It’s been another great day in SRQ. The Rector at All Angels by the Sea is on vacation, so I presided and preached there this morning. It’s a very joyful and relaxed parish.
My friends Barbara, Kay and Ben attended, and they retired to my home afterwards for lunch. I baked some cod and served it with peas. I intended to serve rice also, but I burned it in the saucepan. We had juicy pears and cheddar cheese for dessert.
Here’s my sermon.
Sermon for June 22nd ‘08. The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels by the Sea, Longboat Key, FL
The Eucharist included the blessing of the Marriage of Gail Yanov and John Root.
24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
I am delighted that your Rector David and his wife Wafa Danner are away today. For that means that I can be here to celebrate with you the love and commitment of Gail and John! And it is my especial honour to welcome the Revd. Jack Chrisman from St. Boniface to share in this joy.
Through a wonderful bit of happenstance Gail and I were table mates at All Angels’ Twelfth Night dinner earlier this year, so she and I are not utter strangers. And who could not like John. He is, after all, a Brit by birth!
My first thought was to be all sentimental and mawkish about marriage, taking you into that fairy tale world which those of us who have never married often inhabit. But then I encountered today’s scripture passages and groaned. “Why could we not have had something gentle, loving and sweet?” The answer is easy. There is very little that is simply gentle, loving and sweet in Holy Scripture. It is a difficult set of books.
So, first by background.
1. That word Beelzebub means “Lord of the House”, or perhaps “Lord of the flies”. It’s a word used to describe malevolent evil. It had been said of Jesus that his power to expel spirits came from Beelzebub. It is a dangerous matter when good is put down as evil, and evil is identified as good.
2. The passage mentions hell. The Greek word is Gehenna, a shorthand for the Valley of Himmon just outside Jerusalem. That “valley” had been a place where child sacrifices had once been offered. By the time of Jesus it was the Town dump - where smouldering fires never went out. Gehenna was a place of despair and uselessness - as good a description of hell as we could imagine. To be in hell (and it’s mostly on earth) is to be in a place of utter despair and uselessness. My friends, the homeless at Resurrection House live often in hell.
3. Let’s not be too facile when we identify Christianity with something we call “family values”. Jesus was not a family man, nor did he think that family was all that important. He and other biblical characters engaged in quite unconventional relationships, which G-d was prepared to bless.
The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in Common Era 70 was cataclysmic in so many ways. For the Jewish people it meant that there was no longer a land, a City, or a Temple by which they could identify themselves as a people. Henceforth their religious and civic life must needs be re-defined. Many saw the opportunity for reform, that is re-formation.
From those two reform movements emerged two distinct types of religious life. One led to modern day Judaism, a faith centred in the schul and in Torah. The other led to Christianity, a faith centred on Jesus, a reforming Jew.
Matthew is writing at a time when the divisions between these reform movements are becoming acute. He places harsh words on the lips of Jesus, eager as Matthew is to establish the boundaries by which the Jesus movement could identify itself. So he speaks of divisions and families fractured. I hope and trust that his words are descriptive rather than prescriptive. In the end, he is saying, there are commitments which transcend familial ties.
Matthew would agree with the crusty Yankee in Robert Frost’s poem who insists that “good fences make good neighbours”. (Frost, as the first voice in this poem does not agree! “Something there is” he says, “which doesn’t like a wall”).
There are boundaries, which are important. There are walls which are dangerous.
The walls which are dangerous are those which cause us to identify the folks on the other side of the wall as “them” or “they”. Matthew gets close to this when he refers to “those” who can kill the body.
Whenever we speak of Jews, or Muslims, or immigrants, or blacks, or the poor, or gay and lesbian people as a collective “they” we move close to a dangerous stereotyping. The path from stereotyping to scape-goating is a very short one. We have learned this from the very violence humans have done to “others”, not least the Christian violence against Muslims and Jews.
But boundaries are something different. We need them chiefly in human relationships.
One boundary is the important one we draw for ourselves, enabling us to recognise the “I” in relationship to “you”. Humans who are boundary-less in their relationships with others are at the least pitiable, and at the most dangerous.
But it is always a boundary which enables a person to recognise the “you” with whom that person can engage in relationship. My good sense of “I” enables me to rejoice in the possibilities of encounter with “you”.
That is why, of course, Jesus continues to attract and intrigue us. His uniqueness is not so much a matter of divinity - but it is totally a matter of humanity. The “I” of Jesus is real and constant enough to draw us in to friendship and relationship.
A lovely progression from “I” and “you” is to “we”. No to a “we” which disdains or fears “them” , that is “those people”. But a “we” which embraces and includes them. That is Church at its best!
Gail and John, you are each wise and experienced enough to be more than secure in your sense of self. It is that wisdom which calls and enables you to embrace the “we” which is your marriage. Oh, we are tickled pink that this has happened. May you be given many years to delight in each other in every possible way.
Pray G-d you will never erect walls between each other, or between you and all your other friendships of a lifetime.
You will need boundaries for rest and refreshment. You’ll need those boundaries to rejoice fully in the “we”-ness of your marriage. Pray G-d too that they will be flexible boundaries, wide and strong enough to embrace and include many others.
That is the way of Jesus!