Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12, 2018
Year B, Proper 14: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
This past Friday evening, I had the pleasure to cover myself in bug spray and listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter with several of the Beckford Parish ladies out at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival. Of course, the Music Festival is lovely, but where does it happen? – on the beautiful grounds of our very own Episcopal retreat and conference center, Shrine Mont. One thousand acres of God’s glory.
There’s actually something very special that happens at Shrine Mont. I’ve had the opportunity now to celebrate Eucharist several times and be a chaplain for the music and drama camp for a week. I watched as teens and counselors worked together and became one community, the body of Christ. This was Christian community taking shape. Connections were made. The teens had an opportunity to explore the stories from the Bible and share what they meant to them with each other through drama and music. As an adult, I was in awe of their understanding of Jesus’ message of love, and I know the other adults were, too.
The apostle Paul is almost always telling some community in first century Palestine about how to be the Body of Christ, that is, be a Christian Community.
Today, I would like to look into what is being said by Paul to the Ephesians. Here Paul is talking about anger. He’s telling us how we can live a better life. For the Christian community at Ephesus, there was the concern that the Gentile converts would backslide and return to their “pagan ways.” But Paul is giving his whole congregation some practical teaching.
Paul’s advice: put away anger and speak truth to our neighbors; not go to bed angry; have an honest livelihood where people can give to those who are in need; get rid of anger, malice, wrangling, slander. Replace those things with being kind and loving to others, forgive others and live like Jesus. It’s great practical teaching. Sounds easy, right? I wish it were that easy…We have to work at this – everyday. But, I believe that as all things with God – all things are possible.
Imagine for a moment how different our lives would be if there were less anger in our world, in our hearts. Paul’s heart would break at the announcement that Christ Church Charlottesville had to make with respect to today’s services:
As you know, August 12th falls on a Sunday this year. That has necessitated extra attentiveness on our part to make sure that we are being prudent and careful in our faith-filled planning. After meetings with staff, Usher Captains, clergy, the City Manager’s office, and the Charlottesville Police Dept., the Vestry voted to close our buildings for August 12th. Besides the logistical concerns, there are genuine safety issues that could endanger our members. Therefore, no services will be held at Christ Church on August 12th. We believe that it is the role of the church on that day, as it is on all days, to gather together as the body of Christ in prayer and worship to proclaim the good news of the gospel and the absolution of sins.
It was a wise, prudent decision and I’m glad it’s not one that I or either of our vestries had to make. What saddens me is the hatred and anger that precipitated last year’s events. The death that occurred. The fact that the there are genuine safety issues that endanger Christ Church members. So instead of meeting at their own church building today, they will worship with other Christians in another place as the body of Christ.
What I’m about to say may be a bit challenging and provocative.
I can’t – you can’t – nobody can – do or say what we want, especially in anger. What Paul is saying, what I will say – as Christians we cannot always have things our way. We must seek God’s way, God’s will. We must strive to be “imitators of God in all that we do”.
If we do that authentically, looked at our lives not just in the vacuum of our own selves, but in the context of the Christian life, imagine how our lives would change.
There is no doubt that we would be better Christian neighbors. Our time and energy shift from negativity and looking inwardly to that of wanting to be with others, wanting to love others, and then receiving the revealed love of God that the others have as they love their neighbors (as they love us). The Christian community is strengthened then and little bit of God’s kingdom has come.
As Christians, we are to live in community with one another. All of us are “in this together” and every Christian has a job, or responsibility, to help bring God’s kingdom here.
There are so many kinds of Christian community. Beckford Parish – Shrine Mont – Christ Church, Charlottesville – a yearly pilgrimage to Hayneville, Alabama.
Wait. What? In Hayneville, AL a community of Episcopalians comes together on a Saturday in mid-August every year to commemorate the martyrdom of Jonathan Myrick Daniels. The Episcopal Church commemorates the death of Jonathan Myrick Daniels on August 14.
Jonathan Daniels was an Episcopal seminarian who was murdered in Hayneville on August 14, 1965. He was born in New Hampshire, graduated not too far from here from Virginia Military Institute at the top of his class, and began his seminary career at The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While at seminary, his call to ministry came into sharper focus, especially after hearing the call from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for white clergy to come to the South to help with voter registration efforts.
While in Alabama, Daniels and others were arrested and subsequently jailed in deplorable conditions. Upon an unexpected release, the group found themselves on the steps of the old Cash Store trying to purchase something to drink. A lone white man approached the group and pointed a 12-gauge shotgun at a young black girl. Daniels pushed her to the ground and took the blast.
More than fifty years have passed since Jonathan Daniels’ death. What did Jonathan Daniels’ die for?
What he did not die for was anger, hatred, and bigotry. Even in the face of danger, he lived as a Christian who spoke truth in love to his neighbors; who worked to end anger, malice, slander, etc in his life and in others; who loved his neighbors, to the very end; and who fed on the living bread that came down from heaven.
In his address to his fellow graduating seniors at VMI, Jonathan Daniels hoped that they all would find “The joy of a purpose sent life.” More than forty years before the “purpose driven life”, Jonathan Daniels knew about the purpose sent or the purposeful life. In his short life, I believe he did just that. He lived with joy and purpose. He did precisely what Jesus would have done in giving up his life for another.
But people cannot have that joy of a purpose-sent life when they are busy holding grudges, hating their neighbors, having that anger, malice, wrangling, and slander that Paul mentions.
They can find glimpses of that joy when they, indeed when we, are in communion with Christ, being part of the Body of Christ. When we love and forgive others, seek to imitate God through Christ, our lives become offerings to God.
Can we imitate God in everything we do? Perhaps in remembering that we are children of the light, we are beloved children of God, remembering that Jesus gave us his body and blood in Holy Communion and again declares his love for us and promises that his forgiveness is generous, extravagant and complete.
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