Sunday Sermon

8 Pentecost 2018 

Year B, Proper 10, RCL

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

The Collect

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

MARKED WITH HIS SEAL

     One of the things we don’t often talk about are the Spiritual Gifts.  I have been looking for a way to talk about them that doesn’t connect with the unpleasant experience people can have of Pentecostal religion.  I think it is a real shame not to talk about something as important to ministry as the blessings and gifts God showers on us every day.  So, I will talk about them in the context of the way I use them every day in my ministry.

     In the lessons today, we hear about God’s power manifest in the human community.  In the first lesson that power is invited by King David and his court back into the community of Israel in the form of the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark contained powerful symbols of Israel’s covenant relationship with God, the tablets of the Law and manna.  The Ark was guarded by God’s almighty power which came to rest on the wings of the Seraphim that faced one another across the top of the Ark.  A cloud covered the tent when God was present. The Ark of the Covenant was stolen by the Philistines during the 29th year of King Saul’s reign.  It signaled the power of God withdrawing from the community of God’s people.  You will remember that God rejected King Saul and the Prophet Samuel anointed David.  The theft of the Ark caused so much illness among the Philistines that they dropped it off at the border 7 mos. later.  Initially Israelites paid the proper respect to the Ark until some became curious enough to open it, loosing tragedy and disease in the community. It was finally installed in Abinadab’s house and cared for by people who knew what they were doing.  David restored the Ark to its place of prominence among the people of Israel with great rejoicing.  God’s presence is felt in the Old Testament in the covenant relationship, the prophets and the Ark.

       In the reading from Ephesians God’s power is distributed in the community through the grace of God.  The Spiritual Gifts come to us as our inheritance because we are adopted children of God.  In the gospel there is a discussion of where Jesus’ power comes from.  The Ephesians reading would lead me to believe that his power is his inheritance as God’s Son.  Many opinions existed about the source of his power based on tradition and prophecy.  Some theorized that Jesus received his power upon the death of John the Baptist (the prophet Elijah passed his power to Elisha in 1Kings 19).  Jesus could be a prophet, but prophets were not generally or principally healers, though Elijah did raise the son of the Widow of Zarephath (1Kings 17).  Herod’s guilty conscience made Jesus into John the Baptist raised from the dead.  The secret of Jesus’ identity in Mark puts a spin on the story with demons, holy men and kings asking, “Who is he?” It drives the story right up to the declaration of the Centurion after Jesus died on the cross, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”  The gospel of Mark identified Jesus as the Son of God.  His power passed through his relationship with God.

     I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter all the plans I had for her.  I wanted her to have every good thing, a life full of love and happiness.  When I was reading in Ephesians about the dreams of God for us, I remembered that time of being pregnant out to here, dreaming dreams for my little girl. God’s dream for us is outlined in the Ephesians reading.  God showers us with blessings of every kind including forgiveness and mercy, filling us with the Spiritual Gifts.  God marks us at our Baptism as Christ’s own forever with the Seal of the Holy Spirit. That seal identifies us as inheritors of the Kingdom of God.  God’s goodness, grace and mercy towards us come to us as our inheritance.  We are his adopted Sons and Daughters.  Blessings and gifts flow through that relationship.

      I have been privileged to Baptize a few people.  I love being a part of that ritual cleansing in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, sealing the Baptized with the Holy Spirit in holy oil.  I imagine that seal pressed onto their foreheads, glowing with the promise of all that we inherit as God’s children.  We are destined by God for love and goodness.  Think of this sacrament as a parallel to King David bringing the Ark back into the community of Israel.  A covenant and a commitment are made in Baptism that brings God into the center of a life.  What is received at Baptism may lie dormant for quite some time before we are ready to make a mature commitment to God at which time the blessings conferred at Baptism may become active and we may experience the forgiveness and all the gifts destined for God’s children.

      Most of my inheritance from Mom went to her nursing care in her final years, but I received a nice inheritance from my Brother Don that restored my life savings lost in my last move.  I never looked to get anything from Mom, and I expected Don to outlive me.  Inheriting something good came as a pleasant surprise after I got over the shock of losing my younger brother.  I don’t think it any accident that the word inheritance is used in Ephesians.  It means that what is coming to us through inheritance is ours by right of adoption into God’s family.  The spiritual gifts are our inheritance.

     How many of you own the spiritual gifts? Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, interpretation of tongues.  Do you think of them as belonging to you by right?  I admit I haven’t thought of them that way for most of my life.  The Ephesians lesson invites me to think of the Spiritual Gifts and graces as my due, as my legal inheritance from God’s family.  Think of these gifts like body type, eye and hair color or IQ. I always thought of the Spiritual Gifts as being given for good behavior.  That is the way things work in this world—quid pro quo. It is not the way things work in the Kingdom of God.  God generally leads with forgiveness, mercy and the spiritual gifts to bring us into relationship. They are given to encourage good behavior and to help it along—as and before they are needed and not after we have earned them.  I Cor. 12: 1-11 tells us that spiritual gifts are activated by the Spirit as the Spirit chooses for the common good.  All of us in here have work that we do in the community.  The gifts are here to help us.

      I know that I am not the only person in this room who had no idea what these gifts meant, their value for ministry or even what they looked like when I started in ministry.  I have been thinking about and doing pastoral ministry since 1978. By the time I was ordained I had been pastoring in the Churches I attended for 20 years.   

     It is part of my job to acquaint you with these gifts, so that you know what to look for and can recognize them when they appear.  I expect them to be helping any time I am actively involved in ministry.  The one I use most often is interpretation of tongues. As I listen to people tell me about their concerns, I listen acutely on several levels for what is going on, for where the hurt is coming from.  As I do the gifts come to help me.  Connections are made that are not logical deductions, and I ask about them.  When the observations are close to the mark people generally tell me.  I don’t just use this gift at the Church.  Any time I need to listen closely and respond thoughtfully those gifts are there to help.  I allow the conversation to stream by and catch what information the Spirit has for me in the net of the spiritual gifts.  I always check those insights with the people I serve. 

     Even though I’m relying on interpretation of tongues constantly, a word of knowledge may come.  I can usually tell by the response of the person who is telling their story. They are struggling trying to tell me something, and then suddenly they have a moment of clarity. They have received a word of knowledge from me or as we invited Jesus into the conversation.  I believe I rely on wisdom most often for the sermon. Pastoral conversations require compassion more often than they do wisdom.  Wisdom and understanding help me to connect the symbolic and conceptual world of the Bible with the world we live in. When this happens, someone will usually tell me that they heard something they needed to hear in the sermon.  We often think of the gift of healing as fixing something that is broken or sick, but the gift of healing I most often exercise is that of walking together with people.  

      This grace is ably described in Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well in the gospel of John chapter 4.  He was casting the net of the spiritual gifts continually throughout that story to make a connection with that woman and through her with her community.  Through that connection healing will come in time as she understands that the gift of forgiveness Jesus is offering her is real and originates from the Father of us all.  It is not enough for Jesus to forgive her or for her to forgive herself.  The linchpin of forgiveness is that the God who is her Judge has forgiven her.  That is a complex result that needs time to develop.  Jesus was able to make this happen in a few meetings.  He communicated God’s love and forgiveness to others so perfectly that healing followed quickly.    

     Jesus was able to communicate the love of the Father better than anyone before or since.  Miracles, I believe, flow from that communication.  I love the loaves and fishes story.  I have identified a similar miracle that happens here every year when we just barely make our budget balance, sort of, for another year.  As far as I’m concerned, it is a loaves and fishes budget.  How our limited funds manage to cover all that they do amazes me all the time.  It is a miracle that happens right here every year before your very eyes.  For some reason you don’t see it.  Maybe barely making it is not your idea of success.  You want to see flourishing.  Well I would like that too.  We have been suffering a severe drought of faith which caused a crabby attitude in our incredible, shrinking Church.  How many people do you suppose are attracted to a crabby community?  We have been steadily leaving attitude behind us as our faith has been growing.  I expect that our numbers will grow right along with our faith.  It’s just the way these things happen.  

      Faithful people tend to be positive because they believe that God loves them.  When we know that God loves us, every irritating little thing is just that—an irritating little thing, and not the apocalypse. The positive attitude of faithful people is not a sham.  When we believe that God loves us every problem sets us up to receive the many graces and gifts of God to help us deal with them. We will always have all we need right here, right now in the love of God.  

      Faith, prophecy and discernment of spirits.  You can see Jesus exercising prophecy and discernment of spirits time and again in Scripture.  Those gifts seem to work well together.  You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.  To Nathaniel--I saw you under the fig tree.  Jesus discerned that Nate was a man of prayer and would make a disciple.  The Samaritan woman said that he told her all she had ever done.  He felt the power leave him when the woman with the hemorrhage touched him.  That power went out because God knew her spirit and the gift of healing flowed to her through Jesus.  Faith is a tough one because it doesn’t generally mean what we think we mean by the Word.  It is not blind devotion to a person or an idea or even a community.  Faith is invested in the living God.  I believe that God loves me, forgives me, adopts me, wants me to thrive.  God will give me what I need wherever God finds me, helping me to gain ground until I am thriving.  The positive attitude of faithful people comes from the experience of thriving.

     God’s commitment to us is one of the singular and most amazing themes of the Bible.  Why would God bind Godself to us with promises?  Jesus made God’s commitment even more plain.  God so loved the world, John 3:16, that he sent his only begotten Son.  God’s adoption of us laid out in Ephesians is another sign of that commitment, as are God’s many graces and the Spiritual Gifts.  We can so thoroughly focus on what’s wrong with the world or the church or our jobs or our families and friends that we can completely miss the great stuff that is happening here all the time.  I am looking for those Spiritual Gifts every time I am here, relying on them to lead me through the tough parts of ministry and to restore me when I am discouraged and just beat down.  Two surgeries within 1 year is nuts, plain and simple.  I am weary of the pain, and I know it comes from the short time between surgeries.  I felt caught in a continuous loop of pain. I have been praying to pull out of that negative feedback. I choose to live joyfully.  I know that it is possible, and I want it for myself and those I love.        

     The identity of Jesus makes a big theme in Mark.  Everyone asks the question, “Who is he?” The question goes around and around because no one accepts the obvious answer.  The power of God that is evident in Jesus must be explained. The power of God that continues in the Christian community is explained in the Ephesians lesson for today. I see it at work every time we gather because I need those gifts, call on them all the time and use them every day.  For me they are real and powerful.  We are the Children of God.  They are our inheritance.

Sermon for 8 Pentecost 2018 by the Rev. Deborah T. Rankin