Proper 22B Sermon Notes (2018)

SERMON NOTES — October 7, 2018
Stewardship Emphasis – Week 2 of 4 (Proper 22B)

Children’s Sermon: Jesus blesses the children. What does this mean? It goes all the way back to Abraham and Sarah, the parents of God’s family.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” — Genesis 12:1-3

“I will bless you . . . , so that you will be a blessing . . . [to] all the families of the earth.” We don’t truly find blessing until all God’s children find blessing. That’s what the “kingdom of God” means. We inherit God’s kingdom when we take care of the least among us:

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. . . . Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
— Matthew 25:34-36, 40b

Sermon — on the True Meaning of Blessing

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” What if we read this not just in the context of marriage but in the context of our ongoing theme of healing tribalism? Remember our summary of the summary of the Gospel from Ephesians 2:15: “Christ has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace. . . .” One new humanity out of two. No longer two but one flesh. Same message? That the blessing of marriage and family is the blessing of working to make sure all in God’s family are blessed, beginning with the least?

And so this also places in a different light Jesus’ words about marriage and divorce. Jesus is not pronouncing a new legalism against divorce. He is challenging the frame of legalism to deal with issues like divorce. The Pharisees who are testing Jesus control women and the issue of divorce through their legalistic approach. Jesus challenges them right back.

What we see here is the two opposing Gods of blessing. For the tribalistic gods of the Pharisees (and all of humankind most of the time until Jesus!), God blesses some and curses others. The reality of blessing is unequal. The assumption, then, is that those who are blessed deserve it, and those cursed deserved that. It splits the world into good and bad, blessed and cursed, us and them. It is the essence of tribalism, with gods of tribalism ruling over the whole process, establishing and keeping order according to the doling out of blessings and curses.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus launches his ministry by exploding the usual meaning of blessing. He declares blessed those who are normally seen as cursed: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth. . . .” (Matthew 5:3-5) And then Matthew’s Jesus ends his teaching with the passage highlighted in the Children’s Message: the blessed are those who care for the least in Jesus’ family.

Mark’s Gospel proclaims the same message through various ways of saying things like, ‘the first will be last and the last first,’ ‘the truly greatest are those who serve others,’ ‘the kingdom of God comes through blessing children, the least in God’s family.’ All are blessed when the least are blessed. The only sense of true curse is when we fall into tribalism and its deadly consequences by not taking care of the least.

We see the failure of the tribalistic view of blessing when bad things happen to us. Are we cursed instead of blessed when this happens to us? A turning-point book for me: Richard Rohr’s Falling Upwards: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. And a lecture series with Paula D’Arcy on the two spiritualities.

I close with a story from Paula D’Arcy, an ordinary person of Christian faith, who herself suffered an unimaginable loss in her life: at the age of 27, while pregnant with their second daughter, her husband and toddler first-born daughter were killed in a car crash by a drunk driver. She had to accept that the God she grew up with, who blesses and curses, must have abandoned her, cursed her. Or come to meet God anew through Jesus Christ, the one who suffered the curse of the cross and was raised to new life.

But the story I’m sharing here comes years after her personal loss, after she has met God anew and largely healed. Paula is visiting a good friend of hers, Susan, in another town, when Susan gets that same call all parents dread. Her 22 year-old son Mark has been killed on the way back to college by a drunk driver. Paula accompanies her friend to the hospital where her son’s body has been taken. After time alone with her son’s body, Susan asks a nurse to invite Paula into the room. Here is Paula’s account of what happened next:

Susan asked me, “He never was really mine, was he?” She had had the experience of owning things and deserving things.

“Susan, none of them are ours. It’s all gift.”

“If that is true, then he can’t be taken from me. If he was gift, then at this moment I will give him back.” And Susan took my hand and one of her son’s hands, raised her eyes to the heavens, and prayed, “God, before me is the greatest gift you ever gave me. And now I give him back. Thank you. Thank you for all these years.”

I have no idea if I could ever pray this prayer in a similar situation — the kind of situation one hopes to never face. But if I can strive to live into such an attitude of being able to experience all of my life as gift, then I’m sure I’ve found the meaning of good stewardship — to approach everything I have as a gift from God to care for and nurture. . . . especially my marriage and family. Blessed to be a blessing. . . .

Paul Nuechterlein
Lutheran Church of the Savior
Kalamazoo, MI

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