Monday, September 21, 2015

Preacher’s Study – Year B Proper 21 (26) 2015

Monday Morning in the Preacher’s Study

First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon
(18th Sunday after Pentecost, Sept. 27, 2015)

Maylanne Maybee, deacon

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 OR Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 124 0R 19:7-14
James 15:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

The Boundaries of Baptism?

An initial look at all three readings for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost brings to mind the theme of boundaries.  

Even the somewhat truncated story from Esther is about the boundary between God’s people, the Jews, and the royal and political powers of Persia.  (Perhaps this story of an independent woman was chosen to offset the “capable wife” reading from last week.) 

I would choose instead the reading from Numbers which is reflected in Mark’s gospel for this Sunday. A young man is indignant that two men outside the tent of meeting were given the same gift of prophetic speaking as the seventy elders gathered within.  Moses replies, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!”  In the same way, John complains to Jesus that a non-follower was given the same power as they were to cast out demons “in his name”.  Jesus’ reply echoes that of Moses, “Do not stop him… Whoever is not against us is for us.”

The warning that follows to those who offend or cause any of “these little ones” to stumble is echoed in Matthew and Luke.  Luke’s version bears a close relationship to the final section of the Epistle of James, where it leads to a directive to rebuke the offender but to forgive where there is repentance.   “Whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

For me these stories raise the question about what it means to be baptized, what it means to be reconciled with one another, how this sets Christians apart from the rest of the world.   Communities of the baptized may well work hand in hand with others beyond the church against the forces of evil, but perhaps they are called to uphold a particular integrity, to be unmistakable signs to the rest of the world of the crucified One whom they follow

As a deacon, I would choose to preach from the final section of the Epistle of James where the author writes about healing and reconciliation.  Intercessory prayer in the context of the Eucharist is traditionally led by deacons, whose ministry is in the places of risk and transition in our world and communities, where boundaries intersect and people’s lives are on edge because of suffering, illness, conflict, even the burden of leadership.  Nevertheless, these are places where the Holy is present and the Spirit is at work. 

Rowan Williams points out that how intercessory prayer works is an unanswerable question, but we know that it works through Jesus on the cross.  “When selfishness and greedy manipulation are set aside, and insensitivity and complacency are overcome, then there is empty space for the wind of the Spirit to blow through.  That is all we can know.  If prayer ‘works’, it is because of lives that have been crucified with Christ.”  (Rowan Williams, Open to Judgement: Sermons and Addresses [London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1994], pp. 140-141.) 

Maylanne Maybee, a member of APLM Council, is a deacon serving in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land (Anglican Church of Canada).  She is Principal of the Centre for Christian Studies, a national theological school based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

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