St. Philips Episcopal Church, Marysville, WA
Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Readings - Episcopal Church
First reading Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Second reading James 5:13-20
Gospel Mark 9:38-50
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
Sermon – Rev. Karuna Duval
In the readings today one of the major themes is about “us” vs “them.” In Ester, the king asks her “What is your petition?” She didn’t ask for “half the kingdom” as was offered, she asked for the destruction of the one who harmed her people – “them.” In James there is a division between sinners and “the righteous.” And in gospel of Mark, the apostle John identifies those who are following Jesus and those who are not.
Any of this sound familiar? Us vs Them?
The last part of the gospel today is a bit more confusing. Jesus talks about what can get in the way of the “reward” what can get in the way of heaven. But cutting off our hand, or foot or poking out our eye!? Really?! Do we really need such drastic measures? The answer I believe is Yes – sometimes. NO, no I’m not saying maim ourselves. However, what is often needed can certainly feel like we are cutting off a limb. Sometimes what we need is to “poke our eye out” so we can see differently.
A 36 yo friend of mine, last week tried to take her own life. We went to graduate school together. She is brilliant, kind, sweet and compassionate. She is a social worker and therapist for the very marginalized. She has great boundaries and can spot BS from a mile away. She has two rescue dogs. She is a recovering alcoholic. And she tried to mix vodka and pain medication to end her life. When that didn’t work and she was hospitalized, she tried to hang herself. What was it that she so felt hopeless about? Whatever it was, she believed it was better to be dead than to continue walking the path she was on. The other thing I know about her is that she has experienced serious abuse and trauma in her life, which has resulted, for her, in a profound lack of self-worth. Even though she is all the wonderful things I described, she still feels deeply worthless; and in an “us” vs “them” world with “us” (my friend) believing she is far less than “them,” and living in that hell for so long, she was led her to where she is now. What is it that needs to change for her? Whatever it is, whatever big change needs to take place in her mind, her heart and spirit, it needs to be serious enough to move her in a different direction than where she was going. And it’s not going to be a quick or easy process. Whatever toxic beliefs she has about herself (and perhaps the world) that contributed to her suicide attempt, those need to be let go of in order to heal into beliefs that more supportive and life affirming….And since these harmful beliefs have been with her for the majority of her 36 years, it is going to feel like she is cutting off a limb to let them go. She needs to be able to see herself and the world differently by “plucking out the eye” that she has been seeing with for so long.
Jesus is asking us to take a hard look at ourselves and identify that which we need to change within ourselves that is getting in the way of experiencing the authentic Love, Grace and Kingdom of Heaven within us even if changing something about ourselves is big, difficult and seemingly impossible even if what we need to do will not be a quick and easy change – like a new haircut, or giving up coffee (that is not easy, really). Even if we can’t know the total outcome of those changes, Jesus tells us that IT IS better that we let go of the “millstone around neck” because letting that go will not only (re)connect us with our deepest, most loving selves, but it will also bring more peace into the world, and begin to diminish the power that continues to pull “us” and “them” apart. Then we will live in service for the community, with ourselves as an integral part. OR as Paul Wellstone said, “we all do better, when we all do better.”
Right now, we live in a society of deeply held beliefs of the importance of the individual over the community. This has contributed to a climate of power-over, fear and mistrust. The events of this week are glaring examples. Regardless of any particular belief you have about the events, what is clear is that there are many limbs and eyes that need to be eliminated that have led to a destructive “us” and “them” culture: a culture of the powerful vs the disempowered, where unkindness, disrespect, manipulation and more, are not only tolerated, but encouraged. The process of letting go of that which is dividing us is not going to be quick and not at all comfortable. It must start within each of us.
When I look out for just myself, to the dismissal or at worst the harm of another – that affects me, the other, and the whole community, leading down a path of more harm and tearing down of the individuals and whole societies. When I focus on myself – honestly examining what is in the way of living the truth of Jesus’ teachings of being kind to others, helping those who are vulnerable in order to bring peace to the world then the path leads towards values and actions which lift us ALL up. But I have to be willing to cut off a limb or poke out my eye, if necessary.
Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi are two of the more well-known examples of this teaching. Francis’ metaphorical eye was plucked out when he saw what real war did to people and the world. He was a party guy and had a dream of being a knight but when he became involved in the war of the time, saw and experienced the devastation it caused individuals and communities, he became deeply depressed. He turned his eyes towards the gospel and Jesus’ messages of kindness, care and love of ALL creation. Francis literally disrobed, leaving his family of wealth and means to become a man of simplicity, compassion, inclusion and peace, and creating a community that embodies the same. Similarly, Clare, upon witnessing Francis’ actions, began her own “plucking” and instead of seeing the world of wealth, marriage and servitude to a husband, she saw the world through the gospel, as well as through Francis’ new eyes. Clare ran away from her family, cut off her hair and entered the Franciscan community, serving Jesus’ messages in similar ways as Francis.
In the liturgy of Yom Kippur, the end of the High Holy Days for our Jewish sisters and brothers, there is a place where we all confess to a litany of sins (with sins meaning missing the mark or being disconnected from God, and from the Kingdom of Heaven within). All present recite ALL the sins listed even if they don’t apply to each individual. In traditional Judaic thought is the concept of communal repentance, as contrasted with individual repentance. The communality of deeds is consistent with the Jewish belief that redemption, forgiveness, and returning to connection with God, is a societal event. Therefore, society as a whole is obligated to provide for both the material and the spiritual welfare of every individual. If one individual in the community is in need, we are all in need. In the words of the poet rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “we may not all be guilty, but we are ALL responsible.”
So, for us, for you, for me – what internal work must I do – what must I cut off, or pluck out to purify myself towards living Jesus’ messages of Love and caring for others, and caring for the world? I believe when we commit to removing, letting go and transforming that which limits US from Grace and the Kingdom of Heaven within, then we can be as Jesus says “at peace with one another” within a Oneness that includes us and them.
Unity in Lynnwood, Lynnwood, WA
The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings - Roman Catholic Church
First Reading Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Second Reading James 3:16-4:3
Gospel Mark 9:30-37
Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
Sermon - Fr. Dan Duval
The readings today are very similar to the readings over the last few weeks. We are being taught in all three, The Jewish Bible or the Old Testament, James’ letter to Jewish Christians living outside of Palestine and the Gospel of Jesus according to Mark. We are hearing in three different ways and in three different times, what living a sacred life or actually living our faith means. The Book of Wisdom tells us that when someone lives a truly righteous life, those who are in power say that person is “obnoxious and sets himself against our doings”. The people that are truly living a spiritual life challenge by their actions and lives the status quo of those who do not live in such a way. James tells us that the reason we are unhappy is because we are looking for happiness in the wrong places. What we think we want; power, prestige and adoration from others are not the gifts of God. If these are the things we want, we will not truly be happy, even if we obtain them. Today’s Gospel has Jesus telling the apostles the same thing. The apostles were having a discussion that could have been set in any middle school. I’m the best. No I am! No, I’m better than you! So, who gets to be the best? The most revered? Jesus tells us that it is the one who does not wish to be the best or most revered that understand the true plan of equality in the world. If you really wish to do good work and be a good person, it is through your service to others. Living a life of faith is not about the feelings of ecstasy that will occasionally be experienced as closeness to God. Those feelings are a marker that let us know we are on the right path. If however those feelings are what we seek and we do not act from places of love in our daily life, what good are they? Even St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta fell into this trap. In a book published soon after her death letters to her confessor were included. Mother Teresa experienced an event of ecstasy and her Oneness with God as a young nun when she received the calling to take care of the poor. In this experience she felt close to God and in Union with God. She took this experience to heart and began working toward the establishment of the Missionaries of Charity to fulfill what she heard God asking her to do on that day. She worked tirelessly toward this goal. Mother Teresa, however, never again experienced a moment of ecstasy and connection like she had that day. She longed for it, craved it and agonized over not having another experience like it. She wondered if God had abandoned her or if she was not living true to the call she felt she received. Today we would most likely call her feelings and experience depression. However, when we look at how this tiny woman is remembered and revered, it is for her tireless day after day service. When Mother Teresa met with dignitaries and had audiences with popes and presidents, her message was always the same; “Do small things with Great Love” Even though she longed for that feeling of closeness to God and that union of soul, she understood from that one experience she did have was the way to achieve closeness with God was to serve God’s creation with great Love and thus to participate in the circle of love. Mother Teresa’s struggle to love within the depths of her own depression and questioning of self is what drove her on. If she had decided that she was special because she had that one experience she never would have continued to serve. If she had given up because she could not recapture that feeling much good would have been lost in our world. Mother Teresa really got the message that the work is what is most important, not the soft and gooshey feelings we may experience from time to time. If we pursue those feelings and mistake the feeling for the important part and ignore the message, we have done nothing. Those moments of purity of love we experience as ecstasy are not meant to be permanent states of being. They are signposts, pointing the way toward what truly matters as being part of the One. Our goal should not be in attempting to recreate those feelings but in pursuing the messages received by bringing a portion of that love to others so we may collectively enter the space of total love. Our experiences of great joy can only be sustained when all of creation is experiencing great joy with us. When one person is suffering that experience of total joy is incomplete and is unsustainable. I believe that we are given glimpses from time to time as to what we are working toward and then, our mission is to be those who do the work to bring as much love as we can so others may enter into joy with us. If we do not share the love and joy to lift others up, there is no way we can be first because we all have to be first in order to obtain that level of experiencing God, which is truly the Unity of all of creation. Amen
Interfaith Mission of Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi, Tulalip, WA
The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings - Roman Catholic Church
First Reading Isiah 50:5-9
Second Reading James 2:14-18
Gospel Mark 8:27-35
Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They said in reply, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Christ." Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it."
Sermon - Fr. Dan Duval
Today’s readings seem to point us to the very heart of living a life of faith. The first reading from the book of Isaiah is thought to be written around the 6th century BCE (before the common era). During this time the Jewish people are being held captive in Babylon. We hear that the actions of the people are important. We hear that even though life is difficult and the Jewish people are being abused, they are acting and behaving in accordance with their belief system. In our second reading James is saying rather plainly to his audience, which is believed to be Jewish Christians scattered outside of Palestine, that belief without action is not being true to their faith or following the teachings of either God or Jesus. He is questioning the worth of faith and belief without action. In the Gospel, we see Jesus asking the apostles who people say that he is. Many options are given. Then Jesus asks who they think he is. Peter is first to say, "you are The Christ”. Peter is first to express a verbal belief in Jesus as a Holy Person. Then when Jesus begins to explain what that means, that to truly live one’s faith means hardship, suffering, rejection and possibly even death, Peter is the first to say “hey don’t say that”. Peter and most of the followers of Jesus wanted him to be a vengeful messiah who would strike down the Romans, free the Jewish people and put them above all others. The apostles were waiting for Jesus to one day throw off his cape, stand up ad bring fire and brimstone down on the oppressors. Peter wanted to have faith in Jesus and believe that he would save the Jewish people and that Peter would then ride along next to Jesus as they assumed the top of the pecking order. Peter did not want to hear that faith was not about beating anyone up or conquering any nation. Peter who wanted Jesus to be all powerful and smite the world did not see the strength or value of living his faith in his daily life. Peter did not want to give up his dream of personal power and glory. He told Jesus, in effect, hey, you’re wrong! The messiah is supposed to be glorious and take over. Knock it off and get to it! Jesus was very clear when he told Peter to get out of his way. “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus was clear in saying that Peter was not only misunderstanding what lived faith was all about but that Peter was dangerous in what he was wanting and in effect was the opposite of what Jesus was teaching. Jesus was clear that if people truly wanted to live the way he did it would mean pain and rejection. It would mean going against the grain of what was traditionally being accepted as piousness. Jesus understood clearly that he was asking a great deal of his followers. He warned them many times. Jesus knew that really living in Love was causing problems. People who have power want to keep it. People like to follow the path of least resistance and follow rules that are easy and well scripted. Rules in and of themselves are necessary, but when rules take the place of love and justice is no where to be found, the rules need to be re-evaluated. The Jews had rules regarding hand washing. It kept them healthy and as a practice it was helpful. However, when someone who didn’t wash their hands was condemned for it, love and mercy had lost their place. When the rich man in the temple was praying loudly and thanking God that he was favored, that man was missing the mark. There was no room for compassion in that man and nothing could penetrate the smuggness. There was no room for Love and God. Through the centuries these same ideas keep coming back to us. We are all one and responsible for each other. Love and compassion are the ultimate expressions of faith. These are not new concepts but have needed to find new expressions in order to be heard, understood and undertaken in various times. Allowing ourselves to be on an even playing field with all beings and not putting ourselves above others is truly a challenge. We judge others all the time. We think we know their motives by their actions and then judge them according to our own notions. We judge without really knowing or understanding why they are behaving in a particular way. We judge and talk to the person next to us confidently about why someone is not acting well and we of course would do much better in that situation. We judge, talk and walk away without reaching out, without asking or understanding, or even wanting to understand what someone else story is. We fear the same type of judgement and do not allow ourselves to be truly who we are for fear of this judgement. It is all around us every day. Today’s reading tell us that Acting in a loving way IS the ultimate expression of faith. What someone believes about who God is or how God would act means relatively nothing if the actions of love are not captured within that belief. Arguing over who has the correct idea of God automatically means we have have no idea of God, for God would not argue, God would open, accept and love. When we use religion as a way to create barriers between ourselves and others, we have separated ourselves from God and missed the faith boat. James points out quiet well that offering prayers and good thoughts do not amount to acts of faith. Praying without action is an empty. “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” Living faith is not easy. Standing up for what is right and just is a difficult way to live. We risk rejection. We risk being laughed at. We can risk physical safety if we intervene with our bodies when we see someone being physically mistreated. At times we can even risk our very lives. This is the true struggle of faith. It is not just a struggle to believe in a God we can not see. It is about opening ourselves to widen our view of our faith and our actions. It is about striving to act lovingly and recognizing when we do not and humbly working towards doing better, not believing better. When we take the loving actions out of our faith it can become toxic. We have seen this time and again throughout history. The Old Testament and Jewish Scriptures are full of what happened when people were not living in a loving manner. The New Testament has this as it’s only theme. In our world today we see many examples of power, ideas and beliefs corrupting what a true living faith is. We only have to watch the news or listen to the politics of the day, each side trying to utilize God to justify their actions of power and riches to see examples of this. We see in the lives of some of those who came before us the strength of one person who stands up and says, no, that is not God. We see over and over again the power of people who stand up for what is truly living faith. We see this in the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, The apostles, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and many others who were martyred not for what they believed but how they acted. Belief in ones heart or only in ones church without action profits no one. How do we show this love of faith in action? What do we do to honor all beings? Do we stand up for wrongs? Do we defend when we see need? Do we offer from our own riches when someone does not have enough? What small ways do we offer comfort? What type of action do you dedicate yourself to in order to make the world a more even playing field, and a more loving place to be? We start with a faith and a belief in the Love of God and work to become that Love in action. Prayer and doing our own internal work to deepen our relationship with God is a prerequisite for this type of action and where we find the strength to continue in our actions. Working to identify what beliefs we hold that stop us from acting lovingly is a pre-requisite toward truly living our faith. We need the nourishment of prayer and quiet moments as well as contemplating ourselves, our thoughts and our behaviors in order to share the gifts given to us by God with all other beings to create a more loving world. As St Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” Amen