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Let Us Keep the Feast!

Bible Readings

By the Rev. Darren Miner

As you may recall, last week’s reading from the Gospel of Mark skipped over a large chunk of text. As I mentioned then, the missing text consisted of two very important accounts in the life of Jesus: the story of the feeding of the 5000 and the story of Jesus’ walking on the sea. Well, today we get those missing stories, albeit from the Gospel of John.

It seems that word has spread that Jesus is miraculously healing the sick. And in an age when only the very wealthy could afford to consult a physician, there were many people who were sick. And they were besieging Jesus. Needing a little respite from the crowd, he climbed to the top of a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. When he sees that the crowd is following him even there, he doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t even complain. Instead, he expresses concern that the people will suffer hunger.

Now, Philip and Andrew, who are there with Jesus, are practical men. They know that there is little they can do for a crowd of 5000 people. Andrew points out that all they have on hand is five loaves of barley bread and two dried fishes. Philip and Andrew undoubtedly knew the story of how the prophet Elisha multiplied 20 loaves so as to feed 100 people. But for Jesus to feed 5000 from only 5 loaves would require a miracle 200 times more powerful than Elisha’s. Clearly, they didn’t think it possible—even for Jesus. But they were wrong—very wrong! Jesus took the bread and the fishes, blessed them, and distributed them. All were filled, and there were even leftovers!

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This great miracle is followed immediately by two more. First, we are told that Jesus took an evening stroll upon the Sea of Galilee in the midst of a windstorm. Second, we are told that he miraculously teleported a boatful of distressed disciples to safety on the shore.

All these miracles point to but a single fact: Jesus is divine. And we have been shown the evidence. He performs a feeding miracle 200 times more powerful than that of the ancient prophet Elisha. He walks on the sea and stills the storm, showing himself master over the elements. By the power of his will, he transports a boat to shore. In other words, this man Jesus does what only God can do. And John tells us these amazing stories, not to entertain, but so that we may believe and thus be saved.

Now, we Christians tend to think of salvation, when we think of it at all, as something in the future, something we experience only after death. We rarely think of salvation as something that happens to us in the here and now. But it is! We can experience salvation, what John refers to as “eternal life,” right now…through God’s grace.

Now, God saves by his grace in myriad ways. But for us Christians, the preeminent means of receiving God’s grace are the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist. For too long, we have been deprived of sacramental grace. But next Sunday, for the first time since March 2020, we will make Eucharist together. And on that day, we will rejoin the ranks of the 5000 men, women, and children fed by Jesus. Let me explain why I say this.

As some of you may remember, Mathew and I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land three years ago. One site we visited was Tabgha, a now abandoned village by the Sea of Galilee. There, a church was built in the fifth century, commemorating the site as the very spot where Jesus miraculously multiplied the loaves and fishes. On the floor of that Byzantine church, just beneath the altar, there is a mosaic of two fishes and a basket of bread. But upon close inspection, something seems wrong. For there are only four loaves of bread in the basket, not the expected five. It was explained to me that the missing fifth loaf is none other than the bread on the altar, awaiting to be blessed, broken, and distributed in the Name of Christ. In other words, the miraculous feeding of the 5000 never really ended. And next week, we will have the opportunity to partake of the bread of Holy Communion once again. We will have the opportunity to participate once more in the very same miraculous feast that took place on that grassy hill in Tabgha some 2000 years ago. Brothers and sisters, let us keep the feast!

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Prophecy’s Price and Prevenient Grace

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Readings

As you may know, the English word “Gospel” literally means “Good News,” but in my humble opinion, today’s Gospel reading is rather devoid of Good News. Fortunately, the Epistle is chock full of it. So let me say a few words about the Gospel, and then finish with a discussion of the Epistle. That way, we can end on a high note!

St. Mark has given us the outline of John the Baptist’s judicial murder. But he has left out a few details that help to set the scene. John the Baptist, while in his early 30s, reprimanded Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, because he had married his half-brother’s ex-wife. (Oh, and did I mention she was also his niece?) Under Jewish law, the marriage was both adulterous and incestuous. Now, the main purpose of a prophet is to call the people back to a right relationship with God and with one another. And that is just what John did, publicly denouncing Herod’s marriage as an offence against God and demanding that it be annulled. Herod had no desire to repent; so, he arrested John to shut him up. But he was reluctant to go so far as to execute the pestilent prophet. Perhaps he was afraid to kill a holy man, or perhaps he was just afraid that John’s disciples would riot.

Things come to a head on the evening of the royal birthday party. Herod invites the toadies and yes-men of the royal court to a stag party. And like every stag party, there is entertainment—in this case, an erotic dancer. The real shocker is that the dancer is none other than Herod’s teenage step-daughter. Evidently, she was a particularly pleasing dancer, for the besotted Herod boastfully promises to grant her whatever she asks, up to half his kingdom. Unsure what to ask for, she ducks out of the party to consult with her mother. And upon her return, she asks for the head of John the Baptist. Having made a solemn vow in the presence of his courtiers, Herod feels obliged to comply, lest he lose face. So John is beheaded, and his head is served up to Herod’s wife on a dinner platter, as if it were a rare delicacy. With regard to Herod and his family, this is a tale of perverse cruelty. With regard to John the Baptist, this is a tale of the terrible price of being a prophet. Any way you look at it, this Gospel story is just plain Bad News.

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Fortunately, there is Good News in the Letter to the Ephesians. The main point of today’s reading from Ephesians is to provide a comprehensive affirmation of God’s grace. In particular, it deals with what theologians call “prevenient grace,” that is to say, the grace that God offers us without our asking for it and without our deserving it. Paul reassures us Christians that we are blessed in Christ and that we were chosen for that blessing before the foundation of the world. According to Paul, our status as disciples of Christ is more a gift from God than it is the result of any decision of our own. As disciples of Christ, we receive grace upon grace. In Christ, we have been redeemed from slavery to sin and death. In Christ, we are made adopted sons and daughters of God. In Christ, we are destined for eternal life in God’s presence. And all that is expected of us in return for all this grace is that we walk in love. Now that’s what I call Good News!

But being only human, we forget to be grateful and to walk in love, especially when the burdens of life are weighing us down. Perhaps we have issues with our health or with the health of a loved one. Or perhaps we are just stressed out by this never-ending pandemic. At times like these, we can, and we do, fail to remember the “big picture.” The Letter to the Ephesians is a salutary reminder of that big picture, of what the church is all about. When all is said and done, the church is not about concerts, and bazaars, and book sales (as important as these are for the continuing life of the church), nor is it about increasing membership and balancing the budget. Instead, the point of the church is to come together, in person or via Zoom, to offer thanks to our Heavenly Father for the Good News of our salvation, to discern the mystery of his will, and then to endeavor to carry it out, no matter the personal cost.

May God, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” give us the strength and courage to carry out his will in our own day as faithfully and as fearlessly as did John the Baptist in his. Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Prophecy and Mission, Belief and Unbelief

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

In today’s Gospel reading, we get two stories that deal with Jesus’ work as a prophet. The first story deals with Jesus’ return to his family home in Nazareth. There, he goes to the synagogue and teaches. Now, if he had stumbled and stuttered, his neighbors would have understood; after all, Jesus didn’t have a formal education, so far as we know. But Jesus doesn’t stumble and stutter when he speaks; instead, he astounds them with his profound understanding of the word of God. He speaks with an authority that is palpable. And they are confused. They wonder out loud how he got such an understanding. They wonder who taught him such wisdom. They wonder whether the deeds of power they have heard so much about are really being done by his hands.

And then things get a bit unpleasant. His neighbors, the people he grew up with, begin to think that Jesus is being more than just a bit uppity. After all, they know his family. And they know that he was trained by his father Joseph to be a carpenter. What makes him think that he has the right to lecture them about God? We don’t have the exact words that his neighbors used to show their contempt, but we do have Jesus’ response: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” This is a first-century Jewish version of the old English adage: “familiarity breeds contempt.”

There in Nazareth, as elsewhere, Jesus attempts to heal the sick in mind and body. But he has only limited success. And we are told that he is “amazed at their unbelief.” We get a hint here of just how powerful skepticism and distrust can be. Sometimes, even the power of God cannot break through the walls of human unbelief.

I get the feeling that Jesus gave up on the people of Nazareth, focusing his attention instead on the neighboring villages. But there were a lot of neighboring villages, too many for him to visit himself. So Jesus delegates his authority. He sends out the Twelve Apostles two by two to do the same work that he has been doing: to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom, to call people to repentance, to confront evil, and to heal the sick. They are called to be prophets of the Most High, and more than prophets, just as Jesus himself is more than a prophet.

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Now, it is clear that Jesus had never read the Boy Scout manual. For it teaches us to always be prepared. But what Jesus tells his apostles is to forego preparation and to travel light. They are to travel without a change of clothes or any money in their wallet or any food in a sack. They are to live off the kindness and hospitality of strangers. Jesus’ only concession is to allow them to carry a walking stick to fend off wild animals.

Why did Jesus do this? I can think of two reasons. First, it would be easier to move from place to place, should the need arise, if they aren’t loaded down with baggage. But more importantly, this command, I suspect, was a test of their faith in God. They were being asked to trust that God would provide for them—not through some miracle—angels would not minister to their needs. No, God would provide through kindly people who responded favorably to their message and who opened their homes to them.

But Jesus realizes full well that some villages will reject God’s call to walk in love and send the apostles packing. And he tells them to “shake off the dust that is on [their] feet as a testimony against them.” The best guess of biblical scholars is that it was intended as a form of curse. Those who refuse to hear God’s message and who deny hospitality to God’s messengers will be condemned on the great Day of Judgment.

The apostles trust Jesus and take up the challenge. They go out two by two, with no preparation, and they proclaim the Good News, confront the powers of evil, and heal the sick. Only later in Mark’s Gospel do we find out just how successful their first mission was.

And so, here we are, some 2000 years later, hearing about Jesus and prophecy and apostles and mission, about the power of belief and the power of unbelief, hearing about the blessing of those who show hospitality to God’s people and the curse of those who close their doors to them. And what are we to learn from all this? Well, we learn that skepticism and scorn and unbelief are so strong that they can block even the grace of God—at least for a time. We learn that we are called to have a radical trust in God’s providence and to show hospitality to those whom God brings to our doors. Lastly, we are taught that we too are meant to go out and share what we have learned from Jesus with others. For like Jesus’ original disciples, we too have a mission to the world.

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Breaking the Rules for the Sake of Love

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel reading is a complicated bit of storytelling. We get two separate healing stories in what can only be called a “narrative sandwich.” The reading begins with the story of Jairus’ daughter, switches to the story of the woman with a hemorrhage, then reverts back to the story of Jairus’ daughter.

First, let us consider the story of the woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years. Once upon a time, she must have been a woman of great wealth. For in those days, only the very wealthy could afford the ministrations of a physician. But now her situation in life has changed. She is chronically ill. She is destitute, having spent all her money on medical treatments. She has no male relatives to support her. (We know this, because, contrary to Jewish custom, she is walking in public unescorted.) And she is “unclean.” Now, what do I mean by calling her “unclean”? Well, according to Jewish law, a woman who bled was ritually impure. Her husband was forbidden from touching her. And if one so much as sat in a chair that an unclean woman had sat in, that person had to undergo ritual purification.

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The woman in today’s Gospel story was not just unclean, she was contagious! Every person she brushed against in the crowd was contaminated, whether he knew it or not. And so, when she reached out to touch Jesus’ cloak, she was deliberately defiling him. But what else could she do? She was desperate, and she doubted her own self-worth. Why should this powerful healer show her mercy? After all, she was “dirty,” and her very touch made others “dirty.” So she decided to steal grace, to reach out and take healing from Jesus without his knowing. But he does know! He senses her healing. And then he seeks her out. In shame, she falls to her knees before Jesus and confesses that she touched him, that she made him dirty, that she stole grace from him. But instead of condemning this woman, Jesus commends her great faith and calls her “daughter,” thereby acknowledging some sort of intimate relationship between them. And now, being healed of her hemorrhage, this woman can be restored to a right relationship with her family, her friends, and indeed her whole society.

Next, let’s consider the case of Jairus and his daughter. Jairus was one of the leaders of the synagogue. (Think of him as the senior warden of the only parish in town.) He was a well-known and well-respected figure in the community. His daughter falls seriously ill. And Jairus is willing to do whatever it takes to save his beloved daughter. So he goes to Jesus, who already has gained a reputation as a healer, and he falls on his knees and begs for his daughter’s life. He shows no regard for his dignity at all. On the way to Jairus’ house, they get word that the little girl is dead. Jesus says to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; only continue to trust.” When they get to the house, Jesus encounters a group of mourners, and he assures them that the girl is not dead, but sleeping. How can he say that the dead girl is only sleeping? She is, in fact, quite dead. I think that he, and he alone, can truthfully equate death with sleep, because for the Lord of Life there is little difference between the two. Again, as with the woman who hemorrhaged, Jesus shows utter disregard for the issue of ritual defilement (for a corpse, like a hemorrhaging woman, was a source of contamination). Instead of keeping his distance, Jesus draws near to the girl’s body, takes her hand, and bids her to stand up. And she does! She is restored to life and to her family. Again, Jesus has defied tradition to restore someone in need to new life and right relationship.

So what have we learned? Well, from Jairus, we learn that dignity counts for next to nothing when someone we love is in need. We learn that we should never be too proud to ask for help, whether from one another or from the Lord. From the woman with a hemorrhage, we learn that we have only to reach out to our Lord for help and then have trust in his healing power. Lastly, from our master Jesus, we learn that, if we are to follow in his footsteps, then we too must be willing to be rulebreakers when compassion demands it, when love demands it. For, in the end, love is the highest law.

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Sailing on the Jesus Boat

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Three years ago, while Mathew and I were on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we had the opportunity to take a ride on something called the “Jesus Boat.” The boat takes pilgrims and tourists on a short trip out on the Sea of Galilee. The point is to give one a feel for what it must have been like to sail on the sea in Jesus’ day. As much as I enjoyed the little jaunt out on the water, it lacked a certain authenticity. For one thing, the afternoon was sunny and clear, with only the gentlest of breezes. For another, the boat didn’t look a thing like a first-century fishing boat. When we toured the nearby museum, we got to see the real thing. It was about 25 feet long, 8 feet wide, and might possibly have held a dozen people. And unlike the “Jesus Boat” we sailed on, it didn’t have a large deck with deck chairs and a gasoline-powered engine. Looking at that rickety old boat in the museum, I learned one thing: every trip out on the water in Jesus’ day entailed real risk.

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So, when Jesus cavalierly decided to cross the Sea of Galilee at sunset to visit the Gentile region of Decapolis on the other side, his disciples must have known that there was chance that something could go terribly wrong. So let’s give them some credit for even agreeing to get in the boat with him! And something did, in fact, go terribly wrong; they were soon accosted by a great windstorm, a storm so great that the boat began to fill with water. In the meantime, we are told, Jesus was sound asleep in the back of the boat, resting peacefully on a cushion.

The disciples realized that the situation was dire. If they had only remembered Psalm 107, which we recited today, they might have “cried out to the Lord in their trouble,” and he might have “delivered them from their distress.” But that’s not what they did. They didn’t go to Jesus and say, “Lord, we have trust in you. Please help us.” Instead, they said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” In other words, they accused Jesus of indifference to their plight.

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Despite their bad attitude, Jesus took action to quell the windstorm. He quite literally told the storm to shut up. And the storm shut up! The wind and the sea obeyed his word, just as they obeyed the word of God in Psalm 107. Jesus then turned to the disciples and asked, “Why are you so cowardly? Do you not yet have trust?” That rebuke must have stung. And yet, it was deserved. Jesus’ disciples had witnessed him heal the sick and cast out demons. They had heard those same demons identify Jesus as “the Son of God.” And yet, they still didn’t understand who Jesus really was.

But now, having witnessed Jesus do what only God can do, still a storm by the power of his word, they began to get an inkling that Jesus was, in fact, divine. And what was their reaction to that epiphany? They were terrified.

This episode from the Gospel according to Mark has a couple of lessons for us here today. First, it demonstrates to us, just as it did to the original disciples, that Jesus was (and is) divine. He wielded power over the forces of nature that only God wields. He simply spoke the word, and it was done. Just as God spoke the word, and the world was created.

The second lesson for us is to avoid the mistake of those original disciples and to trust Jesus with our very lives. Few of us may ever fear literally drowning at sea, but many of us will feel at some point like we are drowning and being pulled under by the problems of this world, whether they be personal health issues, family issues, or this dreadful pandemic. Instead of making the same mistake that the disciples made, accusing our Lord of not caring enough, we should cry to the Lord in our trouble and then trust—trust that all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well. Perhaps the Lord will deliver us from our distress. But even if it is his holy will that we continue to be tested, even then, we should remain faithful. For at the Last Day, if we but keep faith, we will be rewarded with a ride on the real “Jesus Boat,” the one that sails across the Crystal Sea to the very throne of Heaven.

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Parables of Planting

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today we hear two agricultural parables about seeds. The first parable is often called “The Parable of the Growing Seed.” But I prefer to call it “The Parable of the Growing Seed and the Lazy Farmer.” For in this parable, the farmer scatters the seed, and seemingly, just sits back and waits for the seeds to germinate and grow. There is no mention of watering or fertilizing or weeding. After the scattering of the seed, the farmer takes no action until it is time to harvest. Not what one would expect of a farmer! And yet Jesus says that this is what the Kingdom of God is like. How are we to interpret this odd little story?

According to the standard interpretation, the disciples sow the Word and then leave the rest to God. When the time is right, Jesus harvests the faithful on the Last Day. The moral of the story is then: to trust in God and not to worry about church growth. Here is the problem with that interpretation: the farmer starts out symbolizing the disciples and ends up symbolizing Jesus!

I think there is a more plausible and consistent interpretation: The farmer is Jesus—at the beginning and at the end. The seed is the Word of God. The earth represents us, the hearers of the Word. And the harvest represents the Day of Judgment, when the Kingdom of God arrives in its fullness. The moral of the parable is then this: Be good soil! Be receptive to God’s Word, and let it grow in you. And then be patient. When the time is right, God’s Kingdom will come.

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The second parable that we heard today is the familiar Parable of the Mustard Seed. The moral of the story is that big things can come from small beginnings. In other words, a tiny community of faith consisting of just a handful of disciples can eventually result in a great Kingdom.

But there is more going on here than just that! We can learn something valuable from how Jesus tells this parable. Jesus is being a bit playful; he is riffing on the oracle from Ezekiel that we heard in today’s first reading. There, the House of David is represented as a great stately cedar that grows from a tiny twig. By God’s grace, it thrives, while the “trees of the field,” which represent the surrounding Gentile nations, are dried up and brought low. But in contrast, in Jesus’ rather homey parable, the coming Kingdom of God is not a great towering cedar, but rather an overgrown shrub! From this, we can derive a second moral to the story: you need a sense of humor to understand the Kingdom of God.

Now, all too often Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God are applied to the Church, as if the Church were the Kingdom. Well, it isn’t—at least not yet! Even so, there is a clearly a message or two to the Church in today’s parables.

The first parable calls us to be the soil that grows the Good News, to be the matrix for the spread of the Gospel. The harvest will grow and flourish because it has been nourished and sustained among us and within us. Now, it is not so unusual to be asked to pitch in and to “get our hands dirty.” We hear phrases like that thrown around every year when getting ready for the annual book sale or the holiday bazaar. But Jesus is asking something different—he isn’t asking us to “get our hands dirty,” he is asking us to be dirt—potting soil—if you will! And that requires a degree of humility.

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The second parable, the one about the mustard seed, invites us to allow ourselves to be imaginative, even playful, in how we go about things, just as Jesus was playful with the oracle from Ezekiel. The Church is invited to see itself as a humble mustard bush, instead of a towering cedar. And the purpose of the Church, we can infer, is not to grow just for the sake of growing, but so that it can provide shade to creatures who need shade. One point of the Church, surely, is to provide respite and succor to the poor, the sick, the elderly, the refugee—to everyone who cannot fend for him- or herself. We should invite them here to nest in our branches and to find shade from the harsh noonday sun.

No, the Church is not yet the Kingdom of God, but it is meant to model the Kingdom and to help build it up. And these two parables about seeds give us some hints as to how to go about that daunting task—namely, with the humility and fruitfulness of plain old dirt and with the absurdity and usefulness of a big scraggly bush!

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Family Values

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Previously in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had begun a ministry of teaching and healing and proclaiming God’s love. The crowds quickly became so large that he couldn’t tend to them all. So he appointed twelve apostles to assist him. Exhausted and hungry, Jesus returned home longing for a meal and some rest. But the desperate crowds followed him home and wouldn’t give him the time or the space to eat that meal.

That is where today’s Gospel reading begins. Even before the advent of Facebook and Twitter, word traveled fast. And Jesus’ family had heard that he was claiming to be on a mission from God and was drawing unwanted attention to himself. Neighborhood gossips spread the rumor that Jesus was out of his mind, and his family decided that they needed to intervene. So they headed out to put a stop to all this nonsense. We don’t know their motivations. Were they afraid for Jesus’ safety? Were they concerned that Jesus might be mentally ill? Or were they merely ashamed of the unwanted attention that Jesus was attracting? We just don’t know.

Evidently, rumors of Jesus’ miraculous healings had spread all the way to the capital. And religious officials were sent to check out the situation. In reaction to Jesus’ miracles, these officials accuse Jesus of being in league with Beelzebul, another name for Satan. They claim that he casts out demons by the power granted him by Satan himself. Jesus responds by demonstrating the faulty logic of their reasoning. For “if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.” Jesus proceeds to tell a short parable that I would like to call the “Parable of the Home Invasion.” In this parable, a robber invades the home of a strong man, binds him, and then robs his house. Surprisingly, Jesus is the robber in this parable! And Satan is the victimized homeowner. One can infer that the robber’s plunder represents the people whom Satan has tormented in body, mind, and spirit and whom Jesus has set free. Satan may be a strong man, but Jesus is the stronger man, it would seem.

Jesus senses that the religious officials are not convinced. And he warns them that all their sins and blasphemies can be forgivenwith one exception: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. For that, he says, is an eternal sin. More specifically, the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit would seem to be a form of spiritual perversity in which a person witnesses God’s love in action but then proceeds to condemn it as the work of Satan.

Jesus’ family finally arrives to put an end to his ministry. The problem is there are so many people crowded in and around the house that the family can’t get to him. So they ask someone to work his way through the crowd and inform Jesus that his family is outside and insists on seeing him pronto. Jesus’ response is unexpected, to say the least. Recall that Jesus came from a culture that highly valued family. In theory, a child could be put to death for showing disrespect to a parent. And seemingly, that is just what Jesus does.

He asks the rhetorical question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He then goes on to answer his own question: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” It would seem that Jesus has renounced his biological family and replaced them with his followers. But if so, he has left the door open for his family to be received back into his good graces. All they have to do is to submit to God’s will. And eventually they do. We know that by the time of Jesus’ death, both his mother and his brother James were active in the Christian community.

Today, many conservative Christians go on and on about so-called “family values.” Clearly, they have never read the Gospel according to Mark! Jesus couldn’t care less about the kind of family values that concern these conservative Evangelicals. What Jesus was concerned with was godly values, such as proclaiming God’s love and forgiveness to sinners, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. Jesus undoubtedly loved his mother and his brothers and his sisters. But he loved those who did the will of God even more and named them his true family.

I have to wonder what the world would look like if every person who self-identified as Christian acknowledged every other faithful child of God as a beloved brother or sister. I suspect the world would be a better place. So, maybe we should give it a shot. What do you say?

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Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Holy and Undivided Trinity, One God

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today is Trinity Sunday. And on this day, preachers have two options: either they preach on the difficult doctrine of the Trinity, or they take the easy way out and preach on the Gospel. I have decided to rise to the occasion and say a few words about the central dogma of the Christian faith.

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Before you get too anxious, let me reassure you that you are not expected to understand this doctrine fully. The mystery of God is beyond our limited understanding. Even so, there are two reasons why it behooves us to make the effort. One reason is that we are expected to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. The second reason is to better understand ourselves. More on that in a bit!

As many have noted, the Bible never uses the word Trinity. But the New Testament does talk about God as Father, God as Son, and God as Holy Spirit. For the early Church experienced God in three different ways. And yet, at the same time, the Church firmly believed in the oneness of the Godhead, as expressed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and as summarized in the Shema, the Jewish pledge of allegiance. Some early theologians dismissed the threeness as appearance only and not as reality. But most theologians firmly believed that both the threeness and the oneness that God had revealed to the Church reflected the inner reality of the Godhead. They refused to believe that God in any way dissembled.

It took over three centuries of heated debate to iron out an understanding that we might charitably call “the least wrong.” Many approaches were eventually condemned as heresy, because they either overemphasized the threeness or they overemphasized the oneness. At this juncture, let me summarize what the Church Fathers finally agreed on—and it isn’t all that much!

There is one divine essence, one divine being, whose source is the Father and which unites the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit into a single Godhead. There is one divine will shared by the three persons of the Trinity. And yet each person is a distinct center of conscious selfhood. Each person is active in every act of God, and yet each person has a function that, from the human perspective, may appropriately be associated with one particular person of the Trinity. For example, when we speak of Creation, we think of the Father. When we speak of Redemption, we think of the Son. And when we speak of Sanctification, we think of the Holy Spirit. Yet the full Trinity takes part in Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification.

All three persons of the Trinity are co-eternal. In other words, there never was a time when they did not all exist. We say in the Nicene Creed that the Son is begotten, not made. But this is an eternal begetting from before time. Of the Spirit, we say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The distinct terminology—“begotten” for the relationship of the Son to the Father and “proceeding from” for the relationship of the Spirit to the Father—is deliberate. The Church Fathers wanted to make clear that these relationships are distinct modes of origination.

Finally, let me say a little something about what the Greek Fathers called perichóresis. This is a technical term for the dynamic circulation of the divine life. The doctrine implies a divine relationship among the three persons of the Trinity that is not fixed and static, but in constant motion. Each of the three persons of the Trinity is ever moving in and out and through the other two persons in a never-ending relationship of intimate interpenetration and dynamic indwelling.

Now I claimed at the start of this sermon that understanding the nature of God would help us understand our nature. Why would that be the case? Because we are made in the image and likeness of this God who is Three in One—and this fact has profound implications.

Our God is a community of persons sharing a common will. Likewise, humanity is intended to be a community of persons sharing a common will. We are called to love God, to love one another, and to work for the building up of God’s Kingdom. Our Triune God is a unity in diversity. Like our God, we are meant to live in unity, but not uniformity. We are meant to be diverse, but not divided. Finally, the doctrine of perichóresis, the mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity, points us to a destiny of mutual love, mutual fellowship, and mutual intimacy.

Despite what most people may think, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is an eminently practical doctrine. It teaches us how to model our community, how to interact with one another, and how to become our true selves. And just as importantly, it helps us to better know, and to better love, the One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Holy Spirit, Advocate and Guide

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today is the Day of Pentecost, and it’s an important day in the Episcopal Church. For one thing, today is one of only seven “principal feasts” in the liturgical calendar, feasts that outrank all other celebrations or commemorations. For another, today is widely considered to be the “birthday of the Church.” (That being said, it’s a bit of a misnomer; one can make a pretty good case that the Church was born when Jesus called his first disciple.) But perhaps the most important aspect of this great feast day is that it is an occasion to focus on the Holy Spirit, that mysterious third person of the Holy Trinity.

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So, let’s review the three appointed readings, to see what we can learn about the Spirit of God. The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, recounts the story of the first Pentecost, when the disciples encounter wind and fire and the gift of the Holy Spirit. They miraculously find themselves able to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in languages that they don’t even know. The heart of their message to the crowd is found in the very last line of the reading: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” So far as we know, this miraculous gift of tongues did not remain with the disciples, but even so, they were not left bereft of the Spirit.

In St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he reminds the Christians in Rome that the Spirit of God is still very much active in the world. On a universal scale, the Spirit is birthing a new creation, a world that is fit to be called the Kingdom of God. On an individual scale, the Holy Spirit is guiding each and everyone of us into a life of true prayer. Now, prayer takes many forms. It can be the common prayer we share together on Sundays. It can be the personal prayer we offer daily for our loved ones in need. It can even be the wordless work we do out in the world for the children of God. Finally, as St. Paul teaches us, prayer can be the groans of agony and the tears of sorrow that we shed when we cannot even find the words to express our pain to our Heavenly Father. And the mystery of each and every form of true prayer is that it is the Holy Spirit, breathed into us at baptism, who enables and sustains that prayer. It is the Holy Spirit who urges us, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently, to keep reaching out to God.

Finally, we come to the reading from John’s Gospel, which somewhat confusingly takes us back in time to the Last Supper, before the disciples had even received the gift of the Holy Spirit. There, Jesus promises his disciples that he will ask his Heavenly Father to send them an Advocate.

Now, the English word “advocate” is a bit problematic. Every time I hear it, I think of a trial lawyer. But that is not the kind of advocate that Jesus is speaking of. This advocate will not be a lawyer who will stand by his disciples in court to keep them out of jail, but the Holy Spirit, who will stand by them throughout the trials and tribulations of this world, to save them from the Evil One. Jesus goes on to promise that this same Spirit of God will continue to teach the disciples long after Jesus has returned to his Father and will guide them further and further into Divine Truth.

Jesus’ promise to the disciples at the Last Supper applies to us modern-day disciples as well. Yes, Christ has ascended and returned to his Father, but we are not left orphaned. When each of us was baptized, we received the Holy Spirit; a spiritual ember was implanted in our soul. When we were confirmed, we received additional strength from the Holy Spirit to endure the trials of this life. But being only human, we need more than these two infusions of the Spirit. And that is where the Holy Eucharist comes into play. And God willing, soon we will again be able to celebrate the Eucharist together and to partake of Holy Communion.

Like the first disciples of Jesus, we too have been empowered by the Spirit: empowered to pray to the Father, empowered to testify to the Truth, empowered to share the Good News, empowered to endure this horrid pandemic. It is all too easy to forget just what we have been given at Baptism, what we have had reinforced at Confirmation, what we have had renewed at Holy Eucharist. Well, folks, don’t let yourselves ever forget. You have the Holy Spirit within you even now! And when two or three of us gather in Christ’s Name, that same Spirit is among us working wonders.

Let us pray.

O Holy Spirit, by whose breath life rises vibrant out of death; come to create, renew, inspire; come, kindle in our hearts your fire. Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Jesus Prayed for His Disciples and Jesus Prays for Us


Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Last Thursday was Ascension Day. And next Sunday is the feast of Pentecost. So you might very well expect today’s Gospel reading to take place during the ten-day period between the Ascension and Pentecost. But surprisingly it doesn’t. Instead, we go back in time, and we get a snippet of a lengthy prayer that Jesus offered at the Last Supper.

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In a sense, we are eavesdroppers. Jesus’ prayer is addressed to God—not us—and it is offered on behalf of the original disciples—not us. (Or so it would seem!) So why does the lectionary have us listen in? Well, I can think of two reasons. The first is that, as baptized Christians, we are meant to continue the ministry of the original disciples, and we can expect to encounter some of the same struggles that they did. The second reason has to do with a tradition of the Early Church to expound on the sacraments at every sermon during the 50 days of Eastertide. And, though it isn’t obvious, Jesus’ prayer does have profound implications concerning Baptism and the mission of the baptized.

But there is a problem! As we eavesdrop on Jesus’ prayer, we find that he is speaking in code. One of those code words is the word world. We get a sense that something cryptic is intended when we hear Jesus say, “I am not asking on behalf of the world.” Why would Jesus refuse to pray for the world? The answer is that, in John’s Gospel, the word world almost always refers to those who willfully defy God’s will and actively oppose Jesus’ ministry. Given this understanding of the “world,” it is not so surprising that Jesus doesn’t pray on its behalf.

Jesus differentiates between a world that opposes God’s will and his disciples, who obey it. He states that his disciples are in the world, but not of the world. They act in the midst of sinful humanity, but they do not belong to sinful humanity. And to the extent that we live into our baptism, the same can be said about us! For at our baptism, we, just like Jesus’ original disciples, were sanctified in the Truth. We were consecrated as a priestly people. We were set apart for God’s express use. At our baptism, we were separated from the world of sinful humanity, even as we continue to live our lives in the midst of a world that is profoundly alienated from God.

Jesus warns the original disciples that, when the world realizes that they do not belong to the world, they will be hated for it. And they will be persecuted. In some parts of the world today, Jesus’ prophecy is quite literally true. Here in the United States, however, Christians rarely suffer real persecution on account of their faith. The situation here is usually more subtle. Instead of hate, we are more likely to encounter ridicule. But on occasion, you just might run into someone who hates you because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Yes, indeed, the world we live in can be confusing. It can be hurtful. And it can be exhausting—especially during this pandemic! Consequently, we are tempted to run away and hide. Now, it’s OK to take a vacation—hey, I just took one! It’s OK to find respite in a good book. It’s even OK to binge-watch a TV series on Netflix. And of course, it’s expected that Christians will take refuge in the church—even if church is no more than a weekly conference call! These little escapes are all well and good—so long as we remember to return to the real world to do the Lord’s work! Jesus reminds us in his prayer that, just as the Father sent him into the world, so he is sending his disciples. This world of fallen and sinful humanity is where we have been sent to serve. It is the locus of our mission. The world desperately needs to hear the message of Jesus Christ, so that it can cease to be the “world” and instead become the Kingdom.

This mission to bring Good News to a world that doesn’t always accept the message, or welcome the messenger, can be daunting. But we are not without means. And we are not on our own. Two thousand years ago, Jesus revealed God’s Name to his disciples. (And that Name was Love.) He prayed that his disciples might be sanctified in the Truth of the Divine Word. And he prayed that they might be protected from the Evil One, as they went about their mission. Well, that prayer for his disciples, first offered at the Last Supper, has never ceased. Our Risen and Ascended Lord is praying that very same prayer for us even now. So take heart!

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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