10 Pentecost Proper 12 Year B    29 July 2018

                                           A sermon from the rev Linda Mackie Griggs

2 Samuel 11:1-15; John 6:1-21

 “’This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’ When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” 

Kings and prophets; prophets and kings. Biblical images, yet resonant today. Scripture speaks to us in its own kind of timeless language, calling us to respond to a world that, for all it has changed, hasn’t changed as much as we might have expected. Or hoped.

The question we hold when reading a Bible passage is, what is it saying to us right now about who we are and whose we are?

In the context of today’s readings, how does an understanding of the language of ancient kings and prophets uniquely equip us as followers of Jesus to serve in a time of turmoil more closely aligned with the kingdoms of the world than the kingdom of God?

A few weeks back we heard the people of Israel demand from the prophet Samuel,“Give us a king!” And after warning them to be careful what they wished for, he gave them what they wanted, anointing first Saul (who was a bust)and then David, the shepherd boy. Over the past few Sundays, our Old Testament lessons have documented David’s adventures as he defeated Goliath, mourned Saul and Jonathan, danced before the Ark of the Covenant as it was restored to Jerusalem, and received God’s promise of a temple and a legacy.

Sometimes you can hear the Deuteronomist author speaking ironically through the text; reminding the reader that there is only One who should rule Israel, and that is God, who commanded, “You shall have no other Gods but me.” When God instructed Samuel to capitulate to the people and anoint a king, God warned them, you will regret putting your faith in kings- they may do good sometimes, but ultimately they will fail you. Yes, even David.

The Deuteronomist opens today’s story by throwing a little shade at David, noting, “in the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle… David remained at Jerusalem.” In other words, he seems to have lost his military touch. He who had made his reputation as a mighty warrior wasn’t on the battlefield because he was staying at home to take care of more important business. No: he was lazing around the palace: He “rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house…”

The story of David, Bathsheba and Uriah is no romance. Not once in this account does the writer say that the two were in love. No; David saw something he wanted and he took her. Because he could; because he was King. And when faced with the consequences of what he had done,.he tried to cover it up by twice giving Uriah leave to make a conjugal visit to his wife, and failing that, he had Uriah, who had been nothing but faithful to his commander-in-chief, murdered in the field.

Please come back next week to find out what happens next, but spoiler alert: It involves the words of a prophet and comeuppance for a king.

A prophet is an intermediary for the Divine. The function of the prophet is to hold principalities and powers to account, to critique unjust systems and to demand change. If the people will insist upon putting faith in kings, then prophets will be called to keep them in line and call them— the people and the kings— to repent. Prophets are the keepers of God’s Vision. Their job is to proclaim the true Kingdom— the Dream of God for all of creation.

In today’s Gospel lesson from John, the people see Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes, and perceive that he is a prophet. But not just any prophet: This is the Messiah foretold in the Scriptures.

And to make this clear John packs this episode with allusions: to Moses (Jesus goes up the mountain to teach; he provides ‘manna’ in the form of bread,) and Elisha (an episode in 2 Kings tells of multiplying bread and fish for 100 people) and to the Tribes of Israel (twelve baskets of leftovers). Any Jewish observer of Jesus’ multiplication miracle or early Christian hearer of this text would draw the connection between Jesus and the prophetic tradition.

And yet. What do the crowds do in the next breath? They try to make him a king.  Like David.  Jeepers. No wonder he headed back up the mountain.  “Give us a king!” Brought face-to-face with the Kingdom of God as Jesus feeds the multitudes, people stubbornly remain blind to the vision of God’s yearning for reconciliation/union with God’s children. They fear taking a leap of faith into the arms of a God who says, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Too steeped in the culture of what they think a king is, they are unwilling to give themselves over to a new vision of kingship; of abundant life and loving relationship in God.

Relationship. That’s the key. There is a fundamental difference in the nature of relationship between kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of God.

Martin Buber’s 1923 book, I and Thou, described it this way (This may be a refresher for some, but it is profoundly worth revisiting):  On the one hand, a person’s attitude toward another may be as if toward an object; something experienced or used as a separate entity. This is what Buber called an I-It relationship.

On the other hand, a person’s attitude toward another may be as if it is toward something that is not distinctly separate; something that is not simply used or experienced as an object as much as it is understood as a kindred entity. It is a connection from the heart of one being to the heart of another. This is an “I-Thou” relationship. A different, more grammatical, way of putting it would be that an “I-It” relationship is from subject to object, while an “I-Thou” relationship is from subject to subject.

Look at the relationships in our two stories. David sees Bathsheba. He wants to have her. He takes her. He sees Uriah as an obstacle. He removes him. I-It, I-It, I-It, I-It. Subject to object, user to used, every time.

Now, look at Jesus on the mountain. Jesus sees the crowd. He wants to feed them. He invites a child—a child— to share his bread and fish, and connects, I-Thou; the divine within Jesus to the sacred within the child and his small meal. He sets a table of abundance where all have a seat, and all eat until they are satisfied, with “nothing lost.” Nothing left behind. No one left out. I-Thou, I-Thou, I-Thou.

God yearns for an I-Thou relationship with us and with all of Creation. Subject to subject, heart to heart, sacred to sacred, not as consumer and commodity, but as lover and beloved. It is the grammar of Eucharist, spoken at God’s Table.

Think about it— no, scratch that— don’t think about it just do it; come to the Table to be fed unconditionally, the divine and broken in Christ reaching out to the divine and broken in you, offering pardon and renewal, solace and strength, and then sending you out to make those same kinds of connections in the world with everyone you meet— I-Thou, I-Thou, I-Thou. The grammar, not of kings of the world, but of the Kingdom of God.

This is how Jesus calls and equips us. This is the language of the One who comes to us in ways and at times we would not believe possible and says to us, moment by moment, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

loaves and fishes Tabgha mosaic






Pentecost 9, Year B  22 July 2018

A Sermon from the Rev.Linda Mackie Griggs

(Mark 6:30-34, 53-56)

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” 

As I was thinking about this week’s readings in the context of last week’s sermon and of this past week’s events I realized I had made an incorrect assumption. I spoke about the importance of continually seeking God—of asking the question, “Where is God in this?” as a spiritual discipline. I talked about the potentially world-transforming power of the practice of theological thinking, which would prioritize God over self-preservation and self-interest in our decisions.

That hasn’t changed. But in the process of making the argument I said that it is easy to find God in the beautiful, the good and the true.

Based on some conversations I’ve had lately I’m not sure if I’m right about that anymore. To say that it’s easy to find God in the beautiful the true and the good these days seems glib and naïve. It sounds like a platitude. And I hate platitudes. Platitudes are band-aids. Platitudes don’t heal the exhaustion and the worry and the feeling of helplessness in the face of an endless onslaught of bad and confusing news.

There’s a John Prine song whose refrain begins, “Blow up your TV, throw away the paper…” I can relate to this.

Is it any wonder that today’s Gospel had me rethinking part of what I said last week? This passage is almost claustrophobic. The crowds are everywhere; Jesus moves, and the crowd moves with him; not just following him but anticipating where he’ll be next. It never seems to stop. The disciples are exhausted and overwhelmed. And Jesus says,

“Come away to a deserted place and rest awhile…”

Seriously, Jesus? Have you looked around? We can’t even eat in peace!

Jesus knows. He knows, but he gazes at the milling crowd, and:

“…he had compassion for them, like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”

Jesus doesn’t follow his own advice to withdraw and rest. Instead, he takes a deep breath and plunges back in.

Why? Why does the Evangelist highlight this tension between a need for rest and the demands and needs of a broken world? Because that is our story. Some days more than others. There’s something we need to notice here, and it has to do with who God is.

Jesus acts out of Compassion. The Gospels refer to Jesus feeling compassion at least eight times. This is crucial: Compassion is not just a feel-good term indicating pity and sympathy. Pity and sympathy can be felt at a distance. Compassion is something done up close—it means to feel with—in the gut. You can’t mail in compassion—you have to put skin in the game. Jesus feels with his people. It is this feeling with that manifests to us God’s very identity. The Incarnate one—the Word made flesh– shows us that God is Compassion.

“Come away to a deserted place and rest awhile.”

How does Jesus’ compassion for the suffering mesh with the call to rest? How do we resolve the tension between rest and the needs and concerns and worries that crowd behind us and run ahead to meet us, and demand that we fix, resist, heal, or listen right now?

A God of Compassion knows this—knows that we are exhausted and anxious. A God of Compassion asks us to remember something: God is God, and we are not. The world is desperately in need of healing in so many ways, but God knows that we are no good to anyone without rest and renewal. Without Sabbath.

“…rest awhile.”

God, who created and liberated, rests. If God rests, how much more should we do the same? But I’m not talking as much about the importance of a Sabbath day, though that is the ideal minimum; I’m talking more about finding Sabbath spaces in a world that seems to be going bonkers.

Walter Brueggemann, in his book, Sabbath as Resistance, writes,

“That divine rest on the seventh day of creation has made clear (a) that YHWH is not a workaholic, (b) that YHWH is not anxious about the full functioning of creation, and (c) that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work.”

God is God, and we are not. Our call to Sabbath is a call to remember who is in charge, and to remember that our efforts are only as good as our balance—our ability to pause and to be present to God and what God has given us. That’s what Sabbath is: Time to stop. To say that, yes, there is work to be done. It will be there when I return to it, but for now, what I have is enough. I am thankful right now. This is what a Sabbath moment looks like.

Sabbath is not a platitude, it is the Fourth Commandment. The key is to understand that work and rest are not separate entities. They go together. God’s first acts of Creation were not separate from rest; they included it.

What if our work included Sabbath in such a way that the two were deeply interconnected, like when water is poured into a container of sand and flows into all the little gaps between the grains? A Sabbath mentality invites us to let Sabbath seep into the interstices—those tiny gaps– of our work and ministry, cooling the anxiety and softening the edges of cynicism and exhaustion. Interstitial Sabbath takes to heart Jesus’ admonition that the Sabbath was made for God’s children, not God’s children for the Sabbath. An interstitial Sabbath state of mind opens our eyes to see God’s hand in the world about us. It transforms platitude into healing balm and renews us for the work ahead.

This isn’t anything new. Honestly it isn’t a whole lot more than setting the concept of mindfulness in a theological context. The terminology isn’t as important as the practice of paying attention, whether it is to the feel and smell of working in the dirt of the garden, the taste of a good meal, the sight of a work of art that gives you chills, or the sound of a sublime piece of music; all of these are moments that invite us into a sacred pause: This is enough. I am thankful.

Or as a wise person once said to me after a wonderful outdoor concert: “It’s things like this that remind you that the world doesn’t suck.”

And that’s the point. Our work and ministry are important. The challenges of the world are urgent. But attending to them is useless if we don’t have a deep understanding of why we do what we do—why we serve in the world. The beautiful, the good, and the true—these are all descriptors of the compassionate God who created us and calls us into work and renewal. The world needs us, yes; but the world needs us whole. 

I’d like to conclude with a prayer by Ted Loder, from his book, Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle:

O God of the miracles,

            of galaxies

                        and crocuses

                                    and children,

I praise you now

            from the soul of the child within me,

                        shy in my awe,

                                    delighted by my foolishness,

                                                stubborn in my wanting,

                                                            persistent in my questioning,

                                                                        and bold in my asking you

to help me unbury my talents

            for wonder

                        and humor

                                    and gratitude,

so I may invest them eagerly

            in the recurring mysteries

                        of spring and beginnings,

                                    of willows that weep,

                                                and rivers that flow

                                                            and people who grow

in such endlessly amazing

            and often painful ways;

that I will be forever linked and loyal

            to justice and joy,

                        simplicity and humanity,

                                    Christ and his kingdom.       

The Unasked Question

Pentecost 8 Year B Proper 10 15 July 2018

                                        A sermon from the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs 

Mark 6: 14-29 

Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. “

Power, sex, religion: An unholy trinity. If we didn’t know better we’d swear this was the plot of an HBO series and not Holy Scripture. Except we do know better—the Bible is filled with conflict, drama, and violence, and why not? It’s about us. But of course it’s not just about us, it’s about God’s relationship with us. And if that is the case, then our response to even the most lurid and violent passages in the Bible must always be a theological one: Where is God in this? Where indeed?

Herod Antipas was not the favorite son of Herod the Great. He wasn’t even the second favorite. He was passed over three times to be named the heir to the Herodian Kingdom. He was finally declared heir, only to have his father change his will at the last minute so that Junior became merely a tetrarch—ruler of a fourth of the kingdom, while his brothers and sister ruled portions of their own.

Herod’s ambition far exceeded his inheritance—he fought his father’s will all the way to the Emperor in Rome, more than once making the trip to lobby for full kingship and for greater territory. But to no avail. So…he did what any self-respecting petty despot would do; he married his sister-in-law Herodias, whose first husband Philip held a much larger portion to the east. Convenient.

Herod also fancied himself in the mold of his father; a builder of great things. Seeking to boost his reputation with the Jewish community, possibly because he wanted to be seen as their king in the tradition of David, he rebuilt the city of Sepphoris for them after the Romans destroyed it.  He also built a great resort capital on the Sea of Galilee named for his Roman patron, Tiberius, complete with a stadium, a palace, a sanctuary for prayer, and access to nearby warm springs at Emmaus. Lovely, except he built it on top of a graveyard, making it ritually impure for pious Jews, so for the first several years he had to colonize his capital with Gentiles. Oops.

In his desire to ingratiate himself with the Jews and the Romans at the same time, even as he continued to badger the emperor for more territory, we see a pretty clumsy and chaotic tetrarchy, led by a man whose chief focus in life was one thing: himself.

Enter John the Baptizer. Repent! Turn your life around! Turn to God! Rethink your priorities! Oh, and your marriage is unlawful.

And we know how the story unfolds from there. We see Herodias’ anger and John’s imprisonment. Then Herod’s birthday party; the dance, the stupid (drunken?) promise, the murder of a prophet. We watch, transfixed, as Salome bears the bloody platter to her stepfather. It is done. No going back.

There had been a glimmer of hope in the heavily-shadowed Herod:

“When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.”

We had hoped that John’s message might take root, but apparently, Herod’s interest was merely self-serving—just another example of hedging his bets and adding a prophet to his Rolodex of potentially profitable contacts. Either that or a case of ‘keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.’ Regardless, when it came down to it John’s message wasn’t as compelling as the approving smiles of Herod’s cronies as they watched him wave his hand in an ‘off with his head’ gesture.

Where, oh where in this debacle of hubris, ambition, and manipulation is God to be found? Where is God in this story in which self-interest and expediency win out over integrity and transformation? In the battle between power and truth, power has won; how is God manifest here?

God is in the dungeon with John. God is beside his friends as they bear his body to the tomb. God’s tender grace is with them in their grief. God is there because we can trust that God hears whenever the blood of the innocent cries out for justice in the face of those who would choose expediency and self-interest over compassion and truth.

You see, the powerful only seem to have won the day in this story. In its beginning and ending we hear a premonition–an echo of hope. Firstly, as Herod hears of Jesus’ deeds of power and wonders if John has come back from the dead. It’s a whisper of what will come; not for John, but for Jesus. And again, at the end of the story, the whisper takes on the hint of a melody as the final line foreshadows Good Friday and the inevitable trumpet shout of Resurrection:

“…they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.”

God is there, woven throughout. We can see it all if we look closely; we can hear it if we listen.

God is always in the Question—not just as we engage with Scripture, but as we walk in the world. God is always present when we ask, “Where is God in this?” Because when we ask, we are doing something existentially crucial to our identity as spiritual beings and as Christians: We are thinking theologically. 

According to scholar Karen Yust, it is easy for us to look at Herod’s decisions and see where he went wrong, and find God in the process, as we have just done. We already know the context—the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But it prompts a challenge for those of us who are outside of the story. How do we view our own decisions? Herod’s were bad-faith decisions—we can see that. We sometimes make them too—make choices out of self-interest rather than out of a sense of greater good.

Might it be that our need to be expedient and self-protective in our choices is a way of avoiding thinking deeply and theologically? What would the world look like if we asked, “Where is God in what I am doing or observing? What if we thought theologically as naturally as breathing?

It’s easy to do when in the presence of the beautiful, the good and the true. It is more difficult in the face of suffering and evil. But that is when it is most necessary and potentially transformational— when we find the beautiful, the good and the true in the darkness.

Steven Charleston, retired Bishop of Alaska, wrote about the boys trapped in the cave in Thailand:

“This long ordeal has made me think deeply about the meaning of rescue. To be lost in darkness, to be isolated, to be found: it seems the classic model of being brought back to life. But the one element made even more clear to me is the willingness to take the risk of rescue. Coming out of the cave takes courage, skill and trust. It takes teamwork. The spiritual metaphor we have been watching unfold in Thailand is a lesson to be learned as we pray these young lives to safety.”

Lost and found. Light and dark. Death and life. Emergence. Courage. Prayer. Trust.

These aren’t arcane theological terms. Thinking theologically doesn’t require special training. Simply ask the Question. Where is God in this event? This illness? This tragedy? This person? Ask. The mere act of seeking God is an act of finding, and being found—possibly even being rescued.



Bound Together

Pentecost 7 Year B Proper  8 July 2018

                                 A sermon from the Rev.  Linda Mackie Griggs

Mark 6:1-13

I’ve been thinking lately about fifty years ago. The events of the spring and summer of 1968 were like a kick in the gut for many in this country: Cold war with the Soviet Union; An unpopular hot war in Vietnam; Unrest and revolt in many cities, including at the Democratic Presidential Convention in Chicago; And the assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy—two figures who had embodied hope to those who cried for justice for the poor and marginalized. Imagine: Two “I remember where I was when….” events in the course of just three months. It was a scary time—no one knew what was coming next.

It’s not dissimilar to when the Evangelist wrote the Gospel of Mark—late in the first century. It was around the time of the Jewish Revolt of 66-69. Persecutions of Jewish Christians by the Romans. And the martyrdom of Apostles Paul and Peter—two figures who had embodied hope to those who cried for justice for the poor and marginalized. A kick in the gut. No one knew what was coming next.

Mark was writing to scared people. People who feared for the future. His message, meant to be read aloud in Christian communities, was urgent and powerful. Perhaps comforting would be to take it too far since the call to follow Jesus wasn’t a call to be comfortable, but it was hopeful. It told the Good News of Jesus the Messiah—come to change a broken world and bring hope to the downtrodden. It was a call to everyone to repent—to wake up—to renew their lives.

Good News for scared people in scary times. Today the Evangelist tells us a disturbing story: Jesus goes to his hometown and receives a dubious welcome. He begins to teach…he hasn’t gotten two words out before the neighbors interrupt: “Wait a minute! This can’t be little Jesus, from next door? I remember when he was just so high, helping Mary’s husband in the workshop—by the way, did you hear Joseph’s not his real dad?…”

And they took offense at him.

THEIR Messiah wouldn’t be just the kid from Podunk, Galilee. THEIR Messiah would be someone of more…what? Sophistication? Erudition? Not born out of wedlock? (Word gets around…)   Whatever it was, Jesus didn’t meet their expectations of what THEIR Messiah should be like.

Expectations. Anne Lamott says that expectations are resentments under construction. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

The thing is, Jesus can’t be parochialized. He can’t be made into something proprietary, someone who’s been narrowed down, domesticated into what we expect—whatever that is. The people of the time expected a king with a capital K—to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to her former glory. Many of the people of our time expect Jesus to be a personal guarantor of a ticket into the afterlife—Jesus as a personal savior of my soul. Both of these are narrow expectations.

Jesus is bigger than that. This is not to dismiss the intimacy of Jesus’ healing presence, as we saw in last week ’s powerful stories about the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging Woman. Jesus’ care and tenderness are seen throughout the Gospels and are a sustaining force in the lives of countless people. But as today’s story shows, that is just part of the picture, and if we seek to tether Jesus to our expectations of what we want him to be, there will be disappointment all around.

But Jesus shows us how to deal with disappointment. He moves on, and he sends his disciples out. Keep moving, he says.  Travel light. Remember you’re not alone.

He sends them out on short journeys—this is why they didn’t take a second tunic—the second one was used to double as a blanket if they spent the night on the road. Not taking an extra tunic, money or bread meant that they would be in fairly well-populated areas where they could rely on the hospitality of others. And if they were not welcome, move on and leave the rest to God.

This commissioning, according to scholar Ben Witherington III, is notable for a couple of things. First, note the fact that this is one of the few instances in this Gospel in which Jesus isn’t berating the disciples for not getting what he’s talking about. Perhaps this is because he has them doing something. There’s something comforting in thinking that maybe sometimes it’s okay to be better at doing the ministry than understanding it. Second, it is telling the hearers and readers of Mark’s Gospel that their survival as a community depends on evangelism and hospitality: Preach the Good News, using words if necessary, and get to know the people. The disciples were empowered by Jesus to exorcise and heal, and to call/challenge/invite everyone to turn their lives around—to live lives of compassion, justice, and care for the marginalized; to become part of the inbreaking of the Kingdom.

Jesus wasn’t about meeting anyone’s personal expectations. He was about transcending and confounding them. He was about realizing the Dream of God, and that meant letting go of what wasn’t working and getting back on the road. That’s what praying with your feet looks like.

The Evangelist wrote his Gospel for scared people, fighting despair and trying to make sense of their world. He wanted to offer a message of hope in trying times. He was calling them to follow Jesus on a challenging and deeply enriching journey of hard work, fellowship, and healing.

Jesus is still on the move. 68 AD, 1968, 2018–Jesus is still telling us to pray with our feet—but traveling light–carrying only enough righteous anger to give us courage to speak truth in love and to listen well.

I heard a song the other night at a 4th of July concerti, and the encore was powerful—as it began everyone recognized James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light”, which was a tribute to Dr. King; you could feel in the hush that fell that the audience was especially thirsty for a song of hope in a scary time:

…there are ties between us, all men and women living on the Earth. Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood, that we are bound together in our desire to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong.

We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead. We are bound and we are bound.

There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist

There is a hunger in the center of the chest

There is a passage through the darkness and the mist

And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest.




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