February 12, 2017


Epiphany 6 - Year A 

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger


The strong message throughout today’s readings and the Psalm are to follow God’s laws, the decrees, the commandments. Jesus spells out some of them for us. Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus)  does not, and I will get to that. In our own present time, we are  witnessing a very real conflict over following laws. The Executive Order on Refugees and Immigration Travel Ban is  highly controversial, and parts of it have been stopped by the Federal  Circuit Court of Appeals. We have been promised that the conflict is not  over, and it will no doubt NOT be the last one.  These strong messages about following commandments is a good time to  talk about what is going on for us. And to do so, I want to put it into  the context of our Adult Education.


On Wednesday, we will have the 6th session in our Adult Education series. It is one and the same as our 2nd event  in our 150th Celebrations. It is entitled:  

“San Luis Obispo’s Response  to
the Homeless Dilemma 1968-
2017 and Beyond.”


It will recount the  actions of people across San Luis, including parishioners of St  Stephen’s, who worked tirelessly and bravely to help those in need. This  morning, I am delivering the sermon that is to serve as the prelude to  Wednesday’s event following the format of our Adult Ed series.


Today’s  readings don’t jump out at us as guides for social action. One of the  problems with the Lectionary is that we are given short snapshots of  writings that are often convenient packages that are out of context with  the wider story and message. This is certainly true for our reading  from Sirach and the Psalm.


In Sirach, we are challenged to follow God’s Commandments, but we are not told what they are. Both God’s Commandments and “Wisdom” are Mosaic Law, which we find in the Pentateuch, in which there are lists of laws, particularly in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. We look toward Deuteronomy, though, which is more relevant than Leviticus. I need to offer some background, because the  context of the book is important. The book precedes the Book of Joshua,  which only appears in the Sunday Lectionary twice, each time to  re-state the Promise of the Land of Milk & Honey to Israel. Between  those two re-statings  is the bulk of the Book of Joshua, which is the God-sanctioned genocide  of the Canaanites who occupied the Promised Land. It’s not an inspiring  part of our Judeo-Christian history, unless, of course, you a warrior  and conqueror – and there are plenty of them in this world.


So,  for the Israelites in their history, they are about to end 40yrs of  nomadic life to enter into a permanent life of settlement.


The laws and  commandments of
Deuteronomy starkly differ from
those of the Book of  Leviticus,
because Leviticus was the set of
laws for a nomadic people.


The laws set forth in Deuteronomy (and in Mosaic Law, in general) are in 4 broad categories:  Laws of religious observance, Laws concerning officials, Civil Law, and Criminal Law. And there are parts of Deuteronomy which I will refer to in order to connect Sirach with Matthew.


A part of the Civil Law in Deuteronomy it is appropriate for us this very day. The commandment which Sirach challenges us to follow, the Wisdom the author declares “great” can be found in Deuteronomy 24.17 and 27:19:   


“You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge.” ‘Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.’ All the people shall say, ‘Amen!’  


The  alien, the orphan and the widow were singled out because they were the  most vulnerable and most susceptible to becoming economically  disadvantaged. In various ways, Scripture calls us to feed, teach, heal  and love all people.


Sirach is directly related to these verses of Deuteronomy:

  • •His eyes are on those who fear Him,
    and He knows every human action.
    He has not commanded anyone to be wicked,
    and He has not given anyone permission to sin.


‘Fear’ refers to following the Commandments; knowing actions and not giving permission to sin is similar to the curse that comes to those who deprive justice.


To  speak of them in the context of this month’s Adult Education Theme of  “Money: Those who have none” is to speak more broadly about the  disadvantaged or those who may become disadvantaged because of the  structures and systems the ruling classes put in place. What God wanted  to ensure was that, if the ruling classes do anything to their own  advantage, they are to ensure that others do not become disadvantaged.  


Soon,  Israel would no longer
have to worry about where their
daily bread  would come from –
it would be time to behave like a
civilized society.  Such a society
must ensure that they collectively
feed, teach, heal and love all –
whether widow, orphan, resident
alien or other marginalized and
vulnerable persons.


St  Stephen’s has strong credentials for social action in San Luis Obispo,  going back 150 years. We continue to support those in need through our  time, talent and treasure. I don’t really need to tell you that, as many of you have lived it. The work of the people of St Stephen’s is self-evident. At a minimum, your work is witnessed  by the guests we served on Christmas morning and those staying with us  in Ramsden Hall this month. We have a demonstrated through our history  that we have, and we continue to feed, teach, heal and love one another  and those who are vulnerable.


Today, and for the foreseeable
future, the stakes are higher than
they have been in a couple of
generations.  The potential for
real suffering now goes beyond
Ramsden Hall during  this
month of February. The very
lives of the widows, the orphans,
the  resident aliens – the lives of
the most vulnerable in American
society –  are in greater
jeopardy. In order to care for
those at risk of becoming 
marginalized, or who are
marginalized already and are at
risk of  becoming more
disadvantaged, we as
St Stephen’s – as the American
People – need to do our best to
ensure that feed, teach, heal and
love all.


Jesus  is very strict with us in today’s readings. He throws at us the Law in  ways that are difficult to unpack. But His underlying message is one of  community cohesion and care for the marginalized, and that we are guilty of sins of ASSOCIATION as much as we are guilty of sins of COMISSION. His message is always in support of those who are marginalized. He is calling us to respect the dignity of every human being – whether in our midst, or part of the larger community of God’s people.  The point of God’s Laws has always been to respect the dignity of every  human being, and not just human beings, but all of Creation – the people here, and the people far away; Creation here, and Creation far away.  Jesus came to fulfill that Law, not to abolish it, as He tells us in  the verses immediately preceding today’s Gospel text, which we heard  last week.


I  attended Clergy Conference for the priests and deacons of the Diocese  of El Camino Real. There is considerable angst among clergy about the  political climate after the Inauguration. By no means is their universal  opinion, but as you can imagine, the majority of the clergy are taking  more liberal stance on the political climate, even if they are  Republicans. It is a very politically-charged environment that we are  in, with current and future Executive Orders and Legislation that will  have very real affects in all of our congregations. And there is likely to be more that causes pain and division, and which threaten the civil liberties of Americans and others.  


There  will be no ivory towers in which to hide as a congregation. We will all  be affected. So, we must all keep up on the issues. And we all must  remain in brotherly and sisterly love with one another. Even if we are  hold separate views, we are stronger together: America always has been. We will not live in fear of the widow, orphan and alien. We will feed, teach, heal and live them.


When  confronted with scriptures about the Law, it is important to remember  The Greatest Commandments, even if they are not presented to us in the  words on the pages of today’s readings. The Greatest Commandments begin with a restatement of a commandment that first appears in Deuteronomy:  The Shema:   


Love  the Lord your God with all
your heart, and all your soul,
and all your  mind and all your
strength. And the second is like
unto it:  Love your  neighbor
as yourself.  


We prayed in today’s Collect “that in keeping God’s commandments we may please God both in will and deed.” And Sirach warns us that God “knows every human action, and He has not given anyone permission to sin.”


It  is without a doubt that we as Christians, if we are to follow God’s  Commandments, are to feed, teach, heal and love those around us.  Regardless of our political ideologies, wealth or status, this is what  we are called to do. And I am proud and humbled by the social justice  undertaken by all of you sitting here in the pews. Let us continue to  care for the widow, the orphan and the alien – the refugee, the  immigrant, the poor, the disadvantaged, the vulnerable – not because we  are followers of the Democrats or followers of the Republicans, but  because we are followers of Jesus. God knows every human action, and He has not given anyone permission to sin. Therefore,


‘Cursed be anyone who deprives
the alien, the orphan, and the
widow of justice.’ All the people
shall say, ‘Amen!’

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