Five discourses or sermons can be identified in the Gospel of Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount, Missionary Instructions, a Collection of Parables, Community Instructions for the future church, and The Sermon on Eschatology or the End Times. Matthew chapter ten, from which today’s gospel comes, is the Mission Discourse with the commissioning and instruction of the Twelve Disciples by Jesus. Jesus chooses the twelve disciples, empowers them for the work they are to do, names the twelve apostles and tells them what their mission is. In the discourse Jesus advises them how to travel from city to city, to carry no belongings and to preach only to Israelite communities. He tells them to be wary of opposition, but to have no fear for they will be told what to say to defend themselves when needed: "For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you". (MT 10:20)
Jesus is telling his disciples that if he the teacher is persecuted and will be killed then they, his students and followers, cannot expect any less. And yet Jesus’ disciples are not to fear opposition or be intimidated by those who reject their message as they, Jesus’ disciples, are accountable to God. The judgment of God is what they should fear.
The Twelve included fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot and even the one who would betray Jesus, pretty ordinary, run of the mill guys. They are to tell those they visit that the kingdom of heaven is near, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the leper and the untouchables and to kick out the demons. In response they will be met with hostility and will be ill-treated, arrested and even killed. Family members will turn against each other because of their work.
One of my colleagues says that Jesus is not very family friendly, that in fact Jesus is openly hostile to families. I do not like to hear this, but in today’s gospel that is what we hear Jesus say, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me””. This is a real hard saying, but we know it to be true. Jon’s father tells of a Seventh Day Adventist that came to town where he was growing up and his family was split down the middle on those who supported and those who opposed his message. My father’s family went to the Baptist church in the winter and the Anglican Church in the summer when it was easier to travel further. To this day our family is split on what it means to be a Christian. My cousin Harvey from Alberta visited me this week. Over breakfast he was telling me about the down fall of the United Church of Canada and on how they are accepting of homosexuals and even have gay and lesbian ministers. I took this as a criticism of the Episcopal Church as well. I told him that we would have to agree to disagree on this topic. My experience is that those who are hostile to gender, sexual orientation, or race issues are not usually open to an honest conversation and a free exchange of ideas.
Jesus teaches and preaches a message of love, care for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. Jesus teaches the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, this is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (MT22:37-39) The Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses, teaches a similar message. “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits”. “You shall not oppress a resident alien”. (Exodus 23:6, 9) “You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin…you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. (Leviticus 19:17, 18) “Judaism, Christianity and Islamic teachings are based on the same moral and ethical principles.” I am reading Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss and thought this passage on Muhammad might be of interest.
When Muhammad began conveying his divinely revealed message to the larger community, he faced great resistance. In Arab society at that time, women, orphans, the disabled, and poor were treated with scant compassion. The social reforms that Muhammad was called to institute angered some fellow Arabs who did not want to change the social order that benefited them at the expense of the less fortunate. They attempted to lead an assault, yet Muhammad prevailed. He improved life for Arab women by prohibiting female infanticide and the prostitution of slave women, and by establishing the rights of women to inherit a half-share. He did what he could to shift the balance of power in marriage by proclaiming that couples have reciprocal duties and rights, and that women should be educated. He made it part of Muslim law that the followers of Allah must donate a fixed portion of their income to the support of orphans, beggars, and anyone in financial straits. Muhammad’s followers have not always maintained his reforms or abided by his teachings, just as followers of other great mystical leaders, including Jesus, have not. After the founders died, the entrenched customs of male dominance endemic to the honor-and-shame-based cultures of the Middle East and Asia often reasserted themselves in short order.
Nothing changes! Down through the millennium and centuries God’s prophets and his son Jesus teach the same message and are rejected. In our modern Western society we still do not want to hear God’s message that the kingdom of heaven is near, that we are to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to care for those with AIDs or HIV, the alcoholic and drug addict, the mentally ill, immigrants and refugees, the poor, children, women, and men, the elderly, …
What does it mean for us today to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? We are students who learn as much as we can from the great teacher Jesus Christ. As disciples we receive the call of Jesus to enter into a lifelong relationship with Jesus and not just his teaching. Discipleship requires a total break with the past, putting Jesus before our family and friends, even denying ourselves.
As disciples we are sent out to proclaim the Good News and are given the power to exorcise and to heal human infirmities. We will meet with rejection because of following the cross, but the church is strengthened by our social resistance.
As Christians and followers of Jesus we are to stand up for the rights of the poor and the marginalized. We are sent out to heal the sick, the deaf and the lame. What would it look like if all including the poor have access to affordable health care? We are sent out to cast out demons. What would it look like if the mentally ill were loved and provided for? What would it look like for a minimum wage family whose mother develops Alzheimer’s Dementia?
What would it look like if every family could have affordable housing? A study shows that no state in the United States has a minimum wage that covers the rent for a two bedroom apartment. In Michigan it is estimated that a minimum wage of $16.24 for a forty hour week, 52 week year is required to afford the Fair Market Rent of $806 for a two-bedroom rental home, without paying more than 30% of their income. As of January 1, 2017 the minimum hourly wage rate in Michigan is $8.90 or $18,512 per year as opposed to the $33,779.20 ($32,240) required to pay the fair market rent in Michigan of $806 a short fall of over $15,000.
As disciples of Jesus, these are the questions we are to struggle with and not just talk about, but to act on. We will face opposition, but this is what Jesus is teaching us and sending us out to do; to proclaim the gospel, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the untouchable and to cast out demons with no expectation of personal gain. This is hard stuff, but this is our mission. Amen.
 Myss, Caroline, Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential, Muhammad’s Contract, p. 93-98, Harmony Books, New York, 2001, 94.
 Ibid, 97-98.
 David Noel Freedman, Editor-in-Chief, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2 D-G, Disciple, Discipleship, II-207-210, Doubleday/New York, 1992.
Father’s Day Pentecost 2 June 18, 2017
Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8-23
Great Parish Swap: St. James’ Albion & St. Thomas Battle Creek
The Great Commission vs The Commissioning and Instruction of the Twelve
The Work of the Kingdom of Heaven
Good Morning! <Pause> Happy Father’s Day to the fathers and all the men who have played an important part in our lives.
I am The Reverend Darlene Kuhn, but my family and friends call me Mother Darlene. My husband Jon and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary in May and I celebrated my fifth anniversary of ordination to the diaconate this past week. I am the rector at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Albion and thank you for the opportunity to swap pulpits with Father Brian this morning. He will have one service at 9:30am with 25-30 people and I am looking forward to seeing what leading two worship services with a larger congregation is like. My husband Jon, and parishioners Mary and Dick Porter, Diana Hrab, and Lisa Homan are also here. We are looking forward to hearing about St. Thomas and your ministry in Battle Creek. I hear you have a wonderful music program and Summer Breakfast Program.
St. James’ is a great little church and we celebrate our 177th Anniversary in Albion this month. We have a small choir and Christian formation for everyone after the Sunday service throughout the school year and try to provide a community supper once a month. We just received word that we have been awarded a United Thank Offering Grant to buy a tractor, rototiller, lawnmower, and frontend loader to be used by the Albion Community Gardens which is exciting news since we have nearly five acres to manage. The grand opening of the garden was a couple weeks ago and we have planted fruit trees, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, asparagus, tomatoes, peppers and many garden plots. We even have water!
St. James’ has held two Reading Camps in Albion. This year we are working with the Albion Recreation Department, the Albion College Fellows, the Albion Public Library, and The Franke Center for the Arts in Marshall to provide a literacy program. We will provide story time and a literacy activity Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the summer.
Last week the Gospel reading was the Great Commission, ‘And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”’ (Mt 28:18-20) The Great Commission occurs at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew following Jesus’ resurrection and presumably just before his ascension.
This morning’s gospel reading from Matthew is the commissioning and instruction of the twelve disciples occurring much earlier in Jesus’ ministry. It is interesting that we have two commissioning stories two weeks in a row. In the great commission the disciples are told to make new disciples teaching them everything they have been taught. Today’s commissioning is a little bit different. Before today’s reading in Matthew, Jesus has been travelling around to all the cities and villages teaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every sickness and disease and acquiring followers. With today’s gospel reading Jesus begins to train the twelve disciples in their ministry in the Kingdom of Heaven and to prepare them for the Great Commission. We are told that Jesus gives the twelve apostles authority to cast out unclean spirits and to cure every disease and sickness. They are told to proclaim the good news that ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. They are to do this without any expectation of payment and are not to take anything with them, but are to depend on the hospitality of those they visit. Unlike the great commission where the disciples are told to go and make disciples of all the nations, today’s commissioning is specifically for the house of Israel. If the towns and homes they visit are not interested in their message then they are to move on to the next. They are to expect rejection and even abuse, but when they fall they are to pick themselves up, shake off the dust and move on to share the good news in the next town.
So what does a preacher say to a congregation that is already engaged in ministry in the community, that does not sound patronizing or like they are being lectured? The Baptismal Covenant as found on page 304 of the Book of Common Prayer says that, “We will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.” “We will persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever [we] fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.” “We will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” “We will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as our self.” And “we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
This is a good summary of the Church’s, or at least the Anglican branch of the church’s, understanding of our responsibilities towards the Great Commission, so what can we learn from this morning’s gospel reading. First Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth and he has given of that authority to the twelve disciples and presumably all disciples. We have the authority to proclaim the Good News and to be about the work of God. When rejection and persecution happen we can be confident that God has our back and that we are doing what we have been called to do when we do the will of God.
Matthew names the twelve disciples in pairs and Mark specifically says that Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs. Our Christian ministry is to be done in community; we are not to act as a “lone wolf” or a “cowboy”. Church policies such as Safe Guarding God’s Children require us to work in pairs for our own safety and for the safety of others. You have probably heard the saying, “Two heads are better than one.” This is true in ministry as well.
The ultimate goal of the greater church and the great commission is that the good news will be shared with all people around the world, but even Jesus’ twelve disciples started with the local and neighboring synagogues. You may say, “I am not a missionary or an evangelist”, but the fastest growing mission field is right here in North America. Roman Catholic churches are actually calling priests from other countries to serve churches in North America; we are not going overseas, but others are coming to us. Deacon John Edwin Infante Pinzon in our diocese has come from Colombia and is serving at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Grand Haven with their Latino Ministry.
Have you considered your job to be a vocation dedicated to God? If you work in the medical field then you are part of Jesus’ command to cure every disease and sickness and raise the dead; counsellors and psychiatrists work to cast out our emotional and spiritual demons. When we vote we should vote as Christians rather than Republicans or Democrats, voting for programs, such as Meals on Wheels, to aid the poor, the refugee, and the environment. Consumers, are you considering the consequences of your purchases? Parents and grandparents are you telling God’s story to your children and grandchildren and teaching them all that Jesus taught his disciples and commanded them to do such as loving God and loving their neighbor? Business people are you championing ethical business practices, supporting and paying living wages and benefits for your employees and fellow workers including international employees, and promoting environmental safeguards? Missionary work, evangelizing and proclaiming the gospel do not mean preaching from a soap box or wearing a placard predicting the end of the world or even being a hero.
The work of the church is what we do and how we make decisions in our lives 24 by 7. It is not something we will get paid for. We will face resistance and even persecution, but this is what it means to accept the commission as disciples of Jesus Christ as promised in our Baptismal vows. Amen.
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
Trinity Sunday / Pentecost I June 11, 2017
Trinity Sunday is often a Sunday that Preachers dread. What can we say about the Trinity? We can talk about the compound leaf of clover and shamrocks with their three leaflets or “ice, water and steam” or a tree with its roots, trunk and branches, but what we are really trying to talk about is who God is and the relationship between God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Is Jesus God? Are they separate beings or manifestations of one being? Have all three always existed or did God create Jesus and the Holy Spirit? I worry that God may be jealous of our love for Jesus Christ. Some worry that we worship three gods rather than one God.
The Articles of Religion as found in the Historical Documents on page 867 of the Book of Common Prayer say “Of Faith in the Holy Trinity. There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
Saying it another way we can say the Father is God, Jesus the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, BUT the Father is NOT the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is NOT the Father or the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. We worship one God and yet three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity. This is all very confusing and complicated and it doesn’t really clarify our understanding of the Trinity.
Turning to our scriptures and in particular our first reading from Genesis, we read, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” This can be interpreted that in the beginning when God created everything the spirit of God was also there moving over the face of the waters and when God said, “Let there be light” at the spoken Word there was light and it was good. In the beginning there was God, God’s spirit and God’s Word. God is portrayed with transcending, wide reaching power to create a magnificent creation with the spoken Word. God is portrayed as a sculptor who creates intricate figures and breathes life into them. God walks in the garden in the cool of the evening and speaks with this creation. God becomes angry and frustrated with the wickedness of humanity and yet provides a beautiful rainbow of colors as a sign of the promise that the seasonal floods, storms and hurricanes will not utterly destroy all humans and creation. God walks with humanity in times of war, famine and drought providing a safe haven, food and water. God walks with his people in Egypt, in the wilderness, in Jerusalem, and in exile in Babylon.
God rescues his people from physical slavery and the slavery of sin, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This God who walks with his people and appears to them in the wind and the storm, who leads them with a column of fire and cloud and a star now walks among them as a flesh and blood man, Jesus Christ, who knows the love of family and community and the terrors of assassins, exile and rejection; who loves the poor, the sinner, the lonely, the foreigner and the marginalized; who heals the sick, the lame, the disabled and the mentally ill; who casts out demons; who reads scripture and prays; who preaches and teaches the kingdom of heaven; who gives an example of what it means to be a servant of God and a servant to our neighbor. This Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, willingly and knowingly agrees to sacrifice his life to a horrendous and shameful death on a cross showing what it means to love and obey God and to love your neighbor.
We hear and see God’s love and support for Jesus at Jesus’ baptism, at the transfiguration, when God resurrects Jesus to new life and in Jesus’ ascension to heaven. We see the work of the Holy Spirit throughout God’s story in the creation, at Jesus’ baptism and at Pentecost. In John chapter 14 verse 26, Jesus promises that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit continues the work of the Son, reminding us of what Jesus has taught, but also continues to teach us, helping us to continue the work of Jesus Christ in God.
In the Gospel of John chapter 14 Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”, “If you know me, you will know my Father also”, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. The role and the identity of the Son are distinct from that of the Father, but in getting to know Jesus we come to know God because Jesus is God. The doctrine of the Trinity is not fully developed in the Bible and yet we can see the presence and the work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, distinct, yet in unity in Scripture. And with Paul can say, may “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all for ever more.” Amen.
But I cannot end here; I want to speak of why this is important to us today, what this means for us in our relationship with God and with our neighbors. Again in John chapter 14:15-17, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” And in First John 4:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
The relationship of the Trinity is one of love; the love of the Father for the Son and the Holy Spirit; the love of the Son for the Father and the Holy Spirit and the love of the Holy Spirit for the Father and the Son for God is Love (1 John 4:7-21). God is in us and we are in God and so we are also to be in a relationship of love with God and with our neighbors. If we seek eternal life, if we love Jesus Christ we will keep God’s commandments as summarized in the Great Commandment to love God with our whole being and to love all people as we love our selves.
And finally we come to today’s gospel from Matthew and the Great Commission. If we truly seek eternal life and love God following the Great Commandment, then we must proclaim the good news of God to all people, teaching them what we have been taught of the love of God and the Trinity, making them disciples of Jesus Christ and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Standing as you are able, we will say together The Creed of Saint Athanasius as found on page 864 of the Book of Common Prayer.