Wednesday, September 26, 2018

CALLED TO PEACE AND BE THANKFUL Theme Interpretation for 2018-19

Unpacking the 2018-2019 Program Theme for St. James the Less Episcopal
by The Rev. Rock Higgins

This year we will have repeated opportunities to explore the idea that we are “Called To Peace. And Be Thankful.” We take this from Colossians 3:15 from a longer passage looking how as one body in Christ we are called to be at peace with one another and with all.

We spent time as a staff in prayer and discussion about where God is moving at St. James the Less, where our country and culture is going, and how we are thinking in these times. As we talked a consensus came to the idea of Peace, and how we as a church needs to model and practice this very foundational practice of Christian values. In exploring Scriptures, we came upon Colossians 3 and Paul’s extended metaphor and impassioned plea for peace in and through the Church.

So, in light of all that, we spent an hour at Shrine Mont unpacking the theme “Called To Peace. And Be Thankful.”

(Many thanks to Senior Warden John Hoar for this wonderful graphic!)

Colossians 3:12-17 New International Version (NIV)

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were Called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

When we as a Church talk about being called to Peace, we have to look at in multiple ways: Peace with God, Peace with Self, and Peace with Others. None are mutually exclusive, but all need to be a part of living into and out of being “at peace.”

Peace is a lot of things to a lot of people. Now for many peace is the absence of war. On a literal sense they are right, but a lot of resentment, bitterness, and hatred can reside and still not be at war. Shalom, the Hebrew word we translate as peace, has more context and nuance than we give. It is wholeness, completeness, and contentment. It is having the windows up, the doors unlocked, the kids are in bed, and the whole house is safe and sound. There is no worry looming outside the door. 

“God is in his heaven and all's right with the world.” That is Shalom. We are Called to Shalom. That sense of security and contentment, not an absence or abatement of conflict. This is a far more holistic ideal.

And we are needing a long-term approach and commitment to even make a start toward this. I think of the interactions on a national stage and interpersonally. I think on how people drive and treat each other in traffic. I think on how we would care for one another if we lived lives of peace. I would love that. I want that.

Called To Peace With God

To be at peace with God begins with how we perceive God sees us. I remember reading in high school Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. link This image of a spider being dangled above a flame is unforgettable. Does God really see us that way? I do not think that the whole of Scripture points to that. We could all find verses that may point to that, but the story and whole of Scripture is the Good Shepherd seeking and saving the lost sheep. We are the Beloved of God. God’s view of us is grace-filled, not a target for lightning bolts. God does not want to smite us. God wants to love us. There is not an adversarial relationship but a nurturing one, actively working for us to be our best to God’s honor and glory. We are the pictures in God’s wallet, “That’s my kid!” That is how God loves us, and it is a very different picture than the one Edwards paints.

As we grow in the perception of God’s love towards us, we begin to see how our lives can “merge lanes” so that we can get into God’s lane, and stop going our own way. God enables us to “get over” and into the right lane. We all have our blind spots, and it is never a one-time conversion. Every day we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) And like our Shaker brothers and sisters sang, “till turning, turning we come ‘round right.” link

As Episcopalians, this all comes back to our Baptismal Covenant. The promises we make there for ourselves, or our entrusted children if they are too young, begin with the Apostle’s Creed, that ancient statement of faith looking at the core of Christian belief. Immediately following those, come these sets of promises. (Notice, that the response is “I will, with God’s help.” You are not trying to live up to these by yourself.)
Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the Prayers?
               I will, with God's help.
          Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
               I will, with God's help.
          Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
               I will, with God's help.
          Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

               I will, with God's help.

          Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human
               I will, with God's help.

Notice a couple of things. We promise to keep growing and learning. We promise that WHEN we sin, (and we will, perfection is unattainable) we repent and come back and we are WELCOMED back. We promise to “preach at all times, and when necessary use words.” (St. Francis) We promise to serve and love our neighbors. And we promise to work for justice in all lives. “If you want peace, work for justice.” (Pope Paul VI) We have to continually work for others, to help our brothers and sisters, especially those disempowered or forgotten.

Sharks have to keep moving, or they cannot breathe and die. We have to keep growing, bringing in the source of our life and love. Muscles must be worked for the body to be healthy. And when we work our muscles they stretch and even have little breaks and tears. And in their rebuilding and renewal we grow stronger. We are not healthy by sitting around. We grow by working with what we have been given.

We can know we are growing by sensing the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives. (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • And, Self-Control

As we see these in our lives, and at work in how we treat others and ourselves, we have a good sense of where we are in being at peace with God.

Also, in our life with God, we have to be more about listening than in talking at God. We have 2 ears and 1 mouth. Maybe we should use them in that proportion. How often does our prayer life become a litany, or a laundry list of wants and complaints? When we take the time to be still and quiet in our prayers, we can begin to see God at work in us and in the world. Without that quietude, it is nearly impossible.

Acceptance is another place of finding peace with God. The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr speaks to this.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next. Amen.

Knowing what to fight, what to ignore, what to accept is part of that growth and increased peace with God.

Lastly, think on Transformation. Growth is one thing, but that can often lead to more and more. Transformation is a different type of growth, it is qualitative instead of quantitative. It makes things better instead of just more. As we grow into God’s peace, we look at how what we are doing today helps make us the person God would have us be tomorrow. It is working smart more than working hard. It is wisdom more than sweat.

Being at peace with God is requisite before we can turn inward or outward. We are loved and empowered to do what we need to do through this foundational relationship.

Called To Peace With Self

Peace with Self comes back to the self-perception we started with. We are the Beloved of God. This grace-oriented understanding is far from the approach I received earlier in life. I was raised on Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The problem is staying there. We are not worms. And neither is anyone else. But we do miss the mark. That is what sin is. The word comes from archery. The distance from the target’s bullseye to where the arrow hits is the “sin.” We all have. We all will. Like we promised in the Baptismal Covenant, when we sin and recognize that we stop and change our path and merge back onto God’s way.

One way we do that, or can anyway, is through Admission, Confession, and Penance. Do we do this for God? No. God already loves us and forgives us. He took care of that at Calvary. We, however, hold onto things. We need to come clean for our sake. In the Episcopal Church we have the rite for the Reconciliation of the Penitent. It is in the Pastoral Offices in the Book of Common Prayer. (p. 447-452) link Here we a situation where, “All May; Some Should; and, None Must.” I have only done this rite with a handful of people in my ministry. There have been a few times when I have explicitly recommended it because some nagging thing was still being allowed to gnaw at people’s souls. Their hurting made me hurt, and this was hard. I wanted to promise God’s grace and I wanted them to be at peace, and a couple actually followed through. I was glad, and they seemed relieved. (Let me know if this is something that might be of help to you.) Poe in the poem, “The Raven” spoke on the raven rapping at the chamber door. Remember hearts have chambers, too. What keeps rapping at your chamber? What do you need to let go of so that you can have hope and be at peace? Prayer may work. If you are too caught up though, maybe outward confession is something you might want to consider.

Another part of Peace with Self is Joy. I ask the staff all the time a simple question: “Are you having fun?” If you cannot answer that yes, there is a problem. Do not confuse happiness with joy, though. Situations can make us feel happy, but joy comes from that deep place of knowing who we are, and that we are doing what we should do and making a difference in the world. That can be in our families, our work, our church, our world. Maybe all of those. Think of how joyful that would be!

Lastly, think of how we serve a God of Abundance. Life is not a Zero Sum Game. Neither is faith. If God is the Creator of everything, what do we have to fear? If God made everything, owns everything, and can create anything, how can we allow ourselves to have a skeptical, lacking perspective? We have already been given all we need. (Here is the link to the sermon where I went further in detail on this the next day.) Be aware though, this is not Prosperity Theology. God has provided our needs, not our wants or whims. God is not Santa Claus. Abundance is an attitude, much like Joy, which recognizes the whole process of life, the cycles and seasons. “For there is a time for every purpose under heaven…” (The Byrds by way of Ecclesiastes 3)

Called To Peace With Others

Now that we have considered our peace with God and Self, then we have a decent chance to be at peace with Others. Think of when you are cranky and feeling bad, how do you treat other people. We project and blame, we can be nasty and cantankerous. Being secure in whose we are and who we are enables us to give what we have been given, peace, forgiveness, and empowerment to change.

Paul is very clear in our passage that there are things that we do before we forgive others and it enables us to be at peace with them. Colossians 3:12b-14: “...clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

So, do this to work on being at peace with others. Clothe yourself with:
  • Compassion
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Forbearance
  • Forgiveness
  • And, Love

Notice where Forgiveness comes in and then it is wrapped up in Love. There are lots of steps to get to that point of being able to forgive others. And even then they may not accept it. But that is not anything you can control.

Forgiveness is not about them really, anyway. It is about your relationship with them. Revenge is a dish best served cold, said Shakespeare. And when we hold onto things, it is like us drinking a poison and expecting it to affect the other person. That vile bitterness only hurts us, though. They might not even know we hold a grudge. How silly is that.

A story is told of a Moody Bible College professor in Chicago who got of the El (elevated train) every day and got his newspaper and went to the school. One day a friend accompanied him. When he got to the newstand, the shopkeep cursed him up one side and down the other talking about blankety-blank Christians, blah blah blah. But the professor did not even respond, paid for his paper and went on his way. His friend was shocked. Did this happen daily? Yes, said the professor. The friend asked why on earth he would stop there every day then. “It is the newstand between the El and Moody. How he acts is not important. Why would I allow him to have that power over me to make me go out of my way for an exact same paper they sell across the street?” Forgiveness is about us letting go of the emotion and energy around a situation. And in that non-anxious presence, we can actually help transform the situation and maybe even the other person.

And that leads into Respect. Being at peace with others has so much to do with respect. We have to respect the “other” whoever they are. They cannot be less than or seen us beneath us. If someone is hurting others, they have been hurt or are hurting. “Hurting people hurt people.” Being respectful, especially when someone is hurting you is so hard. Jesus was talking about that when he spoke about “turning the other cheek.”

We also need to have and demand respect for all. God has an inclination for the disempowered and dispossessed. In the prophets they were the “widows, and orphans, and strangers in your midst.” Jesus called them the “Least of These.” Part of our responsibility in the Church is to care for and demand respect for all, ESPECIALLY the LEAST of THESE! Being at peace is about creating systems of respect for all people. This often begins with justice as Pope Paul VI said above.

Lastly, respect is something we need to demand for ourselves. Toxic people can be forgiven, but if they are hurting or abusing anybody, we must stop enabling or allowing this. God does not want anyone abused. We can work with them with compassion and kindness, we can forgive them and love them. But when they strike, we do not have to allow them to hit, hurt, or maim us or anyone else. Remember, Jesus healed the servant of one of those that came to arrest him when Peter cut off his ear. Jesus would not allow anyone to strike or be struck in his name or defense.

Making peace is different from keeping the peace. UN Peacemakers often maintain the status quo, and people are often FAR from being at peace. We have to take this a step further if we are Called to Peace. We must be Peace Makers. This is active. It is costly. It is worth it. Because of that, and part of this year’s theme, I have invited several area churches to join with us on November 5, the night before our midterm elections for a service focusing on peace. It will be a Community Call to Prayer and Communion. 8 churches or so are on board to come together, pray for our nation, its leaders, and our culture that seems to divisive and splintered. As the church we need to model what peace looks like. We will step over our denominational differences, and have a joy-filled evening of reflection, prayer, and celebration in our Unity in Christ, our first and deepest commitment.

A story is told of St. Francis. In the midst of the Crusades, St. Francis went to the Holy Land. When he boat landed in Egypt, however, he was arrested because he was Christian. When the jailers got to know him, though, they knew he was characteristically different. He was so Godly, so Christlike, that he could not be ignored. They sent him all the way up to the Caliph (King) to share his words and faith, because he was so obviously different than anyone else they had ever met. Christ had became his God and his All. (Meus Deus et Omnia! A prayer of St. Francis) Because of this, he was released and sent home. His witness and life made a difference. That is why he could honestly pray, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…” May we do the same this year as we remind each other that we are Called to Peace. And Be Thankful!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Year B Proper 20 WED 2018 Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Year B Proper 20 WEDNESDAY, 26 September 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Lead Us Not Into Temptation” 

Luke 4:1-13 
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written,  ‘Worship the Lord your God,     and serve only him.’” 
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,  ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’  11 and  ‘On their hands they will bear you up,     so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. 
There are, according to tradition, Seven Deadly Sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. And if you look at the temptations this morning, you can see the areas that are very similar to those well known sins. 

When the devil tempts the fasting Jesus with bread, it is multiple temptations by way of the 7 Deadlies. Remember, Jesus was famished and he was also confronting Jesus identity. The Devil always comes at us in our weakness and our doubts. He sounds so reasonable. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”  
Pride: prove yourself. 
Gluttony: anything in a prolonged fast is gluttonous. 
Sloth: do not work for your bread, say the magic word and voila! Bread. 
Now all those could be wrapped around the idea of Comfort. And that is a temptation. I deserve this. There is a phrase from a silly show, (from Parks and Rec) “Treat Yo Self!” Aldous Huxley in Brave New World reminded us of the slippery slope of going after Comfort and Happiness instead of Truth and Beauty. While Comfort and Happiness have their place tucked into the greater themes of Truth and Beauty, one cannot bypass the work and diligence required to get to the greater outcomes.  
Jesus did not succumb. He lifted above the temptation of his empty belly, and reached for the higher Truth and Beauty. Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 
Notice also that they both were quoting Scripture. Knowing the Bible does not mean one follows the will of God. 

The next temptation, that of Pride, is also interesting. The devil… showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  He said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Think of it. How must it have felt to be the Infinite contained within the Finite? Or if he were not aware, how was it to be wrestling with these questions of the nature of being the Messiah? He has answered that by the time he begins to call the disciples, but here in the quietness of the his soul, in the solitude of the desert, Jesus asks what type of Messiah am I to be? He reframes it again. By matching power with power, an earthly kingdom is all that is possible. But by countering the one who has authority on this plane, his Tempter, he steps above and takes authority from him.  

The last temptation came to the temptation of Power. Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,  for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 
Greed: He had the wonders of heaven and could claim them again, now. 
Lust: being hungry for something other than food, he wanted these abilities. 
Envy: the devil was taunting them in his face and why could he not snatch it? 
Wrath: Jesus knew who he was speaking with, and his proper place. By reclaiming them, he could potentially put him in his previous place. 

Comfort, Pride, Power, they were all rational. We could rationalize all of them. So could Jesus. I have heard it said that Jesus could not have succumb to these, but that is ridiculous. He could not have been tempted if he could not have said yes. It is only a temptation if one actually wants it. But for our sake, he gave us a model for those times when we are tempted.
 Stop. Ask yourself, what is it I really want? Do I want the immediate pleasure or reward or titillation, or do I want the greater good? Seek first the Kingdom of God, and God’s okaying of you, and ALL THESE THINGS shall be added to you. Amen. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Year B Proper 20 23 September 2018 Being Beloved

Year B Proper 20, 23 September 2018
St. James the Less and St. Dunstan's at Shrine Mont
"Being Beloved"

Collect: Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 9:30-37
Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

[This sermon was given extemporaneously from an outline. It is a little less fleshed out as I am writing it post facto because several expressed how they appreciated it.]

In our Gospel reading today, we see another example of how the gospels ring true because they are so true to human nature. You get 12 guys walking along a road, the bragging and jockeying for position is going to come out.

I taught middle school for 12 years, and one consistent thing across all the years was that nobody wanted to be the bottom of the totem pole. Some of the nastiest things I have ever heard come out of a person's mouth was the kids who were near the bottom who were horrible to whoever was considered on the bottom rung that day so that the positions did not switch. No one wanted to be the least, which is where we get the pushing and shoving to avoid being last. This is often verbal instead of physical, but I have seen both.

My wife and I went to Cuba in 2003 on a mission trip. We got in on a religious visa. I loved the Cubans. It was a fascinating and wonderful place. But one key difference was when we tried to go anywhere. We had gone over to work with teens, and while we waited for the bus to go somewhere we would all be waiting patiently in line. This was the same as here until the bus arrived. Now you need to know, there were enough seats for everyone. And this was not about being the cool kids sitting in the back of the bus. Once the bus arrived, everyone ran for the door making a crowd pushing and shoving, EVEN THOUGH THERE WERE ENOUGH SPACES FOR EVERYONE. I never understood it.

Jesus' disciples, when he asked what they were talking about on the road I am sure said, "Nothing." Because they knew that is what it was. Meaningless trifles. Arguing over who is the greatest is so ridiculous, and yet we all know that it still happens in the Church (universal, not necessarily here).

So Jesus takes a child in his lap, and says whoever wants to be the best treats the child, the inconsequential one in there society like it was him/Jesus. And if you do that, you welcome God.

In Mark's telling of this story, he even says, "Unless you come to me like a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." So we have to ask, what is he meaning about these child ideas.

Jesus is not saying to be childish, but childlike. Think on a baby. Why does a baby cry? To get its needs meet. It has full faith that what it needs it will get. Or think of a child, a bit older. They come to the table to get lunch. Not "What's for lunch?" Just, come to the table and all that is needed will be provided.

A little bit earlier this morning, in talking about the book, "Life of the Beloved" by Henri Nouwen, Don Bruce talked about how faith is not a Zero Sum Game. There is not a limit of the love of God. Our God is a God of Abundance. If God is who we say God is, Creator of all that is and everything in this universe, and if quantum theory is right, in all the multiverses, then what have we to worry about?

We forget this so easily. Author and speaker Tony Campolo, according to stories I have heard, was asked to speak to a women's mission conference. Just before his keynote, the president of the group got up and said that they had gotten word that one of their missionaries needed $5,000 and she asked Dr. Campolo if he would stop and pray for God to provide. He refused. He did say he would do this, and opened his wallet and pulled out the cash and out it on the edge of the stage. And then he pointed at the President and said, "Your turn." She laughed and thanked him for making such a good point. He said, "Obviously not, because your cash is not on the pile." She hesitatingly obliged. Then he pointed to the first person in the first row, and so one and so on and so on. Finally, once every person had put their cash on the stage it was counted and they had $15,000, triple the need. The President led the applause, and then invited Dr. Campolo to speak. He got up and said, "Do not ask for a nickel when God has given you a dollar." And sat down.

Supposedly they asked him to return his speaking fee later and he did. However his lesson would have been worth every penny. God has already provided everything we need. As we grow in our faith we see that more and more. God is a God of Abundance and Love. We have no need to worry.

We do not have to worry, or jockey for position. IT IS NOT: "God loves everybody, but I am God's favorite." It is far from that. God is a God of Grace. God has chosen us, and loves us. That love is abundant and wants us to be our best, and does what can be done to accomplish that.

We need to cling to that idea, we are God's Beloved. We are God's Chosen. And no matter what we are going through, no matter what we face, we can rest assured in God's love.

Last week in my sermon, I talked about how much I love movies. Now one movie makes me think of how much being beloved means. It is a movie I would argue most of you have seen, and there is a scene you all remember if you saw it. It was from The Empire Strikes Back. You all remember the scene when Han Solo was lowered into the pit to be frozen in carbonite. I do not even have to say the line. You know it. Princess Leia calls out to him, "I love you!" And he responds...

[Here the whole congregation called out. "I know."]

Now one reading of this could be that he is cocky and full of himself, and that he cannot even say back, "I love you, too." But there is another reading of that scene.

What if he is SO SECURE in that love that even in this most terrifying moment, even in this moment of deep loneliness, even here he is SECURE in the knowledge that he is the Beloved. It is not being cocky, it is a statement of faith.

We can have that security. We can rest in that knowledge. Nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Hold on to that. Never let it go, especially when the day is dark and the road is hard. Remember who you are, the Beloved of God. Remember who you are, because of WHOSE you are. You are God's Beloved because God holds you dear. And always will. Amen.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Year B Proper 19 WED 2018 Blood is Thicker than...

Year B Proper 19 WEDNESDAY, 19 September 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Blood is Thicker than…” 

John 12:20-26 (NRSV) 20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 
Stay with me and this may actually make sense. 
Taken individually we have no problem with any part of this story, but when we look at it as a whole, a single, unified narrative we may go cross-eyed attempting to make sense of it. 
Context is key. This is the point in John when Jesus is winding up.  
  1. Chapter 12 begins with Mary anointing Jesus feet in preparation for his burial.  
  2. Then the religious leaders show how scared they are of this young upstart. There is even talk of killing Lazarus, the guy who was brought back from this dead (ironically), is now being threatened with death because the miracle of his resurrection is so threatening that they think it is better to kill him than to let him live. His living is sending too many to Jesus. 
  3. Then we have the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Talk about scaring the powers that be, this definitely was a scare. In fact, the last verse before today’s reading is this: The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” 

And at that point we see Jesus’ world expand. We had the Syrophoenician woman, and Jesus said that she was not part of those to whom he came to minister. Those who were considered Gentile were not an active part of Jesus ministry, but here he alludes to an opening.  

So Phillip is approached by some Greeks, most likely practicing believers in the Hebrew God. They probably were not circumcised, so they could only go into the Court of the Gentiles at the Temple. But they knew enough to recognize that in Jesus was someone special. Now notice two things: they approach Phillip, who has a Greek name. (Phillip means lover of horses: philos love, hippo horse.) And he approaches his brother Andrew. (Another Greek name meaning manly or brave from androsman.) Could these Greeks have known these two Greek-named Jewish boys from Galilee? Galilee was often called Galilee of the Gentiles. We don’t know, but maybe some acquaintances or friends from back home asked for an intro to Jesus. 
So they go to Jesus and he has some utterances. 
  1. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  
  2. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  
  3. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  
  4. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.  
So Jesus will be glorified. He has already alluded to what that means previously, suffer, die, rise again. Like a seed, one must sacrifice it all to bear much fruit. Those that do that gain eternal life. His servants follow his path, and if they do they will be with him. 
In the context of that final week, this all makes more sense. He is no longer sending the “Outsiders” away. They are about to be invited in. Where blood was thicker than water before, something huge is about to take place. Tribal allegiances are about to be overturned. The Children of Abraham were by blood relation. The Children of God come about through faith. These who are “Outsiders,” Greek gentiles, if they believe, follow, and serve, are the real family, the ones who God will honor. Blood may be thicker than water, BUT FAITH IS THICKER THAN BLOOD. Jesus realizes (in John’s Gospel anyway) that the world is about to turn upside down. That’s why you and I can be here, THANKS BE TO GOD! Amen