A sermon preached for Proper 14
August 7, 2022
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Our reading from Hebrews today comes from that famous faith chapter. You know the one. The chapter starts out, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The writer then lists out what those heroes of the old testament did by faith. We heard today about Abraham–a man who left everything he knew because God promised to show him another country. A man who imperfectly clung to the promise of God that he would be the father of many nations, even though he and his wife Sarah had no children.
Faith: the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Or as another translator put it, “Now faithfulness is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of unseen realities.” Evidence of unseen realities: not mirages, not phantoms, not figments of imagination, but realities that already exist in the mind of God. Unseen realities we are bold enough to grab and hold onto, even now. Unseen realities that shape how we live in this world.
Be like Abraham, Hebrews is telling us. Follow God from where you are now to a country that God will show you–follow God to an unseen reality–not desiring to go back to where you came from, but leaning forward to a future only God knows.
What is that future? Hebrews is talking about heaven, life eternal with God. The writer says that these faithful heroes desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one, the city prepared for them. We are to desire that heavenly country, too. Our animating desire should be life eternal with God–a gift that comes to us from God by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Faith is daring to believe that God is taking us there. Faith is holding onto God and keeping the destination in mind. Faith is believing the promise–that this world is not the end, but that there awaits a new place of redemption, of renewal, of rest, of resurrection. We keep looking to the horizon of heaven by faith.
But that doesn’t get us off the hook in this world. I grew up singing a hymn, maybe you did, too. It says, “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through.” I think hymns like this one do us a disservice, because they set up heaven as an escape, and they can give us permission to get through this world as quickly as possible, without even looking around us. If that’s the case, we’ve missed something important. For while we keep one eye on the horizon of heaven, looking to the promise of life eternal, we keep another eye right here, trained on what’s going on at this present moment.
That’s what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel. He says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Don’t be afraid, good people of God; keep your eye trained on that heavenly horizon. It is the Father’s good pleasure to have a place prepared for you–a place that has plenty of good room for you and all God’s children. But then immediately Jesus gives us instructions for the here and now: “Sell your possessions, and give alms.” In doing so, Jesus says that we will be making purses for ourselves that do not wear out, “an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I like talking about heaven. I bet you do, too. But when we bring up what Jesus says today, it makes me uncomfortable. Because I got a little money in the bank. And I like nice things.
Sell your possessions, and give alms. Now before we all go out and have a big yard sale, let’s pause. It’s okay to have some money in the bank. It’s okay to have some nice things. It’s not okay to be enslaved to those things and to make them more important than Jesus. It’s not okay to be enslaved to those things and make them more important than your neighbor.
Jesus gives us this command for two reasons. First, he knows that our things, more than anything else, can distract us from that heavenly horizon. We get so preoccupied with what we have or what we don’t have, that we lose sight of a heavenly reward. We work so hard to build treasures here on earth, that we forget about heaven altogether. That’s what the parable of the rich fool was about last week–the one who built barns and bigger barns to hoard all of his stuff, and none of it went with him when he died.
The second reason Jesus gives us this command is that when we give alms, when we care for the least of those around us, we are caring for Christ himself. In Matthew 25, the righteous ask Jesus, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or in prison?” What does Jesus say? As you do it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters in need, you have done it unto me. Jesus is reminding us, especially those of us with a little money in the bank, that our wealth comes with ethical obligations toward others. And if we are unwilling to fulfill those obligations, we don’t have our eyes on that heavenly horizon.
Looking to the heavenly horizon is about a lot more than what’s coming after death. It’s also about how we live right now. How are we storing up treasure in heaven right now? Because I promise you, we are all storing treasure somewhere. We just have to make sure it’s going into the right account. With faith in those things hoped for and that unseen reality, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, never wavering. Let’s watch out for Jesus to come on that heavenly horizon in the clouds of glory. And let’s watch for Jesus to show up on our doorstep in the form of a neighbor in need. If we do that, we will never be short on real treasure–the treasure that lasts for eternal life.
A sermon for Senior Sunday: Proper 13
July 31, 2022
Hi everyone! I’m still shocked, as I’m sure most of y’all are too, that this time has already come. I leave for the University of Arkansas in 9 days and they’re going by fast. I swear just yesterday I still had 2 months left in town and a lot of things that needed to be bought for my dorm room. With that being said and lots of money spent, I have everything I need for my dorm room. Or at least I hope because I’m not buying anything else.
I’m going to do my best to not make anyone cry because today is a happy day. In no way is this goodbye, y’all can't get rid of me that easily.
To Father Mark, I'm not going to lie, you had some big shoes to fill. But I think I speak for everyone when I say you filled them quickly and easily. Thank you for everything you have done for this church, we are all better Christians because of you!
To Mrs. Robin, wow. Your love for the kids in this church is insane. Thank you for starting our own small youth group, we all appreciate it. The competitions you come up with are always so fun! Don't count me out of them, because I will be playing in March Madness and sign me up for any cake decorating contest because I will come home just to beat Molly again! We love you and we all look up to you in more ways than one.
To my friends, I can’t say too much or I’ll start to cry. But our friendship is like no other. We have gone through every stage of life together and I truly believe we will be friends forever. I am so excited for this next chapter of our lives. I love y’all endlessly! Sko buffs, hotty toddy, and go hogs!
To my family, what am I going to do without y’all. Y’all are literally the best people and all have hearts of gold. Y’all have supported me through everything and I am forever grateful for that. I look up to all of y’all more than you’ll ever know. I can't give individual thank yous to everyone or we’d be here for hours so one big thank you will have to do for now. So, thank you from the bottom of my heart. All of yall have played a huge part in my life and I love you all! I'm already counting down the days until Thanksgiving break!
To this wonderful congregation, thank you will never be enough. I will forever be thankful that this is my home church. Most of yall have been here since the day I was baptized. On that day y’all made a promise. A promise to support me in my life with Christ and not one of y’all have failed that promise. I am who I am today for many reasons, but a big one is because everyone upheld that promise. Thank you for encouraging me to come out of my shell and try new things. I never knew I would carry the gospel or the cross so many times or learn how to do something I had never even seen, like doing incense. I also never thought I would willingly read in front of a group of people but with the help of many of y’all right over there I learned how to do just that. Y’all truly are the most encouraging group of people I know. And that goes for inside and outside of this church. Please keep pushing me to try new things and if you're ever in Fayetteville please let me know!
I have made some wonderful memories because of this church. To name a few, the huge pancake Uncle Eric and I made at a pancake super, which I think was Mrs. Robin's idea, throwing food from trucks all throughout the food bank stocking shelves, Christmas caroling, and forgetting the lyrics every once in a while, doing incense on Christmas Eve outside in snow gear, and of course everyone's favorite pinata day!
Now, the fun part. When Father Mark first talked to me about this he asked me to preach, so here is my shot at the shortest sermon of your life. My favorite bible verse is Philippians 4:13. It says “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” To me this verse speaks volumes. Paul is telling the Philippines that no matter what he knows he can do whatever life throws at him because Christ will strengthen him to do so. That doesn’t mean there won't be hard times but in the hard times you can’t give up. You have to turn to Christ and gain the strength to get through the battle at hand. This relates to my life right now. I am starting a whole new chapter or battle in life. I know there will be highs and there will be lows but Christ will help me through it all just like he will with all of you.
Once again I am so thankful to call y’all my church and real family. Everyone here has helped shape me into who I am today and I know that will continue for the rest of my life. The lessons learned in this church are unforgettable and the bonds that we all have built are unbreakable. Growing up in this church and seeing everyone eager to help others is one of the big reasons why God is leading me to become a Nurse. I hope to make y’all proud and I will miss y’all tons! I hope not too many tears were shed! I love you all and GO HOGS!
A sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 11
July 17, 2022
We come today to a familiar passage of scripture. We read that Martha, who has a sister named Mary, welcomes Jesus into her home. That is to say, Martha is in charge. We know from the gospel of John that these are the sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus raises from the dead. They are Jesus’s good friends, and they give this rabbi who normally does not have a place to lay his head, a bed for the night. They welcome him, and with him his company of disciples.
These two sisters take very different approaches to Jesus’s visit. Mary, we read, sits and listens at Jesus’s feet. She takes the position of a disciple, learning from the master. Martha, on the other hand, gets to work getting things ready. Cooking. Setting the table. Getting the wine. All of the things that go into making a visit like this one a success. More than that, these things were demanded by society. In Jesus’s time, hospitality, welcoming others into your home, was not just a matter of being polite. It was a religious obligation. Martha is trying to fulfill what God expects. It is not an accident that in Greek, the words for “many tasks” are polle diakonia. Diakonia–we get deacon from that word. Service is an important, even religious, matter.
Is it any wonder, then, that she gets frustrated with her sister? Her sister, who is supposed to answer to her, the matron of the house, is off listening to Jesus. Gabbing. Martha goes to Jesus. "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." Maybe you’ve felt like her before. Maybe there have been times when you’ve felt like everything depended on you and no one was around to help. And let’s be honest; these important things must get done.
Jesus responds in a way that might make us uncomfortable, especially those of us occupied with those polle diakonia, those important, religious tasks of hospitality. “Martha, Martha,” he says, his voice full of compassion, “you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” The better part. Those words must have stung Martha.
There is a long history of interpreters wrestling with this text. Generally, you’ll find two interpretations. The first is something like: Mary represents the contemplative, prayer, study, things like that. Martha represents the active, doing things in the world, working. Mary, the contemplative, is better than the active. You should seek to be contemplative, and don’t worry about the active part of faith. A second interpretation is similar. Mary represents the contemplative and Martha represents the active. Some of us are one, while others are the other. It’s okay. Don't try to be something you’re not.
I think both of these are wrong. I think Jesus is speaking not to the form of our discipleship, but to our focus. I happen to believe that all of us are called to be like Mary, the contemplative, spending time in prayer at the feet of Jesus. I also believe we’re called to be like Martha, putting our prayers into action, doing the work of God to which we have been called. The question is not, are you a Martha or a Mary? The question is not, is Mary better than Martha? The question is, regardless of what you’re being called to at any given moment, are you focused on Jesus? For that’s the better part. It’s about our focus.
Clearly, it’s easy to be like Martha and get away from that focus. It’s easy to get caught up in our tasks, our work, our service, diakonia, and forget why we’re doing what we’re doing. It becomes less about Jesus and more about ourselves. When that happens, watch out.
But you can also be like Mary and lose focus. Growing up my church had prayer meeting every Monday night. I went every Monday night. And every Monday night I took a nap under the pew.
The truth is, sometimes our faith calls us to be like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, absorbing his teaching, listening intently. At other times, our faith calls us to be like Martha, getting to work, doing good service, taking part in that diakonia religious duty. We’re both-and people. Regardless of what we’re up to, our focus must be Jesus, Jesus, and Jesus. We don’t do anything for ourselves and our glory. We do everything for Jesus.
But here’s the deal: We cannot be Martha until we’ve spent time being Mary. We cannot be Martha until we’ve spent time being Mary. We cannot serve until we have learned from the feet of Jesus. Our service means little unless we are connected to Jesus and learning from him.
Let me be blunt and put it this way: You can work at the food bank all day every day, but unless you are praying, studying, learning from Jesus, and receiving strength weekly from this altar, your service is more about you than it is about God.
Friends, we cannot neglect our spiritual health. We cannot neglect our relationship with Jesus. We cannot neglect that time learning at his feet. Or we will find that we do become worried and distracted by many things, and we lose focus on the one who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Thankfully, we have the opportunity like Mary to come to the feet of Jesus. As the old hymn says, to “look full in his wonderful face.” We will be blessed so we can be a blessing. We will be fed so we can feed others. We will be loved, so that we might share that love with a broken world. Regardless of what we’re being called to do at any given moment, when our focus is on Jesus, we’re learning that “better part” that Mary knew about. And that will never be taken away from us.
A sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 9
July 3, 2022
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
There are some people in this world who get what they want when they want it. They snap, and they have it. That’s a perk of the powerful. Everyone answers their phone calls; everyone wants them on their board of directors; everyone knows their name. These folks don’t have to put up with some of the stuff we normal folks put up with. They get the short lines, the direct access. They don’t have to do things they don’t want to do.
Naaman in our Old Testament reading is like that. He’s the general in Aram, the bigwig. He’s a powerful man. He snaps, and he gets what he wants. But then something happens to him that is beyond his control. He gets leprosy.
The uncontrollable happens to all of us, no matter who we are, no matter how powerful we are. And no, I’m not talking about the President of the United States falling off a bicycle here. Steve Jobs, an innovator who made a lot of money, dies from pancreatic cancer. Ronald Reagan, one of the most influential and powerful presidents of the modern era, suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Stephen Hawking, endowed by God with such gifts for intelligence and discovery, gets ALS. The rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the Naamans of the world–the uncontrollable happens to them, just as it happens to us. That’s the cost of mortality.
Naaman is distraught. But there is an enslaved girl working in his house, someone he had taken captive and tore from all she knew. This enslaved girl knew about uncontrollable things happening–she knew what that was like, the pain, the heartache, the helplessness. Unlike Naaman, powerlessness was her reality. She could snap all she wanted to, but no one was going to come running. And yet, some deep well of charity within her points her captor in the direction of healing: “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy."
So Naaman goes to Israel. After a dramatic episode with the king, the prophet Elisha gives him instructions: dip in the Jordan river seven times. That’s it. Simple enough. But Naaman gets angry. He’s not used to being treated like this. He has no desire to dip in the muddy and dirty and septic Jordan. He would rather go home, to Damascus, and enjoy the waters there. He wants the prophet to wave his hand, and with a dramatic gesture, to cure him.
For Naaman, this backwater place he’s come to for healing is a long way from Damascus. It’s a long way from his comfort zone. He can’t snap and get what he wants here. He doesn’t get the best water here–no, he has to use the same water everyone else is using. No special treatment. But he finally relents. He dips seven times. And he is healed.
You and I are called to the waters for healing, too. Each and every one of us, no matter our station in life, no matter the money in our bank accounts, no matter the power of our position–each and every one of us is born with that leprosy of Naaman’s. It is sin. It is hardwired into us, into our natures. That’s what we mean by original sin.
But we are not left without a cure. Like that enslaved girl in today’s story, there are voices all around us, from Scripture, from our tradition, telling us of the hope of healing: “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." If only you knew about Jesus and his saving life, death, and resurrection, you can be cured of your curse of sin and death.
That cleansing hope is not found where we expect it. Perhaps, like Naaman, we expect the clean and pristine waters of Damascus. Perhaps, like Naaman, we expect something big and theatrical, the waving of a hand, the muttering of words, the magicking away of sin. Instead, we are brought to a little font, a little bowl, a little water. Perhaps the blue waters of the Gulf would be our preference. Maybe we would rather be at Lake Hamilton or Greers Ferry. But salvation is not found there. Healing is not found in those waters. No, it is found in a little bowl, in a little font, a handful at a time: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
It’s a long way from Damascus. This unassuming place is a long way from those waters we prefer, those places we pine for. But there’s salvation in these waters. There’s healing in these waters. In an instant, our souls are regenerated, transformed, made into a new creation. The curse of sin and death is obliterated. We are taken from a path of sin and put on a path of grace, forgiven and restored and adopted and marked as Christ’s own forever. And this promise is for anyone who desires to come to these waters. You don’t have to be a Naaman. You just have to be yourself as God created you. The water is there for us.
Naaman went home after that. That was enough for him. But we keep coming back. We keep coming back to these waters, to this place of hope and healing. We come to this altar, and here, as we take bread and wine, we renew our baptisms, and our bonds to Christ and to one another are strengthened. And more healing gets in. The Holy Spirit keeps up the good work in us. And healing, full and complete salvation, it comes. Bit by bit, sip by sip.
There’s still a lot we cannot control in this world. Powerful or not, rich or not, smart or not, savvy or not–the world throws its worst at us regardless. It’s out of our control, and the unexpected happens. Singer-songwriter Adele said it this way in a recent hit: “There ain't no gold in this river that I've been washin' my hands in forever.” She goes on, “I know there is hope in these waters but I can't bring myself to swim when I am drowning in this silence.” If Adele would answer my phone call, I would tell her: Friend, you won’t find the hope you’re looking for in those waters. But I know where there are some hope-filled waters. That’s my message for us today, too.
Yes, the waters in this world are out of our control. But the good news is, we don’t have to control them. Because when we come to these waters, when we come to this altar, when we come to our God, we approach the One who controls it all. We put our hope in God, now and forever. And God heals our souls. And nothing in this world or the next, no matter how bad or uncontrollable–nothing is able to take that hope and promise of God’s healing love away from us.
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