September 30, 2018
The 19th Sunday After Pentecost
All Saints’ Church
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
I have been looking forward to a time to do the Sunday homily here. We have heard much from our rector, we have heard from our newly ordained Julia Offinger, we have heard from Deacon Jennifer, we have heard from our theological students Carl and Chris. We have even heard from some of you our regular membership giving witness to the faith that is in those of you in pews. I will hope to add to all of that grand tradition. So now, I like the Delany Sisters remember them, I can have my say. If you don’t remember them see me later.
By now we have all heard about the Bible study that takes place here every Tuesday. This gathering is a faithful remnant of our membership. Most of us in this class are in the age range when the day is not constrained by the 9 to 5 duties. Last year we 8 to 10 people were studying the Acts of the Apostles. It was a mighty journey through a book that is often neglected. So we learned much. This time we have decided to look at the lessons just ahead on the coming Sunday. This approach will look at all the lessons recited each Sunday, so the many books in canon of scripture will be referenced.
When we were looking at the book of Acts, we found out what life was like in beginning years of the proclamation that Christ Jesus is Lord and Savior. It was fascinating to find out that our spiritual ancestors had many of the same challenges in teaching and preaching and believing this faith. I can well imagine our new course of study will render similar insight. For to study the scriptures appointed each Sunday is to understand more and more what we hear from the given three lessons and just exactly what they mean to say.
First of all we might know that the large tradition across many denominations is to hold up a set series of readings. This means the Church reads scripture together. Yes you can and do read the bible alone. But reading it together is like feeding on the one bread and the one cup of Christ. The scriptures inform the Church and the church lives it and explains it. The two stand together and neither stands alone.
To illustrate that, lets review each lesson just read. And let’s agree that each Sunday we are in one grand bible study trying to consider what God is saying and what all we together can hear. First we look at the story of Queen Esther. This story is in the 16th book of the Old Testament. It is, of course, revered by our Jewish neighbors. They observe it on the 14th day of Adar. That day was observed this year on March 1, 2018. It is a joyous day for this Queen has persuaded King Ahasueras that his overseer has fatal plans for the Hebrew people. So the king makes this sin righted and he sentences that overseer to the same outcome he had planned for the Jews. Haman is justly punished for his tragic behavior. Another insight to this text was shared with me by our own Mother Julia.
Due to the fact I missed this week’s study I would not have known how it was discussed and understood. So for sure Julia let me in on a helpful tutorial. She indicated her well-known feminist insight. She let me know that the story of Esther witnesses to what women have always been doing in a world of the historic patriarchal dominance. That was a class I should not have missed. Julia, while you have been called elsewhere, know that you have left the legacy of the female voice in the divine chorus here.
This theme should ring a lot of bells in our contemporary #metoo time. Nowadays women are having their say and they are in succession to Queen Esther. Even the story of America has had its own Esthers: Abigail Adams, SoJourner Truth, Susan B Anthony, Rosa Parks, and just now an unknown soul named Christine Blasey Ford speaks to power. Whatever comes of that event this someone has worked her heart over a heartless time. Just look at all these women now coming forward demanding justice. We are learning right now that women less heard from are stepping out into the pages of history. Queen Esther, bring on more of your sisters.
So on the day called Purim our Jewish neighbors dance and sing about a mighty achievement. And it is good for us Christians to revere this story and to dance and sing for the Lord is the God of justice. Now, Church, we move on to the second lesson. It is from the book of James, part of scriptures known as the Pastoral Epistles. Here the Church wants us to see that we all fall astray of divine purposes; whether King, Queen or just the common every one here and there.
So in James we hear this appeal: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is any among you sick? Call for the elders of the church and let them pray anointing with oil in the Lord’s name; and the prayer of faith will save….if you sin, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed, for the prayer of the righteous availeth much. I love the King James way of saying that. These lessons maintain that as time goes by we are all contending with the slog of life and so it is right and necessary to pray.
At a recent study time Fr. Steve was giving us all the details of his present testing when he is being considered for higher office. One of us asked him, how do you stand all the tension. He looked at us in that class in his familiar way of pausing, and then he gave his thoughtful answer. He said, “ I pray”. This is what we do in and out of season, in all sorts of conditions, predicaments, afflictions that come our way in this our mortal time. So whatever happens in that election, we have in this rector someone who prays. And if he gets a vote up or down, scripture says he is in the reach of the righteous realm. Thank God we have come to know him.
Now let me give fair attention to the Gospel. That part of the word liturgy rounds out the three-lesson lectionary. In our tradition the Gospel is the supreme announcement. It gives us to know the Savior, who he is, what he did, and why he did it. Through it we say Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This lesson says that some asked Jesus to forbid the works of others for they do not fall in line correctly. Then, oh my then, Jesus says this: do not forbid anyone who does a mighty work in my name, for such a person will not be able to speak evil of me. Up and down this street there other places of God: Baptist, Reform, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Jewish...we need not see them only in how they are different. We might just come to see that they in their way are an honor to God and a picture of the Savior. Pray for an increase of that posture.
Then there are several more items in this passage which beg for attention even though they confuse the mind. They all amount to what it will mean to be disciples of Christ Jesus.
The gospel ends on three anathemas. And they are hard to comprehend and hard to hear. I am tempted to omit any mention of them, for on the face of things they are ridiculous. I am sorry I missed the most recent bible study. It would have been interesting, informative, and reassuring to hear some seminar on these words: if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Really! If anyone thinks such words are to be taken literally, listen up and listen well. A draconian piety like this will not get you into heaven. It will get you into the locked ward of Bellevue Hospital. This is best reason for reading scripture not alone but in church, for with your fellow Christians, you can find help towards a holy and wholesome interpretation and commentary. There, in the Church and with the church you can know and appreciate the meaning of metaphor, allegory and hyperbole.
There are many examples of sound interpretation in church and in scripture. Note: Jesus speaking with travelers on the Emmaus Road. Philip speaking to the Ethiopian eunuch. Or you here at All Saints' speaking with another from the various biblical texts hard or easy. That will keep in a healthy understanding of holy writ and it will keep you out of Bellevue. May the Lord make it so through the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.