SEPT 20, 2015, SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, RCL YEAR B

MARK | PART 3:  SERVANT OF A CHILD

A SERMON BY PASTOR CHICO MARTIN

Lections: James 3:16-4:6 ; Psalm 1; Mark 9:30-37

The weather this morning when I got up reminded me of the west coast of Ireland, which I visited once with my son, when he was seventeen.  The walking trails crossed fields of grazing sheep and overlooked cliffs that fell straight down into crashing waves that foamed in the rocks below.  The air was moist, the skies clouded.  I had the sense of being on the edge of the unknown.  The world I was familiar with was on the other side of a vast, mysterious ocean.

Evagrios of Pontus (345-399 AD) likened the thoughts of our mind to sheep God entrusts to our care.  “As sheep to a good shepherd,” he said, “the lord has given to man intellections of this present world.”  In a very down to earth manner, Evagrios draws our attention to a way we can be like Jesus, whatever our circumstances: as Jesus shepherds the people who are the sheep of his pasture, we are to look after our thoughts.[i]  So let us consider what directions we might find in today’s prayers and scriptures for shepherding our thoughts.  Continue reading

SEPT 13, 2015, SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, RCL YEAR B

MARK | PART 2:  THE IDENTITY OF JESUS

A SERMON BY PASTOR CHICO MARTIN

Lections: Proverbs 1:20-33 ; Psalm 19; Mark 8:27-38

Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy … were any who they seemed to be?  The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker: knaves, all three?

Last week I was at a brunch, and everyone there was asked to introduce himself to the others, by saying his name, what church he served, and an interesting fact about himself.  “Hi,” I said, “I’m Chico Martin.  I serve the Moretown Methodist Church.  I enjoy reading and writing poetry.”  Then I began questioning myself.  There have been many times when I have enjoyed reading and writing poetry, but now I read mostly theology, biblical studies, and church history. Occasionally I pick up a book of poems and leaf through it, but occasionally I do many things.  How steadfast and directed does an activity need to be to distinguish a person’s identity?

The images we have of ourselves – and who we say we are – change over time.  Perhaps I was at some time accurately pictured as a poet; at other times, I might have been better pictured as a bookseller, an educator, or an economist. A person’s occupation is a simple, important, but incomplete understanding of his identity.   Usually we are more concerned about how successful we are, how much money we have, and how healthy – or attractive – we look and feel.  Where we live can make a difference, how we raise our children, and our values. We can view ourselves as fun-loving or serious, as civic minded or socially withdrawn.  Our identity can be a composite of many things at once.

In the passage we read in Mark today, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” The disciples answer, “Elijah, John the Baptist, one of the prophets…” In other words, people are saying Jesus is someone else.   Continue reading

September 6, 2015, Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost, RCL Year B

MARK | PART 1:  BOAST IN GOD’S MERCY

A SERMON BY PASTOR CHICO MARTIN

Lections: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 ; James 2:1-17; Mark 7: 24-37

“As the Prodigal Son I come to Thee, merciful Lord. I have wasted my whole life in a foreign land; I have scattered the wealth which Thou gavest me, O Father. Receive me in repentance, O God, and have mercy upon me. Amen.”[i]

I was surprised, preparing for today’s worship service, to discover that the word mercy is etymologically derived from the Latin word for merchandise, meaning price paid or wages. Remarkably, we find embedded in a commonly used word for forgiveness the conceptual basis for understanding the penal substitution of Jesus on the Cross.  “The wages of sin is death,” Paul writes in Romans, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:3).  This free gift was given to us when “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”” (Gal 3:13).  Our forensic understanding of Christ’s atonement is derived from the 11th-century theologian Anselm’s doctrine of satisfaction:  Jesus, the Son of God, gave himself as a “ransom for many” to God the Father.  God accepts the perfect innocence of Jesus as payment for the sins of mankind, and cancels the debts we owe to justice; we are delivered from bondage to death and restored to the image of our fullness in Christ. God’s mercy includes all three attributes: forgiveness, deliverance, and restoration, as well as the desire and motivating force to act with compassion.[ii]  It is because of God’s compassion that we can pray, “Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.”[iii]   Continue reading

August 23, 2015, Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost, RCL Year B

JESUS LOSES THE CROWD

A SERMON BY PASTOR CHICO MARTIN

Lections:  Ps 84; Eph 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

The general attitude of an individual and more broadly a society is expressive of an orientation toward thinking and knowledge that we call a world view.  Americans share an empirical belief system and a pragmatic sensibility. The world view expressed in today’s Scripture readings is one we rarely broach outside of church, that is, the supernaturalism that runs through our Christian beliefs.  The hearers of Jesus in John’s gospel are thoroughly challenged to understanding the means of grace, which will become the focus of liturgical worship, and even within the church 2,000 years later, some question the supernatural power of the bread and wine administered at Communion.  Our credulity is further stretched, however, when Paul tells the Ephesians that our everyday struggles to choose between good and evil should be viewed in a cosmic context that locates the significance of our choices in an unseen ‘heavenly’ realm.  “Our struggle,” Paul says, “is against the rulers, authorities, masters, and powers of darkness in the heavens.”  His reference is to the remnant of Satan’s band of fallen angels, former residents of God’s Kingdom who devote themselves to shooting fiery arrows of deception at weak and unprotected persons in the Body of Christ.  There are always evil powers of darkness aiming to infect our hearts and minds with despair, bitterness, shame, resentment, and pride, so that we cannot follow Jesus and do the will of God.   Continue reading

August 16, 2015, Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost, RCL Year B

SUBJECT TO SALVATION

A SERMON BY PASTOR CHICO MARTIN

Lections:  Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:20-25; John 6:51-56

The challenge of the Methodist is to be perfect.  Indeed, this challenge can be understood as the distinctive contribution Methodists make to the universal Church.  The deification of man, theosis, is a doctrine that originates in the Eastern Church, and was rejected in the West by the Reformers, because of its works emphasis; nonetheless, John Wesley made it a center point of his theology.

In today’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells us to be careful how we live.  We are Christians, and we must hold ourselves to a standard that is not shared by unbelievers.  We must be worthy of our calling in worship and in our household, and in our daily walk we must be holy and not fall back into worldly patterns of thinking and behaving.  We are to walk in love and behave as children of the light. Paul gives us three exhortations:  1) We are not to be unwise, but wise; 2) We are not to be foolish, but understanding of what is the will of God; and 3) We are not to get drunk on wine, but be filled with the Spirit.   Continue reading

AUGUST 9, 2015, ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, RCL YEAR B

WHERE WOULD WE BE WITHOUT GOD?

A SERMON BY PASTOR CHICO MARTIN

Lections:  Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6: 35:41-51

I was born in 1952, not very long after the Second World War, and I was in fourth grade during the Cuban Missile Crisis; nuclear war seemed immanent, news updates were broadcast over the school PA system, and we had frequent air raid drills. My parents had rented an apartment in a complex nearby, and I could go out on the first floor porch and play.  Another boy lived in the apartment overhead, and I remember us arguing about how big a hole an atomic bomb would make if it landed in the grass just off to the side of the building.  These memories are connected in my mind to my first memories of praying.  My mother taught me the Lord’s Prayer line by line, and I prayed going to sleep at night, afraid that the Russians would drop a bomb and kill my family while I slept.

There are all sorts of reasons and ways of praying in different places around the world.  I have prayed differently in different times of my life, alone and with others in various settings, and I usually experience corporate prayer as most meaningful.  Unless I have a disciplined rhythm carrying me across the day, I am easily distracted from personal prayers by baseball scores, the news, email, or mystery novels.  For aesthetic reasons, I prefer ordered, scripted prayer to extemporaneous dialogue, which means I’m usually leafing through books as I pray.  I admire the composition of good prayers, and I am thankful for their authors.

Today I want to turn our attention to the Collect printed in our bulletin.   Continue reading

AUGUST 2, 2015, TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, RCL YEAR B

THE BREAD OF ANGELS:

A SERMON BY PASTOR CHICO MARTIN

Lections:  Psalm 51:1-17; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Sometimes when we watch an infant, we can almost see his or her mind engaging the world.  The child’s attention is drawn to some movement, glint of light, or sound, not with any understanding, but by the stimulation of its faculties of perception.  As we grow older, the flights of our sensory infatuations become less expressive.  The restlessness that stimulates our minds and bodies escapes our attention, and most of the time we are too busy with sense-making to be stirred by the senses.  We are just as restless as an infant, but our restlessness is of a different kind.  We find sitting still to be difficult, and we prefer noise to silence, because we interpret our world as materialists.   We always want to be doing something, and we devote a lot of our time to buying things we either don’t have or don’t have enough of.  When we have a pleasurable experience, we want to repeat it.   My 2 ½-yr old nephew has a word he uses often:  again, he says.  Throw him a ball, and when he catches up to it, he’ll come running back with it, and say, Again.  Read him a book, and if he likes it, as soon as you’re finished, he turns to the front page and says, Again.  Adults act the same; a date, a drink, a meal, a TV show, a favorite vacation spot:  once is rarely enough, even though we know, in our hearts, the more we repeat ourselves, the less satisfied we are.  We tire of what we have, set one thing aside, and go after something different.  There is no end to desire for what will fail to bring us lasting happiness.
Continue reading