The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Sermon, July 8, 2018, Proper 9, Year B[1]

May we be devoted to you with our whole heart and united to one another with pure affection through the grace of your holy spirit. Amen

 

In our readings for today we have three different events, with three different people using different leadership styles which represent who they are and where they come from. Let’s look at each leader and study the different leadership styles. We will look at the person his life, his spiritual life, and how the leader reacted in his role.

Let’s start with David who is the subject of the reading from II Samuel. It is believed that David was born in Bethlehem and was the youngest son of Jesse his father. It is said of David “The Lord his God was with him.” We all know the story of David slaying Goliath. David became friends with Saul who was the first king of the Israelites. God, who had forbidden a kingship for the Israelites, insisted that He, God would serve that function for them. But the people objected and insisted on a king. Saul was a troubled man, but David was able to calm him with sweet melodies played upon a lyre and beautiful psalms which David wrote. Saul sinned against the Lord and eventually descended into madness and killed himself following a defeat in battle. David is selected king and anointed by the leaders of the Israelites. “God told David “You will shepherd my people Israel and you’ll be the prince.” David’s leadership is primarily military and he leads the army to conquest after conquest as he unites Israel into one nation (Freedman, David. Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible).

David wants to build a temple to honor God and to house the ark of the Covenant which he has brought to Jerusalem, but God tells him no, because he has too much blood on his hands. David ruled Israel for 40 years and established the house of David out of which Jesus will be born as the Messiah. “the Lord his God was with him” (ibid).

David demonstrated how we are all able to do great deeds through the power of the Holy spirit. It is a good reminder that as we seek a new rector, we need to ask many times for the Spirit’s leading and wisdom as David did in his life.

David’s spirituality is deeply imbedded in the Psalms that he wrote. In reviewing the first 75 Psalms for themes, we find David asked for God’s protection because of his enemies 15 times. Eight times he sang God’s praises, In seven Psalms he asked God to punish the ungodly. In other themes he writes about what God expects of us, and he acknowledges his own sins and failures. One of his most beautiful Psalms is Psalm eight where he proclaims: “O Lord our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” In Psalm 19 he writes “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

David’s spiritual life can be characterized by a deep, meaningful and obedient relationship with God. His leadership was mostly military as he sought to unite the Kingdom of Israel. He was beloved by his people though not without his enemies. He was king over Israel for 40 years and established a dynasty out of which the Messiah would be born.

 

Paul, the author of our second reading was born in Tarsus and raised a Jew; a member of the tribe of Benjamin, and an observant Jew. We all know his story, how he persecuted the new cult of Christianity; he was standing by the stoning of Stephen encouraging the event. He experienced a dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him and asked him why are you persecuting me. Paul became a disciple of Jesus and began to preach about him over most of the known world during his three missionary journeys. When I was in college I had to memorize all the stops on these journeys. Today I think I’m lucky to remember that there were three of them, let alone where he went!

He established churches wherever he went and maintained his leadership through letters and visits. Much of what he wrote about were discussions of the problems which arose in each of the churches. His letters contained warm greetings, practical advice or household rules, corrections about heresies, and a reminder to live the Christian life of love of one another.

Paul had no official role with the churches he founded; he was not a bishop, presbyter or deacon (had to get deacon in there). His leadership depended on his relationships with the churches and was strong, pastoral, intellectually sound, and personal. Paul was not a systematic theologian; he developed a theological perspective throughout his life; a life deeply rooted in the belief of a Messiah, one God, Creator, and Redeemer; all basic concepts of Judaism. His writings included references to the Holy Spirit as the source of strength for the Christian life.

His spirituality can be characterized by the putting on of Christ, being baptized in Christ, being one in Christ. His faith was a mystical acceptance of Christ as the Son of God who came to redeem us. He had a thorn in his flesh which is never known for what it really was. Three times he asked God to take it away, but God said no. God said to him: “My Grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness (II Cor. 12. The Message). Paul says: …It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness…I just let Christ take over! And so, the weaker I get, the stronger I become (ibid).

To me this is one of the greatest truths of the Christian life, our strength comes from our relationship with Christ. It’s so easy to forget this when we are in the middle of a crisis. The comfort in knowing that God is always present, always available, always the one who cares the most for us is our greatest gift.

Now we come to our beloved leader, Savior, giver of eternal life, the fully human and fully divine Jesus. His birth had been predicted throughout the Old Testament. But what the Old Testament said about him and what the people expected which was a military leader who would free the people from Roman rule, were two very different kinds of leaders. Instead he came to teach us about who God is because if we could see who Jesus is, we would know about the Father, too. He came to sacrifice his life for our salvation, being the perfect sacrifice because he was without sin.

What was his leadership style? He used words and deeds, knowledge and authority. He preached and taught using parables, metaphors which could be understood by his listeners; and performed miracles out of his compassion for the people. He was precocious even as a child; addressing learned scholars of the law. He had authority, healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Baptized by John the Baptist, he was an itinerant preacher who gathered disciples and followers throughout his short life. His mission was one of inclusion instead of exclusion, love rather than obedience to the 613 laws that characterized the Jewish faith of the time. He delegated when he sent his disciples two by two to do what he did in the surrounding towns as we learned in today’s reading.

He is the personification of the spiritual leader.

His spiritual life is the finest model for a faithful life in God. He called us to repentance and to live lives that are in obedience to God’s commands. He stayed in constant contact with His Father. He spoke the truth and stayed focused on his goal of helping people to know who God is. He called upon people to give up everything and to follow him and to give our possessions to the poor. The last will be first and the first last, upsetting the natural order. We are to stay focused on the Kingdom and not on material possessions.

We have taken a very fast trip through the leadership styles of three prominent leaders from our readings today. In truth, there is so much here that it could be the basis of a series of sermons. Their spiritual relationships with the Lord is the most powerful part of each story.

 May the Lord enlighten our hearts as we all pursue our service in his name and lead with the love of Christ in our hearts.

AMEN


[1] 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

   Psalm 48

   2 Corinthians 12:2-10

   Mark 6:1-13

Sermon, Proper 24, Year B, October 21,2018
The Reverend Dr Judith Krom 

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Our Scripture readings today are hard to hear, especially the reading from Isaiah. What is wanted from us in this green season is usually found in the purple season of Lent. It raises the question of why is a Good Friday reading showing up in October? It is half-way between Good Friday and this month of October. Maybe that’s why. We need to be reminded of the sacrifice made on our behalf by the Son of God; the pain he endured because of our sins and why he did had to endure it. To accept that one person, the Son of God, took all our pain, our sin, disfigurements, all of what is sinful about us; it’s not a popular view.

Our brothers and sisters who are Jewish observed Yom Kippur, on September 19 of this year. It is a day of fasting, forgiveness, and atonement for one’s sins of the past year. Many Jews spend most of the day in Temple. The origins of this practice can be found in Leviticus 16 and 23. In ancient times, the High Priest would see to the sacrifice of a bull and a goat and the scattering of the blood in the Holy of Holies. This was the innermost part of the temple where only the High Priest could go, and only on the Day of Atonement.  He would take a second goat, lead it outside the temple, and laying his hands on the head of the goat, he laid all the sins of his people on the goat and sent it out into the desert.

But this only worked year by year. What was needed was a permanent sacrifice, a once and for all sacrifice.

Jesus, as the perfect Son of God, was the perfect sacrifice because he was without sin, and as it says in Isaiah: “He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we are healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him” (Jesus). (The Message)

Unlike the ancient form of Yom Kippur which involved animal sacrifice, Jesus’ sacrifice was a willing one – as he said: “Not my will but thy will” (Luke 22:42). It was, and is, at once and for ever a sacrifice which never needs to be repeated.

Does that mean we are always forgiven whether we need to ask or not? Yes and no! How’s that for a good Sunday morning waffle? Want some maple syrup? Yes, we are forgiven for everything except the sin against the Holy Spirit by which is meant we basically deny the efficacy of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, blaspheming the Holy Spirit is essentially the sin of rejecting Christ. Somehow, I don’t think of any of us here today are guilty of this sin or we probably wouldn’t be here!

Yes, we are forgiven and aren’t we grateful for that! However, there is this matter of being called to live our lives in accordance with the example of our Savior. Can we do it? I am sure there are people who come much closer than I do. Let me tell you about the Ellenbergers.

I first knew them through Alliance Seminary, which was located on the Nyack College campus. They had been missionaries in New Guinea among tribes without a written language and had returned to the US to teach at the Seminary. John was the teacher and Helen was a nurse. I knew them because of an incident involving an issue of demon possession with a psychiatric patient. They were, and I am sure they still are two of the most loving, holy, and truly Christian people I have ever known. When John retired from the Seminary they returned to New Guinea to translate the Bible into the language of the people with whom they worked. Now in their 80’s they are still in New Guinea and have accomplished their goal of the translation of the Bible into a language which it had not been translated into before this time. I freely admit that I could not do what they have done. They did not stay in the New Guinea Hilton, they did not eat in 5* restaurants, if there are any! I am in awe of them. If I were to tell them how I feel about them today they would gently urge me to not think of them in that way. They would tell me that God is the reason why they have done what they have done. It’s not of their own power.

None of us is perfect; as the saying goes, only God is perfect. Have you broken any of the ten commandments lately? I don’t know why but driving of the Garden State Parkway seems to make me break at least one, or two or…. Maybe it’s those prophets of Baal who are still after me on the GSP. I say none of us are perfect. I hope I haven’t shocked anyone with that statement. Each of us needs to ask for forgiveness for our less than holy deeds, words and thoughts.

This brings us back to looking at ourselves. Are we living the life which honors our Lord? How about loving our neighbors as we love our selves broadly defined as Jesus defined it in the parable of the Good Samaritan? Are we showing to others the mercy he showed to us? As we reminded in our reading from the Gospel according to Mark: “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve not to be served – and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage” (The Message, Mark 10:41-46).

It is hard to think about loving everyone, loving the unlovely, loving those who do not love us or even like us. One exercise to engage in is to examine our own prejudices.

Do we believe all blacks are lazy welfare queens or fill in the blank? Do we believe all Mexicans are rapists?

Do we believe all Jews are money hungry?  

Do we believe all poor people are poor because they are too lazy to go to work?

Can all people of a certain group be characterized by a negative image? Is it wrong to think of people like that? All these people are humans, created by God, just as you and I have been. Is it dishonoring to God’s mercy to think of people in groups and attribute negative characteristics to them? I think so. What do you think? Is it a sin therefore, and should we be asking God for the forgiveness of our sin and make a promise to remove from our minds and hearts the negative characterizations of various groups of people? I think so.

That raises the question, how do I do this? It’s a good question. I have three suggestions. First, tell God what you are trying to do and ask him to help you. He’ll be so pleased that you will have plenty of help. Second, learn as much as you can about the group you have negative thoughts about. Go to good ole’ Google and Wikipedia and read up on the history and data on any group you choose. There are lots of books available that will give you a lot of information, too. A recent novel called The Underground Railroad, and though it is fiction, there is much in the novel that is truth. Another book that comes to mind is Blaming the Victim which though it was written 40 years ago still has a vital message. Third, figure out a way to rid your mind of those thoughts when they come up. What works for me is to say to myself “I don’t want to think like this anymore,” or, “I don’t believe this anymore,” or pray to ask God to remove these thoughts.

I know this sermon is full of very hard questions, ideas, and challenges. I hope you will see it for what it’s meant to be which is to get us thinking about how God’s love extends to all of humankind. It is good to change our minds about loving one another and all of God’s creations.

AMEN


  

Sermon, Year B, Proper 18, September 9, 2018[1]

Rev. Dr Judith Krom, Preacher

In your love, dear Lord, help to see the needs of our neighbors and serve you in serving them. Amen

 

Toward the end of the reading from James there is a phase that really caught my eye. It reads “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

I am\was the firstborn child of very strict parents. My mother’s favorite word was no and my father, although more liberal than my mother, still was very strict. If I had known about this verse “Mercy triumphs over judgment” I might have, like Martin Luther posting his theses on the cathedral door, posted “Mercy triumphs over judgment” on my door. Can’t you see it now? The consequences of questioning parental judgment. I would have been in such trouble!


[1] Isaiah 35:4-7

   James 2:1-17

   Mark 7:24-37


​Later in life when I was a Dean at a New Jersey University, I observed the so-called appeals committee which seemed to turn down every appeal it received. I decided to become a member of the Committee to see if my perception was true. As I attended meetings I realized my perception was true. Almost all appeals were turned down. I started to quote the verse in Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy not sacrifice.” The other committee members thought I was nuts and wanted to know why I quoted Hosea, although they didn’t know it came from Hosea. I explained what I observed that almost no one had their appeal upheld and why have the committee in the first place if everyone’s request was going to be turned down. There was a bit of an uproar, questioning the accuracy of my comments. I pointed out to them that during this meeting, we had reviewed 10 appeals and not one had been granted.

I think of these two verses when I read or hear people complaining about immigrants or people of color or people who are different from us. What if we said to ourselves “Mercy triumphs over judgment?” Would this change our views about immigrants, people of color, people who are poor, people who are different from us?

Let’s explore this a little more...

Was Jesus showing mercy to the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter? Syrophoenicians were inhabitants of Phoenicia when it was part of the Roman province of Syria. If you are like me, you were probably shocked by what Jesus said to the woman. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Is this our sweet Jesus speaking? Calling this woman a dog? Let’s look at the background of this story. Jesus understood his ministry to be to the Jews. He was the Messiah, whose arrival was predicted throughout the Old Testament, especially in Isaiah.

The Syrophoenician woman was a Gentile, not a Jew. She had a quick wit and answered Jesus that even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the children’s table. If you have ever been around children when they eat, you know the wisdom of the dogs. The woman is saying that everyone can benefit from Jesus’ ministry. Jesus, in His mercy healed the woman’s daughter while praising her response.

 

Mercy is a theme to ponder. The word mercy appears 310 times in the Bible and is defined as a love that responds to human need, love and forgiveness, compassion, “mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psalm 85), God’s mercy endures forever (Psalm 136). Jesus tells his disciples to understand the meaning of the phrase: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). To model Jesus is to offer mercy, to be driven by mercy as a motive for our behavior.

There is another healing event in this Gospel reading. Jesus has come to the vicinity of Tyre where the healing of the woman’s daughter takes place. Then Jesus leaves Tyre and returns to Galilee. He is brought a man who cannot hear or speak; and he is asked to heal the man and Jesus heals him. Here we hear the echo of our Old Testament reading: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the death unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy” (Is.35:4).

“These two healing stories have much in common. Both episodes take place in Gentile territory. Jesus gives attention and care to persons beyond his own ethnic group. In this action he challenges us to reach beyond the ethnic sameness of our own congregations, to worship and minister with persons who are difference from ourselves. Jesus’ ministry affirms and anticipates the church’s need to share God’s gifts of grace, peace, and healing with all people” (Feasting on the Word. Year B. Vol. 4, pgs. 45-46).

 

These two stories show us by example how we are to behave when presented with forgotten, needy, and unloved people. It is the love of Christ that pours through us to them. We may have to work through our resistance as perhaps Jesus did, but what is important is not the resistance, it is our willingness to work through it and follow Christ’s example of merciful caring.

The Gospel reading and the Epistle reading and even the Old Testament reading are tied together through the theme of mercy. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. And who is our neighbor? The story of the Good Samaritan answers that question. Our neighbor is anyone who needs our help.

In the Message there is a translation from our reading from James 2:14-17, “For instance if you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, ’Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!’ and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup-where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”

I’d like to tell you what a colleague of mine with whom I worked at Rockland Community College told me, a true story lived out by him and his family. He lived in a local town near the college with his wife and five children. His neighbors were very religious Christians and were always inquiring about taking he and his family to church. He became very ill and was sick for a long time. His benefits ran out and the family struggled to pay their mortgage and feed themselves. Whenever the next-door neighbors would see him. They would always ask whether he had become a Christian yet, but they never offered to help, to provide meals, money, or even babysit so mom could go to the hospital and visit her husband. This story made me so sad and while hearing it, I came to understand more about what mercy means, what loving your neighbor as yourself means, what faith in action or faith without works is dead means. He recovered from his illness, but he was very soured on Christianity.

We could even ask more global questions about medical practices in the US. Sad to say, but there still is a system of second class care for the poor in this county, although this is something that the insurance program of our former president tried to reform. I don’t want to get away from the main message of our readings, though. Mercy is an individual awakening, but it also is a local awakening as my story about the Appeals Committee demonstrates. It is also a witness to Christ’s love in and for the world as an earlier story illustrates. Let the love of Christ pour out from us in good works and rejoice in the results of God’s love throughout our community.

AMEN