Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Proper of the Day: The Third Sunday After Pentecost

Here's my sermon for today. I welcome your feedback and comments:

Trinity Parish in Bergen Point

Pentecost III RCL 2007

I Kings 21:1-10, 15-21a; Ps 5:1-8; Gal 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

R.F. Solon, Jr.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our rock and Redeemer. Amen.

Last Friday evening, I stumbled across the Daytime Emmys, and I watched for about ten minutes when I realized I had no idea who actors were and what the shows were about. So I switched back to the Mets-Yankees game. The Mets won that one, by the way.

But there’s a certain glamour about Hollywood and TV and being an actor or director. I saw it on the Emmys show and of course we see it at the Oscars and every night on Entertainment Tonight if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s hard to escape in this culture. We may not know the names of our politicans, but we sure know our celebrities. We’re on a first-name only basis with them. Even if you don’t watch much TV, you see screaming reports of the latest from Bennifer, or Mel, or Barbara, or Tom. And of course, it seems like we’ve been obsessing over Paris for weeks now.

Wouldn’t it be fun to be a celebrity? You‘re famous. Everyone’s watching you! You’re on the news a lot, just for doing ordinary things like going to the store. What a trip that must be. And the movies that have made celebrities who they are! Some of them are now classics. The Wizard of Oz. Gone with the Wind. Jaws. The Godfather. Casablanca. We can quote lines from them and we watch them over and over again. Movies and the actors that make them are a part of the consciousness of our nation, and have been since the first silents appeared a hundred years ago now.

Did you notice that those classic movies are all based on classic novels first? Nearly all the best-loved movies on the all-time list of the Internet Movie Database are adapted from books or novels. Seems to me that Hollywood has missed an obvious example, though. And that’s the fabulous story from this morning’s reading from Hebrew Scripture. It’s a gripping tale of treachery and intrigue. There’s innocent Naboth, who only wants to preserve his ancestral property. And weak-willed King Ahab, who sulks like a spoiled brat when he doesn’t get his way. There’s rightoues Elijah, who declares in very gruesome terms what will happen to Ahab. And then of course there’s Jezebel. Scheming Jezebel. The foreign wife of Ahab, she’s the one who frames Naboth on trumped-up and completely false charges and has him legally executed. If you’ve ever wondered where the term “Jezebel” came from, now you know. And it’s all so Ahab can have a comfy vegetable garden next to his summer palace. I mean, a producer should be drooling over this plot line. It’s got chicanery, and violence, and betrayal, and suspense. This could be great! It’s a blockbuster, for sure.

When it comes to casting our new film, there are all kinds of roles to fill. Who would you like to play? As I wonder about the cast of characters, I find myself drawn again and again to the unnamed people of Jezreel whom Jezebel ropes into having Naboth framed. She tells them to call a public assembly and make Naboth the presider, and then to get some stooges to accuse him of treason and heresy. Under Israelite law, a capital crime needed at least two witnesses, so there were enough to have Naboth whacked, legally at that. With Naboth out of the way, it was an easy thing for Ahab to claim the property he wanted.

But what about those people in the assembly, the ringleaders? And the other members of the assembly? Did they know what was going on? Did they realize that they were pawns in a game of royal scheming? What did they first think when they got the email from the Royal Palace? I mean, it was probably pretty obvious what was going on. Naboth’s vineyard was next door to the Palace, after all. Possibly lots of people knew about the conversation between Ahab and Naboth. How many people did Jezebel have to get to before she found some to do her nefarious will? A lot? Only a few? And if there were a lot of people who wouldn’t initially go along, then there were also a lot of people who attended that assembly, who knew exactly what was going to happen, even if they didn’t actively participate.

I think there’s a lot of that in 2007 too. What with the information explosion from the Internet, we all can see what’s going in the world, and right here in Bayonne too. We all know the latest news of our favorite actors and actresses. We celebrate the joys of our loved ones in this season of commencements. We hear stories of the latest drugs to cure diseases we never knew we had. And we are instantly aware of more deaths of our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan. We see the pictures of the ongoing starvation in Darfur. We read the lurid details of the latest wilding in Jersey City and the latest burglaries right here in Bayonne. Sometimes what we read and hear is uplifting, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a great joy to pick up the paper or check the newsfeeds, and sometimes I dread it and simply can’t read further. I’d much rather much rather check the baseball standings than read the editorial pages.

And it’s easy to do that too, to escape, or simply ignore what’s going on. With the explosion of information has come also the explosion of entertainment. There are ever more cable channels to peruse, new blockbuster movies to watch, new tunes to download to our Ipods, new celebrities to gawk at. I can spend hours fussing with my fantasy baseball teams – I have three of them now! It’s very easy to be bystanders in this world today. It’s easy to know what’s going on, and like those people at Naboth’s assembly, to simply watch impassively as yet another innocent person is victimized, oppressed, or even killed.

And with all that stuff going on, it’s also very hard sometimes to recognize the good that goes on as well. It’s so easy to accentuate the negative, we forget that there are those who are not merely bystanders, but are doing active things to make the world a better place, to take a stand against cruelty, injustice ore mere indifference. I think we here at Trinity Parish can today take joy in the fact that we are not bystanders. Not today, at least. Today we kick off our capital campaign, Miracle on 5th Street. Today we take a stand and we say, we are going to continue to work for a better world right here in Bayonne. We’re going to expand our facilities right here at the corner of 5th and Broadway so we can offer better and larger programs for the developmentally disabled and the autistic adults of Bayonne and Hudson County. And we’re going to eventually move our phenomenal Highways program from its current location at Hobart and Linnett right here as well. We’ll be able to offer more space for our shops and more space to meet with those who need our help. Getting to Highways will be more convenient as well, because it will now be on the bus lines. And we’ll have a new parish hall too, outfitted with cool AV equipment and a new kitchen. All of it will be done with the best energy-efficient and sustainable techniques we can, so we can show the community not only our commitment to those less fortunate, but also to our environment and the generations who will come after us as well.

My sisters and brothers, all of us are part of this great project. All of us will have something to contribute to the Miracle on 5th Street, whether it’s our time, our talents, or our treasures or even some combination of all three. As Executive Director of our Windmill Alliance, I want to publicly acknowledge everyone who has helped put the Miracle on 5th Street event together. You show us what it means not to be bystanders.

Every Sunday we come together to give thanks to God for what God has done for us. God reached out first to us and, as our Gospel says, forgives each and every one of us if the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unlike the woman at the dinner party who was able to show her gratitude directly to Jesus, we can’t do that. He isn’t here in the same way. Jesus is here among in a real way in the Holy Communion we are about to share in just a few minutes, and we praise God for that. And God is delighted that we do so, because it was God in Jesus who asked us to remember him when we eat and drink. But that isn’t quite enough. That isn’t all God asks us to do. God asks ask to pay God’s love forward, because we can’t love God any more than God already loves each of us. God invites us to not be bystanders in the world around us, but to be part of the world around us, demonstrating God’s love in the world and not letting the world forget. We here at Trinity Parish do that every Sunday when we come together to hear God’s Word and experience that same Word in the bread and the cup. And we do that every other day of the week, too. We do that as a community by the work we do in the ministries of the Windmill Alliance. And we do that in the individual ways we pay forward God’s love to those we live and work with in our own day-to-day lives.

That’s why the Miracle on 5th Street is so special. It’s special because it shows Bayonne that this community of faith, in thanksgiving to God for the Good News in Jesus, isn’t going to be mere bystanders of that Good News. We’re not standing passively by, watching the world around us. We’re not just enjoying the celebrities who are entertainment for us. No, we’re living out that Good News, that Gospel, not only on Sundays but every day. We do it now, and today we’re publicly committing that we intend to continue doing it. We can enjoy reading all about Bennifer and Mel and Tom and Brad - that’s fine and fun to do. I can continue to diddle with my fantasy baseball teams. There is a place in life for all of that. But there is far more to life than the latest dispatch about Paris. We today celebrate the abundance of life that the Miracle on 5th Street represents. My hope and prayer is that we begin today will touch lives throughout Bayonne and that this parish will always be a place of more than mere bystanders.

Watching life is good. Having life, and having it abundantly, is better. That’s what God wants, and that’s what God promises. We join n that great work today.



Maria Diarrhea said...

I just want to say, I really enjoy your sermons. I like how you connect that day's teaching to a modern-day topic. And of course, anything that is entertainment-related is bound to keep me awake and interested. :-)

RFSJ said...

Thanks, Maria, for those kind words!