Ancient Answers


A Christmas Community

(I apologize that I had to remove the audio file of my complete sermon, as there seems to have been a technical glitch. In compensation, I’ll try to flesh out the brief version of my sermon below. Check back in a day or two to see if I have expanded what is shown here.)

A kindergarten teacher gave her class a “show and tell” assignment. Each student was instructed to bring in an object that represented their religion to share with the class.

The first student got up in front of the class and said, “My name is Benjamin and I am Jewish, and this is a Star of David.”

The second student got up in front of the class and said, “My name is Mary. I’m a Catholic and this is a Rosary.”

The third student got in up front of the class and said, “My name is Kosta. I am Greek Orthodox, and this is a baklava.”

Funny, but not far from the truth. What are we known for? Our icons? Maybe, to a few of the more intellectually curious people in our city. Our theology? To an even fewer number of people. But almost everyone knows us because of our Festival and bake sales. When people ask me where I work, I tell them Holy Trinity – you know, the Greek church, the one with the Greek Festival. Ah, people know right away which church I’m talking about.

I don’t mind, I like it. There’s nothing wrong with being recognized as the priest of the church that has the popular Greek Festival. That’s become my standard introduction to strangers who want to know what I do and where I work. In my more rigid days it used to bother me that people know us for our food and pastries rather than for our theology and liturgy. Not any more. I’ve grown up. Nothing to be embarrassed about. Jesus himself was not embarrassed by who he was and where he came from. That’s the whole point of today’s Gospel reading, that amazing genealogy that Matthew made up. Sure, he made it up to show Jesus came from important stock. But in that genealogy there are men and women not so lofty, not so holy, including some that you and I would be embarrassed to have in our family tree. No matter. God touched down on real earth and real people.

Right there at the beginning of the genealogy we find Abraham and Sarah. They were visited by three men who clearly came as representatives of God. They were on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah, to destroy those notorious cities of sin – kind of the Las Vegas of that time. But Abraham bargained with them, trying to convince God not to destroy – partly because Abraham had a nephew living there, Lot, but perhaps also because Abraham knew from personal experience how easy it is for people to sin. God listened and made the bargain with Abraham, but to no avail. He destroyed the city. The story of humankind starts with fire and brimstone, and so it continued for millennia. Then Jesus came, as the Prince of Peace, to bind up the wounds of the people, to preach good news to the poor, to heal the sick, to liberate the captives and the oppressed, to open the eyes of the blind, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. That’s how he identified himself to the people of Nazareth when he started his ministry as an adult. He came precisely for every inhabitant of Sodom and Gomorrah of every place and time. We are all bound, we are all blind in one way or another, we all need good news to come our way.

Every time we are in spiritual need, we stand with people of all times – in waiting, anticipation for the release that Jesus brings. And the miracle of Christmas happens every time we need good news, every time we need our eyes and hearts to be opened, every time we need forgiveness. God knows that we need the miracle of Christmas in our lives. Jesus did not choose to mingle with the religious types. He chose to be with the regular folks, people like us. And if he were in Portland in June he would definitely come to our Festival and taste our shish-kebab and baklava and loukoumades and even drink some Greek beer. I’m not sure about the Greek coffee. He can get better coffee in the Middle East.

That’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about God becoming one of us so we can have life and have it abundantly. And God provided us with this church as our spiritual home where we can receive Christ in our mouths and hear the good news every Sunday. We receive Christ so we can be received in the kingdom. I want people in Portland to know us as a place where people can taste Christ in addition to our baklava and shish-kebab. But it begins with us, every one of us. “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” says one of our communion hymns. It happens right here. And so Christ is born in us, and lives in us. Let us be a Christmas community year round! God bless you in this season of Christmas and in all 365 days of Christmas!

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Marks of Community

Today’s Gospel reading, Luke 13:10-17, should be read in the context of the entire chapter 13 of Luke. Jesus heals the woman who was bent over for eighteen years in the midst of various parables and confrontational dialogues.

Christ healing the crippled woman who was bent over. From the so-called "Two Brothers Sarcophagus" - mid-4th century, in the Vatican Museum.

Christ healing the crippled woman who was bent over. From the so-called “Two Brothers Sarcophagus” (mid-4th century, in the Vatican Museum)

What unifies all these segments of chapter 13 is the idea of community. A careful reading of this chapter reveals several marks of what a Christian community should be and should not be. That’s what today’s sermon attempted to do. The audio file of this sermon is presented here: