Liturgy of the Word for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, August 30, 2020

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This page is set up to enable you to participate in the Liturgy of The Word, during which you will hear the sermon in its natural liturgical context; or you can scroll down the page to hear the stand-alone sermon webcast accompanied by the written text.

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Order of Service for the Liturgy of the Word

The Liturgy of the Word begins on page 355 of the Book of Common Prayer or online Eucharist Rt II here.

Podcast produced by Christian Tulungen.

The Prelude: Fugue and Finale (Sonata VI) by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Steven Young, organ

Welcome: The Rev’d Mark Sutherland, Rector

The Introit: “Ave verum corpus” by Josquin des Prez (c1450-1521), The St. Martin Chapel Consort

The Greeting: Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and blessed be God’s Kingdom, now and for ever.

Hymn 401 “The God of Abraham praise,” The St. Martin Chapel Consort

1 The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days, and God of love;
the Lord, the great I AM, by earth and heaven confessed:
we bow and bless the sacred Name for ever blest.

5 The whole triumphant host give thanks to God on high;
“Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” they ever cry;
hail, Abraham’s Lord divine! With heaven our songs we raise;
all might and majesty are thine, and endless praise.

Collect for Purity

The Gloria S 280, The St. Martin Chapel Consort

The Collect of the Day:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The First Reading: Exodus 3:1-15, read by David Blake

Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, The St. Martin Chapel Consort

Refrain: Sing to the Lord, and remember the marvels he has done, hallelujah.

1 Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name; *
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
    and speak of all his marvelous works.
3 Glory in his holy Name; *
    let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
4 Search for the LORD and his strength; *
    continually seek his face.
5 Remember the marvels he has done, *
    his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6 O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
    O children of Jacob his chosen.
23 Israel came into Egypt, *
    and Jacob became a sojourner in the land of Ham.
24 The LORD made his people exceedingly fruitful; *
    he made them stronger than their enemies;
25 Whose heart he turned, so that they hated his people, *
    and dealt unjustly with his servants.
26 He sent Moses his servant, *
    and Aaron whom he had chosen.

Refrain

The Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21, read by Sammi Muther

Hymn 593 “Lord, make us servants of your peace” (v. 1-2), The St. Martin Chapel Consort

1 Lord, make us servants of your peace:
Where there is hate, may we sow love;
Where there is hurt, may we forgive;
Where there is strife, may we make one.

2 Where all is doubt, may we sow faith;
Where all is gloom, may we sow hope;
Where all is night, may we sow light;
Where all is tears, may we sow joy.

The Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28, proclaimed by Linda+

Hymn 593 (v. 4-5)

4 May we not look for love's return,
But seek to love unselfishly,
For in our giving we receive,
And in forgiving are forgiven.

5 Dying, we live, and are reborn
Through death's dark night to endless day;
Lord, make us servants of your peace,
To wake at last in heaven's light.

The Sermon: Mark+  A stand-alone sermon recording and full text also appear below on this page.

The Nicene Creed: We recite together. Please note italicized inclusive language changes.

We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father.
    Through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
        he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy Spirit
        he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
        and was made human.
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
        he suffered death and was buried.
        On the third day he rose again
            in accordance with the Scriptures;
        he ascended into heaven
            and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
        and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, God, the giver of life,
    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    With the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified
    and has spoken through the Prophets.

    We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
    We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
    We look for the resurrection of the dead,
        and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Anthem: “Let All Things Now Living” (text/arr. Katherine Kennicott Davis, 1892-1980), The St. Martin Chapel Consort

Let all things now living
A song of thanksgiving
To God the Creator triumphantly raise,
Who fashioned and made us,
Protected and stayed us,
Who guides us and leads to the end of our days.
God’s banners fly o’er us;
God’s light goes before us,
A pillar of fire shining forth in the night,
Till shadows have vanished
And darkness is banished,
A forward we travel from light into light.
 
His law he enforces
The stars in their courses,
The sun in his orbit obediently shine.
The hills and the mountains,
The rivers and fountains,
The deep of the ocean proclaim Him divine.
We too should be voicing our love and rejoicing;
With glad adoration and song let us raise,
Till all things now living
Unite in thanksgiving
To god in the highest,
Hosanna and praise!

The Prayers of the People: led by Linda+

The Lord’s Prayer, The St. Martin Chapel Consort

The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, 
we your unworthy servants
give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable
love in the redemption of the world
by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace,
and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such
an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts
we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you in
holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

The Peace

Hymn 48 “O day of radiant gladness” (vv. 1, 4), The St. Martin Chapel Consort

1 O day of radiant gladness, O day of joy and light,
O balm of care and sadness, most beautiful, most bright;
this day the high and lowly, through ages joined in tune,
sing "Holy, holy, holy" to the great God Triune.
 
4 That light our hope sustaining, we walk the pilgrim way,
at length our rest attaining, our endless Sabbath day.
We sing to thee our praises, O Father, Spirit, Son;
the Church her voice upraises to thee, blest Three in One.

The Final Blessing

The Postlude: All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” arr. Franklin D. Ashdown (b. 1942), Steven Young, organ

Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #M-400498. All rights reserved.


Stand-Alone Sermon Podcast:
Charlie Girl contemplating the cost of discipleship
Exploration of Matthew 16:21-38

I last preached on the readings for Pentecost 13 in 2016. The Lectionary repeats over a three-year cycle. Rereading my response then –

I am struck by how differently the experience of living in 2020 demands a different response.

In 2016 I preached on the Exodus reading variously playing with the themes – firstly, of experience in the place beyond the wilderness – a place where we encounter God because it is devoid of the usual signposts that insulate us with the familiar – and secondly, the pulsating, humming nature of the divine name – which in the nature of Hebrew – allows the meaning of the divine name to oscillate between I am, who I am, and I will be, who I will be – an oscillation between present-time reality and future-time potential.

These themes, important as they remain, seem somewhat abstract in the brutal rawness of the time we now find ourselves living through. My search for a more visceral response directs me to a continuation of the exploration begun by Linda+ a fortnight ago and continued by me last week of Matthew’s depiction of Jesus as the messiah.

How did Jesus come to the realization that he was the messiah? Most of us – if we think about it – labor under the impression that he always knew from a very early age that he was the messiah. Confident in this knowledge – revealed to him through his unique relationship with God – he then proceeds through the events of his life – knowing at each step of the way -the shape of the future.

Omniscience – all knowingness – is the quality we so admire in our superheroes. So much of the Tradition plays into this theme of Jesus as a 1st-century superhero who moves through his life like an actor playing the role of Son of God – fully aware at each stage of how the story will end. Of course, it’s easy for us to collude with this presentation of Jesus. Like him, we also are all knowing –

for we too know how the story will end – coloring the way we experience each event the life of Jesus of Nazareth -AKA (also known as) the Messiah.

Last week Jesus’ true identity is starkly revealed in Simon’s confession of him as the Son of God, the Messiah. In the audience, we at this point smile knowingly – aha we knew so! But on stage, the secret is out even though for some mysterious reason – for the time being it must remain secret.

Now the disciples know his true identity. Has Jesus always known it or has he step by step, discovered it? Well this is the question but more to the point why does it matter?

Events move forward to the pivotal point in Matthew’s story with Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain witnessed by Peter, James and John – and not to forget, by us as well.

It matters how Jesus comes to his realization as the messiah because it goes to the difference between Jesus as superhero actor – playing out the roll of messiah on the world stage – and the human Jesus who is like you and me is someone who is not all knowing –

and has instead to learn through experience what God wants of him -as he goes along.

In Matthew’s telling of the story we are now reaching the midpoint in Jesus’ ministry between his Galilean preaching and healing ministry and turning is face towards Jerusalem where like all good superheroes he knows what’s awaiting him.

In all stories the writer has an interpretation to be shared by the story’s hearers or readers. Matthew, writing after the fact – knows what Jesus’ prediction of this suffering, death, and resurrection at Jerusalem mean. For him it’s now historical fact.

But what if we read the story a little differently and see Jesus’ prediction not as an expression of his all knowingness, as in, now let me tell you all how this story ends – but as simply a prediction of probability? Living in this period of time, Jesus would have to have been extremely naive to think that his radical challenge to the status quo would go unanswered by a violent show of force. As we are currently uncomfortably aware, this is the response of all dictators or wannabe dictators to any kind of challenge or threat – let those who have ears to hear! Jesus was clearly a threat to the power structures within the Jerusalem beltway. He would have been deluded not to have had a pretty good idea of how – without a change of direction in his message -this was likely to end.

I want to invite us to reject our traditional interpretation of Jesus as superhero with special powers of all knowingness.

I want to invite us to reject our traditional interpretation of Jesus as superhero with special powers of all knowingness. I’m much more attracted to the interpretation – fully supported by a closer reading of Matthew chapters 15,16 and 17 – of Jesus learning along the way – of Jesus like all human beings – learning to piece together the fragments of his experience as he goes along – interpreting the future as the events of the present come to be better understood. This different reading of Matthew reveals that from his encounter with the woman in Sidon onwards, we clearly see Jesus coming to more fully understand what God wants of him.

As with Moses after his encounter with God in the burning bush – in the place beyond the wilderness – Jesus is coming to more fully understand and accept the mission God has for him.

For both Moses and Jesus – accepting God’s mission is a real challenge to their own constructed self-images – of who they might prefer to be  – that is if God had no other plans for them.

And here we come to the gist of Matthew 16:21-28. Acceptance of Jesus messiahship is not only a challenging task for him, but also for his followers. Simon’s OK with recognizing Jesus as messiah, but he’s definitely not up for going along with what this is going to mean for him and the rest of the band. His protest at Jesus’ prediction Lord forbid earns a sharp rebuke from Jesus to the effect of: wake up Simon and smell the roses -following me is not going to be a breeze.

Jesus spells out for the disciples what will be required of those who follow him. Eugene Peterson in his Bible translation known as The Message has an uncomfortable way of putting this when he has Jesus say:

Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat, I am. I am – get it? I am who I am/ I will be who I will be.

For most of us the NRSV translation:

If any want to become my follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me -

slips off the page – in one ear and out the other. That’s the problem with challenging words whose difficulty becomes smoothed over by our over familiarity with them.

Speaking personally, I’ve been struggling with what will it mean for me if I give up my self-help and accept self-sacrifice to – in the words of the Carrie Underwood song Let Jesus take the wheel?  

I am daily torn between gratitude and guilt. In the midst of the pandemic and its dire economic fallout – I and my family are well and financially stable. But it’s my very gratitude that is also the source of my guilt.  I and my family are well and financially stable when many people around us are at dire risk from the virus’ devastating effect on either their health or their livelihood – or both.

To this tension I can add a feeling of pervading anxiety. We all may be well and secure in my immediate family bubble but for how long? Although Al and I are likely to be OK, unless one of comes down with Coronavirus – as men we are in the dangerous age bracket. But what of the kids who like the vast majority of all Americans still in work are only one or two wage cycles away from financial peril.

The NRSV:

For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life 

becomes in The Message:

What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? 

I know in my heart of hearts that Jesus’ call to follow him requires more than I am comfortable giving.

What does the call to discipleship as Jesus spells it out in Matthew 16 mean for those of us who remain comfortably insulated at a time of unprecedented crisis for society and the planet? I don’t have an easily packaged answer and I suspect if I am honest – I’m not going to like the answer anyway. But what I do know is that I am deeply troubled by the question. I politely suggest we all should be. Amen


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Living into our Discipleship

Looking for the Spark

At Trinity Cathedral I want to identify three elements facing us on the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany. We have two difficult readings to contend with. Paul is writing to the Corinthians about internal divisions in the community and Matthew presents an image of being called to discipleship that seems so startling in its implications that the easy and safe response is to simply switch off and pretend we haven’t heard him. The third of our three elements concerns our Parish Annual Meeting, which we will hold immediately following the 10 A.M Eucharist. I feel compelled to link these seemingly disconnected elements.

In preparing to preach I like to read around on a website called TextWeek, out of Luther Seminary in St Paul, Minnesota. This is one site where I can discover the preaching chatter relating to the texts appointed for the coming Sunday. I use the word chatter because reading this website is often an overwhelming experience that leaves me longing for silence. Yet, the value of reading the chatter on TextWeek lies not so much to seeing what others are saying but in the way this process helps me to find the spark that triggers my own reflections on our experience of struggling to be the Body of Christ at the intersection of Roosevelt and Central in downtown Phoenix.

I found the spark I needed this week in Brian Stoffregan’s[1] reflections on once attending a workshop by Bill Easum entitled “Stuck” congregations. It seems that the characteristic of stuck congregations is a preoccupation with who’s in control. Easum notes three groupings. There are the Deciders who make all the decisions. Then there are the Doers who carry out the Deciders wishes. The third group he calls the Ignored. The Ignored don’t get asked to do anything because the Deciders usually don’t know who these people are.

This insight struck home for me because it immediately brought to mind a comment I frequently hear around the precincts of Trinity Cathedral. It goes like this: Father Mark, isn’t it wonderful we have so many new people coming, Sunday by Sunday – pause– but who are these people? Another version of this is: Father Mark, you know, I look around and these days I don’t recognize half the congregation.

What happens in a stuck congregation is that over time the Deciders experience more and more difficult in finding enough Doers to maintain the structures. Easum suggests the path to becoming unstuck is when the Doers become Dreamers. This is an alarming development for the Deciders who instinctively hate Dreamers because Dreamers begin to question. They begin to realize that there must be more to church than serving on committees and maintaining the structures of the institution. Dreamers stop being Doers and in the minds of the Deciders they become part of the ranks of the Ignored. The resulting crisis forces the Deciders into becoming Controllers.  Dreamers usually won’t confront Controllers with the result that Dreamers will eventually move-on. Interesting though Easum’s analysis is, in my experience the boundaries are more blurred with some Deciders also being significant Doers. 

Making Connections

This last week I sat down with a long-term member of Trinity to listen to concerns about a perceived lack of transparency in some recent decision-making. I had to acknowledge that because of the short time frame within which some matters relating to the budget for 2014 had to be decided, decisions made appropriately by the Finance Committee had not been communicated very well. I felt I needed to take responsibility for this lapse. As is often the case, lack of transparency is really a failure in communication, rather than a conspiracy of concealment.

As our conversation developed beyond the matters of immediate concern this parishioner began to reminisce about an earlier time at Trinity when the congregation, a fraction of our present size was able to make a significant impact on the life of the City in terms of its social outreach. It is clear to me that they achieved this because in those days the Deciders and the Doers were largely the same group.  Together they comprised a small but highly invested congregation.

What interests me about this period is that while a small remnant struggled to keep the lights on and the structures in working order, their priority was nevertheless focused on making a difference in the world around them. Social outreach through service brought their discipleship to life. It was the energy of discipleship, not the privileges and duties of membership, that resulted in an incredible sense of dedicated purpose that literally was able to move mountains. In those days, the Deciders were the Doers and the peripheral group referred to by Easum as the Ignored had not yet developed. 

Building Connections

Our rapid growth, more and more evident over the last five years, has changed the nature of the Trinity community. Our current context is one in which the Deciders and the Doers don’t always share the sense of commonality, as evidenced by the need for the conversation I reported having this last week.

I have no doubt that the number of Doers is shrinking, because they no longer enjoy the sense of investment that comes from also sharing in Decision making functions. Many decision-making functions once exercised by the Doers as Deciders have as a consequence of our rapid growth, needed to pass to a strengthening paid Staff group.

One of my priorities during our recent interregnum was to actively strengthen the development of a strong Staff decision-making function in order to ensure efficient operation as a growing organization. Yet, I am acutely conscious of the two edged nature of this sword of development. A growing gulf between Deciders and Doers and the huge increase in the Ignored, a section within the congregation who are neither Deciders nor Doers poses dangers that Paul is alerting the Corinthians to: namely dangers to our structural cohesion, our mutual affection for one another, and our unity in striving for what he calls being of the same mind and same purpose.

Being of the same mind and purpose does not mean an inability to tolerate differences between us. Ours is a tradition the privileges community strengthened through the embracing of difference and diversity. Paul is declaring that being of the same mind and some purpose is a consequence not, of an intolerance of difference, but as a consequence of our shared baptism.

Paul’s message comes as freshly to us as it did to his Corinthian readers because although the content of the issues may change the dynamics of human community remain dishearteningly the same. Like the Corinthian Christians we too struggle with being formed by the demands of a call to discipleship. Discipleship is a stage that takes us beyond the privileges and duties of merely membership. Our Discipleship, Paul asserts, results not from being good people becoming better people, but from being baptized into a new creation brought about through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

Where Trinity was once a small urban congregation famous for punching above our weight through the size of our discipleship footprint in the world, today we need to be alert to the paradox that our discipleship footprint in the world can also shrink  as a consequence of our growth in size.

Matthew’s depiction of the call of the disciples is startling and somewhat alarming if we take it seriously. I imagine that Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, James and John, the sons of Zebedee dropped their nets and followed Jesus because they experienced being called into an intimacy of relationship with the Lord that offered them meaning and purpose for life that far exceeded their wildest expectations. Do we not yearn for the same experience of intimacy of relationship promising us meaning and purpose beyond our cautious rational expectations? As I listened in conversation this last week, I caught the echo of such an experience that some here still, can remember.

Concluding Remarks

What I currently notice is a gradual replacement of traditional Doers by Dreamers. This is partly a transformation of Doers into Dreamers. It is in greater part a generational decline in the number of Doers, who are being replaced by Dreamers. This is an indication of the generational shift in emphasis. Younger generations are less interested in being good servants and more concerned with spiritual seeking. This poses our church a challenge as well as an opportunity.

The real challenge Trinity faces is the urgent need for our continued growth in numbers to translate into an invitation for more and more spiritual seekers to become Dreamers and through dreaming become open to Christ’s call to enter the community of discipleship. Otherwise newcomers to our community risk ending up relegated to Bill Easum’s category of the Ignored; spiritual observers who remain largely uninvolved in the community of discipleship. For me this is the significant issue facing our congregational life as we move into 2014.

2014 has been announced by the arrival of a new Dean. I invite us to view this as the beginning of a new phase dreaming ourselves into a community marked-out by the quality of our discipleship as followers of Christ.

To those among us who recognize ourselves as part of the Ignored, meaning the growing number of spiritual seekers who as yet remain only spiritual observers of our common life, we can take a step to participate in this process of dreaming ourselves into discipleship. We can remain for the Annual Meeting that will immediately follow the end of the 10 Am Eucharist. Here we can take one small step towards fashioning an vision capable of responding to the challenges, and embracing the opportunities, of our life together in the coming year.

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