Sermons on “Ordinary Time”

#ContextIsEverything

Pentecost 14: Context Is Everything, September 15, 2019

As Professor Fennimore of the A.D. Garrett crime thrillers is fond of saying, Context is everything. Whenever we look back – whether on our tragedies or our triumphs – we stand in a different place than we did when we first experienced those events. Time has moved along. We simply see and experience the world in a different way. Even if we’re walking on the same dirt, we are under a different sky, in a new day. The context is different, and our perspective at any point comes from that context.

In our Old Testament reading this week, we can see a difference in perspective playing out. Moses is up on Mount Sinai in the cloud of God’s glory when chaos breaks loose back down the mountain with the Israelites. Moses has left his brother Aaron in charge, and Aaron has just made the Israelites a golden calf to worship as their god.

And God is furious! Get right back down that mountain, Moses, and straighten all this out, God roars.

But is God really furious? And was the Israelites’ action really that unreasonable?

When we imagine ourselves in different places we see things differently, and maybe that’s what God is trying to show Moses. Up on top of Mount Sinai, God has been talking with Moses. That’s really heady stuff. It might be easy to lose sight of what things are like down at the bottom.

The Israelites have gotten really tired. They’ve been waiting for Moses to come back for forty days and forty nights, which, even if it’s a metaphor, is a really long time. And they don’t even know yet that God has just told Moses never to make an idol. So what happens next? God tells Moses to get himself back down that mountain and sort all this out before God clears the slate and restarts Moses’s leadership with a brand new people.

And then Moses starts to empathize with the Israelites. Moses implores God to remember that God brought these same Israelites out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand. Why would God give up now, Moses asks.

As Moses reasons with God, he explains God’s own kindness and mercy to the Israelites, putting himself back into the context of the Israelites. Moses learns God’s own compassion by explaining God’s compassion to God. Was God really furious? Context is everything.

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#PrisonerofLove

Pentecost 13: Prisoner of Love – September 8, 2019

On Sunday, August 25, 2019, churches all over the United States joined together to toll their bells to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved African people in North America. The bells rang for four minutes, the Aquidneck Island churches at noon, and others together at different hours throughout the day.

We share in this difficult history here in Rhode Island as closely as the areas of our country where enslaved peoples worked on plantations, and built some of the most familiar and important structures of our American democracy – the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings. Profits from slavery and related businesses in Rhode Island and other areas of New England helped to fund some of our oldest and best-known institutions of higher learning.

These are really difficult subjects to talk about. But without the gracious friction of our dialogue, we can’t begin the process of listening, in mutual respect and learning, that can lead to self-knowledge, insight, cultural humility, and understanding.

In our epistle reading this week, the Letter to Philemon, it is interesting that Paul doesn’t condemn slavery outright, even though the very same St. Paul wrote in the Letter to the Galatians in Christ there is no slave or free.

Instead, in the Letter to Philemon, Paul asks his old friend Philemon to free Philemon’s escaped slave Onesimus, who has become like a son to Paul while Paul has been in prison in Rome. Paul assumes the place of prisoner, reversing the power arrangement in the three-way relationship among Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.

Paul calls Onesimus his own heart and beloved son and refers to Philemon as his debtor, re-framing and re-contextualizing our understanding of their roles in society.

This paradoxical reversal stops us and helps us to see power and authority in new places. How can we release ourselves from bondage by becoming prisoners of love as Paul said he had become?

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#The Rev Dr Anita Schell

Pentecost 3: Farewell, Mother Anita – June 30, 2019

Saying Good bye and Thank you

Psalm 16:11

You will show me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy,and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Jesus tells us again and again, and particularly in today’s Gospel, that his is the way of life, and embrace it we must if we are to be followers of Christ. There is no time to delay; there is no time for hesitation, no time for despair, no time looking back to our past mistakes and failure of nerve. It is time to go all the way in this life of discipleship and to know its costs – which thankfully for us, do not usually mean our lives as in the case of martyrdom. This call does mean making Jesus our top priority. It does mean asking ourselves every day: “What would Jesus have me do?” When we do this, and embrace Jesus’ life as our own, those fruits of the Spirit that Paul enumerates in today’s Epistle just seem to kick into place. We have more than enough to join this ministry of joy and love. And we always have one another.
A Forward Day by Day quotation of a few years ago still hits me like a 2 x 4 with its compelling wisdom. It reads, “A sign of God’s will is that we will be led where we did not plan to go. When I look back on those events,” the article continues, “I see God’s hand in them. When I was able to put my trust in God, I was led where I did not plan to go but where I definitely needed to be. Thanks be to God!” How true this has been for me!
I never expected to serve at Emanuel; I had other plans. God took care of that, and what a blessing you have been in my life – and in Steve’s.
You have asked what you can do for me – so here goes – Come to church – EVERY SUNDAY. We need to worship and pray together and practice doing that. We are always in rehearsal. I totally understand about other commitments. Make church the top priority along with your family and friends. I have attempted to do this my entire life – not just the over half of it I have been a priest.
We come to church to practice being Christians – to pray, serve and love one another. Thank you for the fabulous nine years that I have practiced being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, with you! How I will miss all of you. I love you Emmanuel, Newport. You are forever in my heart.
Mother Anita

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#AllAreWelcome

Pentecost 2: All Are Welcome, June 23, 2019

It’s the small words that count most: in today’s Epistle, Paul tells the Jerusalem Christians that their welcome does not go far enough. The Gentiles do not have to subscribe to all the Jewish regulations, he insists. What these Gentiles have to do is be baptized and proclaim Jesus as Lord.
Sometimes Paul gets carried away. In this case, he presses his point by telling his Jewish colleagues that all the old categories they had followed all their lives are too confining. What follows is absolutely radical. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ.” They note his emphasis on all.
One preaching professor reads this Galatians passage and observes that the hardest words to learn in any language are never the long words but the short words. The Galatians have no trouble pronouncing the long, ponderous words: circumcision, for one. But they stumbled over three short words: faith, grace, baptism, and especially, “all.”
“All” is very hard for the people in Galatia to follow. All is at the heart of the teachings of Jesus – all are welcome at the table, all are forgiven, all can be cured. It is about taking that first step, as the man possessed with the demon in today’s Gospel knew so very well, taking the step towards health and wholeness. All are welcome at the Lord’s table at Emmanuel Church.

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