring.
Then we’ve got to discover Confidence in God and Confidence in ourselves. It’s there, we just have to find it.
But all this can’t really go anywhere without Humility, our Humility. Compassion is not about us, it’s about the other person, the one who is in need.
And this takes us to the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and it’s the Sabbath, the Day of Rest when you do no work.
Just then an older woman appeared in the congregation. She was bent over in terrible pain. The ancient icons show her almost doubled over, looking sideways at Jesus through one eye.
Somehow Jesus knew she had been this way for a long, long time. Remember how I said earlier that Jesus was always aware of people around him? Jesus listened and observed people carefully. He knew that she was in pain, and it didn’t matter to him that Sabbath law prevented him from healing her. He called her over to him and said, “Woman, you are set free,” and when he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God!”
This is Compassion. Sometimes it is Listening carefully. There are times when the person is Helped. And sometimes there is actual Healing that takes place. It is not up to you to make it one thing or another. God decides. You are merely an instrument of Compassion in a broken world—and there is much work to be done. AMEN.