156 N. Monroe St.
P.O. Box 507
La Grange, Texas 78945
Father Eric: 979.968.3910
in the Preschool
Tuesday - Friday
9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Sharing HIS Word...Sermons for the Soul
Sunday, May 24, 2015 –
Whitsunday, Day of Pentecost, Year B
“We are the Heirs...”
In the beginning, the Spirit of God breathed and danced upon the deep. God was bringing something new into existence. God was creating. God created vast expanses and bright burning fires in the heavens, galaxy upon galaxy filled with extraordinary stars. Eventually, in a far flung corner of the immense universe there was a tiny planet that began to cool—it was not particularly impressive and it circled round a not particularly impressive star, kind of a small star really. But the God of the universe decided this would be a good place to continue the experiment and so God began to breathe life into being. God brought forth creatures, starting very small and then they grew larger and larger and larger, such a great diversity of creatures that came into existence some of which flitted into and out of existence in the blink of an eye.
But like a potter continually working the clay to find that perfect form, God brought into existence a not particularly impressive creature, at least not in size or looks or feats of strength, but this creature, more than any other of God’s vast and mysterious creation, had the ability to think, and feel deeply and love with immensity. It was upon the creation of this creature that God felt it was time to rest because in this creature, God had truly created something that mirrored God’s image. This ability to think, and empathize, and love deeply, made this new creation a kind of self-portrait, it was the kind of creation that could create. God loved this creature so very deeply and It was the kind of creation that could love back.
But as time went on, these creatures, with wills of their own began to forget that love was the purpose for their existence. These creatures began to desire power over love. This desire for power lead to the birth of hatred in their hearts. They invited Evil into their midst. They invented competition and greed. There were many things these new creatures did to grasp this power that they craved.
On one occasion they all banded together to build a great tower. This tower, they said, would help them grasp the power of God for themselves. And so they worked tirelessly, brick upon brick, stone upon stone at a place called Babel. Seeking to grasp God’s power and bring it down for themselves. They fell from this enormous tower and shattered like glass into ten thousand pieces. The great unity they had been created for became great division. The language they all spoke became gibberish as no one could understand the other anymore. It became Babel. They were all babbling at each other. This misunderstanding led to more competition, more violence, more methods of exploitation, more suspicion and tribalism.
God found one of these tribes and sought through them to set things aright. For centuries God worked patiently through these people sending prophets and sages to remind people of their purpose but it was no use...
God had to send the most powerful emissary, a being both man and God. A being who flowed directly from God. This being was born of a human mother. This being came to remind humans that God’s greatest power was love and that it was love for which they were made.
This wise Godman taught and healed and fed the hungry and stood upon the deep waters. This Godman cast out Evil wherever he found it and restored health and wholeness in its place. This man was God’s son, and God was very pleased. The good work God had begun was being restored. This Godman gathered friends and reminded them that the most important thing was to love God and to love one another. But those who were ravenous for God’s power grasped the Godman and sought to rip it out of him torturing him and executing him. “Let’s see if you really are God’s son,” they said.
“Forgive them for they know not what they do.” he said.
When it seemed as though violence and chaos had once again won. When it seemed like hope was once again crushed. When it seemed like love had been buried deep in a dark tomb, something remarkable happened. A single flame awakened and pushed back the dark. He who had been defeated arose from the depths of death and destroyed death. Evil thought it had won, and found it it’s surprise it had been defeated and cast out instead and this Godman arose to new and glorious life. A new Risen Life he was now inviting people to share in! This Godman returned to the heavenly realms with the promise of a gift. “Wait patiently in the city until it comes” he told his friends.
Ten days later, when the friends had gathered, this new fire awoke upon the heads of all who were present. It was an extraordinary thing to witness! An immense wind blew over them like the wind that danced upon the deep at the beginning of creation. These people from far flung regions and tribes, like ten thousand shards of glass became fused together again. They could understand each other again for the first time. “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- in [their] own languages” heard the friends speaking about God's deeds of power. The great divisions that had caused so much pain had been undone and all who were gathered experienced that first unity. That pure unity which God had created them for. All who were gathered experienced the fullness of God’s love on that day.
On that day a new creation was formed out of the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit. On that day a new people was formed. To this new people the apostle Paul wrote, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
This new creation spread all over the world. It spread like wildfire, this new creation brought kindness and love, healing, and hope throughout the nations and throughout the generations. They brought light in the midst of dark times. They brought loving witness in the face of tyranny and oppression.
Today we gather because of those who gathered on that first Pentecost. We are the torch bearers. We are the heirs. We are the descendants. We carry the flame that awoke on the night of the resurrection. We carry the flame that was born upon the heads of those first disciples. We are called to be Hope in this world. We are called to be Healing in this world. We are called to cast out evil and replace it with wholeness. We are called to remind the world what its purpose is: To love. We are a part of this great story. May we not forget it. May we continue to proclaim it. Happy Pentecost. Happy birthday. Amen.
Sunday, May 17, 2015 –
Seventh Sunday after Easter, Year B
“Your Faith Journey...”
I love getting out into nature to get away from it all. Some of the times when I have felt the most free in my life have been out in the country or on top of a mountain or out in the desert. I can remember being a teenager at the top of El Capitan peak in the Davis Mountains and looking hundreds of miles into Mexico and hundreds of miles into the US, up there the world seemed much smaller.
In the face of all that freedom I remember wondering why we couldn’t all just be “taken out of the world” it is so easy to become overwhelmed by the complexity and challenges of it all and wondered but Jesus specifically prays in our reading from John this morning, that he is not asking for us to be taken out of the world. Why? Jesus needs us to be change agents in the world. Jesus needs workers in his vineyard--He needs us to be in partnership with him to help transform the world.
How can I do that, you might ask, I am just one insignificant person in this very large and brutal world, how can I make a difference, how can I partner with God in order to transform this place?
In his prayer for us this morning, Jesus also prays that we be united as one as he and the father are one. This is an extraordinary statement. How can we in this age of individualism where Facebook ads are tailored to our exact preferences be one as Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus does not ask us to lose our individuality. Jesus does not ask us to be a hive mind, he does not say we need to all think the same way, believe the same things, have the same preferences. Our uniqueness our individuality is part of what marks us as being made in the image of God. The beautiful thing about the Episcopal church is our ability to come together in unity of worship, and understanding of this mystical unity through which we are indelibly knit together as the body of Christ. We would not exist apart from one another, each of us has influence upon the other. We keep our individuality but we are deeply linked together, deeply united in worship and in faith and through this incredible unity we are able to accomplish more in the world than we could ever imagine.
Just as Jesus did not belong to the world neither do we belong to the world. But just as
Jesus was sent into the thick of things, so we are sent into the world. As Christians we do not flee the world. We do not flee its complexity. We do not flee its tumultuous changes and chances. We do
not flee its pain. We follow Jesus through the world’s pain into resurrected life.
We are called to be holy witnesses of God’s kingdom in the world. Even though we are in the
world, Jesus prays to the Father that we might be sanctified. This means that we might be made holy. The word “holy” means “set apart.”
So we are sent into the world by Jesus, but we are set apart. We are called to be examples of the Kingdom to those that live in this world and to be a link between them and the chain that is connected to the very heart of God. We are called to be vessels of the Holy Spirit brimming with the light of God’s love and we are called to offer ourselves to the world: A world that God loves so much that he sent his only begotten Son into its dangerous midst. And so each one of us is sent into the world just like Jesus was, to remind the world that it is loved by God. Each one of us has a mission: a purpose for our being sent.
As I’ve mentioned before, I serve on the world mission board of our diocese and one of the things we do is provide grants to people in need all across the world. Grants made directly by the Diocese of Texas have helped to fund ovens in Sudanese Refugee Camps in Kenya where children were developing chronic illnesses because of the smoke from open fires. Grants from the Diocese of Texas have provided enough propane for Episcopalians who are members of the Standing Rock Tribe in North Dakota to survive the punishing winter this last year—we did this after hearing that several people died the year before because they didn’t have enough heat.
There are people Living on the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota who have a brand new sanctuary because people from the Diocese of Texas went to help build one over the course of three summers and there are people in Houston who have a house now because some of these same Episcopalians from Reservations in North Dakota came and volunteered their time to assist with a Habitat project here in Texas.
Episcopal Relief and Development is one of the most highly rated and transparent Non-Governmental Organizations in the World. We are on the ground in disaster areas making a difference in the lives of God’s children throughout the world.
We are able to accomplish amazing things for the sake of the one who sends us if we are able to come together in love and care for each other and for the world. These are important things for us to remember when it is easy to be overwhelmed by all that is going wrong in the world and when all of it’s problems seem impossible.
We are not of the world but through the power of the Holy Spirit we can pray that God’s will be done as it is in Heaven. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who draws us together in Unity we are able to do God’s work in the world planting seeds which can and will grow into trees of abundant life.
We do not need to wait to be brought into God’s fullness in order to experience God’s
transformative power right here. We are in the world but not of the world so that the world might someday be restored redeemed and know the fullness of Jesus’ redeeming love. As we go out on the
journey that God has given us, every step of the way, we are becoming transformed, made holy, and formed into our true selves. God brings us here to heal us, makes us whole, and empower us so that we
might bring Jesus’ truth, and healing, and love to the world. Amen.
Sunday, May 9, 2015 –
Sixth Sunday after Easter, Year B
Lord Jesus, come be my companion this night. Fill me with the light of your countenance. Hold me in your arms and give me a sense of what you would like your people to hear tomorrow.
We all have to learn how to be Christians. It is not something that comes naturally to us. We have all had spiritual teachers who demonstrated the way of Christ for us. One the single biggest influences on my Christian walk of discipleship has been my mother.
My mom is a special education teacher in the Manor Independent School district. If anyone has taught me about the art of selfless love it is her. I can remember her caring for her severely disabled students outside of the classroom, bringing them over to our home when the parents couldn’t find anyone else to babysit. I can remember that my mom was always giving people rides to church. People with disabilities, people who didn’t have cars. Mom would go by their house and pick them up and make sure that they got to church. A large population of refugees from Burma showed up at St. David’s because they were Anglicans in their home country. My mom helped them get their Visas sorted. She helped them get acclimatized to the United States. She didn’t do any of these things to get pats on the back. I don’t know if she has ever received any kind of official award for the work that she has done, she just does it because that is the kind of disciple she has become through the years. She is joyful and exudes loving. I relate these things about my mother, not to brag or to wax overly sentimental.
There are some of us for whom this day is difficult. Mother’s day might recall to us the loss of our own mother or spouse. Some of us have or had extremely difficult relationships with their biological mothers. To some people their actual mother is not associated with mothering at all—none of us choose are parents, and to some, our actual mothers did not exemplify the kind of nurturing we needed. But whatever the case we have all had experience with spiritual guides in our lives who have demonstrated to us and for us what it means to be a Christian disciple. In some cases these people have been mothers or fathers or grandmothers. In other cases these might be teachers or professors, spouses or dear friends.
These people who are guides along the way on our Christian walk are people who exude the principle of self-giving love. They are all people who demonstrate a tenderness, a Christ-like ability to nurture. People who exude a kind of safety and warmth in their presence.
Whether it is performed by an actual mother, or whether it is performed by one of these spiritual mothers along the way, the act of mothering is a profoundly important and undervalued virtue in our culture. Jesus exemplified this kind of mothering love in the compassion that he felt for those he encountered—In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke Jesus cries out “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
In our gospel for this morning, Jesus calls us to love one another, Jesus calls us to unity, He calls us to “abide in his love” and he prays that in him, our “joy might be complete.”
Twice in John’s Gospel Jesus emphasizes that he gives us as his disciples a new commandment: that we love one another as he has loved us. This must be a very important commandment because he keeps saying it. He keeps emphasizing this. We are called to be gentle with one another. We are called to gather in this place and receive strength from the love that we encounter here. In a place of great joy like St. James’ loving one another might be a piece of cake but following Christ’s command to “Love one another as I have loved you” becomes exceptionally difficult in this polarized modern world. It is difficult in this world of ego-driven self aggrandizement, but as Christians, this is our imperative, this is how we are to be set apart. This is how we are to be identified in the world and how we are to bear fruit, if we abide in Christ’s love and love as Christ has loved us.
Jesus entreats us to love one another to live in Unity, to live in harmony. We come here to practice that and then we are sent out into the world to do it there too.
My sisters and brothers we live in a world that is sorely in need of Christian love. We live in a world that needs examples of kindness, of love that is willing to go the extra mile to care and nurture. As Christ’s emissaries, we are called to offer his love to those who we encounter. We are called to remind them of his forgiveness. We are called to bestow healing and blessings on a world that is hurting. So think about those people in your lives who were or are spiritual mothers to you. Let them be an inspiration to you when you encounter strife, when you encounter people who are difficult, when you see someone who is in need of help. I invite you to be a spiritual mother to them. I invite you to share in Christ’s desire to gather up God’s children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings so that all might come within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace. Amen.
Sunday, May 3, 2015 –
Fifth Sunday after Easter, Year B
If I were a betting man, I would wager that not many of you here this morning are aware that the town of Denison, Texas about 12 miles north of where I attended college in Sherman and about 7 miles south of the Oklahoma border is the sister city with Cognac, France. Cognac on the banks of the river Charante, with its illustrious history, its beautiful castles, its famous Brandy, and its short train trip to Paris. And its sister city Denison with its close proximity to…well…Oklahoma.
As the story goes, In 1880, the vineyards of France were on the verge of destruction. The phylloxera root louse was on the move and these tiny greedy little insects were making their way all over Europe brutalizing the roots of the grapevines. Many of these vines were hundreds of years old and had been painstakingly cultivated throughout the generations. This grapevine plague was spread throughout France, and in the Charante Region (Cognac) in particular. With the whole nation’s economy at risk, France’s government in desperation appointed French scientist Pierre Viala to find a cure for the plague.
Viala's searched far and wide for any clue, for anything that could stop France’s wine industry and heritage from collapsing and his search eventually lead him to Denison, Texas where there lived a botanist by the name of Thomas Volney Munson. “Seeking a solution, Viala and Munson studied the native grapes of Texas. Because the soils of the Charante and Denison are very similar, and Munson knew the Texas rootstocks were resistant to phylloxera, Munson suggested that the only way to save the French vineyards was to graft the Texas rootstocks with the French vines. Viala agreed and thousands of bundles of Texas rootstocks were shipped to France to be grafted with the French vineyards. The grafting continues to this day.
France awarded Munson the Chevalier du Merite Agricule, the highest award that could be given to a foreign civilian. In 1888, Munson was inducted into the Legion of Honor and, to commemorate the award, a Centennial Celebration was held in Cognac and Denison 100 years later.” And that is the true story of how Texas saved the vineyards of France.
Today Jesus speaks to us from the Gospel of John and says to us “I am the true vine and my father is the vine grower” – Jesus tells us that he is the true vine and then he goes on to say that “Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
Jesus says that the faithful will be pruned so that we can bear even more fruit. This is something that it is important for us to remember. We all go through seasons of struggle in our lives, seasons of hardship, seasons of grief. Sometimes it is easy to attribute hardships in our lives to an absence of God, or to ask God “why me?”—What Jesus says to us this morning is that God cares for us and hardship and struggle can be taken by God and transformed. God can take the difficulties of life and uses them to grow good fruit within us. “the suffering we endure is not wasteful cutting but pruning for a more abundant future and, that no matter what happens, Jesus will not abandon us.” We like the vines in Cognac are exposed to the many blights of this world. There are times in our lives when we feel as though we cannot go on and that we are on the verge of withering.
We may feel as though we have experienced a lot of pruning in recent weeks BUT we are also “inseparably grafted onto the vine” – we are grafted onto that true vine that is our source of life, our source of joy, our source of abundance. Without being a part of this vine we are unable to bear good fruit, we are unable to find peace or fulfillment, direction or meaning. But we have been grafted upon this good vine. A strong vine with roots that stretch out deeper than we can possibly imagine, roots that are immune to the blights of this world, roots that drink from the pure springs of Divine Water. And we who would wither are grafted upon this good vine and we are given strength and nourishment. And those buds which we never thought would return slowly begin to grow as the sunlight of the spring returns.
This morning, Jesus invites us to abide in him as he abides in us. It is a comfort to be reminded that Jesus is already abiding within us. This might sound a lot like when Jesus said “the Kingdom of God is within you” –part of our task as spiritual beings is to let go of all of the floating mud and debris that we carry around with us in our hearts, to let that debris settle for a while, and allow the pure light of Christ’s love to shine into the waters of our souls.
Sometimes all we need to redirect us to remind us of our purpose in life is to remember that at the very core of our being, Jesus who deeply loves us is abiding within us and if we stop to remind ourselves from time to time, if we stop to abide, if we stop to find our center, we can hear that still small voice which offers unto us that peace which passes all understanding.
Granted this is no easy task. We have a hard time “abiding” in our contemporary age. We are uncomfortable “abiding.” (unless you’re the Dude—only some of you will get that). We would much rather be doing, achieving. Those of you who are retired know that you are as busy as you ever were. Those of you who have kids are constantly trying to keep up with activity on top of activity. But as we go about our day to day lives working hard to put one foot in front of the next, looking for meaning and attempting to make sense of this world, we can stop and be reminded of God’s love for each and every one of us.
Augustine writes “he is the Son of man because of us, and we are the children of God because of him.”
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.” Amen.
Sunday, April 26, 2015 –
Fourth Sunday after Easter, Year B
Sheep have been on my mind lately. While Shyla and I were on our pilgrimage in the UK they were everywhere in the countryside. They sat grazing all over the place amongst the ruins of Stonehenge or ancient stone walls or abbeys, absolutely oblivious to the historical significance or holiness of the site they were standing on. These sheep are such a common fixture at these historical sites that you can even get little stuffed sheep as souvenirs at Stonehenge. We bought one for Ori that we call Henge-y the sheep. He snuggles with Henge-y at night. [I have heard before, and I don’t know whether it’s true or not, that altar rails were originally invented to keep animals out of the sacrament.] They just go wherever it looks good for them to graze. They don’t stick together like cows. The longhorns out at the Helms’ place where we’re staying tend to do a good job of sticking together but a sheep will wander off without any inkling that he has gotten away from his fellows.
That is a particularly appealing trait for a hungry wolf who is seeking to devour.
Wolves. There are wolves that seek to attack us in life. There are wolves in this world that seek to scatter us. That seek to do us harm. God recognizes this. God does not leave us defenseless. God sends a good and caring shepherd who loves us and who accompanies us through the valley of the shadow of death and leads us into green pastures. Pastures of plenty.
He calls each of us by name. He knows each of us uniquely. He knows our individual needs and makes provision for them.
In the early Church, the very first images of Jesus that we can find are images of Christ the Good Shepherd. We find the images of Jesus the Good Shepherd on the walls of catacomb churches where the oppressed minority Christians would worship in secret. This God which they worshipped was not a conquering warrior emperor like the Caesars of the Rome. This God that they worshipped was not like the fierce lion God of Mesopotamia, or the lightning-bolt throwing Zeus. This God which the Christians worshipped in secret who was such a threat to the Roman Empire was a humble shepherd. A humble shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.
This shepherd of peace bears for us a powerful redeeming love. This shepherd of peace calls us forth as his sheep and transforms us into shepherds who go with him after his lost sheep.
There are those that don’t belong to this fold who Jesus calls. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Jesus is the great seeker. He seeks after each of us. He offers us comfort and care in the midst of chaos. He loves each and every one of us and offers us rest for our souls.
Christians have suffered from the beginning of Christianity. Christians continue to suffer in the Middle East and throughout the world. One of the hardest truths is that being Christian will not make us immune to suffering. To the contrary, we who are disciples of the Good Shepherd might one day find ourselves in situations when we too are called to lay down our lives. And we all certainly must past through death’s gate. But we have an advocate in Jesus Christ the righteous. We have a leader who will stop at nothing to seek us out and find us.
One of the early church fathers, Basil of Seleucia wrote in the 5th century: “Death held sway until Christ died. The grave was bitter, our prison was indestructible, until the shepherd went down and brought to his sheep, confined there, the good news of their release. His appearance among them gave them a pledge of their resurrection and called them to a new life beyond the grave. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep and so seeks to win their love.””
We are shepherds too. Peter became a shepherd. All bishops carry a crozier—a shepherd’s staff, a sign that they are the representatives of the great shepherd. “Nurtured by the love of the Father and Son, these later hired hands will tend and feed Jesus’ sheep and be able to face the worst the wolf can do (John 21:18-19) in the assurance that they have been drawn into a love that stretches from before time into a future beyond time in the abiding presence of the shepherd-God.”
In our reading from 1 John this morning, we heard compelling words that as apprentices of the Good Shepherd, we ought to lay down our lives for one another. We must not refuse help to others. We who are the Good Shepherds disciples are called to do good work in the world in his name.
This good shepherd became a little lamb offered up his life for our redemption and transformation so that we aimless, wandering sheep, might be transformed into shepherds. Peter, who denies Jesus three times before his passion experiences the fullness of this redemption. At the end of the Gospel of John, in the 21st chapter, Jesus appears to him on a beach and after breakfast and says these words to him:
“‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
Let us follow. Amen.
Sunday, April 18, 2015 –
Third Sunday after Easter, Year B
When I was a kid growing up, one of the things I still cherish was the effort that my parents made to pray with my sister and me. I can remember Dad driving us to the bus stop at 5:30 in the morning and we would take a prayer book with us and pray the morning prayer daily devotion—we would also sit on the couch together in the evenings and pray the evening prayer and there was a prayer that has stuck with me ever since then and I still pray it often (we sometimes use it before our vestry meetings here):
“Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.”
It was several years before I recognized this an Emmaus prayer. The two disciples who are walking along the road to Emmaus are lonely, exhausted, and sad. They have lost Jesus and they have lost hope. Then a stranger comes and walks alongside them. He butts in to their conversation, what are you talking about? Cleopas speaks to a Jesus that he does not recognized and he says to him “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” [the stranger] asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
Cleopas goes on to tell this stranger that they have been thrown into confusion because of the account of some women disciples who went to the tomb where he was laid and found it completely empty.
The stranger starts giving them a hard time “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” –now if I was Cleopas and his travelling companion I might be tempted to tell this stranger to get lost, first he butts into the conversation, then he starts telling them how foolish they are…but as Luke writes, they listen to what this stranger has to say:
“…beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
I love this account—“were not our hearts burning within us?” It is here that we come upon the passage from Luke’s gospel appointed for today:
Cleopas and the other disciple go running to tell the others—even though it was almost evening and it was dangerous to be out on the roads at night, they went flying back to Jerusalem from Emmaus that same hour and began to excitedly tell the other disciples what they had seen. “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
All of the sudden Jesus come among them in their midst again. AGAIN they don’t recognize him. They are startled by him and they think he is a ghost. Similar to what happened in last week’s gospel Jesus shows them the scars on his hands and his feet and he eats a piece of fish in front of them to show them—look its really me, I’m not an apparition, this is the real deal. I am risen from the dead.
But then he say to them, it doesn’t stop here—this is only the beginning. You need to “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Jesus is already pointing them in the direction of Pentecost. Jesus is already saying to them, something extraordinary has happened but this thing has only just begun, we are about to do remarkable things in the world.
In John’s gospel, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Paraclete—roughly translated it means the Advocate but it literally means, one who comes alongside.
I love this image because it mirrors what Jesus does here. He comes alongside his disciples in their grief. He walks with them through their time of mourning and then he opens their eyes to a new reality a new reality of new life of transformation and of a new creation.
Here we are gathered today as an Easter People and we pray that Jesus come alongside us we pray that Jesus come among us and be known to us in Scripture and the breaking of bread and we pray that he send his holy spirit upon us to empower us and to make us a new people, his new creation so that we might go out into the world and walk alongside others in their grief so that we too might help to open their eyes to the reality of new life a new creation. The kingdom of God which is now and will be forever. Amen.
Sunday, April 11, 2015 –
Second Sunday after Easter, Year B
“Believe without seeing...”
We human beings are fragile and complex. We have as many things that drive and motivate us as there are different people. We have different fears and different ways of experiencing the world. I remember hearing a story about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Now I don’t know what you think of the Beach Boy’s music, I don’t care if you like them or not, (I’m not particularly fond of them myself, given the choice I’m really more of a Beatles guy) but I have to admit that the Beach Boys’ poppy and overly saccharine melodies get stuck in my head more effectively than almost any music. But I remember hearing a story about the main creative force behind the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, being so overwhelmed and full of anxiety at the height of the Beach Boys’ popularity that in the year 1965, he holed up in his home and famously installed a sandbox in his living room so that he could feel the sand on his feet while he composed his music.
Disciples are locked in an upper room out of fear. They are up there in hiding. They are trying to process what they have been through in the last few weeks. They are probably reeling from the emotional roller coaster they have experienced. Perhaps a bit like the emotional roller coaster we have experienced here at St. James’ in the last couple of weeks.
They are there in the upper room gathered on Sunday. Then all of the sudden, Jesus comes among them in the midst of their fear and says “Peace be with you.” Jesus offers them peace in the midst of fear.
He then breathes on them. Like God the father at the beginning of creation breathing his spirit upon the waters, breathing life into Adam and Eve, Jesus breathes new life upon his New Adams and New Eves.
Our brother in the faith, the Apostle Thomas is given a bad rap: Time and again he is referred to as “Doubting Thomas” –People always say “Oh, don’t be a doubting Thomas” but it is my opinion that Thomas should be called “Believing Thomas”—It was not Thomas’ fault that he wasn’t present last week, we all have schedule conflicts that prevent us from getting to church on Sunday from time to time, he could have been on a Mediterranean cruise. No, but the fact is that Thomas was not afraid to ask for what he needed for his own personal faith journey. We all need different sustenance for our walks of faith, we all have different hearts, different spirits, and different spiritual needs.
Thomas was deeply grieved. He was deeply grieving the loss of Jesus. It hit him hard and he wasn’t prepared to go through that kind of emotional trauma again. We have all been there. We all know what it is like to get our hopes up, only to have our hopes firmly dashed again! And so poor, Thomas, who was still full of fear and full of grief said, “I will not be able to have a heart full of joy and faith unless I am shown these things—unless I physically touch my wounded, Lord, I will not believe.” The amazing and remarkable thing is that God hears his petition. He hears his need and he responds to it. Jesus appears once more, this time doing so at a time when he knows that Thomas will be present.
He comes among them but he comes specifically for Thomas. I imagine that Jesus draws Thomas close to him as he says to him dear Thomas “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas then responds with the greatest statement of faith in all of the Gospels “My Lord and My God.” And we too are drawn into this great Gospel story. We are those who have not seen but who believe, we are those to whom this extraordinary account has been imparted. We like Thomas and those early disciples have ups and downs in our faith journey. We live with the reality of fear and doubt. Frederick Buechner, the acclaimed Presbyterian Minister and Theologian writes:
"Even though [Jesus] said the greater blessing is for those who can believe without seeing, it's hard to imagine that there's a believer anywhere who wouldn't have traded places with Thomas, given the chance, and seen that face and heard that voice and touched those ruined hands." –
So here we are some 2000 years later and we have been brought into this same Gospel story, this Gospel Community. Each Sunday we gather together just like those disciples before us, and the extraordinary thing is that the Risen Christ is present among us. The Risen Christ comes among us and says to us “Peace be with you” and he his revealed to us each week in the scriptures and through the breaking of the bread. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them," (Matthew 18:20) he says. Ther are some weeks when we come here in fear. There are some weeks when we come her e full of doubt. The Risen Christ comes among us and says "Peace be with you." Week after week the Risen Christ coms among us and says to us "do not be afrain, I am with you on the Journey."
My prayer is that you, like Thomas be given the spiritual sustenance you need for your journey of faith. My prayer for us as a community, is that we like the disciples in the upper room might receive the power of the holy spirit while we are gathered in this place and then we might go forth into the world, following in the footsteps of those first apostles and doing the extraordinary things that did for those who were in need in their day. May we, working through the power of the Holy Spirit, work to heal the sick, bind up the broken hearted, and may we act with great generosity like our forebears in the faith, who we heard about in our lesson from the Acts of the Apostles, to give with generosity to provide for those who are in need. May this place be a place of Safe Haven for those who come here weary of the world, seeking solace and spiritual sustenance. And may this place also be a place where we are breathed upon by the Holy Spirit so that we might be sent forth from this place as a community to do extraordinary things. Amen.
Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015 –
“A Sacred Reminder...”
As many of you probably know, my late grandfather, my Papa, was an Episcopal Priest. I have heard a whole lot of stories about Papa (otherwise known as Fr. Don Hungerford) over the years. One woman told me a story about how she went to church on Easter Sunday and she and her husband were young parents and they had a very squirmy little toddler (not that I can relate to that or anything) and after the gospel had been read and the organist was playing some dulcet tones as my grandfather was climbing the many steps leading up to the tall pulpit, the little girl’s father leaned over to help the little girl was fidgeting with her brand new Easter shoes. Father Hungerford reached the pulpit for his sermon and proclaimed with his usual dignified air “Alleluia Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!” After he had said this, as the young Dad in the pew looked up from fiddling with his daughter’s shoe, he saw my grandfather turning and walking back down the steps. He looked from his wife to the pulpit, then back to his wife and said “I think I’ve just had an out of body experience!”
So, my sermon won’t be quite that short, but these powerful words remind us that all words fall short in the truth that we serve a God who is the fountain of life and source of all Goodness who continually sought after us in spite of all of the many ways we fell short, and then
On this morning of mornings, there is not much more to be said than to proclaim that the tomb is empty.
We reach the end of Mark’s gospel which has told the story of a long hard week of suffering and defeat. We heard of Jesus’ betrayal, we have been told of his arrest. We have heard how the disciples, early in the morning on Sunday, the women arrive to find that the tomb is empty. These women who have been with Jesus, watching from afar. They have returned desirous of a sense of closure. They have returned in a state of grief, mourning the loss of what could have been. They have had to relinquish their dream that Jesus would set things aright. And so they came seeking closure. They came seeking one last opportunity to say goodbye. They sought one last opportunity to say goodbye to this friend whom they loved. They came to wrap his body in spices to mask the stench of death.
And then an otherworldly young man dressed in white has a message for these faithful women: He is not here, he has been raised. He is not here he has been raised.
Jesus this day has gone through death and broken its bars. Christ has descended to the very depths of Death and come out on the other side victorious.
There is a wonderful poem by John Donne one of the greatest poets of the English Language and Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The Poem is called Easter Day and it is written to the Sun. The poet tells the sun that it can essentially take the day off and rest, especially given what happened to it on Good Friday. And besides, says Donne, “A better sun rose before thee to-day. Who not content t’ enlighten all that dwell on the earth’s face, as thou, enlighten’d hell; And made the dark fires languish in that vale, As at thy presence here our fires grow pale.”
Christ’s brightness, says Donne, as he descended into the darkness of death, made the fires of hell weaken and diminish. Today we celebrate Christ’s triumph over human weakness. We celebrate God’s triumph over human violence. Today we celebrate the dawn of peace and wholeness. Today we celebrate injustice being turned on its head as it is undone.
Our congregation has experienced a lot of loss over the last several weeks. In the face of all of this loss and grief, many of us have struggled
Perhaps you have struggled with loss. Maybe you have experienced the loss of a loved one. Perhaps you are struggling with a rocky time with family member.
God’s is a reconciling love.
The beauty of Christ’s resurrection is that it goes beyond human guilt and shame. All of Jesus’ disciples flee away with the exception of the women who keep silent watch from afar. But Jesus is taken as a political prisoner, given a mock trial, sentenced as an innocent man on death row. And no one stands by him such that his last words on the cross are “my God my God, why have you forsaken me”
And yet, when Christ is raised from the dead, he does not seek restitution from those who abandoned him. He does not come in anger. He comes in peace, he comes in forgiveness, he comes making all things new again.
No matter what you have experienced, no matter what hardships you have been through in your life, Jesus is in solidarity with those things, he offers deep empathy to you. There is nothing that a human being can experience that God has not experienced. There is nowhere we can go where God has not been before. Christ has gone before us through persecution. Christ has gone before us through experiencing injustice. Christ has gone before us through feeling grief and abandonment. Christ has gone before us through death. Christ has gone before us to Galilee.
The psalms ring out with this truth: “Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee
from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there
your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me and the light around me turn to night," Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as
the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. For you, yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.”
Today is the dawn of hope. The hope that Christ, being raised will draw all the world to himself. That things which had been cast down are being raised up, things which has grown old are being made new and that all things are being brought to their perfection through the might and love and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus stands in the breach between heaven and earth and brings the two together on this day.
Today God draws through the waters of the Red sea, through the deep fathoms of grief and strife, through the very gates of death into a new life, a new consciousness—where we become transformed and remade in God’s image—where we are made holy. Today, we will welcome two new members into the Christian family. This morning we will baptize Liam and Gracie. They will come with us through the waters of the Red Sea, they will follow Jesus through his death, and emerge new members of the family of God. These two sweet little ones will know the pain and struggle of being human in their life journeys. They will experience frustration, disappointment, and heartache as each and every one of us has, and yet, they will have the assurance that these fires in their lives burn faintly in the face of the brilliant glory of the Risen Lord.
They will have the assurance that they belong to a communion of Saints and they will be ambassadors of the kingdom of God. Returning love for scorn and offering forgiveness where pain has been caused. Amen.
Sunday, March 1, 2015 –
Second Sunday in Lent,Year B
“Open Your Eyes...”
There is a very strange phenomenon on the internet right now perhaps you have heard of it. There is a photograph of a dress but half of the people literally see as being white and gold and the other half see as being blue and black. At first I didn’t think much of the whole thing, I thought it was a bunch of bologna. When Shyla first showed me the photo and asked what color the dress was without hesitation I said blue and black (which by the way, is the color that it is in real life.) I thought to myself, well I guess all those people who see white and gold must just be crazy and I moved on. Here’s where the story gets interesting, the next day, Shyla is reading an article about color and how different cultures see color differently, etc, etc and all of the sudden the picture of the dress came up on screen again. “Is that a different image?” I asked. “No,” said Shyla, it’s the exact same image, “Why?” “Well because it’s white and gold to me now!” It wasn’t until after a few minutes of talking through it with Shyla going away from the page and back to it, that I was able to see it as blue and black again! Now I was starting to think that I was going crazy.
Sometimes it is like this with the Kingdom of God. We can catch glimpses of God’s kingdom, but it is the process of discipleship, it is through the practice of prayer and through acts of service to others that we are able to change our perspective on the world and see the hand of God at work in it.
In our gospel reading today we have a very dramatic scene in which Jesus becomes very frustrated with Peter “Get behind me Satan.” Jesus is angry at Peter and he rebukes him for suggesting a plan that goes contrary to the plan of the will of God the Father. For seeing things from a worldly perspective and not a “God’s eye view” of reality.
Jesus says to Peter “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
I can only imagine Peter looking completely dumbfounded in this moment. He has just gotten the answer right a few verses earlier. Jesus has just asked his disciples “who do you say that I am?” and Peter has answered him “You are the messiah.” Now Jesus doesn’t throw Peter a party in the Gospel of Mark, he just sternly orders his disciples not to tell anyone, but nevertheless, here is Peter he has gotten the right answer and a few verses later Jesus is rebuking him and calling him Satan, the adversary. How could he, Peter, be the adversary?
It is a matter of perspective. Jesus is asking Peter to shift his perspective. This is not a matter of Peter getting cast into the outer darkness, it’s simply a matter of God seeing something that Peter doesn’t see: That the work of redemption does not require triumphalist military victory over Rome which would garner only temporary benefits, the act of the redemption of the world requires great humility and sacrifice by the fully human, fully divine Jesus.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Then Jesus says to us today, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
The spiritual Journey that we find ourselves in as Christian Disciples, is the Journey of Putting on the Mind of Christ. Of setting our mind on Divine things not Human things. In other words it is a journey that takes time and work on God’s part and on ours to arrive at transformation so that we can begin to see the world as God sees the world. It is a journey of opening ourselves up to God’s transforming Grace so that we can hear God’s call for us and align our will with the loving, caring will of God. This journey is a journey of painful and difficult work, work that requires great humility. Sometimes in the midst of our suffering it is hard to see anything other than the pain which is close at hand, but God sees all, God sees the redemption which is the final word. God sees the empty tomb after the agonizing, redemptive, transformative work of the cross.
In the cross, we see Christ’s own vulnerability. In the cross we see an example of someone who is willing to relinquish all power for the sake of love. Taking up our cross means becoming humble, becoming loving. It means accepting the position that we might be wrong.
Peter was encouraging Jesus to live in denial of the difficulty of the journey that lay ahead of him. We are faced with so many things like this in our contemporary culture: “just buy this laundry detergent and all of your dreams will come true. Just buy this gadget and all of your problems will be solved and you’ll experience nirvana in the process.” There are so many things that encourage us to take the easy route and end up allowing us to be absent-mindedly led far away from the guiding wisdom of the shepherd who comes tirelessly seeking after us.
The hard spiritual work of inner renewal and outer service to others is something we are not always prepared to do. They go hand in hand.
For the Christian, seeing is not believing. For the Christian believing allows us to see in a new way. As we become Christ’s disciples we begin to see others as Christ sees us. We begin to see the Christ in others. We begin to open our eyes to a new reality.
As we put on the mind of Christ and take up our cross of service and transformation, things that used to look one way to us begin to look entirely different because we begin to see God’s hand at work in the world around us.
Sunday, February 22, 2015 –
First Sunday in Lent,Year B
There is a great song by the singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel which I think beautifully describes the process of repentance. In the chorus of the song he sings
“I’m digging in the dirt, stay with me I need support, I’m digging in the dirt to find the places I got hurt, to open up the places I got hurt.”
One of my favorite theological expressions is “in the fullness of time”—there is something almost agricultural about it, a sense that things happen in their own good time, like when a tree puts forth branches, and then leaves, and then flowers, and then becomes heavy with good sweet fruit. In the fullness of time.
In our gospel reading for today, the first Sunday in Lent, Jesus proclaims to us that the “time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near” In a sense he is saying the fullness of time has come, the Reign of God has begun.
Jesus then goes on to say “repent and believe in the good news.” Which is actually better translated trust into the good news. Trust the good news. Trust the fullness. Trust in the reign of God. The first things are passing away. The fullness of time has come. It is like saying spring has arrived, the buds are being shed and giving way to flowers, cocoons are being shed and giving way to butterflies.
“See I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5
I love the seasons of the church year because they mirror the seasons of our hearts. They also in some way mirror the seasons of the earth. One of the things that they teach us is that Lent is the time for weeding and pruning. Lent comes from the Latin word for Lengthening of Days, we begin our Lenten pilgrimage when the days are short in the wilderness of winter but as things begin to warm up we go out and we weed the garden again. We begin to plant. We go out and we work hard to get things right.
This is also a time for us to weed the gardens of our hearts. To really go in there and pull some weeds alongside the Great Gardener. Some of those weeds have been in there for a good long while and so we spend a little time with God in the garden and we ask him to hand us a trowel so we can really get down to the root of some of these weeds so that we can begin to make new room in our hearts because we know something beautiful and special is coming.
The gospel of Mark gets right to the point about Christ’s baptism, temptation, and the beginning of his ministry. Mark does not give us the dramatic exchange between Jesus and Satan. He doesn’t give Satan the dignity of any dialogue. But he leaves us with an air of mystery surrounding what happened in the wilderness with Satan and the wild beasts.
In the end, I think temptations are distractions. One of my seminary professors defined sin as “the right desire wrongly ordered, or to put it another way, disordered desire. When Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha in Chapter 10 of the Gospel of Luke, he says to Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” All too often the things which lead us into temptation are the things that distract us from the “one thing”: The desire for power, admiration, status, respect. We are afraid so we watch the news to get updates on the situation in the world which makes us more afraid and that creates a vicious cycle. We worry about the bad news instead of trusting in the Good News. We have all of these things that surround us, we try to fill our time with busyness just for the sake of filling it instead of living into the fullness of time.
When we repent we are acknowledging our sin, we are acknowledging our disharmony, we are acknowledging our disordered desires, but we don’t stop there, because repent, “metanoia” in Greek means a change of mind and has the connotation of a change of direction. And so, if all we did was stew in our worthlessness, in our unworthiness in our disappointment with ourselves, then we are not repenting we are shaming ourselves, and no new growth can occur. Rather, when we confess our sins we are making room, we are asking for forgiveness, for absolution, for harmony for a return to our natural state which is a state of Grace.
So during this time, during the Lengthening of days, as we step into our gardens, let us also step into the gardens of our hearts. Let’s root around a little in there and make some room in the hopes that new life will spring forth in the Garden once again.
As many of you know, I spent many years studying classical guitar while growing up and there is a very interesting and peculiar sensation that you learn to feel when you are tuning a guitar: As you play the notes you match one note with another and the sound waves clash with one another and you can feel a very frantic vibration the more you tune, once the tuning has been brought into alignment, the sound waves take the same shape, they are no longer in a collision with one another, they are flowing together. This is like the art of repentance, the closer and closer we get in aligning our wills with God, the more challenging it becomes until we find that sweet spot where the two wills become one, at least for a time. It is never possible for our wills to always be in alignment with God’s but we can have a small taste of what this kind of harmony feels like.
This often comes from acts of service. I was intrigued by Pope Francis’ message to Roman Catholics on Ash Wednesday where he told them not to give up candy but to give up our lack of service to others. I think he is really onto something here because we all know what we should do.
So during this time, during the Lengthening of days, as we step into our gardens, let us also step into the gardens of our hearts. Let’s root around a little in there and make some room in the hopes that new life will spring forth in the Garden once again.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015 –
Ash Wednesday,Year B
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”
I recently went to the barber, and for gentlemen when we get a haircut, there is always a funny moment in the process where the barber holds up a handheld mirror to the back of your head while you are looking at the mirror in front of you so you can see what your hair looks like in the back. It’s really the only time when I see the back of my head. It is kind of a disorienting feeling. I can remember going to the barber as a kid and having a hard time seeing it because I kept trying to turn my head as if I could see the back of my own head and the barber had to remind me, “no, you need to look in the mirror in front” You look in the mirror to make sure there aren’t any stray hairs, the barber sweeps the hair off you and you’re on your way. It’s a funny little ritual.
Today on Ash Wednesday, we are confronted with a mirror directed at parts of ourselves that we don’t normally see. The church stands behind us as we’re sitting in the barber’s chair and asks “how does that look to you?”
Lent is not an algorithm or a formula for “how to get God’s grace”. Lent is not a contract that we make with God. Our prayer and fasting during Lent is not intended to help us gain any points from God or from the Church or from spouse or even ourselves. There is no Lenten scoreboard which says chocolate 1, me 0.
As Sister Joan Chittister puts it, Lent is not a time for saying to ourselves “I do so many penances for so much human misadventure and payback time is over. The important thing is that I remember to come out even.”
Today is a day when we are confronted headlong with ourselves as human beings. We are confronted with the mystery of ourselves. We are confronted with our own mortality, our limitations, and our need for God’s life-giving Spirit. We are icebergs that spend 95 percent of our lives focused on the tiny tip emerging from the surface of the water and it is easy to forget that the majority of us is submerged and unexplored.
Today is a day when we look deep into the shadows of our own lives and shine Christ’s light upon it. Today is a day when we adjust the mirrors so that we can see the blind spots.
The reason that we do this is not so that we can gain favor with God, God’s love and grace is not conditional, and it cannot be earned, we do dthis work during Lent it is so that we can get back into the right kind of relationship with God.
To quote Sister Chittister again:
“Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Lent is a summons to live anew. The first challenge of Lent is to open ourselves to life. When we "rend our hearts" we break them open to things we are refusing for some warped reason to even consider…”
Theologically, when we talk about our sin, we are talking about two sides of one coin: Sin as an act and sin as a condition. Ninety percent of the time, we focus on sin as an act. But sin is also a state that we find ourselves in: A state of brokenness, a state of misalignment, a state of human frailty and mortality, a state of fear and grief.
There are things within our soul and our psyche that get in the way of relationship with God. That keep us in a state of disharmony. Lent then, can be a time for us to ask God to remove those things that are blocking the light of God’s love from entering our hearts.
Lent is a time for going into our rooms to pray in private as Jesus bids us do in our gospel lesson for today. Jesus gives us this teaching because in order for true transformation to occur, we must foster a relationship with God. We must sit and actually mean the words that we pray. But this is uncomfortable for us. We are not all accustomed to private time with God. We look at that blind spot in the mirror and we think to ourselves, could God really love me? Has he ever seen the back of my head? Has God ever seen those things about me that I am not proud of, maybe I am not worthy of a relationship with God…
We must not forget during Lent the most fundamental thing about our faith which is that God loves us deeply and wants to be in relationship with us.
A Rabbi from Poland in the 18th century had a saying “Each of us should have two pockets, In one [pocket] should be the reminder, “I am dust and ashes,” and in the other we should have written, “For me the universe was made.”
We are mortal. We are broken. We have sinned knowingly and unknowingly. We live in the condition of sin. A condition of incompleteness. And it is also true that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
In our walk with God, we get out of alignment. Over time we get distracted and we misread the map and we end up somewhere entirely different than where we intended to be. Lent becomes for us a waystation on our journey where we can get a tune-up, be brought back into alignment, and get the directions we need to get where we are going.
It is a time to wrestle with the things that are keeping us from being who we want to be. It is a time to acknowledge that there are things we have done and things done unto us that we hinder us from being the person God created us to be. This is a time to turn from our dependence on those things, our dependence on anxiety, our dependence on our possessions, our dependence on our
This is a time to offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us and to ask for forgiveness for the wrongs we have done.
Sunday, February 15, 2015 –
Last Epiphany,Year B
“...may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory…”
I recently came across an article which captured my imagination and my sense of wonder about God’s creation--the article is about a biologist named Bernd Heinrich. Heinrich studies insects, and he has been doing a lot of research on butterflies and moths.
To quote from the article:
He's thinking about moths and butterflies, and how they radically change shape as they grow, from little wormy, caterpillar critters to airborne beauties. Why, he wondered, do these flying animals begin their lives as wingless, crawling worms? Baby ducks have wings. Baby bats have wings. Why not baby butterflies?
His answer — and I'm quoting him here — knocked me silly.
"The radical change that occurs," he says, "does indeed arguably involve death followed by reincarnation."”
It is a controversial theory but the idea is that “the caterpillar grows and grows until one day, it spins itself a silk coverlet (a cocoon) or a harder pupa or chrysalis container that dangles off a twig and it goes ... well, silent. This phase is, as Heinrich puts it, "a deathlike intermission." Inside, these caterpillars shrink, shed their skin, their organs dissolve. Their insides turn to mush. Most of their cells die. But lurking in the goo are a few cells (the so-called adult or "imaginal" cells) that at this moment jump into action, reorganize all the free-floating proteins and other nutrients and turn what was once caterpillar into ... here comes the resurrection ... a moth! What's happened, says Heinrich, is that the caterpillar section of the DNA has been turned off, and the butterfly instructions have been turned on.
"There are indeed two very different sets of genetic instructions at work," he writes, and this switch, turning "caterpillar" off, turning "butterfly" on, means that "most of one body dies and the new life is resurrected in a new body."”
This transformation from a caterpillar into a butterfly is called by the scientific community a metamorphosis. That is the exact Greek word that is used in our passage from the Gospel of Mark this morning to describe Jesus’ Transfiguration.
As a young teenager, my parent’s commissioned a painting from a friend of theirs of the transfiguration it still hangs in their living room. The story of the transfiguration captured my imagination as a teenager and it is, to some extent, the story in the gospel that got me started on my Christian Journey of discipleship. It is such a mysterious account.
The transfiguration is a great mystery of the gospel, why did Jesus take only, Peter, James, and John? Why did God choose to reveal the Son’s glory in this way? How is it that Moses and Elijah appeared, and what on earth was it that were they talking about up there? It is an incredibly important story in the gospels but we tend to overlook it, perhaps because it is so mysterious.
Our collect offers us a little key for us this morning--we prayed that we might be “strengthened to bear our cross, and changed into his likeness from glory to glory.”
Part of what God reveals to us in the transfiguration is that Jesus is God’s prototype of the newly restored and recreated humanity. Our destiny is oneness with God the father, and we are destined for a transformation wherein we will be made like him. Through Christ’s humanity, we are given a share in his divinity. This powerful image of Christ being transformed on the mount of transfiguration, shines a great light into the world. A light of hope. A light of the future.
Here in the middle of the Gospel, we are given a bold foreshadowing of the resurrection, here we are given a glimpse that the powers of darkness, try as they might to overwhelm and overcome the will of God cannot and will not prevail. In Christ’s transfiguration God’s glory is revealed, Christ’s glory is revealed and our future glory is presented to us.
The story of the transfiguration comes right after Jesus first foretells his death and resurrection to his disciples. It is the first time that that he alludes to the paschal mystery that will take place in Jerusalem. As soon as he comes down the holy mountain of the transfiguration, Jesus begins the journey toward the Holy City and does not look back. He knows what he is destined to do. Today on this last Sunday after Epiphany, we too turn our faces toward Jerusalem as we begin our journey of Lent. Today we look at the bright burning divinity of Jesus, on Wednesday we will take a long hard look at our mortal human frailty. Both things mysteriously wrapped up together within us.
What Jesus reveals to us on the holy mount is that we who are miserable little caterpillars inching our way through a world of toil and perils are destined for a life of brilliant color, outstretched wings, and unrestricted joy in the unfettered presence of God the Holy Immortal One. God takes us, struggling along in the mire and in the midst of danger, wraps us in a burial shroud and gives us the gift of a full share in his resurrected new life. Somewhere in our spiritual DNA, we hold the code for being changed into his likeness. In the gospel account of the transfiguration we get a tantalizing glimpse of the mysterious new creation.
The complete transformation and restoration occurs through the gateway of our death. As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” and yet the amazing truth is that we can catch glimpses of this transformation on our spiritual journey in this life. Our hearts may be transfigured as we ascend the path which leads to God’s holy mountain. This is the journey of our sanctification, the journey to holiness and wholeness--On this path up the mount of transfiguration, the Holy Spirit is our Guide. As we go away to pray as Jesus did and sit still invoking and inviting the presence of the Holy Spirit, it becomes quickly evident that God has been all around us to begin with and that we had only but to wade more deeply into his presence.
My prayer for us is that this day we might bask with Peter in the Glory of Christ’s transfiguration, and not lingering there, might turn our faces toward Jerusalem, toward the challenging journey ahead in the full assurance of the resurrection that awaits us at the end. Amen.
Sunday, February 8, 2015 –
Epiphany 5,Year B
One of my favorite pieces of religious art is the Isenheim altarpiece by the German Renaissance painter, (please forgive me if I butcher the pronunciation Georg) Matthias Grunewald. The altarpiece was painted for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim Germany whose monks were known for their care of those who were suffering from illness, in particular what they referred to as St. Anthony’s fire, or what we today would call ergotism.
The altarpiece has multiple layers and as the panels open they reveal something else behind them. The front layer has the most distressing depiction of the crucifixion I have ever seen: the wood of the cross is bowed with the full weight of the crucified Jesus. There he hangs with fingers gnarled and pointing in unnatural directions. His body covered in terrible sores. His body is emaciated and discolored and the all around him is a deep darkness.
The bottom of this front piece shows a Christ deposed from the cross lying in the arms of Mary and another figure who appear to be bearing him to the tomb. The panel was designed so that you could open it and it would give the impression that Christ’s leg had been amputated.
The fact is that this crucified Christ was painted to look like a sufferer of St. Anthony’s fire. St. Anthony’s fire was a disease that caused disfigurement and the loss of limbs. This Christ was intended to be present to attend to the suffering of those countless sufferers who came to the monastery of St. Anthony seeking Christian love, healing touch, and prayer and treatment for the plagues from which they suffered. Here in the face of this Jesus, they encountered someone who shared in their sufferings. They lay at the foot of this Jesus who knew their pain as Christian brethren tended to them offering them prayer and comfort.
This has been a hard week. Our beloved Sterling Dobbs died. An active member of the men’s club, a WWII decorated airman, a gentle and humble spirit. Someone who it is hard to say goodbye to. My family continues to have hard news about my mom’s young cousin who is in a coma. Like many of you I received the stunningly tragic news of the murder of my colleague and brother priest The Rev. Israel Ahimbisibwe and his wife and young son, in their Houston home. Midway through the week, amidst the gloomy weather and the gloomy news I began to have that sneaking suspicion that some kind of bug was creeping up on me, and you know how we all get, I went into denial that anything was happening but boom, by Wednesday afternoon it was a full-on fever. I truly believe that our body mind and spirit are all wrapped up together and the more tired and heartbroken I felt, the less resistant I was to whatever bugs were around me.
Now, as Shyla and Ori both have what I had we hear another story about a fever from 2000 some odd years ago: Simon’s mother-in-law is lying in bed with a fever. Mark tells us that Jesus takes her by the hand and raises her up and the fever from which she is suffering leaves her. She was in the grip of this fever which she could not shake, that had rendered her bedridden. And Jesus’ gently taking her by the hand releases the fever’s grip on her and frees her. In all Jesus’ healings, he does not merely heal the body, he restores the person who is suffering to wholeness. Jesus cares for her, touches her, his healing touch releases her from the grip that the fever has had on her. Simon’s mother in law then becomes the first “deacon” of the church. Simon’s mother-in-law springs into action for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
When word gets out about Jesus’ healing the whole town comes to the door of Simon’s house, it is evening at Sundown, the end of the Sabbath, and everyone begins to come out of the woodwork. These tired huddled masses seeking relief and release come crowding in around Simon’s door. These people who are sick and wounded are seeking healing touch and they have heard that there is a man who has arrived in Galilee who is not afraid to touch them, who will not count them as unclean, who will restore them to wholeness in body, mind, and spirit. They come seeking in great desperation.
Presbyterian pastor and theologian P.C. Enniss, writes, “Love not expressed, love not felt, is difficult to trust. Theologically speaking, that is the reason for the incarnation. God knew the need for human nearness. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love…”
Here, finally, has arrived a mysterious teacher who can give them hope, acceptance, and a loving healing touch. Here finally has arrived someone who can cast out physical and spiritual oppressors. A bright ray of sunshine piercing through the gloom.
We Christians, at our best, are a community of healers, a community of reconcilers, disciples of the great healer and reconciler. I am so grateful to Shyla who was so loving and helpful during my time being sick, without her encouragement to rest, I wouldn’t have been able to go to diocesan council this weekend. It was wonderful to be there, after such a hard week to be in the presence of so many faithful people from around our diocese who came to praise God together in spite of the hard week. Bishop Fisher preached extremely eloquently about how we are hopeful and worshipful in defiance of a culture of fear and gloom.
We worship a savior who meets us where we are and who empowers us to heal and reconcile in his name.
This is what God does for us, he is with us in our pain, he comes into our homes where we are lying in bed and sits by our side, he comes into the monastery where we are lying on the floor in agony, he comes to us in our hour of darkness, he recognizes our pain, and then God flings the doors wide open to reveal that God is redeeming it all. That there is no cross without an empty tomb three days later.
As the panels are opened on the Isenheim altarpiece the dark palette on the front gives way to an explosion of bright color. There behind this gruesome crucifixion is an incredible depiction of Christ’s resurrected body, as he rises like the sun from the tomb throwing off the shroud of death, roman guards strewn in disbelief at his feet. This resurrected Jesus is free of discoloration and sores, free of wounds save for the marks in his hands and feet which he displays in a defiant benediction proclaiming that death and suffering have met their end. I am particularly attached to this image of the resurrection because my parents hung a small framed photo of it in my room from the time when I was very small--I did not know for many years who had painted it or where it came from but it was and still is my archetypal image of the risen Lord. It is a very comforting image for me. May we all find great comfort in Christ the healer who comes to us in our sickness, Christ the reconciler who comes to us in our fear and confusion, Christ who is the risen one who comes to cast out all darkness and bring light and life to the world. Amen.
Fr. Eric +
Sunday, February 1, 2015 –
Epiphany 4,Year B
“A Time for Restoration…"
When I was a kid, one of our families we were friends with from Church had only daughters, so every three months or so the dad in the family would invite our dads and my buddies and me over to his house for scary movie night. We saw all kinds of creepy movies, some of which scared the living daylight out of us, but we had a lot fun with it. It was a fun guy’s night and almost always led to some very interesting discussions afterward. One of the things we would talk about is that after you’ve seen a few of these movies, you begin to observe that Hollywood spins its own tale about the power of evil.
I think it is interesting and telling that the Gospels tell such a different story about evil than the Hollywood version that we’ve all been overly exposed to. Hollywood wants us to think that there is some kind of continual war between good and evil and the jury is still out about who is going to win. That is not what the Christian Gospel proclaims. In the Christian Gospel, unclean Spirits don’t stand a chance against the in-breaking, authoritative power of Jesus Christ. In our reading from this morning, the unclean spirit is so afraid of Jesus that the first thing he asks is if Jesus is going to destroy him. Jesus seems to view him as little more than an inconvenience saying “be silent, and come out of him.” To quote the Apostle Paul: In the Christian Gospel, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, [are] able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Jesus is the Holy Presence of God on earth. When the Kingdom breaks in around him, nothing evil can stand in his way. In this story of the exorcism in the synagogue, Mark tells us that “no oppressive boundary will stand or withstand the [power] of Jesus. All that is demonic…will not survive in the face of the demon-tossing, [Holy] Spirit-possessed Son of God.”(Charles, Gary, Feasting on the Word Year B, 313).
This story at the beginning of Mark’s gospel illustrates to us that in the New Kingdom Jesus was bringing to the people of Israel and to the world, “all things demonic are on their way out.” (Ibid. 311). Those who had been oppressed by evil were now seeing great liberation. Those who had lived in fear now had nothing to fear because Jesus Christ had come to liberate them: to liberate them from their earthly oppressors and to liberate them from their spiritual oppressors.
The same is true for us. The closer that we are drawn into Jesus’ powerful orbit, the more the things that oppress us begin lose their power. Jesus says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’” (Matt. 11:28). We all carry heavy burdens. We have all felt the crushing weight of evil in the world. We have all felt the fear that it instills in us, we have all wrestled with inner struggles; we have all seen a loved one eaten away by something inside. These things are not things to make light of or ignore, it’s just that compared to the almighty power of Jesus Christ, no power can stand against him, no curse runs too deep for him to undo, not even death itself holds sway over the almighty power that is Christ’s love for each and every one of us.
In seminary, I had the good fortune of attending classes with some Anglican clergymen who were Pakistani and who served the poorest of the poor in the Urdu region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. One of the things that continually struck me about Fr. Altaf and Fr. Nazir was that they were some of the most joyful, gentle, servant-hearted people I had ever met. Even though they had seen just about every evil of war you could imagine, even though many innocent people in their congregation had been violently killed, they themselves were never violent. When I saw them sad or angry (which was rare), I never saw their sadness or anger consume them—they had a sense of joy and courage that was powerful and infectious and their faith in the healing power of Jesus Christ was something I will carry with me for the rest of my ministry.
Jesus unbinds this poor man in the synagogue and frees him from his oppressor and he does the same for us. Jesus enters into our hearts and destroys the forces that oppress us. Jesus comes to bring healing and wholeness to us. I have mentioned before that there is a deep connection between healing and salvation. In Greek, just as in English, the words for salve and salvation have the same root. In the gospel of Mark, 13 of Jesus’ 18 recorded miracles are healing miracles and 4 of those 13 are exorcisms. I think this truly demonstrates that Jesus was first and foremost about healing us and restoring us to God. None of us is free from the “fallen-ness” or the suffering of this present age, but in Christ, we are shown a new and glorious reality in which “…things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made…”
I conducted a funeral on Friday for a woman who struggled with Alzheimer’s. She was a wonderful woman in life, but she had a tortured journey through Alzheimer’s. Yet as I was with her on the day that she died it was clear that she was given a sense of God’s peace—she experienced a peaceful and holy death after experiencing the unholiness of Alzheimer’s. After the funeral there was a lightness that passed through everyone and I had several people come to me and tell me how they felt that she had been freed, that she had been released.
In the face of evil, we have a mighty advocate who will not let one of his sheep go astray. Who will continually seek, night and day until all have been restored to the sheepfold. This is a glorious vision for those of us who have seen family members consumed with depression or alcoholism, anger or fear, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or whatever other oppressor we have seen lurking in the shadows. We know that even if they cannot or did not reach healing and wholeness in this mortal life that Jesus can and will restore them to their true selves in the fullness of time by his good, powerful, and loving hand.
Father Eric +
Sunday, January 25, 2015 –
Epiphany 3,Year B
"Experience the Fullness of the World's Beauty!"
Holy and gracious Lord, you know my inmost thoughts, you know me to the core of my being. Please give me the words you would have me impart to your people.
A good friend of mine has been a fisherman on a salmon boat in Alaska. He talks about being on the boat. He absolutely loved it for the most part, you are out on the water which at times can feel like a vast expanse with beautiful views of the Alaskan shore. But other times, he says, you start feeling trapped, you begin to feel claustrophobic on the deck of a small boat that is piled high with fish. It feels like there is nowhere to go. It is hard work. You’re up before the sunrise and you work until after the sun is down. You have limited food. At times like this you feel really good when you can bring your boat into harbor and get some much needed rest. Now, it probably wasn’t as grueling to be a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee as it is to be a commercial fisherman in Alaska, but the fishing boats that Peter, Andrew, James, and John we casting their nets from, might, over time, begin to feel small and limiting. These young men might have felt hemmed in, they might have felt like something else was out there. And then all of the sudden here is Jesus, here is this man who carries with him the vastness of the universe calling to them from the shore.
“I will make you Fishers of people” says Jesus. He stands on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. He is presumably yelling with a loud voice over the sound of the waves breaking on the shore to these men on the boat. “Come follow me, I’ll make you fish for people!” “What? I can’t year you” “Come follow me I’ll make you fish for people” Zebidee is like “Who me?” “No the other two guys, your sons.” But they are captivated in their tiny little boats. All they have known day in and day out in their lives are these tiny little boats, it is a good life, it is hard work, it is a good honest living, but they didn’t know before they heard the voice of this man coming to them over the waves, that their souls had grown restless, and they sensed in that voice an incomparable vastness, they sensed in his calling, a profound new journey that they could never have imagined an hour before.
The kingdom of heaven is like this. We are going along in the small boats of our lives, trying to make an honest living, trying to bring to shore as many fish as we can, and then then our eyes open to a new reality one day and nothing is the same. As we embark upon our journey of discipleship, we begin to view the world differently, we begin to be transformed, we begin to see the world as a beautiful whole; we begin to see how God’s hand is at work all around us. We begin, not to worry about things earthly, but to keep our minds fixed on things heavenly.
Jesus calls these four disciples and he calls us to repent and believe in the good news. The Greek word for repent is metanoia, which means a change of mind. In this age of bad news it is refreshing to hear from the words of Jesus, repent, change your mind and believe in the GOOD news. Do not be afraid says Jesus, do not be worried. Rather change your mind, take a wider view of the world, try to see things and people the way that God sees them.
“Then Jesus teaches our response. Our response to the Good News that God is near, that God claims us, that God reinserts himself into the world, that God invites our relationship is to discover that we are in a new age of God; we are now in an age of the kingdom or dominion of God...our response is repentance and belief.” (Doyle)
So much depends on our perspective in life and it is amazing to me how much prayer affects our perspective. Church is a place where we come week after week, seeking a change of perspective, seeking metanoia. In my rectors book study we will be reading a book by the Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr who defines prayer as “practicing the kingdom of God here on earth.” There have been so many times in my own life where I have sat down before a time of prayer and sitting silently and faithfully before God, I give it all over to him, and when I open my eyes, there is something about the world that looks a little different, a little more expansive than it did before. It is very subtle, but it is very powerful. When we sit in silence emptying ourselves before God, we are transformed, our perspective changes, when we “practice the kingdom of God.”
I read an article about the nature of addiction that was very intriguing to me. It was based on some research done with lab rats, but the conclusion of the experiment was essentially that the better the environment the animals lived in the less likely they were to get addicted to a narcotic that they were exposed to. This was very interesting to me, so much of our happiness depends on how we see the world. If we sit and let God repair us, let God transform us, change our perspective, the more joyful and grounded we become.
We enter into this new practice of repentance and belief, transforming our minds and our hearts so that that we begin to see the world as God sees the world, we begin to see our fellow human beings as God sees them—as flawed and broken perhaps but as deserving of grace, love, and healing.
And this is what we do as fishers of people, we are called to seek out people and draw them into a world of new possibilities. We are to seek out the lost and revive them, help them to take off their burdens, bind up the brokenhearted, and give rest to the weary. We are to find the ones left on the side of the road that everyone else has walked past and give them comfort and a place to stay. We are to look with kindness and mercy upon the people we encounter every day. Treating them as a beloved of God, worthy of care and love.
We must call people out of their tiny boats, their boats of fear, their boats of self-doubt and their boats of self-limitation.
This work is hard work. It is not easy. It is work that leads to the cross. As Mark alludes to, Jesus begins his ministry after John is arrested and Jesus too gets arrested for the work that he does, and the disciples also are all arrested, but this work of fishing for people which leads to the cross also leads to the fullness of life and experiencing the fullness of the world’s beauty.
Sunday, January 18, 2015 –
Epiphany 2,Year B
You Restless Souls!…”
___________________________________________________________________Since Since the beginning of human history, we have been compelled to mark holy sites, places where humans have encountered spiritual awakening and transformation. Walking in the deserts of the American Southwest, one can find pictographs marking significant places. Shyla and I spent some time studying in Edinburgh in college--all across the Scottish countryside there are stone circles, relics of the pre-Christian era, there are churches marking holy sites, these different places that the Celtic Christians called “thin places” because of the sense that the border between heaven and earth was thin in this place. I recall hiking up a holy hill in Scotland through the mists and being filled with a sense of awe, I was thinking it with a bus full of rowdy American college students, and yet there was something about the place that brought us all to an eerie silence as we hiked it. Later in the spring, Shyla and I will be going on a pilgrimage to visit some of these holy places in England like Canterbury cathedral, associated with being a place where an early Christian was martyred during Roman times, it is the oldest church in England still in continual use and the stone steps have been climbed the feet of so many pilgrims that they have been worn down into a deep bow.
We human beings have a need to seek out the holy, to encounter the sacred. It is in our very nature. Pilgrimage is a part of every religious tradition. We go on a journey to see if we can encounter the divine. This is symbolic of the inner journey we all go on as we seek to return to our source.
Of all of the thin places in the Old Testament, Bethel is surely one of the greatest. Jacob, running from his brother Esau, falls asleep and has a vision of angels ascending and descending upon that place. It was such a powerful vision for Jacob that he anointed the stone he rested his head upon and called that place Bethel or “House of God.”
There are times in our lives when we encounter people who fill us with a sense of awe and a sense of God’s presence. On Christmas Eve in the year 2000, I got the opportunity to hear Desmond Tutu preach at the National Cathedral that was a very formative moment for me—I could sense the power of his journey
How much more extraordinary must it have been for those first few disciples to encounter Jesus for the first time. To be filled with a sense of awe and wonder as they encountered this human being from Nazareth, a town where when Phillip tells Nathanael where Jesus is from, Nathanael practically laughs out loud “Podunk Nazareth? What good can come out of Nazareth” Phillip at that point doesn’t launch into a theological discourse about the incarnation and why it’s important for Jesus to come from a humble place, he invites him to encounter Jesus with him “Come and see” he says.
Almost immediately, Nathanael is bowled over by Jesus’ holy presence such that he cannot help himself. He blurts out “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” Can you imagine saying such things to someone you are meeting for the first time? But that was the kind of magnetism Jesus commanded.
Rather than a holy site, God saw fit to send his Holy Word in the form of a human being. Jesus standing before Nathanael was and is the new Jacob’s ladder, a walking, talking, breathing, thin place.
Individuals like Nathaniel who behold Jesus are seeing they very face of God, just as Jacob did. Jesus the Son of Man is the ultimate ladder stretching between heaven and earth. Jesus is the point of contact the between the finite and the infinite, the conjunction of time and eternity. Jesus is the place where the heavens are opened and the divine glory can be contemplated. Similarly Nathanael as the guileless Jacob, the true Israelite, is the prototype pf a new humanity reborn in Christ.”
This moment of recognition is the beginning of an extraordinary journey for these disciples. Jesus recognizes Nathanael, he sees fully who Nathanael is and Nathanael somehow knows that Jesus has seen into his very heart, and immediately recognizes him as Divine. He with the other disciples then begin a journey with this God man which will transform the fabric of their being. They begin a journey that takes them places they never could have imagined and shows them things they could never have dreamed of.
We like those first disciples, yearn to be in the presence of the holy. WE like those first disciples are drawn to the mysterious magnetic pull of Jesus. In the end, our faith journey has more to do with how we experience God than what we think and believe about him. God is not an abstract for Christians, God came to us in the flesh and revealed his nature to us. The connection to the story of Jacob and Jacob’s ladder signifies in John’s gospel that Jesus is no mere messenger of God, he is the very means through which we experience God. He is God on earth. He is the new Jacob’s ladder for the world. The means through which human beings can encounter God. A God of salvation, a God of joy, who seeks us out and knows us through and through and who also yearns to be in relationship with us.
Sunday, January 11, 2015 – Epiphany I – Year B
“Swept Up in the Peace…”
__________________________________________________________How How is God manifest in your life? What does God reveal to you? What does God whisper to you on the wind of a winter morning like this one?
This morning on the first Sunday of Epiphany, I am reflecting on the fact that it is also the fourth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I am reflecting on the long journey that began many years ago when God spoke to me though the voices of friends and mentors. I am reflecting on this journey which has led me to people’s bedsides and people’s dinner tables, out into nature and holy places, into your lives. This path which wound around and led me to seminary, then to Houston, then here. I never could have hoped or imagined a decade ago, when my journey of discernment began that I would be led to this wonderful place in this wonderful community.
In this season of Epiphany, we begin to look for signs of God with heightened awareness. We get to go back as if into the archives of an ancient museum, walking past dusty scrolls, and mysterious unopened containers and we take a behind the scenes tour looking at all of the mysteries of Christ’s life, picking them up, dusting them off and looking them over to see what God is revealing to us through Christ’s life. We piece them all together like a puzzle to try to get a full picture of this incredible person, both human and divine.
We began our Epiphany journey with the manifestation of a great cosmic event in the heavens. A star, a portent, something so out of the ordinary, it attracted the attention of wise and ancient astronomers who risked travelling hundreds of miles, seeking to be a part of something must larger than themselves.
Then we come to the baptism today where the very heavens themselves are ripped asunder. Over the weeks to come before Lent, we will ponder the mysteries of water being turned into good wine, the broken being made whole, we will look with awe upon Christ as he is transfigured on the mountaintop.
Today on this feast of Jesus’ baptism we are reminded that God yearns for us. God rips open the heavens at the baptism of his son and says yes to the world. “You are my son the beloved, with you I am well pleased” Here God is starting something new. Here is God looking upon Jesus and anointing him as the Christ as if to say, the world that is around you that is so full of chaos, pain, and uncertainty, is ready for something new. The world is ready to know that it is loved. Jesus is the person who demonstrates God’s love to the world. Jesus is God’s beloved, and the one sent to love the world. Jesus is the God’s beloved and the one sent to teach the world how to love. In the life of Jesus we see that love overcomes violence, we see that love overcomes despair, and love overcomes death.
God loves us and seeks us out.
Jesus models for us how it is that we can love God in return. When Jesus spoke of God he did not speak of a God who was remote, distant, unreachable, Jesus was the first to call God “Abba”, “Daddy”--Jesus made God accessible for us human beings.
What Jesus reveals to us is that God wants to be in relationship with us. That at the very heart of the universe is a being who is loving, forgiving, creative and vast who cannot help but bring beauty into existence, who desires to love and to be loved we are caught up in that vastness, we are caught up in the deep mystery of God’s eternal love which is at once so incredibly vast and paradoxically as familiar and cozy as your grandmother’s living room.
Speaking about Christ’s baptism, Brother Curtis from the SSJE monastery in Boston writes
[[“The earliest followers of Jesus were not called “Christians.” They were called “followers of the way.” Jesus even takes this name himself when he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” “I am the way.” Where did this notion of the “the way” come from? Jesus certainly would have heard this phrase in readings from the prophets. His cousin John uses this language…. he proclaims, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” What is this way?
The way is lost on us. Jesus’ message is that all of humankind have lost their way and need to be found and rescued, saved, brushed off, patched up, cuddled, fed, and [led] home… Out of so much love for the world, God sends his only Son to seek us out and save us. In English the verbs to save, to salvage, to salve come from the same… root. And it’s true also in the Greek. Jesus has come to save us, to salvage our lives, to salve our wounds….We don’t find Jesus; he finds us, we who are prone to get lost in life. That’s the way it is with Jesus.
Jesus will find his way to you, presuming you need to be rescued. Jesus bridges the way between us and the God whom he calls [Abba, Daddy]. Jesus is God Emmanuel, God with us, God with you, even today….”]]
God is with us in the midst of these feelings of emptiness. God is with us in the midst of confusion as we grapple with the tragedies that pour through our tv and computer screens such as the senseless violence in Paris France this last week.
In the midst of our brokenness God seeks after us and seeks reconciliation with us. And all of our desires are merely shadows of our one desire, to be fully and completely one with God, to be swept up in the peace which passes all understanding, to be caught up in the light of love.
Today, God looks through Christ’s Baptism to our baptism and proclaims to us also: “You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased”.
Christmas II – Sunday, January 4, 2015 – Year B
___________________________________________________________________I admit that I am one of those people who gets quite sentimental about Christmas. I love the decorations the cookies the family traditions. Sometimes in the midst of all of that however, it is hard to see the story of Jesus’ nativity in any kind of new and profound light. The truth is that the Nativity is one of the greatest mysteries of human history. How it is that the word of God became an infant human being so that we might, as our collect for today so eloquently puts it, “share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity”
We have a tendency to want to domesticate the events of our Lord’s Nativity and we forget all of the strangeness and profundity of the events surrounding it.
Strange heavenly beings with an appearance like fire imparting messages to young women that they will be bearing a divine child and revealing themselves to shepherds in fields instead of priests or kings or emperors. Infants recognizing each other in the womb. Prophets in the desert crying Dictators ordering the murder of innocents for fear of losing power. These are incredible, dramatic events.
It is hard to overstate the incredible mystery of the wise men from the East who came to visit Jesus. We all have an image in our heads of the wise men. It is practically the same image in every crèche going back, probably 200 years. But it is remarkable how little we know about these wise men, these magi, watching and following portents from the heavens. Who were they? Where did they come from? Luke tells us that they came from the east, we all have an image in our head of guys that look like Ottoman Turks, but who knows, could they have come from India? Christianity was in India almost from the very beginning. Could they have come from Tibet? It may sound far-fetched but The silk road which stretched deep into China and Northern India is known to have traversed Northern Israel. And then there is the matter of the number of wise men--how many were there? A caravan from East Asia would surely have had more than three people as a part of it. Luke never tells us how many wise men there were, he just tells us how many gifts were offered to the Christ child. And it’s clear that they arrived long after the shepherds had gone, perhaps several weeks after Jesus’ birth. Which is one reason that in the Episcopal Church, we emphasize the wise men’s visit in Epiphany rather than at Christmas.
I say all these things, not to upset the perfect nativity scene in your mind, but just to try to capture your imagination once more and restore a sense of mystery and wonder surrounding the birth of our Lord and Savior.
The extraordinary implication of the wisemen’s visit is that thirty years before Jesus’ ministry began, sixty years before Paul’s writings, gentiles, pagans from the East came to acknowledge that something extraordinary had just happened and they wanted to be a part of it. They saw the portents in the heavens that something earth-shattering, transforming had just occurred and they wanted to join in. This tiny infant who was born in the little town of Bethlehem has faithful disciples in all parts of the world now. Vast empires have risen and fallen in the two thousand years since Christ’s birth, and yet, the Gospel lives on bringing new light and life to the world.
You are the ambassadors of that Gospel. You are the representatives of God’s Kingdom to the world. A world where tragically innocent people still die at the hands of dictators, grasping onto worldly power at all costs. Jesus was born into the middle of that kind of violence as a light to the world, a light to enlighten all nations and bring God’s peace to the world.
Today, let us, with the wise men, be bearers of the light of that Great Star, let us be bearers of the great gift given to the world on Christmas. Let us, with the wise men, open our treasure chests and offer love, salvation, and grace to the world.
First Sunday After Christmas – Year B – December 28, 2014
“Look to THE Light”
We gather here today on the fourth day of Christmas to continue to marvel in the great Christian mystery that God came to dwell among us. I love the second through the twelfth day of Christmas because after all the sales are over all of the presents are opened, after quality time has been spent with the family, we have eleven more days to quietly ponder the mystery of Christmas.
Our gospel reading this morning from the Gospel of John contains some of the most beautiful and mysterious words in the entire bible. In just a few words it gives us a God’s eye view of the history of the world describing how God’s holy word was present from the foundation of the world.
But the extraordinary truth we proclaim during this season is that this eternal Word became flesh and lived among us. Another way this can be translated is, the word became flesh and tented among us. I love this notion that the Word of God came into the world and pitched a tent in our midst. Not content to let us fall into total chaos, God came and set up shop among us. All of the rules changed after that. The eternal came to live in the midst of time. The infinite came and took on a finite, fragile, body. All for the sake of bringing new life to the world. All for the sake of loving and healing the world.
John tells us that this world that the God the Word created did not recognize him, yet “all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” By our baptism, The Word is born in our hearts. When the word is born in our hearts, it begins to re-form and transform us. We become little words, little logoi for the world.
The story of Christmas is not simply the story of God becoming incarnate in the person of Jesus, it is also the story of our adoption as Children of God. The Christ child came that we too might become God’s children. The Christ child came so that we might be reconciled to God. But not only reconciled to God but also members of the family of God.
Paul in his letter to the Galatians proclaims “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman...so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”
We who are God’s children, we who are God’s heirs are heirs to hope, heirs to eternal glory, heirs of completeness, wholeness, heirs of a new creation. These inner gifts are gifts far more valuable than the finest gold.
The mystery of Christmas is that the little Christ child who came among us was the eternal Word of God, present throughout all time, who became born of a human woman and adopted by a human man. And this little Christ child, coming in great humility, adopted us. We who were spiritual orphans, we who from the dawn of time, were runaways.
On Christmas Eve night on Wednesday, we darkened our beautiful church and the only light was the light emanating from the Paschal Candle, the Christ candle, but it was light enough to push back the darkness. Yet, as each of us lit our candles one by one, our sanctuary became radiant with the warm light of Christ driving away the darkness far away.
We come to this place week after week to experience the light of Christ and to let Christ rekindle our hearts. We come to this place week after week to keep our inner candles lit from the Great Light of Christ, the light that shines in the darkness, which the darkness cannot overcome. And we take our little candles out of these doors with us so that others might know peace, hope, joy, faith, and love.
So that other orphan runaways like us might become adopted by God. So that others who are overwhelmed by the darkness might look with us toward our great light. The light of the redemption of the world. The light of healing and wholeness. The light of experiencing the joy of abiding in God’s great love.
Christmas Eve – Wednesday December 24, 2014
“Know the Fullness of God’s Eternal Glory”
[Be with me O Lord on this Holy Night as I help your people to remember your coming into the world in great humility]
Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”
“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.”
“If you run after me” said the little bunny, “I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you.”
“If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother, “I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”
“If you become a fisherman,” said the little bunny, “I will become a rock on the mountain, high above you.”
“If you become a rock on the mountain high above me,” said his mother, “I will become a mountain climber, and I will climb to where you are.”
“If you become a mountain climber,” said the little bunny, “I will be a crocus in a hidden garden.”
“If you become a crocus in a hidden garden,” said his mother “I will be a gardener. And I will find you.”
If you are a gardener and find me,” said the little bunny, “I will be a bird and fly away from you.”
“If you become a bird and fly away from me,” said his mother, “I will be a tree that you come home to.”
“If you become a tree,” said the little bunny, “I will become a little sailboat, and I will sail away from you.”
“If you become a sailboat, and sail away from me,” said his mother, “I will become the wind and blow you where I want you to go.”
“If you become the wind and blow me,” said the little bunny, “I will join a circus and fly away on a flying trapeze.”
“If you go flying on a flying trapeze,” said his mother, “I will be a tightrope walker, and I will walk across the air to you.”….
The story that we tell on this Holy night is the story of the Runaway Bunny. It is the story of us runaways continually fleeing away for millennia from our loving creator. And it is the story of our creator’s relentless and caring pursuit of us.
Human beings have been running away from God since the dawn of time. Running away full of the hubris that we can go it alone.. Full of the misplaced self-assurance that “we don’t need anyone’s help that we are the gods of our own world.” Thinking that somehow the earth revolves around us, that creation exists for our purposes instead of for God’s.
Deep down we have been running away too out of shame and fear that we won’t measure up, that we don’t deserve God’s love.
We have been running to distractions. Filling our lives with unnecessary busyness, filling our homes with unnecessary stuff, filling our relationships with unnecessary greif, in the hopes that we could make our souls fill warm and complete. When in truth, in spite of all this all of this fleeing, all of this fruitless searching, the one thing we need is with us at all times and in all places….
Our God is a God of deep mercy and infinite compassion.
And so, God came among us on this most holy night.
The man in charge of translating the King James Bible was an Anglican bishop named Lancelot Andrewes. T.S. Eliot regarded him among greatest writers in the history of the English language. On Christmas Day in the year 1605, Lancelot Andrewes offered these words before King James and those gathered at Whitehall:
“When man fell” said Bishop Andrewes “[God] did all. Made after him presently with [a where are you]? Sought to reclaim him, What have you done? Why have you done so?....And (which is more) when that would not serve, [God] sent after him still by the hand of his Prophets, to solicit his return. And (which is yet more), when that would not serve neither; went after him (Himself) in person: left his ninety nine in the fold, and got him after the lost sheep: Never left till he found him, laid him on His own shoulders, and brought him home again…It was much, even but to look after us to respect us so far who were not worth the cast of his eye: Much to call us back…if He had but only been content to give us leave to …touch the hem of His garment (Himself sitting still and never calling to us nor sending after us [it would have been favor enough]: far above what we were worth. But not only to send by others, but to come himself after us, to say… ‘Get me a body, I will myself after [them]’: this was exceeding much. That we fled, and he followed us flying.”
God is in relentless pursuit of us. Our God is relentless in his loving pursuit of you. Our God so loved the world that he became one of us. That he came among us. He took on our sufferings. He chose to be with us in the midst of our joys and in the midst of our sufferings-- drinking good wine with and feasting with us at Cana, and standing at the grave of a dear friend with us and weeping. It would have been enough if he had simply become one of us but he continued his loving pursuit of us even “through danger, distress…[and] through death itself.” All so that we might know the fullness of God’s love. All so that we might become one with God.
Christ is with us still on this night. This has been a year full of many triumphs and many sorrows. Looking back over your year, as you sit in your pew, I know that there are a lot of mixed feelings out there: Many of you have known so much joy this year, many of you have felt feelings of great relief, and many of you have felt feelings of devastating grief. On this night and on all nights, Christ continues to rejoice with us and continues to know the depths of our suffering. And Christ is in love with all humanity offering his light of love which overcomes all darkness and despair.
We are his faithful people.
Let us gather together here at this table tonight, as the shepherds gathered at the manger, to feast upon God’s mercy and compassion. To feast upon God’s wisdom and word. To know that we are fully loved and fully reunited with him. Let us abide in the fullness of his love. And then let us become what we eat here at this table, The Body of Christ for the world.
….“If you become a tightrope walker, and walk across the air,” said the [little] bunny “I will become a little boy and run into a house.”
“If you become a little boy and run into a house,” said the mother bunny, “I will become your mother and catch you in my arms and hug you.”
“Shucks,” said the bunny, “I might just as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.” And so he did.
“Have a carrot,” said the mother bunny.
Our God has sought us out. Our God has found us, we who were lost, we who were continually running away.
God looked through the tiny bleary eyes of his infant body and bestowed upon us the most powerful benediction of all, the gift of healing and restoration. “At Christmas we proclaim not only the birth of Jesus, but the birth do the new creation” The gift of Heaven and Earth being rejoined. The gift of Humanity and Divinity becoming intertwined with each other once more. The gift of sharing with him in God’s very life so that we here on earth in our smallness might know the fullness of God’s eternal glory.
My dear ones, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord… Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on Earth.” Amen.
Sunday, December 21 – Advent 4
__________________________________________________________Please give me holy words to speak to your holy people.
Our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Orthodox communion refer to Mary as the Theotokos which is a Greek word that means “the God Bearer.”
The iconography of the theotokos depicts Mary with her arms outstretched in praise, a golden background behind her, a delicate halo surrounding her head symbolizing her holiness. Below, another circle mirrors her halo, like the moon reflected on the water, and it is as though the viewer can see into her womb. Within the circle is the child Jesus, looking out upon the world, the star-spangled heavens surrounding him and light emanating from him. Mary stands before the viewer, the whole of divinity contained within her sharing this light and love with the world.
The angel appeared to her and said to her “greetings favored one, the lord is with you”
Her one simple gesture of saying yes to God in the midst of fear, in spite of confusion, is what set in motion the salvation of the world.
Mary stepped out in faith. This is not a world where it is easy to say yes. This is not a world where it is easy to have faith or make sacrifices. Mary could have said no and lived a much easier life. She could have said no and she wouldn’t have had to constantly struggle with the mystery of rearing a divine son. She could have said no and she would have been spared the pain caused by watching from afar as her son became a renowned and divisive figure, as her son was hastily and falsely tried and sentenced to torture and capital punishment. But if she had said no, she would not have known the joy of his resurrection, she would not have opened the door of salvation for humankind. This simple act of following God’s call can change the course of history in large and small ways.
Mary’s words in the magnificat which we sang this morning while she visited her sister Elizabeth are words of great power and prophecy. They point to a coming kingdom which turns the world’s values on their head. They proclaim a kingdom where the mighty are cast down and the lowly are raised up. They proclaim a kingdom where the hungry are fed. These great words of Mary have inspired extraordinary acts throughout the ages.
One such act occurred in the year 1965, when a young Episcopal Seminarian by the name of Johnathan Myerick Daniels was sitting in chapel at Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge Massachusetts--during morning prayer, and as he was saying the words of the magnificat “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” he heard the voice of God calling him to join those in Selma, Alabama who were protesting segregation. “On August 14, 1965, Daniels was one of a group of 29 protesters who went to Fort Deposit, Alabama to picket its whites-only stores. All of the protesters were arrested and taken to jail in the nearby town of Hayneville…. Finally, on August 20, the prisoners were released without transport[ation] back to Fort Deposit. After release, the group waited near the courthouse jail while one of their members called for [a ride]. Daniels with three others—a white Catholic priest and two [young African American women]—walked to buy a cold soft drink at [a nearby store]... But barring the front was… an unpaid special deputy who was holding a shotgun…. He threatened the group and leveled his gun at seventeen-year-old Ruby Sales. Daniels pushed her down and caught the full blast of the gun. He was instantly killed. Father Richard F. Morrisroe grabbed Joyce Bailey and ran with her. Coleman shot Morrisroe, severely wounding him in the lower back, but stopped at that.”
Johnathan Daniels is remembered as a martyr in the Episcopal Church and his feast day is August 14th. Johnathan Daniels said yes to God’s call to let love reign above all else. He followed Mary’s example by saying “yes” to God. Jonathan Daniels was a God bearer, showing a different way to be during a very dark and divisive time. The young girl, Ruby Sales, who he rescued went on to attend the same seminary where Daniels attended, Episcopal Divinity School. She has worked as a human rights advocate in Washington, D.C. as well as founding an inner-city mission called the Spirit House Project dedicated to Daniels’ memory. Ruby is a Godbearer, inspired by the witness of Johnathan Daniels to follow where the Holy Spririt Leads. This is the power of Jesus Christ working in the world.
St. John of the Cross wrote this poem about Mary in the late 1500’s:
“A woman holy you were made
To bear the Son whose merits saved.
He named you Mother of us all,
"Belov'd of Trinity" our name.
Companion us along life's way
On our return to the Trinity
That one in prayer and faithfulness
Our lives will mirror your full "Yes."
To Father, Son, and Spirit praise
For Your great Love that moves as grace
and forms us in discipleship
To live Your Will as Mary did.”
You are chosen like Mary. God has chosen you. Just like Mary he has chosen you to be a God bearer. And just like Mary we are called to live out God’s will in our lives through our actions. To take our Lord Jesus within you and share his light and love with the world. We are all theotokoi. We are all God-bearers.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent as we move ever closer to Christmastide, may we all have the courage to step out in faith with Mary and say "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” May we all have the courage to say yes to God. And may we know in our heart of hearts, that we too, are beloved of God. That we too are favored ones and that we are called to share this truth with all those we encounter. Amen.
Of the Divine Word
Pregnant with the
Holy Word will come the Virgin
Walking down the road
If you will take her in.
Sunday, December 14th ~ Advent 3
“Tend the Tiny Trees...”
I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas for the first time in fifteen years recently. I was struck by how powerful it was. It will be fifty years old next year and yet it is incredible how the message rings as true today as ever.
The basic premise is that Charlie is frustrated by the consumerism that has grown up around Christmas. He’s frustrated by all of the distractions. The film comes to a climax when Charlie and Linus go to pick out a Christmas tree. They go to the Christmas tree farm and are surrounded by all manner of gaudy plastic trees and flocked trees, and garishly huge trees.
Charlie picks out a tiny tree that has been neglected he thinks it looks perfect but all of the other kids start making fun of him for it.
Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone, who knows what Christmas is all about?!
Linus: Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights please?
And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.
That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Sometimes, in the midst of our busy lives, in the wake of fear brought on by the news media, in the rush of consumerism of this time of year, we forget the hope that Christianity offers, and we forget the goal of Christianity.
The hope that Christianity offers us is that all people, indeed, all creation, might one day be reconciled to God through the healing work of Jesus Christ. The hope that old wounds would be bound up and broken things repaired. The prophet Isaiah proclaims to us this morning: “he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn...to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”
The Goal of Christianity in our own lives is that we will, over time, be made holy, and enter into oneness with God. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians that he prays “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a tall order. Sometimes we think it is beyond the realm of possibility that we might be made perfectly holy and yet this is what Paul is talking about and this is what God promises.
This is a time of preparation, we like John the Baptist are to “make straight the way of the Lord” this season. We are to clear a runway in the wilderness of our souls so that Christ might touch down and perform a rescue mission. We, like John the Baptist, are called to point the way to Christ this season, letting our words and actions direct ourselves and others to Jesus.
It is my prayer for us that during this time of preparation we would look for the little trees in our lives that need tending to. That we would look around for those people and things that the rest of society has given up on and that we would seek to give those people hope and love. That we would seek to be generous and kind this season and not get wrapped up in the world’s motivations. Amen.
Sunday, December 7, 2014
The beginning of my journey to the priesthood began when I was very young. My grandmother told me recently that she remembers that I was twelve years old when I was on a car trip with her returning from Odessa to Austin, I told her I thought I would probably be a priest when I grew up. I have only a vague recollection of this happening. The moment that really stands out to me was when I was 15 or 16 years old, my buddy Joel and I were going for a hike--we used to spend hours pondering the great questions of the universe, and at one point Joel turned to me and said “you know, you’d make a really good priest”--I turned it over in my mind for a while.
A few months later, I was out in Big Bend. Joel and his folks were there, along with our friend Nick & his folks, and me and my folks. They had gathered us all in Big Bend because they felt collectively like our culture didn’t offer a sufficient rite of passage for young men and so they decided to create one for us. It was inspired by the idea of a vision quest. Each of us went out with a long string with knots tied in them by our families each knot represented a prayer they had prayed for us in preparation. We also carried a satchel that was given to us and some water. After walking several miles into the desert we each sought out a sacred space where we would sit and spend the next 24 hours alone. My space was near the edge of a plateau. I chose it because the view was broad and spectacular. The satchel which I had been handed contained letters from friends and families, letters of advice, well-wishes, some of them contained warnings about the dangers of the world, others, memories they had about us. As the daylight hours faded I read through these letters and when night came, under that gigantic starry sky in West Texas, I looked up at light which stars had produced billions upon billions of years ago, and I was overcome with the feeling of my infinitesimal smallness, and yet the simultaneous certainty that I was infinitely loved. It was at that moment that I knew, I wanted to dedicate myself to the joyful and mysterious tidings of the gospel of Christ.
Human beings are infinitesimal. Our lives are short. The memories of most of us will fade within a few generations. And yet God always remembers us. God has carefully counted each hair on our head. God cares enough for us that God became one of us. God cares enough for us to invite us into relationship with Him, indeed into his very life! The God of the universe seeks after us. And so God sent a son.
Like Isaiah proclaims this morning, we are like the grass: we wither and fade in a seeming instant and yet, says the prophet “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” A thousand years is like one day to God says Peter, and yet God loves us and is “patient with [us], not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”
We wait for a new heavens and a new earth, but “while you are waiting for these things,” says Peter, “strive to be found by him at peace.”
We worship a God who came into this world to be in relationship with us. All of creation was yearning and praying for that moment. All of Israel’s history anticipated this messiah, and today we hear once again John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness “prepare the way of the Lord, the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” and in Mark’s gospel Jesus comes swiftly, springing into action for the sake of healing the world and setting things aright.
During this Advent season, as we prepare for Christ’s coming, it is my hope that we would realize our smallness and our loved-ness. What we Christians do during this time is that we purify, we center, we come into alignment.
My dad is a chef professionally, but one of his many hobbies is that he is a potter. As a kid I can remember sitting in the garage and watching him throw pots for long stretches of time and the thing that was the most interesting to watch was when he centered the clay. It would wobble and wobble and wobble around on the wheel looking unfocused and chaotic until it was centered and then all of the sudden it locked into place and began to become the thing it was meant to become. This time of Advent is like that for us. Through our prayer, through our time with God, we ask God to bring us into alignment, into this kind of centeredness.
Fr. Richard Meux Benson, priest in the Church of England in the late 19th, early 20th century, and founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, wrote that “God is continually giving us gifts, but we take [the gifts] and forget God. The habit of prayer opens the eye of the soul to be watchful for God’s love, to recognize his hand in his gifts”
The thing which we Christians do is to proclaim good news. We are watchful for the hand of God in the world around us. We are watchful for the signs of the kingdom. We do good works in God’s name and we immerse ourselves in God’s presence, sitting at God’s feet in the hopes that God will transform us, and we will help transform the world.
A voice is crying in the wilderness. Proclaiming transformation and forgiveness. One is
coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Let us get centered so we might prepare to welcome him into our hearts and into the world. Let us get centered so that we might prepare to tell his
good-news story with zeal. Amen?
Sunday, November 30, 2014
“Prepare Him Room”
O Lord most high, please give me wisdom this night as I strive to find words for your people.
Happy New Year!
On this day the Christian New Year begins and on our journey together we look backwards and we look forward. We look backwards to all of the events leading up to that fateful night in Bethlehem. We look back to a people in the midst of chaos and calamity who were in need of a mighty savior. We look back to a courageous young woman who said “yes” to God, in spite of her fear and in spite of the ridicule she was sure to face, thereby changing the course of history.
We look back through our own lives as the lights slowly go up across town or as the candles on the advent wreath one by one get lit. We sift through the nostalgia (or the painful memories) of preparing for Christmas in years past.
As the new year begins we are called to watch and wait.
As the new year begins we are called to look ahead too. We are called to look out upon the far horizon. We are called to look ahead in Christian hope to the mystery that Jesus alludes to in our reading from Mark. The mystery that is like the fig tree suddenly and subtly blooming, or a master who returns abruptly in the night.
Spending some time sifting through some of my own nostalgia watching my son wait for Christmas, I look back and remember waiting for Christmas as a kid. It seemed to take forever! I can recall the sound of the stiff paper gingerly folding back the gilded doors on the advent calendar day after day as the long slog through advent continued. It is strange and mysterious how time works, for now as adults, this Advent time of preparation seems to be over in a flash Christmas is upon us before we know it (and these days all of the Christmas decorations go up now before advent even begins). But I can still remember that feeling of yearning and impatient excitement. I can remember all of the things I asked for Christmas each year, and doubtless, you can too. One year in particular I can remember reciting over and over the mantra “Tec-shield Batman, Joker, and a Bat Jet”
Now as mature Christians, we know that this time is not just about the trappings of Christmas. Waiting during the season of Advent for the mature Christian means waiting for Christ’s coming. Waiting during the season of advent means awaiting the fulfillment of all things. Waiting in the full hope of the promise that “things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made.” BCP 540. But again we can feel impatient as we once did as little ones. We can get impatient when we see violence and injustice in the world. We see people doing terrible things to each other in God’s name. These kinds of things can cause us to become discouraged, to wonder if anything will ever be made right, or if history simply continue its long march of one calamity after another?
Waiting for Christ’s coming was a painful struggle for Christ’s early disciples too. They had to put up with a lot of painful realities. They had to watch forty years after Jesus ascended into heaven as their beloved temple was destroyed at the hands of the Romans, they had to face the beginning of the great diaspora as many of the early Jewish Christians were exiled from their homelands, they faced painful divisions as many synagogues split over Christianity. Through all of these things, Jesus told them and he tells us, all will be well. These are struggles that you are going to have to go through but watch for the signs, I will not leave you as orphans, I will come in Glory and until that time, I will be among you.
In our passage from Mark today Jesus bids us several times to “Keep awake.” What does this mean? It means that we should retain our childlike sense of wonder. That sense of joy, excitement, anticipation that we had when we as children awaited Christmas, we should retain that kind of joy and wonder in the world as we live into the full assurance that we are people of God’s Kingdom. A sense that we as Christians are a people of wonder and joy in a world that has a tendency to be sarcastic and embittered, angry and resigned. We Christians are to remind people that Joy has come into this world and is coming into this world and we are to make room in our hearts for this joy.
Keeping awake means being fully alive. It means allowing ourselves to spend time marinating in God’s presence. It means understanding that the Kingdom of God is at hand, that the Kingdom of God is among us and within us and that in spite of the trials of life, in spite of the calamities and grief of the present moment.
Keeping awake means awakening to God’s presence within us, seeking Christ’s presence within our hearts and taking time out of our day to slow down, to be still and to know that God is here in the midst of us. Taking time out of our day to be kind to all we encounter even if they are being impatient with us. Acknowledging Christ in the face of the least of these. Walking a little more slowly as the autumn air blows around us. Smiling a little more broadly at all those we pass by on the street. Breathing a little more deeply as we feel the pressure to speed up and remember that God calls us to slow down.
In this way, we will be awake and alert. By doing these things we will let our hearts prepare him room.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Do you ever get the feeling that you are making your way through life, minding your own business and then all of the sudden, you get the sense that God has snuck up on you all of the sudden and is dropping hints? I think of these as burning bush moments: where God is present and you have to take the time to notice God is there. I had a burning bush moment earlier this month: It was a Tuesday and I was scheduled to travel to Austin for a meeting the next day, and I received a phone call from my friend and former youth minister Eric Moen. Eric is on staff at St. Martin’s in Houston and he is involved with a really phenomenal program called Re:Vision which seeks to bring new life to Houston’s troubled youth population. Every week, a large group of young people travel from Sharpstown to River Oaks where they gather for prayer and activities at St. Martin’s.
Anyway, Eric called me on Tuesday afternoon to ask if I could attend a meeting at All Saints’ in Austin the next day. “I’m sorry it’s such short notice,” he said, but I would love it if you could be there” –normally that would have been next to impossible for me but I checked my calendar and it turned out I could make it.
The meeting Eric wanted me to go to was regarding a Juvenile detention center in Giddings. [Talk a little bit about the center.]
When Charles was talking about these young men that they visit in the prison system he described it this way: “we are not approaching this from the perspective that we need to bring Jesus to them in the prisons to try to convert or reform them in some way, we are going to the prison with the intention of visiting Jesus there. Charles says that for the people who go to mentor these young men, it has just as much of a transformative impact on them as it does for the kids.
These young men are “the least of these” to be sure. They are children who have made bad decisions. Some of them have made extremely bad decisions. But they have nobody. Family has long since given up on them.
The next day, I went to Noon Lions Club and lo and behold, the speaker was a gentleman who was discussing the Kairos ministry, a ministry which brings adapted Cursillo retreat weekends behind the bars of the prisons the people who live there people who they call “the brothers in white” – I was amazed as he told us how at the end of one of these weekends an African American man who had been a member of the gang the “Bloods” joined hands with a professed member of the notorious “Arian Brotherhood” there these two men prayed with one another and each renounced their gang then an there surrounded by the rest of their Christian brothers, they each renounced the gangs they were a part of.
Now I have never been to a prison in my life, nor have I visited so much as a county jail. I once led a worship service in college at a juvenile detention center in Sherman, TX. But I have a sense that God I had a burning bush moment earlier this month and that Jesus is calling me to go visit him in prison.
Today, on this Christ the King Sunday, Jesus gives us a vision of his coming in Glory. But in the strange and backward logic of the Kingdom of God, this great King tells all those gathered there that they have seen him before. Many times before.
When all of the assembled people say, I don’t know what you’re talking about Jesus, he gives them these remarkable words:
“Truly I tell you, when you did it to one of the least of these, my family, you did it to me.”
John M. Buchanan, noted pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, says this about today’s passage from Matthew 25 “Students of the New Testament know that the only description of the last judgment is in Matthew 25.” Surprisingly, he says, “There is nothing in it about ecclesiastical connections or religious practices. There is not a word in this passage about theology, creeds, orthodoxies [or beliefs]. There is only one criterion here, and that is whether or not you saw Jesus Christ in the face of the needy and whether or not you gave yourself away in love in his name.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, p.336)
Jesus’ words were radical then and they are radical now. God is in the face of broken human beings who desperately need care and love. I was inspired this past Monday, when one of our vestry members without batting an eye jetted over to Second Chance before the meeting to go get a man standing in our parking lot a blanket because all of his things had been stolen the night before.
We have many people in this faithful bunch who are heeding Christ’s call. I have a challenge for us: Let’s go visit Jesus in prison.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
I have a pair of really nice Ray Ban Club Master sunglasses that Shyla bought me a few weeks after I began as rector here. It was a really considerate present that she got for me to congratulate me on my new call. She knew I liked Ray Bans, I had been talking about getting a pair for years, but she also knew I would never get a pair for myself because I thought they were too expensive and I have a hard time justifying buying things for myself. (so heretofore I was always opting for the ZZ Top model of getting’ myself some cheap sunglasses) Shyla also knows about a peculiar tendency of mine which she wisely warned me against when she gave me the gift: she said, “Now, I know you like to take extra good care of your things, but don’t take such good care of these nice sunglasses that you leave them in the case all the time and never use them.” I have been doing a pretty good job heeding her counsel although I admit that I still lovingly and somewhat obsessively polish the lenses every time I put them back in the case and I admit that I carefully refold the special polishing cloth and gingerly return it to the tiny clear plastic baggie that it came in, which a normal person would have thrown away months ago when they first got them. Nevertheless so far, I am getting good use out of them, I’m not leaving them to linger in the case in the far reaches of our closet because if I’m too careful with them, it completely defeats the purpose of having them at all.
Our parable from Matthew’s gospel this morning sounds really harsh to our ears. It can even sound scary because it might cause us to ask the question, “am I going to end up with the third slave in the outer darkness?” which is ironic because this parable is precisely about how we should take risks as Christ’s disciples and NOT be afraid. This parable is fundamentally about the importance of taking risks and not playing it safe. This parable tells us that we should do the opposite of what the third slave does by cowering in fear deciding to freeze and do nothing. Rather Christ’s disciples are to follow the example of the first two and take risks for the sake of the gospel as we await Christ’s coming in glory. The true danger, says Jesus, is to “play it safe” in our walk of discipleship instead of going out on a limb and doing the hard work of following Jesus’ example. It is fundamentally about living life to the fullest and the risk involved.
To Christians in the first and second centuries, when they heard this parable read in church, it probably would have immediately made them think of martyrdom. There was surely the temptation to keep the wisdom of the gospel safe, buried deep down and hidden away from the persecuting Romans. Keep the gospel wisdom secret and locked in the inner room or in a box at the back of a closet. “If we stay alive, the gospel stays alive” some of them must have thought. To us, this seems like a foreign idea, but many Christians living in Iraq and Syria have recently been faced with the very real possibility that their discipleship to Christ might cost them their lives. And yet they continue to be faithful sharing Christ’s love throughout the Middle East in spite of kidnappings, torture, and threats on their lives.
This parable occurs toward the end of Matthew’s gospel. We find this parable in chapter 25 along with the parable of the 10 bridesmaids and the sheep and the goats, right before Caiaphas leads the plot to kill Jesus in Chapter 26. Jesus is crucified in the next chapter and then Christ’s resurrection occurs in Chapter 28. Christ exhorts his disciples right before he ascends to go forth and make disciples of all nations baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All of these elements are working together to remind early disciples not to hide their light under a bushel out of fear but rather to go out into the world and do extraordinary new things.
While most of us will never face martyrdom like our sisters and brothers in the Middle East, we too are called by
Christ to risk for the sake of the gospel. To dream big dreams for the Kingdom of God. This is a parable about being daring: daring to be vulnerable as we talk to others about our faith. Daring to
lay our hands on those who are sick and suffering. Daring to care for those who no one else in society will care for. Daring to do works of love and mercy, the most important values in the kingdom of
heaven, in the face of a world where love and mercy are regarded as laughable, soft, and ineffectual. I have a good friend from seminary who tells a story about visiting a leper colony in the
Philippines where he is from, and one of the people suffering from leprosy offered him a drink of water. My friend hesitated but in the end it was more important to him to take the water and engage
that person’s hospitality and have a personal connection with someone who had been disfigured and marginalized by society, than it was to worry about whether he would contract leprosy as a result.
Now that’s risking for the sake of the gospel.
Christ will come in Glory make no mistake, but in this parable, he bids us to go out and do the work of spreading the Kingdom here and now, not just waiting around for an unspecified time to come. This parable is similar to the old familiar adage that “a watched pot never boils”—if we sit around waiting for spiritual renewal, transformation, and transfiguration to come later on down the line from far away, we’ll be in for a big surprise that maybe it won’t come for us at all. Maybe, Jesus seems to say, the Kingdom of God starts from the inside out, inside the hearts and lives of each one of us, and that maybe, just maybe, on the great and glorious day of Christ’s coming, the work we have done will have caused so many lights to shine around the world, that heaven and earth will meet as one and look like stars upon the ocean, where it will be hard to tell where one’s glory ends and the other begins.
[[There is another spiritual reality that we find in the rich depths of this parable. The act of risking, of going out on a limb, trying new things, this is what causes us to grow as human beings and as disciples of Jesus. Taking risks with the potential for failure is one of the best ways to grow into mature adults. Living our lives in fear on the other hand can lead down a path of isolation and pessimism. We all have people in our lives who seem to be living in one kind of self-imposed outer darkness or another. It is a difficult place for them to be and we are called to be compassionate toward them, but we can see that there is a mighty struggle ahead for them before they are able to grow into the people God created them to be. The slave who is punished acts out of fear. He is crippled by anxiety he is filled with worry about the future. He is filled with paranoia about what might happen to the master’s money.]]
In the end the third slave brings the judgment on himself—he is so consumed and crippled by his fear that he is unable to do the very thing he was entrusted to do. This is true of the spiritual life. We must take risks. We must engage in vulnerability. We must put ourselves in uncomfortable situations if we want to grow into the Full Stature of Christ for which we are destined. The acorn must have a resounding and painful crack before the oak can emerge.
As we reflect on Wednesday night’s Celebration of New Ministry, and bask in the joy and excitement of it all, we must remember that it is not simply a celebration of my new ministry but of the ministry that we will share together.
My friends let’s dream big together. Let’s preach the gospel in our words and actions. Let’s go forth and invite people into this place. Let’s imagine how we can do God’s healing work together. Let’s think about how we can share God’s love in risky ways. Let’s care for people here and let’s care for people far away. Let’s find our expensive sunglasses buried in the back of our closet and let’s take them out of their case and wear them, even though we know they might get scratched or lost or stepped on, or might get into the hands of a ruthless two year old. Amen.
Sunday, November 9, 2014
During spring break of my freshman year of college, I went backpacking with my buddy Joel along the Ozark highland trail in Arkansas. It was extremely beautiful. We set out on a Monday and didn’t come across another human being until we were finished a week later. We saw spectacular views and old stone walls, waterfalls and all kinds of interesting wildlife. And then, on our last evening we decided that because the weather had been so nice the entire time, we would sleep out under the stars that night. We found a nice piece of level ground a good way off the trail, we rolled out our bedrolls and our sleeping bags, ate dinner and went to sleep for the night. Then around 2 a.m. it started. We heard thunder way off in the distance. “Do you think that’s coming our way?” “I don’t know, let’s just wait and see” All of the sudden it started pouring down. It was a complete deluge that seemed to come from out of nowhere! The rain started pouring down and we were caught completely off guard. We ran to try and find some cover but there wasn’t anything like that. By this time our packs were completely soaked. We decided ultimately to climb a little ways up a ridge and cover our heads with a tarp until it stopped raining. Surely it would only be passing through. But it kept raining. And raining. Rivulets of water were running down our pants. There we were. All we could do was to wait for it to stop. Eventually it did and we were able to hike the final few miles of our journey which led us into town to where there was a diner that had the best food I have ever tasted to this day.
Waiting is a very hard thing to do. Especially waiting in less than desirable circumstances. When I was up on that ridge with Joel it felt like seconds were minutes and minutes were hours and the cold wet rain just kept coming. Waiting in airports or waiting for a long time to deplane from an airplane. Waiting in traffic these are all things that can try our patience after a while--I have loved living in La Grange because pretty much the only thing I have to wait for is the train to pass by.
Waiting is the state that the early Christians found themselves in at the time when Matthew wrote his gospel. Some of them expected that Christ’s coming in Glory was going to happen not long after his ascent into heaven. Instead they had to wait for Jesus as their glorious temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. They had to wait as the Roman authorities started persecuting people who practiced Christianity. These were dire circumstances and it was uncomfortable for them.
Jesus’ parable today from Matthew’s gospel is a parable of encouragement for anyone who has to await Christ’s coming in such dire and difficult circumstances.
Jesus is essentially saying, keep up the good work in my absence and build up a supply of good fresh oil. Don’t get caught off guard but stay focused on the things that truly matter.
The wise maidens in the parable ‘have prepared for the coming of the Lord with… ‘responsible deeds of discipleship,’ including works of love and mercy. They are the wise ones who have heard Jesus’ teachings and acted on them. As such, these maidens are ‘ready’ for the bridegroom. They meet him with their lamps lit. Their light shines with good works that give glory to God.”
Jesus tells the gathered crowd in his sermon on the mount (Matt 5: 14-16) “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
We are together, all the gathered Body of Christ and we can grow together as a community, but there are aspects of this spiritual journey that we all must go on individually. We can be companions together on this walk but this good, rich, spiritual oil is not something we can just pour into someone else’s lamp at a moment’s notice. This good oil takes time to build up: it takes prayer, it takes caring for others, it takes doing God’s healing work in the world.
The five foolish bridesmaids are caught off guard-- they are caught unprepared because they haven’t been doing the good work that would help them to be spiritually ready for such a thrilling, exciting event as the bridegroom’s wedding.
As we wait for the fulfillment of all things, God doesn’t call us to simply sit back and expect it’s coming soon so we don’t have any work to do, no on the contrary, God calls us to prepare him room, make straight his paths in the wilderness. We do this by continuing his healing work in the world. By loving our fellow human beings, offering them comfort and solace. We do this by imparting Christ’s wisdom to the world so that all might have a store of good oil. And we do this by being resilient, by sticking with our disciplines day in and day out.
I read one interpreter this week who suggested that the foolish bridesmaids wouldn’t have been left out of the banquet if they hadn’t run away to get more oil. If they had just stuck around and been honest with the bridegroom about the fact that they didn’t have enough oil, they would have at least been there when the wedding procession started and they wouldn’t have been perceived as having abandoned the wedding party.
As for keeping awake, we as Christ’s disciples have awakened to a new reality. A reality of
sunlight that shines above the clouds no matter how fierce the storm. Through our practices of prayer, sitting in silence with God, through our practices of corporate prayer, coming together on
Sunday, doing good for others, we stay focused on God’s presence in our hearts and all around us. We stay awake and attuned to God’s working in the world instead of being lulled into a restless,
distracted sleep by the chaos of the world. We live in a world where there is a lot of sleeping going on but Christ bids us to awaken with joyful hearts from our slumber so that we might witness the
awesome presence of the bridegroom and await the fulfillment of all things, the sumptuous wedding banquet that never ends. Amen.
Sermon for: Sunday, November 2, 2014
Fairest Lord Jesus, please give me some wisdom to impart to your people. Amen.
Look to your left this morning, now look to your right. Did you know that you were sitting in the presence of the Saint’s of God? Yesterday morning, on All Saints’ Day, my friend, Bishop James Tengatenga, the retired bishop of Southern Malawi posted this on Facebook: “All Saints’, saints all—act like the one you are”
Inside this simple sentence lies so much profundity and it gets at the heart of the Christian mystery: that the God who created all things became a human being so that human beings might share in God’s divine life.
I remember about 10 years ago, when there was discussion around whether Mother Theresa was going to be canonized by the Roman Church, there was a big kerfuffle in the media because some journals of hers had been examined and it was “shockingly revealed” that Mother Theresa had spent some considerable time wrestling with her faith “gasp!”—She had grappled with doubt for at least the last 10 years of her life and a whole lot of the media were speculating about whether that somehow disqualified her from sainthood.
In the end it did not but I think it is worth knowing and remembering that Mother Theresa, now known as Saint Theresa of Calcutta, was and is a human being. Born in 1922 in Albanian Kosovo, she was named Agnes Gonxcha Bojaxhiu. She grew up in poverty and attended a Roman Catholic parochial school. Later she was a High School principal at a Catholic High School in Calcutta. But she continued to hear God’s call to serve him among those who were the poorest of the poor. She decided to serve those who were living in the slums of Calcutta. She saw some of the worst poverty there is in the world. Many people died of starvation in the arms of Mother Theresa and she gave them love and comfort in their final days. Probably for some of them, a kind of love and comfort that they had never felt before in their lives. Was mother Theresa Wonder Woman? No, she was a human being. Anyone faced with that kind of bleak suffering day in and day out is bound to wrestle mightily with their faith in a Good, loving, caring God. And the fact that Mother Theresa wrestled with her faith is good news for us, because we are all human beings too.
Faith is made up of two components: belief and practice. These two things are in dialogue with each other, both are necessary for our faith journey on the lifetime road that leads to God.
We are claimed and marked as Christ’s own in our baptism and for the rest of our lives, we are sent on a journey by God. The journey by which God takes us, frail human beings as we are, and sanctifies us, makes us holy, transforms us into his likeness. This is a process that is painful and difficult. It is a struggle at times, like rocks becoming smooth in a riverbed being ground against the hard realities of life over and over again or like the biblical image of a refiner’s fire, we are placed in the crucible of life and the fire of God’s love burns hot and liquefies us, and takes out all of our impurities.
All Saint’s is not a day to look at the saints and then look back at ourselves and say “Oh woe is me, they’re saints up there but I’m just a petty broken human being down here” No! All Saints’ is a day when we sing at the top of our lungs “and I mean to be one too”—we mean to be transformed by God’s grace into something extraordinary. No one who is a Saint with a capital “S” is any different from you or I in terms of what they “had to work with” Many saints had very messy lives just like all of us, but God was able to use them and transform them. Think of Paul the great persecutor of Christians. The prideful, zealous, angry person who he was, and yet God claimed him as his own and used him to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of God had come near and that all people no matter what their race or nationality were invited to join the banquet as God’s beloved Children. And Paul even in the midst of preaching these wonderful things also admits several times in his own epistles that he is wrestling with the pain and struggle of life. He never tells us what it is, but Paul often refers to the thorn in his side that just won’t go away, that causes him to wrestle with is faith.
But even when we struggle in our lives, when we doubt ourselves, when we doubt God, when we are afraid about the things happening in the world, eventhough over and over again, God tells us not to be afraid, if we keep coming back to this table, with these Holy Ones, God will continue to transform us. God will continue to plant seeds within us which grow, sometimes very slowly, sometimes seemingly overnight, but the seeds which God plants grow in our hearts and over time, we who are frail tiny acorns, begin to see that we are made in the image of a mighty oak.
In our gospel reading from this morning, Jesus does not proclaim to those sitting around him “blessed are those of you who are faster than a speeding bullet, blessed are you if you can lift a car above your head. He doesn’t say blessed are you if you can perform extraordinary miracles like me. Jesus doesn’t even say blessed are you who can do long division in their head. No. Jesus says:
Blessed are the meek. The merciful. The poor. The peacemakers. The pure in heart. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. That is good news for us.
We have all known people who meet these descriptions. They are not extremely difficult to achieve. All of us can think of a time when someone was merciful to us. I can still remember how loving and supportive my dad was when I wrecked my first car. I had spent all summer working and saving up my money to buy a 1985 BMW 325i and I wrecked it four months later. I was so mad at myself and so afraid Dad would be mad too, and yet when I called him collect from a payphone (remember those?) he was so gentle and loving and so concerned about how I was doing and so unconcerned about the car. My dad is one of my saint’s one of my spiritual guides, who has continually shown me how to live a life of joy and peace in a world of chaos and frenzy.
I’m sure you have stories of people who have been merciful too.
To paraphrase Desmond Tutu, maybe you can’t solve world poverty by yourself, but you can start with that guy on the street.
Perhaps being a peacemaker or pure in heart aren’t things that happen over night, perhaps you have always struggled to be merciful to yourself or to others. But being a peacemaker, being merciful, being pure in heart, these are spiritual practices which we can work at and which God, over time perfects in us.
In the end, Christ calls us all into fellowship with Him. IN the end, God wants for all of us to experience the eternal joy and ecstasy of entering into God’s Glory. We have a beautiful reminder from Revelation about the comfort which God promises us at the fulfillment of all things. John tells us about “Those who have made it through the great ordeal.” Everyone’s life is a great ordeal and these are words of comfort to us. None of us is perfect, but we are all being “brought to our perfection” through the grace of our Lord Jesus. Paul says now we see through a glass darkly, then we shall see God face to face. In this life we catch moments, glimpses of God’s face. We have brief moments when we see a small piece of the completed puzzle.
Let us, today, sing with joy that we mean to be saints of God because God has claimed us as his own. Amen.
Sermon from: Sunday, October 26, 2014
__________________________________________________________ I have just recently learned about something called a harrow. It is an agricultural implement that was drawn along behind an ox cart like a big long rake for breaking up soil. Many of you are probably also familiar with the concept of a modern day harrow—a disc harrow—which is pulled along by a tractor. The discs curve around and cut into the soil, turning it over, breaking up clods, aerating it, breathing life into it, and creating good tilth where seeds can be planted.
The definition of the word harrowing from one online dictionary is, something which is “extremely disturbing or distressing; grievous” The word harrowing comes from the older word harrow and it is a tells us something about this life that we live. This life where we work hard every day to follow Jesus in this world of struggle and difficulty in which we live.
The process of struggle in our lives, can work to cut furrows in our souls. It can get down in there and break up the clods within, aerating us and opening up places where new life can grow.
We live in a time of great doubt and difficulty. A time of great uncertainty throughout the world. But one thing is certain: God loves us deeply. More deeply that we could ever imagine.
I have been deeply affected by the death of Clay Towles, and doubtless all of you have too. How hard and sad it is. It was extremely harrowing news. He was a seminarian here at St. James from 2011 until 2013. I have found myself deeply grieved by his loss in spite of the fact that I never knew him. I share many things in common with him we went to the same seminary, we shared in this wonderful St. James’ family, we were the same age. He took his own life, and we can only imagine the desperation and feelings of hopelessness that brought him to that place.
Yet there is a wideness in God’s mercy. Our God receives Clay with open and loving arms. We worship a God who is always walking with us in the midst of our sorrows. Who weeps with us when we weep.
Who walks beside us as the plough of life cuts deep furrows in our hearts and who gently sows seeds of love within us.
The reality is that life can be a struggle for all of us. Jesus calls us in this passage to love our neighbor. To reach out in love to those we care about. To walk alongside our brothers and sisters who are suffering.
Jesus also calls to love ourselves here. “Love your neighbor AS yourself” Sometimes loving ourselves can be an even harder prospect than loving our neighbor. We all wrestle with self-doubt, self-criticism, and anger at ourselves. We have all internalized falsehoods that other people have placed upon us along the way. We begin to carry the heavy burdens of our pasts.
But we worship a God who liberates us from these burdens. We worship a God who cares deeply and calls us to a life of love for God, for the world and for ourselves.
Love God. With all your heart. With all your soul. With all your mind.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Love God. Love neighbor. Love yourself.
Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. In other words to the very depths of our being. We are called to rejoice in and abide in God’s love for us and live our lives as lovers of God. As companions of God. As friends with our creator, redeemer, and sustainer.
Jesus also tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This kind of statement calls us to a deep empathy. We are to look into the eyes of all those we encounter and ask ourselves “What if it were me in their situation?” We are called to do work that serves our brothers and sisters.
On these two commandments, says Jesus, the ALL of SCRIPTURE can be hung. The law and the prophets is a 1st century Judean way of saying “the Bible”
We live in a world that can be harrowing. As the soil within us is turned we cannot but focus on the pain that is being caused but we must recognize that the richness of that soil and as for God to plant seeds of love within us.
What Jesus calls us to do in this passage is to be resilient. To practice these two fundamental commandments on a daily basis: to love God. To love neighbor. To love self. These commandments call us to a practice of prayer, a practice of outreach, and a practice of self-care.
God loves us deeply. We are made in his image and we are called to recognize that image in ourselves and in others. We are called to be the bearers of light and love to those who don’t know this or for whatever reason aren’t able to acknowledge it.
God loves Clay Towles. God loves each and every one of you. God wants us to be ones who love. Christians are fundamentally students of the art of love and everything that comes with love: resistance in the face of hatred, forgiveness in the face of brokenness, reconciliation in the face of estrangement, patience in the face of pettiness.
The more we practice loving God through the discipline of prayer and the more we practice loving our neighbors through the discipline of reaching out, and the more we practice loving ourselves, through the discipline of self-care, the more resilient we become the more open we are to receiving God’s grace which transforms us and reshapes us and returns us to God’s image.
God wants us to be so filled by the spirit that we are brimming over with love for God and for one another.
Paschal Candle reminds us of our baptism. It reminds us of the Paschal Mystery, the Easter Truth which is that God raises us up from our death and brings us to new life. As you come forward to receive communion, I invite you, if you so choose, to place a hand on the base of the candle as you remember Clay and you remember…
The word Harrowing is used another way in Christian Theology. It is used to refer to Christ’s descent among the dead. What was referred to in the medieval church as the Harrowing of Hell. This is what we proclaim when we say that Jesus descended to the dead and destroyed the power of sin and death. Jesus triumphed over darkness and frees those who are imprisoned. And Jesus frees us. He comes to us at the deepest level of our being and offers to remove our heavy burdens. He frees us so that we can do what we were put on this earth to do: To Love. That is it in all of it’s simplicity and all of it’s complexity. That is the meaning of life. To love. Love. On this one word hangs all of scripture. Love God. Love neighbor as yourself. To walk again with God and all of our dear friends in the garden in the cool of the evening as our ancestors did—this is what God intends for us.
As we experience the harrowing realities of this life, may the deep furrows we all have in our hearts be fertile soil for the seeds of God’s love to sprout and grow so that we as God’s beloved ones might bear good fruit and so prove to be his disciples, his students of the art of love. Amen.
Sermon for Sunday, October 19, 2014
“You are a precious treasure...”
__________________________________________________________Good Good morning! I missed you my friends! What a joy it is to be back with you on this beautiful Sunday morning!
In the last week I have been in a bunch of different airports in cities all over the country: Austin, Atlanta, Ashville, NC, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Bismarck, ND.
I went on my most recent trip to North Dakota at the invitation of Bishop Harrison. She and I serve together on the World Mission Board of the Diocese of Texas. We were there because the Diocese of Texas and The Diocese of North Dakota have entered into a companionship relationship. At our last diocesan council in February, we voted to approve this companion relationship and myself, along with Bishop Harrison and another priest from the board, were invited to be present for the passing of their resolution along with leading some visioning workshops about what such a partnership might look like.
My relationship to the Diocese of North Dakota goes back four years, a month after I was ordained to the diaconate, Shyla and I were sent as a part of a group from my church in the Woodlands, TX to go do some work on the Spirit Lake Reservation in a little town called Fort Totten.
We had been asked by the diocese to come up to the reservation to help build a new sanctuary for the Congregation of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, an Episcopal Congregation that had been there since the mid-1800’s. We also ran an art camp for the young children on the reservation who had very little to do during the summer months.
It was the first time I had been on a Native American reservation and it had a profound impact on me. The degree of poverty and all of the pitfalls that come with it is absolutely staggering on Native lands in the Dakotas. It is hard to believe that you are in the United States, in some places, the poverty reminded me of what I encountered in Malawi. The hardship the folks there have endured are too many to number, And yet, the generosity, hospitality, and the kindness of people was overwhelming.
As I was reflecting on our gospel reading, it got me to thinking what a similar situation Jesus and his people found themselves in under Roman rule. Here were people who had been living in their land, the promised land for thousands of years, but at every turn, a new empire was claiming their territory and levying taxes on the poorest of the poor.
In Dakota Sioux country, I have often wondered what it would be like to pay for things with a twenty dollar bill which bears the image of someone who was responsible for the killing of thousands of your ancestors.
In our story from the gospel this morning, Jesus holds up a coin bearing the image of another ruler: Caesar Augustus. The image of the one who was oppressing Jesus’ people. The image of the one who was responsible for the death of thousands of people living throughout Judea. The image of the one who demanded to be worshipped as a God. The image of the one who would kill thousands of Christians for two hundred years after Jesus’ ascension.
But the question Jesus is asking when he hold up that coin is “who is sovereign here? Who is truly in charge?”
The people of Judea were being severely taxed by the Roman authorities and it was weighing heavily on the poorest members of Jewish society. When the Pharisees and Herodians corner Jesus for the purpose of debating him, they are once again trying to put him in a double bind. They ask him a “gotcha question” so that Jesus will disclose “something about himself that will clinch their attempt to indict him” (Spalding, 188). If Jesus says “yes, it’s ok to pay taxes to the emperor, he is risking “alienating the oppressed Jews of Palestine; if he answers, “No,” he can be accused of fostering sedition [against Rome]. Brilliantly, Jesus refuses to do either, and in his answer he shows…[what] truly fulfills the law of God”(Eastman, 193). He transforms their question into a theological question and forces the Pharisees to answer something about themselves.
Tertullian the early Church father from Carthage famously expanded on Jesus’ statement writing in the 3rd Century, “Render to Caesar Caesar’s image, which is on the coin, and to God God’s image, which is on [the human being]” to Turtullian, all currency was manmade and served the purposes of the Roman Empire but Rome could not own the human spirit, Rome could not own the soul of a human being.
There is a deeper truth in Tertullian’s observation as well: we human beings owe all that we are, and all that we have to God. Everything that we believe we possess we are really only stewards of because all things flow from God.
Beyond, brilliantly averting getting arrested by giving a clever answer to his detractors, Jesus is saying something deeper to the people, Caesar can tax your money but he cannot tax your soul. He cannot tax your life.
All things come from God. All blessings flow from God the father and we are called to dedicate all that we are to him.
It is only in God that barriers are broken and past wounds are healed.
It was a wonderful and powerful experience to be in North Dakota this weekend at their diocesan council and to hear the testimony of a young man named Patrick. He is a 23 year old Native American of the Dakota tribe and an Episcopalian, and he was describing a trip he had taken to Texas over the summer: he came down with a team of other young adults and teenagers from the Dakota Standing Rock tribe to come down and build a habitat house alongside a team of people from Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Houston. He talked about how living on the reservation, he felt like he had been the recipient of other people’s mission work and he talked about how powerful it was for him to be sent as a missionary from his community to share the love of Christ in another community and to give help to someone in Houston who badly needed it.
In Christ we are united as one. In Christ healing and reconciliation are realized. Here in this place we dedicate all that we have and all that we are to God because God is responsible for all that we have and all that we are. And as we offer ourselves in Baptism, in the breaking of bread, in the prayers, in caring for one another and those around us we become transformed. Melted down and purified, refined, made whole and minted into the most precious treasure of all: God’s holy people.
Fr. Eric +
Sermon for October 5, 2014
“May Our Light So Shine”
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’ (Matthew 23:37-39)
No matter what age in human history, prophets have always had it rough. People who bear prophetic witness to the kingdom of God tend to get in trouble because they shine a light on dark places that society wants to keep that way.
The prophets of ancient Israel all had extremely difficult lives. They were asked by God to convey extremely unpopular messages and almost all of them were put to death by the rulers of the day who couldn’t handle giving up their grip on the reins of power.
It is the way of the world for institutions to become corrupted. It is the way of the world for people to exploit their own power for the purposes of personal gain. That is certainly true today throughout the world and it was true in Jesus’ day as well.
The parable Jesus preaches in the temple today is an allegorical parable meaning that each of the characters are stand-ins for specific groups of people: “God is the landowner, the land of Israel is the vineyard, the members of the…religious establishment [in Jerusalem] are the tenant farmers, the prophets of the Old Testament…are the representatives of God who came to collect what was due, Jesus is the son who finally came to collect and who was killed, and the church is the group invited to work in the vineyard at the end of the parable” (McMickle, Feasting of the Word, 141).
The prophets of ancient Israel were not fortune tellers sent to predict the future, they were bearers of God’s will who told the powerful in Israel what the consequences would be if they continued to ignore God’s will.
For centuries, the prophets continually reminded the powers-that-be that their job was to care for the widows and the orphans in society and uphold God’s justice throughout the land. The prophets continually reminded the leaders of society that their job was to glorify God by showering mercy upon their people and loving their people. Time and again however, the prophets found injustice in the Kingdom of Israel. Time and again the prophets found that the people were not being cared for and God’s will was being ignored.
In one of our Eucharistic Prayers we pray the words
“From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another…. Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law. And in the fullness of time you sent your only Son, born of a woman, to fulfill your Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace.”
Over and over again, God tried to get people’s attention with the prophets and God’s chosen prophets would stop at nothing to get the people’s attention, doing things that would definitely get them arrested if they did them today: The prophet Isaiah whom Jesus quotes in our reading from the Gospel today, walked naked and barefoot for three years (Isaiah 20), Jeremiah walked around northern Israel yelling and wearing an ox yoke to get peoples attention about the rising power in Babylon (Jeremiah 27), the prophet Ezekiel tied himself up so that he was unable to move for days. These are but a few examples of the lengths these chosen messengers went to, to get the attention of the powerful in society. Almost all of these prophets were executed by the unjust kings of Israel who rather than listening to God’s will and making provision for God’s justice, did things to glorify themselves instead.
In the Church we’ve had prophetic voices as well: everyone from Francis of Assisi, to Martin Luther, to Martin Luther King who have reminded the church that our actions are not aligning with the teachings of the gospel. Prophetic voices like these have been faced with similar consequences that the prophets in ancient times faced: their words which bore the truth of Christ’s gospel fell on ears that wanted to keep things under their control. Many of the great reformers and teachers of the church were assassinated, martyred, because rather than doing God’s will, the powerful in the church wanted to hang onto their own power.
In our gospel this morning, Jesus comes among the people in the temple in Jerusalem, and speaks as the Messiah who fulfills the prophets. He speaks to those in authority who didn’t choose to listen to the prophets who came before him, who didn’t choose to do justice and be merciful to others. Jesus speaks to the rulers of his day and says to them that they have taken the vineyard which God has provided stewardship over and they have squandered what God wanted them to do with it.
Jesus says in no uncertain terms that they, the religious leaders are not bearing good fruit. They are not bearing the fruit of the kingdom.
In this parable, Jesus turns to us as well and asks us if we are bearing good fruit. He asks us if we are heeding God’s will and tending God’s vines in out in the vineyard. Jesus reminds us that we are the stewards of God’s vineyard. We are all God’s tenants on this earth, and it is our job to listen carefully with the ear of our hearts to what it is that God wills for us to do.
Each and every one of us has a vocation in this life. Each and every one of us has something that we have been given to do by God. We might not all be called to ordained ministry, but as Christians we are all called to be ministers of the Gospel and do hard work for God’s kingdom. Sometimes it might take most of a lifetime to figure out what that calling is, but I invite you to spend some time in prayer this week asking God what work it is that he is calling you to do out in his vineyard.
Church and society become in need of a prophet voice when the people cease to believe that they are called to share in the ministry of Christ. When the people cease to believe that Christ has given them a very real charge to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to bind up the brokenhearted, to anoint with oil, to love one another as Christ has loved us, to set free the captives, and return sight to the blind. We, each of us, has been given the special job of being the bearer of God’s presence and God’s love to the world. Each of us is called, as the body of Christ, to Embody Christ to those who we encounter throughout our daily lives. This is how we bear good fruit. This is how we do the will of the father.
Christ, the cornerstone which the world continues to reject, has become our cornerstone, he has shown a different way of being in this world and it is upon this foundation which we are built as the church. We are called to be merciful. To forgive. To be healers. To love. To be brave. To return to no one evil for evil. May we, through our actions, like the prophets of old, bear prophetic witness about how to be different in the world. May our light so shine before others that the darkness of the world might be illumined by the light of those who are being restored in God’s image.
This might sound like so much fantasy. It might sound outlandish and impossible. And yet, it is what we are called to do and it is what God promises. May we, with God’s help, tend this vineyard and produce sumptuous fruit for God and for the world.
Sermon for Sunday, September 28, 2014
“Work in the Vineyard...”
One of my favorite movies is a film that came out in 1987 by the Danish director Gabriel Axel called Babbette’s Feast. The movie is set in the 19th Century Denmark in an austere puritan community on the island of Jutland. There are two elderly sisters who grew up together in this puritan community. Both of them had suitors whom they loved as young women but their father discouraged them from marrying so they lived into old age never getting married. Eventually a young French woman named Babette shows up on the island with a letter from one of the women’s former suitors. The letter explains that Babette is a refugee from the counterrevolution in France and the letter recommends her to the aging sisters as a housekeeper. The sisters are unable to pay her but Babette offers to work for room and board and she does so for 14 years cooking them bland meals of boiled turnips and potatoes exactly to the people’s specifications, nothing fancy. Even though they come to accept her, and are grateful for her help, the puritan community always looks with suspicion upon this foreigner in their midst. Meanwhile, the only connection Babette has to France, her former homeland, is that every year for her birthday her friend sends a lottery ticket to her.
For 14 years she never has any winnings but one day, to her great surprise, she gets the winning lottery ticket and is awarded 10,000 francs. Babette decides that as a way to celebrate, she will prepare for this small community on Jutland, a traditional seven course French dinner. As all the exotic ingredients from foreign lands that these people have never seen begin to arrive, the community begins to fear that this is far too extravagant and that eating the meal might constitute them committing a sin of sensual luxury. The sisters call together the congregation and they decide that because Babette is going through so much trouble, they will eat the meal but they all agree not to enjoy it, nor to make any mention of the food whatsoever during the meal.
Meanwhile one of the sister’s former suitors, a French soldier who has since become a general has come for a visit and is also invited to the meal. He is unaware of the congregation’s plan to not say anything about the food. As Babette begins bringing-out the courses, she begins to become visibly saddened that the people don’t seem to be enjoying it but she doesn’t have time to think about it because she is working so hard in the kitchen—all the while the French General is amazed. He stays quiet out of politeness to begin with but over time he can’t help himself, he begins raving about the food, saying that it reminded him of the gourmet food he had at a café in Paris in his youth. As the courses keep coming, the general becomes more and more frustrated until finally, the people of the congregation begin to break down and they start enjoying themselves. The sumptuous meal begins to elevate their mood, lighten their spirits and all of the sudden they appear to be transformed. These austere and angry people begin to have their hearts warmed by this incredible meal, the old sister who once spurned the love of the general now begins to fall in love with him once more. They are elevated to a different mindset, old grudges in the community are set aside and the people have an outpouring of affection for one another. When the meal is over people leave feeling better than they have felt for thirty years. The next morning the sisters are saddened by the fact that Babette is going to return to Paris with the money she has won from the lottery. She reveals to them that she has spent her entire earnings on the meal which she prepared. She tells them that she was the former chef at the famous Café Angles in Paris and that a meal for 12 at the café cost exactly 10,000 francs. The sisters are taken aback, “but you will be poor for the rest of your life” they say and she responds “an artist is never poor.”
In the end it is Babette who is shown to be the one who is living according to God’s principles, not the puritans living a life of austerity. Babette’s generosity , her genuine love and care for these people for whom she cares, her Christ-like sacrifice of giving all she has so that others might experience joy, are extremely transformative for the people living in this small community. People who had over time, become soured on this life, are transformed and able to live out the rest of their days in great happiness.
The puritans who Babette encounters on the island of Jutland are like the first son from our gospel story today, the son who represents the scribes and the Pharisees, people who believe they are doing the will of God because they are following the rules to the letter. Like the Pharisees, the Puritans on Jutland “engage in the rhetoric of obedience,” but in actuality, “fail to do God's will.”(William Loader). The first son says with pietistic gusto that he is going to go work in the vineyard but then he fails to go. Meanwhile, the second son, the black sheep, the one who is openly rebellious is the one who goes and works in the vineyard.
Sometimes it is the person you least expect who does the will of God and teaches us how to better follow the word of God. Just like Babette, who everyone on the island was suspicious of, who everyone believes she will lead them all into temptation, yet in reality, she is the one who gives all she has so that these people could experience a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven.
The word which we translate as “repent” is the Greek word metanoia. Metanoia literally means to change your thoughts or change your mind. When we hear Jesus or John the Baptist say “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” a better way of translating that would be “change your mind for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” It connotes a spiritual awakening, a transformation of the inmost thoughts of your heart, a transformation of your actions and motivations.
The son who is deemed righteous by the Pharisees, as “having done the will of his father”, is the one who is initially belligerent, who openly verbally defies his father’s will and yet in, the end, he changes his mind, he has an awakening and changes the intention of his heart and he goes forth and enters the vineyard and does the work his father has given him to do. Matthew tells us, “but later having a change of heart, he went.” metamelomai as "changing what one cares about" or "to change what one is most concerned about."
In Matthew’s gospel there is no room for pretence. Jesus calls the people to put their money where their mouth is. All of us are in need of God’s transforming grace, all of us are in need of an awakening to God’s Kingdom. No matter where we are in life, we can always change our mind.
Jesus’ parable reminds us also not to be so quick to judge, those who look like they are doing God’s will might not be, while those who look like they’re not the “type to do God’s will” might be the ones who could reveal God’s truth to us.
Too often we judge people like the first son. We look around and ask ourselves “who looks like somebody that is righteous, who is doing God’s will?” –it is often the person we least expect. In our lives, we expect that it is the two pious sisters who have been obedient their whole lives, when in reality it could really be the sensual Babette
but this parable is not just about “Don’t judge a book by its cover” –it is also about how we all have the ability to have an awakening, a metanoia, a change of mind and heart so that those things which we know God wills for us to do which we have been refusing, we can do. We have the ability to close ourselves off from the transforming power of God. We don’t always want the Holy Spirit to come into our life and meddle with it. And yet, that is what our walk with God is all about: transformation and we know that God often shows up where we least expect him to.
Christ calls all of us to a transformation of heart and mind. Wherever we are he calls all of us to work in the vineyard and do his will always looking for him in the least expected places. Amen.
Sermon for Sunday, September 9, 2014
I was thumbing through the Fayette County Record on Friday and I came across an ad that really caught my attention, it read: “Shift Workers Needed to help with crop harvesting. Excellent pay. All applicants accepted no questions asked. If you come at 4:00 p.m., you will receive a full day’s wage. Interested? Call 1-800-OK Jesus.”
This sounds completely absurd doesn’t it?
God’s grace isn’t fair. If we are looking at it from the perspective of this world, you could even go as far as to say God’s grace is unjust. Why? Because through God’s grace none of us gets what we deserve, we get infinitely more than we could ask or imagine. Jesus’ parable points out just how absurd God’s abundant grace is:
Here you have hard working laborers who got there in the cool of the morning and worked through the grueling heat of the day, harvesting for the vineyard owner. They’re tired and when they get wind that the slackers that showed up at 4:30 in the afternoon have just gotten a full day’s wage, they are pretty excited because that means, “wow! We could get paid way more than what the owner promised us” but then the time came and they are paid exactly what the people who showed up at 4:30 are paid and they are beside themselves with frustration. How could you give these slackers the same amount you gave us? It’s just not fair!
The vineyard owner asks the first workers the question “Are you envious because I am generous?” and I think this is a very good question for us as well. God’s redemptive love is so far beyond the logic of human life.
The workers in the vineyard are paid the same wage. An abundant wage. All are welcome to partake in God’s abundance.
Grace and mercy are some of the most radical concepts in human history. We follow a God who says that it doesn’t matter who is a better disciple, it doesn’t matter who was closer to “earning it” none of us could every truly earn it. In God’s economy the less deserving receive as much as the more deserving.
Most of us don’t feel like we are good enough to receive the grace of God. Most of us feel battered and tossed to and fro by this life and we all feel like we haven’t lived up to our potential, and we all feel like we wish we had done some things differently in our lives.—but that is the truth of Christ Crucified and Risen, no one can do anything to earn the abundant grace which God bestows upon us, we’re all in need of his Grace and we are all latecomers to the vineyard. The wideness of God’s mercy is so far beyond anything that the human mind can comprehend. God’s love for each and every one of is so incredibly vast.
Either we think we have done more to earn God’s grace than everyone around us, or we think that we are so low, how could God possibly love us, but the truth of the matter is that we’re all wrong. There is nothing we can do to deserve God’s grace, and God loves us infinitely, more than we could ask or imagine in spite of the self-criticism and shame we put on ourselves.
[I hope we all get to heaven and find people that we don’t expect to see there.] Human lives are complex we all have experienced jealousy, we all have someone we are still holding a grudge against or we’re afraid someone is still holding a grudge against us.
We are so quick to be like the slave in last week’s Gospel who is shown this incredible amount of grace, whose massive debt is entirely forgiven, and then he turns around and extorts a much smaller amount of money out of his fellow slave. We are so un-self aware of our tendency to judge others and yet we have a God who is so deeply forgiving of us.
In reality we’re all in the same boat. We all arrive at the vineyard late and God accepts us fully as who we are, no strings attached.
God’s economy is a different economy. It is not an economy based on what is fair, it is an economy based upon love and mercy.
In God we will know the fullness of Grace. We will know the fullness of transformation.
We live in a world that is divisive and negative. We have a very long road ahead of us if God’s will is to “be done on earth as it is in heaven”, we have a long way to go before grace and mercy are the way of the world. As it stands right now, the way of the world is dog eat dog, eye for an eye, survival of the fittest. There are many people out there who suggest that that is the way it should be: that there are winners and losers in this life and if you’re the loser, woe be unto you. We live in a world that loves to put celebrities on pedestals and then watch as they get knocked down so we can watch them as they’re falling and say to ourselves, well at least I’m not Brittany Spears (or insert name of any celebrity here).
The fact is that we compare ourselves to others because deep down we want to be thought worthy and we feel that the only way to be deemed worthy is by some kind of survival of the fittest “the one with the most toys when he dies wins” kind of mentality. Jesus reminds us in this parable today that all God wants is us. He doesn’t care if we’re the most successful. God doesn’t need to see our credentials, God doesn’t need to see awards or plaques on the wall. All God wants is us to do is show up and he will receive us with open arms.
God loves you. You are the apple of God’s eye. You bring God so much joy. God is proud of you, and he wants you to join him in extending grace, mercy and radical hospitality for others.
The world might look at us like we’re crazy, but you and I would take that as a compliment.
Sermon for Sunday, September 14, 2014
“God’s Restorative Love”
One of the ways that Shyla and I practice gratitude and stewardship in our daily lives is that we have a practice of tipping 20% when we go out to a restaurant regardless of the quality of service we receive. This might sound unusual to some of you but it is a small but easy way to practice gratitude for God’s abundance and mercy in the real world in the real world. If the server wasn’t at the top of their game that night, and they know it, sometimes they are even surprised by this. We all make mistakes and we’re all in need of mercy and sometimes we remember that God is merciful to us but we don’t often remember to be merciful to each other.
A while back, I had been given a generous financial gift from some loved ones. A few days later we were at a restaurant
and received truly wonderful service from someone. When the ticket came, Shyla signed it and I noticed that she had tipped slightly over 20% --I got all bent out of shape and said, “why did you tip
more than 20% doesn’t that seem like a lot?” Even though we have the practice of tipping generously I felt like she had taken it too far. I agonized and bellyached about it and we continued
discussing it all the way to the car. Shyla very sweetly reminded me that we had just been given a generous gift and it was our calling to be generous in return. To pass on that generosity to someone
else. As I thought about it I realized she was right. God calls us to a spirit of generosity.
We are blessed with so much abundance and yet, we human beings have so much anxiety about scarcity. We have all been the unforgiving slave before, haven’t we? We have all taken God’s grace and mercy for granted and turned on a neighbor, a stranger, or a friend. All too often we take the gifts we have been given by the great and gracious God of the Universe, and we hoard them, we cling to them. We cling to them out of fear and anxiety that everything we have will be taken away. If left unchecked, this anxiety can take over our lives. This anxiety can could our minds and harden our hearts and we forget that everything we have in this life, we are simply the stewards of, because all that exists in our lives, exists because of the grace of God. We all have experienced this crippling anxiety.
Brene Brown calls this “foreboding joy” when everything is going well in our lives, we are always just waiting for the
other shoe to drop, we’re all just asking ourselves “everything seems perfect right now, what is going to go wrong?” She uses the example of how all parents when they put their infant child to bed
and are looking at their beautiful sleeping face begin after a few minutes of this bliss to have a creeping feeling “what if something should happen to them?”–Dr. Brown suggests that the only
curative for this kind of thinking is an intentional practice of gratitude. In fact, she recommends keeping a gratitude journal wherein we write down all the things we are grateful to God for.
It is amazing how often we take for granted the gifts God gives us. I was talking with a wonderful woman at my first parish who was an in-home care nurse for one of my favorite parishioners whose health was declining. She told me a story about how she used to resent God for not answering her prayers until she started keeping a journal of all the things she was praying for and all of the things she was grateful for. To her surprise, after a couple of years of doing this, she went back through the journal and came to the realization that every single thing for which she had asked, had been granted to her by God. Every single quandary and difficulty she had over that 2 year period had been addressed by God in some way, it’s just that our lives are so busy, if we pray to God for deliverance for this or that hardship, there’s always a new hardship around the corner, and that distracts us from the pattern which is that our God is a God who delivers us! But just like the Israelites who cross the red sea onto dry land, delivered from their terrible oppressors, no sooner had they made it safely into the desert than they begin to complain that there wasn’t enough food, and then they began to pine for their life of slavery in Egypt saying amongst themselves that “maybe it would have been better for us if God had not delivered us at all?!” Of course this is ludicrous, but it’s how we all think isn’t it?! No sooner has God delivered us than we begin to look for what the next problem is, we begin to worry about what is going to go wrong next.
Well I’m here to tell you. Things have gone wrong in human existence since our ancestors were expelled from Eden. People have thought it was the end of days ever since Jesus ascended to the Father. In the Middle Ages when a third of Europe’s population was wiped out in a matter of a few years, there was so much worry and anxiety, and everyone knew for sure that the Last Judgment was just around the corner. Every year people stand on street corners and talk about the signs. I will tell you that hardship is a part of what it means to live in a fallen world and God wants to restore this world to heal it. As far as our own lives are concerned, the only antidote for anxiety is gratitude. Being thankful for the Goodness and Love that God has made known to us in Jesus Christ. Not being blind to all of the good things because of all of the bad things that distract us.
Every single week we gather in this beautiful building and we practice Eucharist. Eucharist is the Greek word for giving
thanks. We practice Thanksgiving as a people every week because we know we have been blessed abundantly and we are thankful for it and here we gather strength from our corporate practice of gratitude
so that we can go out into the world and not be distracted by the grief, the fear, and the pain which surrounds us on all sides. These things are terrible and we should mourn these things, be
empathetic, and strive with all our might to make a difference but we also need to know that these things are not the final word. The final word is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ
our Lord who has destroyed death and who is making the whole creation new.
One of my favorite saints of the church is Julian of Norwich who lived in the midst of the plague during the time when everyone was going into mass panic and hysteria , wrote a work that went against the grain, the first work written by a woman in the English language entitled “Revelations of Divine Love.” In it she reminds us with a short and simple phrase that in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, Christ tells us that “All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Today’s gospel is fundamentally about forgiveness yes, but it is also more expansive than that, it is about living with a big generosity. It is about living out of God’s abundance, not out of human scarcity. It is about living our lives grateful for all of the good gifts God gives us and it is from this gratitude that our ability to forgive others flows. If we say, I know to the very depth of my being that I am loved and forgiven by a good and gracious God, if we say, we have faith to the very depths of our soul that in Christ all things will be restored and made new, then it is much easier to be good and gracious to others, it is much easier to see things from the perspective of those who have wronged us. To see their simple human shortcomings, to see the naked truth which is that we are all alike, we are all in need of God’s forgiveness, and we are all in need of God’s restorative Love.
Sermon for August 31, 2014
“Joy & Freedom”
__________________________________________________________There is a short, cute animation on Youtube that is voiced by Brene Brown who is a renowned researcher on shame and vulnerability at the University of Houston. The video is called the Power of Empathy. In it a small animated fox is coping with a tragedy or depression which is represented by the idea that she is down inside a deep hole. Two other animals come along, a bear and a deer. The deer sticks its head down the hole and says “ooh it’s bad down there,” the bear actually climbs down into the hold with the fox and sits with her and listens to her. The deer is trying to help the fox find some kind of disingenuous silver lining, when the fox says “I am having problems with my marriage” the deer says “well at least you have a marriage.”
The bear takes a different approach “the bear says, I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me. “Empathy is feeling with people” “Rarely can a response make something better, what makes something better is connection.” To be empathetic with someone is a choice to be vulnerable with someone because it is accessing from within yourself the feeling that the other person is having. It is sitting with them in their grief and suffering not looking down at them from above and saying, “Sure looks rough down there.”
In 1937, Deitrich Bonhoffer wrote a book called “the Cost of Discipleship.” He wrote it during Hitler’s rise to power. All around him he saw and heard things that he knew were going against the will of God, that greived God deeply and made God cry out in anguish for humanity. In that book he wrote "When Christ calls a man to follow him, he bids him come and die.” “Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for his criticism of the Nazi Government, a criticism based on his understanding of what Jesus demanded of society and of him, and then he was killed in accordance to a special order of Hitler, just a few days before the Second World War ended.”
Jesus seeks us out. He seeks to transform us, to transform our hearts and our wills. God calls us to follow along a path which is a difficult road, a road which requires much inner work, a path which requires the transformation of the heart, a road which leads to many crosses and many deaths in our lives and we, like Peter resist...We like Peter want the hard part to be over even when it has just begun.
The road that leads to God is not easy. The road that leads to God is not paved smooth, it is rocky and steep, full of twists and turns, makes you turn your overdrive on. It requires discipline, it requires the wearing of a yoke, the yoke of Christ. We are made holy in spite of ourselves.
Being a disciple takes practice: a practice of prayer, a practice of the virtue, kindness to others, love of God, love of neighbor. It takes practicing patience and kindness, joy, peace, gentleness and self-control. The grace from God we receive is not cheap grace, it demands action.
The world that we live in is full of suffering and turmoil from Iraq to Syria to Ferguson Missouri. We live in a world in which just as we have convinced ourselves that progress is being made, that the world at large is maybe “getting better” a new tragedy occurs, new atrocities committed, new groups of people being oppressed. Suffering is the human condition.
We like Peter, recoil at the idea the Jesus needed to suffer and die or that we should be asked to do the same. But what it means is that God knows the full extent of human suffering. Our God is a God of empathy not of sympathy. Our God is a God who climbs down in the hole where we are sitting in despair and sits with us. Our God understands what it means to excoriated, oppressed, humiliated, and shamed. Our God knows the depths of human suffering, there is no depth of agony we can reach which God has not experienced. That is the beauty and mystery of the Christian faith, that the God of the Universe from whom all things were made, came among us to heal us to make us whole and to bear upon his shoulders the weight of our suffering so that in the end we might know everlasting joy.
It is one thing for a detached impersonal deity to look upon all human suffering from above, it is quite another thing for the ruler of the Universe to dwell among us to suffer alongside us in order that all suffering one day might come to an end. The God of the universe climbs down, sits with us, and then takes our hand and pulls us up from where we are inside the pit.
As Christ’s disciples, we are called to follow him, we are called to sit with people in thier suffering. We are called to love people in spite of their
The Greek Orthodox icon of the Resurrection is an image that has long impacted the way I think about the Christ’s saving work.--Jesus pulling Adam and Eve from the grave.
In Christ all things are made new. God became human so that humans might share in God’s divinity. So that humans might know the full extent of joy and freedom.
Sermon for September 7, 2014
“Awakening to God’s Call”
For the last several mornings, a red-shouldered hawk has been perching on a branch outside our window in the rectory cawing at dawn and rousing me from my sleep. It is pretty magical. And it beats the heck out of a rooster. It reminds me in that God’s creation is all around me and that God is always watching over me. The Celtic Christians from whom we are descended spoke of “thin times and thin places” that is those times and places in our lives where the veil between heaven and earth became very thin and there was a sense that like Jesus was always saying over and over “the Kingdom of Heaven” had come near.
These thin times and places are all around us really. God is in our very midst. But we have to be fully attentive to his presence. We have to have our receiver on at all time and always be “seeking to point our antenna in the right direction.” One way of talking about this, as Paul mentions in his epistle to the Romans this morning is by saying: “now is the moment for you to wake up from your sleep”! What a rousing call. Like my red-shouldered hawk, Paul exhort us all to a spiritual awakening.
Paul calls us to “stay awake” to God’s kingdom love and not allow ourselves to be lulled into a grumpy sleepiness that makes us sleepwalk through the world around us with unexamined actions. When we are on autopilot, we tend not to reflect on our actions, we tend not to be looking for God’s Kingdom which is all around us. When we fail to spend time in prayer reconnecting with God, when we fail to reach out and love our neighbor as ourselves, then we are not tuned in to God’s will for us. It is much easier for us to fly off the handle while were driving on the freeway, or make a biting comment on the internet. Paul speaks to us through Romans today and says “love is the fulfilling of the law.” This echoes the new commandment Jesus gave us and his disciples at the last supper: “love one another as I have loved you” and yet, our passage from Matthew reveals to us that this kind of love is not as easy as it sounds and requires that we have to work at it.
If our lesson from Paul is about staying vigilant in our ability to love one another, Jesus’ words for us are fundamentally about the work that goes into loving each other, namely the work of forgiveness. It is rare that Jesus, the Son of God, gets into the nuts and bolts, the “policy and procedures” if you will, for the most part he left that up to his disciples and those who carried the banner of his church (many of whom, made a real mess of it) but he does today, and when he does, we know we need to pay attention.
Forgiveness is a powerful act. It is a freeing act. It is healing to relationships and it is healing to communities. But it is incredibly difficult. In our gospel lesson today Jesus tells his disciples that they should essentially try everything they can to be reconciled to a member of the community that has wronged them. He walks his disciples and us through three different phases of reconciliation. This passage, in my opinion has been abused, and used to excommunicate wonderful needed individuals in the body of Christ. What’s really going on in this passage is that In the end, when a person becomes “like a tax collector or a gentile”, it is not the group that has decided to excommunicate the person, it is that person who has isolated themselves. And of course, Jesus reminds us to forgive 70 times seven. The church eventually became made up mostly of gentiles and Matthew himself was a redeemed tax collector so this categorization doesn’t make people irredeemable, it just means that these folks were people who needed to start all over again. There is a wideness in God’s mercy and we are called to be merciful to our brothers and sisters as well. But this isn’t always easy and so Jesus gives us some resources here. The key thing is that he says, let the community help you—let us all be reconciled together as a body. When two are three are gathered together in Jesus name he is in the midst of us and amazing things begin to happen. Through the power of Christ things which are seemingly unforgivable and irredeemable can be transformed and transfigured by the love of Christ.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has a new book out which he co-wrote with his daughter, Mpho Tutu, who is an Episcopal priest in the U.S. It is called the book of forgiving. I am so used to Tutu discussing forgiveness in the context of healing the wounds of apartheid and it is incredibly poignant to read about his need to forgive his own family: In the book he recalls how much he loved his father but that his father was an alcoholic and was abusive to his mother. He discusses how much that wounded him as a young child and then he says this:
“Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound with chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness; that person will be our jailor. When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberators. We don’t forgive to help the other person. We don’t forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves.”
Tutu goes on to say:
“My father has long since died, but if I could speak to him today, I would want to tell him that I had forgiven him. What would I say to him? I would begin by thanking him for all the wonderful things he did for me as my father, but then I would tell him that there was this one thing that hurt me very much. I would tell him how what he did to my mother affected me, how it pained me.
Perhaps he would hear me out; perhaps he would not. But still I would forgive him…Why? Because I know it is the only way to heal the pain in my boyhood heart. Forgiving my father frees me. When I no longer hold his offenses against him, my memory of him no longer exerts any control over my moods or my disposition. His violence and my inability to protect my mother no longer define me… I have a new and different story. Forgiveness has liberated both of us. We are free.
My brothers and sisters, today may we at this moment, awaken from our slumber: may we open our eyes and look out at the glorious world around us. May we realize that our God has blessed us immensely in spite of the struggles of this present life, and may we rejoice to give him thanks for the many gifts we have been given.
May we seek to forgive those who have wronged us, may we love those around us with the passion and enthusiasm with which God loves us. I hope that we leave from this beautiful church this morning and go out and try to make someone’s day. I hope we share God’s grace and love and be awake to his presence all around us throughout the week: his presence in the songs of the birds perched outside our windows, his presence in the beauty of the wind in the trees, his presence in unexpected visitors, his presence in the smiles of strangers and friends.
May we be awake to the fact that this whole luminous and mysterious web of life is connected and kept going because of God’s love, that all there is, and all there will be exists because of an outpouring of the love of our creator.
And may we, like Jesus calls us to do, abide in that love, live in it, swim in it, breath it in on a regular basis. We need not be afraid, we have a God who loves us, who cares for us and who is continually transforming us through his grace. Amen.
Sermon for Sunday, August 24, 2014
“Who do the people say that I am?”
For some reason, I imagine that Jesus asks this question sitting at a campfire, the light flickering all around him and gleaming in his eyes as he looks from one disciple to another.
“Well…people are saying some pretty strange things Jesus. Can you believe it? Some say you’re John the Baptist come back from the dead.” “I heard one guy saying you’re Elijah reincarnated.” “Yeah, the one that really got me what when they said you were Jeremiah…” Jesus is quiet, he looks from side to side with a twinkle in his eye,
“Well…Who do you say that I am?”
A gust of wind sweeps through camp and the flames grow higher. There is an uneasy silence all around them. The disciples
thoughts are racing: Is this some kind of test? Who is this man who we all started following out of faith? This man who has been healing and proclaiming God’s kingdom all over the countryside. Who is
this man we all mistook for a ghost when we was walking on the water?
Once again, just as he stepped out upon the sea, Peter steps out in faith, and blurts out “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
The disciples are dumbstruck. As soon as the words are spoken, they all know it to be true but almost immediately they
start wrestling with the implications.
When Jesus asked this question of his disciples, he was teaching in a region which once upon a time belonged to the people
of Israel, the Land of Naphtali, but had since been conquered by many different empires, from the Assyrians to the Babylonians, from the Greeks, down to the Romans who named it Cesarea Phillipi :
“Caesarville”—it was an epicenter of power for the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. So Jesus asks the disciples who he is in Caesarville.
There in the shadow of the empire it is revealed that Jesus was the Messiah, God’s anointed one, but he wasn’t the Messiah
everyone was hoping for. Sometimes the thing you think you need is not the thing you really need. (You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you
need) Many of Jesus’ disciples hoped up to the bitter end that Jesus would start a revolution to overthrow Caesar but the truth of the matter was that he wasn’t some mighty warrior like King David
who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel’s former borders and bring political glory. Jesus came to show us another way, God’s way.
Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah because he doesn’t want the people to rally behind him
as a political figure. Jesus was God’s son who came offering peace, who came bearing healing and wholeness, who brought abundance where there was scarcity and Good News to those who were
Jesus was a spiritual Messiah. Jesus came to transform hearts and minds. Jesus came to usher in a new kind of kingdom, a
new way of being in the world, he turned everything upside down and made service the measure of true greatness. And proclaimed that the last should be first.
Peter on a deep level knows that Jesus is the Messiah, but he is wrestling with that means and he doesn’t fully understand
Peter is once again at the center of our Gospel reading today. When I think about Peter, I think about the Vatican. When I
was in college I got the opportunity to study abroad. Shyla and I studied at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland—in between trimesters we got the opportunity to travel to Europe. We are both
great art lovers and so we spent a lot of time in Italy and all throughout Rome there are paintings of Peter. Larger than life paintings, with gilded halos, and rays of light, Peter standing amidst
clouds, Peter holding massive keys. But the fact of the matter is, Peter was not a larger than life guy, Peter was a very ordinary guy.
Here is Jesus saying that he is building a new community a new church and that this community will be built upon Peter. But this new people of God, the church, are not represented by a flawless, perfect disciple. Jesus gives the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, an everyday bumbling human being like you and me who made all kinds of mistakes. All of the beautifully rendered paintings of Peter all over the Vatican help us to forget that the person upon whom Jesus builds his church is an everyday guy, who tries with gusto but who sinks into the water and needs Jesus to rescue him, who when Jesus needs his help most, denies him three times.
And here in this critical part of the gospel, right after this moment where Peter gets it right, right after the moment
where Jesus promises to build his Church upon him, Peter will try to persuade Jesus that he doesn’t need to go to the cross. Next week we will read the passage that comes next, Peter says something
like “no rabbi of mine is going to Jerusalem to get crucified. Messiahs aren’t supposed to be killed, they are supposed to be victorious!”
No sooner has Jesus commended Peter for recognizing him as the Messiah he is saying to him “get behind me Satan”
My friends, this gathering that you are a part of that is called the church is a holy temple made up of living stones.
This gathering is made up of the lives and stories of human beings. Peter was the first of us but we are all connected in a vast, beautiful and mysterious web with Christ at the center connecting us
all and we are all like Peter. We all sense the beauty and they mystery of Jesus as the Messiah. We all have a sense that we are called to help build up and proclaim God’s kingdom to a world that is
sorely in need of Good News, and we all make mistakes. We all fall short and we are all in need of Christ’s loving and transforming love. WE are all in need of the grace that he provides. The
disciples did not need a Messiah to make things politically perfect on the outside, they needed to experience healing and wholeness on the inside because that is where true differences in this world
Together we are God’s new Holy Temple. We are not perfect, we don’t have gilded halos or larger than life paintings
hanging of us. But we are the bearers of the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. That Jesus is the giver of life and health and peace and that all people are in need God’s grace, love
and mercy. Here in the midst of all of our imperfection is where true transformation occurs.
We are the church, imperfect as we are, and Christ has empowered us just as he empowered Peter. We are to be the bearers
of hope to a hurting world. We are the bearers of light in the midst of the darkness. When Jesus asks, in the midst of a hurting world, full of fear and sadness, who we say he is, we can take a step
out in faith and say with Peter with Gusto “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the son of the Living God who has come into the world to reclaim it, redeem it, and restore it one heart at a time.
Sermon for Sunday, August 17, 2014
“Waiting at the Gate”
___________________________________________________________________In In the rule of St. Benedict, written in the 5th century, there is a passage about what to do with people who show up on the monastery doorstep seeking admittance to the monastery to become a monk:
“Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry, but, as the Apostle says, Test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). Therefore, if someone comes and keeps knocking at the door, and if, at the end of four or five days, he has shown himself patient in bearing his harsh treatment and difficulty of entry, and has persisted in his request, then he should be allowed to enter and stay in the guest quarters for a few days. After that, he should live in the novitiate, where the novices study, eat and sleep. A senior chosen for his skill in winning souls should be appointed to look after them with careful attention. The concern must be whether the novice truly seeks God and whether he shows eagerness for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials. Let the novice be told all the hard and rugged ways by which the journey to God is made.”
I used to hate when this passage came up in the lectionary. How could Jesus, the one who is full of compassion and mercy, the one who came to give his life for all people, dismiss this poor woman so rudely.
And then, when I read the rule of St. Benedict, I got it: Jesus is not glibly dismissing her, he is challenging her faith, he is bidding her “sit at the gate,” so to speak, and demonstrate that a gentile woman, a Canaanite woman no less, could have extraordinary faith that this Jewish Rabbi was the Messiah, the Holy One of God.
The disciples want to send this woman away because she is an unclean gentile and citizens of Israel could become unclean by associating with gentiles. Not only that but she is a Canaanite, some of the most hated tribes by the people of Israel. But Jesus decides to engage her.
This Canannaite woman is a woman of grit and determination who challenges Jesus just as he challenges her. He throws an insult her way “It’s not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs” and she bats it right back at him “Yeah but even the dogs eat the crumbs from the master’s table”
This woman demonstrated to Jesus’ disciples and she demonstrates to us, just how much a person can be willing to go through
This story from the Gospel passage today is a wonderful example of the relationship between Jesus and ourselves. Like all relationships, our relationship with God is not one-sided. God pursues us, seeks after us, invites us onto the dancefloor, and once we join God in the dance, God does not sit idly by. God challenges us. He sidles over to the band and tells them to pick up the pace. And we, in faith, must do our part. In our daily lives we must pursue God with devotion and intensity. We must make a practice out of it.
In our passage appointed for today, there is a whole lot going on. There is talk of what defiles, there is talk about taking food and throwing to dogs, and children of Israel. “In order to engage this passage we must realize that it comes after a confrontation scene with the religious leaders [of Jerusalem]. Jesus has just been confronted by the authorities who are challenging him that he is not following the tradition of his faith ancestors. They are acting somewhat like inspectors who are pretty sure the disciples have not been washing their hands before they sit down and eat.” In ancient Israel, there was so much emphasis and so much control on how accurately and zealously you kept the law of the Torah, the kinds of people you associated with. Every aspect of life was carefully scrutinized by religious authorities. What it boils down to is that the thing that matters to God is the intention of your heart. Jesus demonstrates to us in that passage that God does not care whether you are Gentile or a descendent of Abraham, God doesn’t care what part of the world you’re from or what language you speak. God doesn’t care if you follow the rules perfectly and God doesn’t care if you perform the rituals perfectly. What God seeks is a faithful heart. It is through such faith that we are brought to healing and wholeness, it is through such faith that we are brought to salvation.
God seeks persistence from us on the spiritual journey. God wants us to continue scaling up the mountain when our legs are burning with strain and we wish to stop climbing. Like the Canaanite woman, who doesn’t give up or get discouraged, but who instead pursues God’s healing and wholeness for her daughter, so too, must we seek God in all we do no matter how rough the road we are travelling on becomes. Life is difficult—we all struggle to find meaning, we all wrestle with the pain of grief and loss, no matter where we are in life, we all know something of what it means to suffer. We all carry the pain of life with us. There is no one who is exempt from the suffering of this life.
Yet the Canaanite woman shines forth as an example to us to pursue God’s healing love at all costs. She reminds us to patiently await the coming of God’s kingdom. She reminds us that through Christ we will find rest for our souls. No matter what our background is, no matter where we come from, where we’re going, no matter how good we are at following the rules, she reminds us to seek after God and ask to be made whole by him. May we follow her example and seek Christ’s healing no matter what the cost.
Fr. Eric +
Sermon for Sunday, August 10, 2014
on the Sea Together”
If you would, I would like to invite you to look straight up at the ceiling of our sanctuary. Do you see the beautiful hand-hewn wooden beams? Do you see the way they all fan out at the ends and come to a point together? Do you see how they travel back along the long, narrow, aisle?
The part of the sanctuary you are sitting in is traditionally called the “nave” --this is a word that comes from the old latin word navis which means ship--its also where the word “navy” comes from. Imagine if you will that the building were flipped upside down, the woodwork would look remarkably similar to the keel of a ship. This is no accident. For well over a thousand years, Christians have been designing their places of worship to resemble ships. There are several reasons for this symbol: the symbol of a ship evokes a journey, the journey we are all on to reach oneness with our Lord, the symbol of the ark being a safe haven from the storms of the world, and of course water is a symbol we find throughout the scriptures. Water represents chaos that God overcomes at the creation of the world, water is used in baptism, and Jesus offers the faithful living water.
In our passage from the gospel today, Jesus walks out upon the water. His actions echo the actions of God the Father at the beginning of creation “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while [the spirit of] God swept over the face of the waters.” Here in this moment as Jesus steps out upon the sea, not only is he performing an extraordinary miracle, he is also is revealed to be the Messiah. When he speaks to the disciples cowering in fear he says “It is I” This can also be translated “I am” the name which God revealed to Moses from the burning bush. So the great I AM incarnate stands upon the raging waters and subdues them. Bidding the disciples not to be afraid, but to take heart and have faith that Jesus the Messiah, would see them through to safer shores.
Peter gets a bad rap most of the time. Preachers often poke fun at the fact that Peter fails at his task of walking on water. Some preachers might even discourage us from following Peter’s example. This would be a mistake. Peter is the only one of the disciples who tries to get out on the water and walk to Jesus.
In Christ’s presence, we can do remarkable things! Even if we falter, there are moments when, we too, can experience a taste of the fullness of God’s love.
Fear gets in the way of our walk with God. Fear gets in the way of our journey to reach out to God. Our anxieties distract us, make us lose our center, we focus on all the tumult that is all around us pressing against us, our friends’ relationship struggles, bad news out of some far flung corner of the globe, the economy, our own relationships with our children, our spouses, our parents. All of these things help us lose sight of Jesus who stands with us in the midst of the storms of our lives and who says, “Come to me. In me you will know peace. In me you will know stillness, in me you will find rest for your weary souls, through me you will find the answer to every question, the quelling of every insecurity, and the fulfillment of all your misplaced desires.”
Peter tried and so must we! Peter stepped out of the boat in faith and fails gloriously and Jesus reaches out and catches him. Jesus offers grace to him in his failure. There are times in each of our lives where we are more like the other disciples, cowering in fear in our tiny vessel being thrown to and fro against the mighty waves around us and it is all we can do to hold on for dear life.
We are called, not to stay inside the boat but to step out with Peter on the waves. That is the paradox of the Christian walk, the more challenging our life is, the more we find ourselves in need of making space for prayer, making space for God, and reaching out to others in God’s love.
Desmond Tutu, the retired archbishop of Capetown in South Africa, once said, “'I'm too busy to pray for less than two hours a day.'” His comment reminds us with his usual cheekyness, that the only way to persevere through the difficult times is to spend time with the only one who can truly calm the storm around us, the only one who can truly calm the storm of our hearts. Archbishop Tutu knows a lot about the power of prayer. During the height of the struggle against apartheid, Tutu received many death threats and personally knew many of the people who were killed in the struggle. Throughout this time, he was steadfast in his personal devotion to God and continually attributes God’s presence in his life as giving him the resolve and determination to stand up to injustice. He is famous for his intensely devoted prayer life and it is often the case that if he knows he has a particularly difficult or full day ahead of him he will set aside even more time than usual to pray because he knows that he will need to draw on God’s strength throughout the day.
“Jesus will not abandon his church [as we venture out to sea together], and will come to our aid when we tread the deep water for Jesus sake. Jesus does not promise there will not be storms but does promise to be there [with us] in the midst of the storm.”
May we, like Peter, take heart! May we find the courage to step out of the boat in our walk with Jesus. May we take a fruitful step out into the world. May we have the courage to invite others along to join us on this great sea voyage that we are all on together as the Church of Jesus Christ. May we, like Peter, step out upon deep waters and fail gloriously knowing that Christ in his grace will uphold us and save us and bring us to safe haven.
Fr. Eric +
 Quote adapted from C. Andrew Doyle’s http://hitchhikingthebible.blogspot.com/2014/08/proper-14aordinary-19apentecost-9.html
Sermon for August 3, 2014
“Miracle of the Loaves and
As a priest I get a lot of people who approach me on a regular basis for help. At both of the parishes where I have served prior to now, we had a lot of people come through our doors looking for help. To be honest with you, over time it is easy to become numb to these kinds of situations and to feel inconvenienced by them. Whenever I start to feel frustrated, God tugs at me a little bit and reminds me of what my first mentor, Fr. Gerry Sevick at Trinity in the Woodlands used to tell me which is that “God is in the interruptions.”
About 6 months ago, I was in my office, at St. Mark’s. Shyla had to go to a dentist appointment near my office and we couldn’t find anyone to watch Ori and so I had him in my office as I worked to complete a grant application for the diocese. I was at my computer diligently multitasking typing away and trying to prevent my spirited two year old from using his crayons on my office wall, when I had a phone call transferred to my office. It was one of my “regulars,” a guy named Don, a gentle giant who was always very humble and respectful and who it was clear, “wasn’t all there” all the time but who was working hard to find a job and get back on his feet. When I picked up the phone, I was frustrated. I felt like my patience membrane which was already stretched extremely thin was going to be pushed to the breaking point. I snapped at Don “What do you want?” “Well pastor sir,” he responded with a hint of justified defensiveness “you said you would help me get an I.D. which I need for my job. It’s been a week and a half and I haven’t heard from you.” “Fine!” I shot back, “I’ll see what I can do. I’ll call you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go.” That afternoon, I spent some time reflecting on what had happened and I remembered Fr. Gerry’s words “God is in the interruptions.” I asked myself if I really needed to be short with my friend Don who needed my help.
Eventually I apologized to Don for my shortness with him and I got him the help that he needed. I went down to the social services center and waited with him to help him get his I.D. I got a sense in that waiting room of how much red tape a man on the margins living in Houston had to go through. We waited for at least an hour to get called back to the back before they could even begin helping him. I began to imagine what it would be like to have to deal with all of that red tape if I were put in his situation. When we parted, he was very grateful to me for having helped him and I knew that that one little thing such as an I.D. would make a big difference in his life: would help his chance of employment and everything. I had a lightness of being and I felt good because I felt that because I had corrected my actions in this way, I was in harmony with God’s will for me.
Certainly the larger miracle in our story from the gospel today, is that Jesus took scarcity and through the unusual arithmetic of the Kingdom of God, made an enormous abundance. Jesus makes abundance out of scarcity. Jesus makes a way where there is no way. The miracle of the loaves and fishes is an extremely important miracle and it is the only miracle which is recorded in all four gospels which speaks to how important it was to the early Christians and how important it should be for us. But there is a smaller miracle that happened that day too which we might be inclined to overlook: We are told by Matthew that “Jesus has COMPASSION on the crowds”, the disciples do not. The disciples wanted to send people away to fend for themselves in a cruel and uncompassionate world. Jesus tells the disciples they need to do whatever it takes to feed these people. Jesus tells them “you find something for them to eat.” He says, It is your responsibility as my disciples to have compassion on these people just as I have compassion on them. It is your job to see them as I see them. Jesus looks on the crowds of the poor and the sick, the marginalized and the desperate and he does not send them away to the villages. Rather he tells his disciples that they are responsible for caring for the destitute and the desperate.
The disciples hearts were transformed by Jesus when he calls them to be compassionate with him. Jesus speaks the same words to us today. We as Christians are not to turn people away when they come looking to us for help. Now granted, the kind of help people actually need is not always the help that they come asking about. I am sure that we all have friends or relatives who are victims of addiction and they come to us in times of need seeking treatment of the symptoms but not the disease. I am acutely aware that we are defensive at times, precisely because we have been taken advantage of—there are some situations such as these where perhaps the only we can do is to pray for that person and to pray that God give us guidance about how God wants us to be compassionate toward them.
The miracle of the loaves and fishes was certainly a miracle of our Lord Jesus Christ, but what is significant about it is that he involved the disciples. He asked them to be participants in the abundance of the Kingdom of God. He also, didn’t turn them away either saying, go sit back you goofs and see how the master handles it. He blesses the bread and the fish and then asks them to be the distributers of God’s grace and abundance to a crowd that is sorely in need of tender mercy and loving care.
Having compassion is important. I read an article in the Washington Post this week which cited a recently released study. In the study, young people below the age of 18 were surveyed and 80% of them said that their parents “were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that ‘My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.’”
In a society with Christian values, raising children to be caring toward others should be the most important value of all. Each week during our Rite I service we are reminded of the two greatest commandments given to us by Jesus “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” I have a sinking feeling that our culture has prioritized loving the self, but has greatly deemphasized loving one’s neighbor as oneself.
This kind of loving behavior does not come without practice. Just like playing an instrument, singing in a choir, doing physical activity, these virtues which God calls us to aspire toward don’t happen magically when we are baptized, we have to work hard at them, we have to practice them. And it’s not just kids that have to practice them by the way—it’s us adults too! I was a perfect example of that, when I got frustrated with Don for asking for help from me, it became all too clear to me, that I needed ask God to transform my heart and mind and that I needed to take gradual steps to having a different knee-jerk reaction to someone who was asking for my help.
In the Old Testament, we often are given images in the psalms and the prophets of God purifying us like silver or gold. Today our excerpt from Psalm 17 reads: “Weigh my heart, summon me by night, melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.” The psalms and the prophets often describe God as being a hot fire which purifies us, which takes us in our present form and transforms us through his love into something that is new, which reflects his light, something which is holy and restored in his image. This is not an easy process, just like when you work out you sometimes “feel the burn”, so too in our spiritual exercises we might “feel a burn” this is not a bad thing, nor should we be discouraged by it, it is the process through which God completes us, heals us, makes us whole and makes us a light to the world.
The disciples knew this intimately. Jesus was often gently and sometimes not so gently guiding them, praying for them, and helping them in this transformation so that eventually, this ragtag bunch who never seemed to understand what Jesus was trying to teach them, were able to do amazing things by being open to Christ working through them.
By the time Jesus ascended to the Father, it was the disciples who instead of turning people away, were working miracles amongst the people: healing them, feeding them, and showing them Christ’s love. May it be so with us. Amen.
Sermon for July 27, 2014
St. James Sunday
In the summer of 2009 I had the opportunity to travel to Malawi. Malawi is a tiny and beautiful country in south-central
Africa. It is landlocked and has one of the smallest GDP’s in the entire world, but it is a country that is rich with kindness. It is known as the warm heart of Africa because the people who live
there have a reputation for being friendly and hospitable. I went with a good friend and fellow seminarian and while there, we met many people who were extraordinary in the work that they did for their people in the name of their God. Among them was a priest by the name of
Barnabas Salaka. Fr. Barnabas was a gentle man with a low booming voice, quick to laugh and quick to tell stories. He was trained as a hydraulic engineer a career which would have been extremely
lucrative for his family, but somewhere along the line, he heard God’s call for his life. God called him to be amongst the poorest people in Malawi serving them as a priest and advocate When the time
came for the Anglican Diocese just to the north to hold bishop election, the overwhelming favorite in the election was Fr. Barnabas but he humbly turned it down—he did not feel that God was calling
him to be bishop, he felt that his calling was to be among those who needed the most help on a daily basis, the orphans of Malawi, the farmers living on tea and sugar plantations, those suffering
from AIDS or Malaria.
It would be one thing for an American Episcopal priest to turn down a job as diocesan bishop, but I saw firsthand the difference it would have made in the life of Fr. Barnabas’ if he had accepted the position. When we visited his home, his lovely wife was very kind and hospitable to us, she offered us drinks and peanuts that she roasted herself. But she was ashamed to let us westerners, use their outhouse because it did not have plumbing of any kind. Of course we assured her that it would be nothing to worry about. But later I got the opportunity to go the bishop’s home. The Bishop, James Tengatenga, also a fine man and model Christian, nonetheless, lived in a very nice home. It was in a gated community with electricity, running water, air conditioning. This is the kind of place Fr. Barnabas would have gotten to live in if he had accepted the call to be bishop but refused it because he knew in his heart that he was not called to the Episcopacy. He was called to be among the people to love them. To care for them. To walk with them and help them shoulder their burdens. Barabas is a kind of person who truly understands Christ’s call to serve others. He is someone who has literally given up possessions for the sake of the gospel. He is a man who in life has stored up for himself immeasurable treasure in heaven because of his kindness and generosity to others. Everywhere you go in Malawi, if you are in a car of any kind and it stops, you are mobbed by children, Barnabas is the kind of man who always gave the children coins out of his pockets until he didn’t have any left.
When we follow Jesus it transforms us. If we are open to the Holy Spirit working in our lives, we begin to be transformed and restored more and more into God’s image and likeness.
James the Apostle, as we hear from today’s gospel starts out brazenly assuming that he can just go sit at Jesus’ right hand in triumph. Jesus, he believed, would become a great liberator a great military Messiah like King David and he wanted in on that glory. So much so that he had his mother asked Jesus for special treatment. Little did she know, little did any of them know what was in store for Jesus and his disciples. Servanthood was not the way of things in the ancient Middle East. It was a cruel world where only the mightiest empires prevailed. Everyone who followed Jesus was hoping on some level, that he would throw off the oppression of Roman rule and restore Israel to its former glory.
But Jesus showed them and he shows us a different way. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:4-6).
When we follow Jesus, we begin to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. James, among the first of the twelve to follow Jesus, came with swagger and hubris, intending to sit at Jesus right hand. And yet at the end of his faith journey, he gave his life, being executed by the sword by Herod Agrippa being the first of the martyrs of the Church. This was after he became a loving and kind disciple of Christ, sharing his love throughout the middle east and caring for the poor in Jerusalem.
Each of us is called to be the servant of our neighbor. Each of us is called to love all those we encounter as Christ has loved us. This is putting on the mind of Christ: being able to see our fellow human beings as Christ sees them. This goal is not impossible. It is not reserved for high and lofty saints. It is not reserved for monks or bishops. James the Apostle was just another guy like you or me, there was nothing particularly unusual about Barnabas Salaka—he started out as an intelligent and capable man who was a hydraulic engineer, and he gave that up. St. James our patron, and Barnabas, a modern day saint I have met, did something extraordinary, they let Christ’s love flow abundantly through them, allowing them to make sacrifices for the benefit of others which would have been impossible without God’s help.
My prayer for is that we too might be transformed into Christ’s image and likeness. That we too might listen for the voice of God in our lives and see where it might be leading us to care for those who need Christ’s love. Amen?
Fr. Eric +
Sermon for July 13, 2014
“Sowing God’s Love
with Reckless Abandon”
Last night, sitting at our dining room table in the new rectory, watching the beautiful evening light slanting through the window I took a sigh of relief as I reflected on how good it felt to have finally arrived! And then I bit into one of the best tomatoes I have ever tasted. We picked a few up at the farmers market. It was an heirloom variety (don’t ask me what it’s name was) with a little bit of green and a little bit of purple-- that combined with some amazing sausage and chicken I picked up afterward from a beautiful church just down the road, it made a fantastic dinner. I like buying my food from the hands that worked hard to produce it and I love talking to the folks at a farmers market. There is a lot of care that goes into farming and I think for many people who do it, they see it as a vocation, a calling, a way of life, not just a way to make money.
One of my favorite living spiritual teachers is Brother Curtis Almquist, he’s an Episcopal monk (yes we have those) at a monastery in Massachusetts. I love the way he talks about the parables of the sower. He says “for the longest time this parable did not make sense to me at all. It just did not add up. You see, I grew up going out and working on my grandparents farm in the summer time and this is just not how you sow seeds.
Anyone who knows anything about farming knows that seeds are precious, you don’t just run around throwing them wherever, willy nilly. You work hard, doing the backbreaking labor it takes to till the soil so you can have a rich furrow where you know the seed will be well covered by soil that has been turned.
You store your seed in a place that is clean and dry and well protected. No farmer in their right mind would go out and throw their precious seed on a well worn path, or on rocky ground, or much less among thorns that they know full well will choke that poor little plant as soon as it starts to sprout.
That is why this parable didn’t make sense. Unless...Unless...Jesus is trying to tell us something different about the nature of the Kingdom of God. Unless Jesus is trying to tell us something different about who he is and who God the Father is.
Our God is a God of great abundance. Our God is a God who throws out precious seed with reckless abandon. Those who all others have given up on who we might think to ourselves, that soil is among thorns, who would plant there? Our God scatters seed everywhere in the hopes that it might take root. Jesus modeled this throughout his ministry by sitting and eating with tax collectors, sinners, gentiles and Samaritans, and all kinds of people that the bigwigs in Jerusalem had given up on a long time ago. Jesus reached out to these people and offered them a kind of healing and wholeness that they had never experienced before. Jesus scattered the seeds of God’s love with reckless abandon wherever he went. It didn’t matter how important they were or how humble, Jesus cared for them and offered them God’s love.
The furrows of each of our hearts have not always been deep and rich and ready to receive the seed God seeks to plant. Each of us has fulfilled the role of rocky soil, the path, or the thorny meadow. Each of us has been in a place where God’s word could not take root and grow at that time in our life. I know that I have been in a place in my life where I received the word, but then I fell away, like the seed that falls on rocky ground--I know I have also been overwhelmed by the cares of the world like the seed that has fallen among thorns. Each of us has a story of someone who was a gardener, who cared for us, who came by and tended for the garden of our soul. Someone who pulled up all the thorny weeds, who removed all the rocks from the fields of our hearts, who tilled the soil with care and compassion.
That person might have been a parent or grandparent, maybe it was a spouse, or best friend or a clergy person, it might have been a teacher who cared a lot about us, or someone who nursed us back to health after a long illness. We have all experienced those wonderful gardeners in our lives who over time, worked to make space for a seed of compassion and love to grow within our hearts.
I personally have had many guides along the spiritual path who have served as gardeners for my soul. God has placed each one of them in my life at the right time and helped me to hear God speaking to me in a new way.
It might even be that right now, our hearts are not fully ready to receive God’s good seed. All of us needs the soil of our soul to be tilled and worked on. I know that after a few days of not spending as much time in prayer as I know I need to, I get frustrated more easily and I feel less in tune with God’s will for me.
God calls us to be soul gardeners and soul farmers. He calls us to go out and till the soil of the hearts of those we meet. And he calls us to spread God’s love and compassion for the world like a foolish farmer throwing seed with reckless abandon. We are called to see this as our vocation. We have precious seed that needs to be planted so that it can take root, and little by little grow into a beautiful garden, where all people might know what it means to walk with God in the cool of the evening. After all, that is purpose for which we were created.
- Fr. Eric +
Sermon for July 6, 2014
on the Road that Leads to God”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My name is Fr. Eric Hungerford. It is an honor and joy to be with you this morning as your rector! I am often amazed by the twists and turns the journey of life has in store for us. Like the winding path of a labyrinth on the floor of a great cathedral, we find ourselves back somewhere that looks awfully familiar. Some of my fondest memories from childhood bathed in that yellow childhood light came flooding back to me when I heard that the parish in La Grange, TX was searching for a rector.
I grew up at St. David’s Episcopal Church in downtown Austin and when I was three years old, I was sitting in church minding my own business when a kid about my own age came up to me to ask if he could play with my Ghostbuster toys. Although I was reticent at first, I decided to let him and that was the beginning of my lifelong friendship with Joel. As the years went on, we had a whole pack of wild boys from St. David’s including Nick Mitchell whose folks are here visiting today. But a few years later, Joel told me he was going to have to move near a town called La Grange. I had never been there before so I was upset that my friend was leaving until I got to drive out to Camp Luther Hill where his dad was the Camp Director. I spent many long summer days out there exploring the wide open fields, riding horses, and visiting the beautiful town square in La Grange. Now, 20 some odd years later I find myself back in my old stomping grounds.
Retracing our steps to the year 1855: the first locomotive ran from the shores of the Atlantic to the Pacific on the Panama Railway line.
In 1855, Walt Whitman published the first edition of “Leaves of Grass”
That year, the first telegraph line connecting Texas to the rest of the United States was installed in Marshall, TX linking it to New Orleans--10 years after Texas joined the United States.
And here in La Grange, in 1855, the Rev. Hannibal N. Pratt arrived to officiate the first service of dedicated Christians of what was then called Trinity Church in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.
Twenty-one years after that, In 1876, a young clergyman by the name of William George Washington Smith arrived in town. It was he and the people of St. James who cast the vision for this marvelous sanctuary, it was they who built this pulpit that I speak to you from today, they who built this beautiful altar from its humble beginnings as a shipping crate and around that altar people of faith have gathered to receive the Holy Sacraments for 138 years.
This group that is gathered here today are the inheritors of rich and far reaching history. The journey that the Christian family has walked has been a long one. Just like the stories of our own lives, it is a story that has had many twists and turns. We are the keepers of a story that is incredibly precious and which begs to be told.
A strange teacher from the small backwater of Galilee gathered a small group around himself 2000 years ago and began to say things that had never been said before and do things that had never been done before. He began to speak about wisdom. He demonstrated a new way of life. A life of healing those who were broken. A life of calling others to live into the fullness of their God-given gifts. [He began to do things that the religious authorities didn’t like, he didn’t seem to be following the religious rules. They began to accuse him of many things, a glutton and a drunkard.]
This is one of my favorite passages in all of scripture. It is so mysterious and colorful and sheds a little light on the character of this man who is the Son of God who we proclaim as Savior and Lord.
Jesus is someone who is not afraid to have a good time. Who comes eating and drinking with us. One of the things I was struck by in the search process was everyone talked about how much St. James loved to get together and eat! It may seem like a small thing, but this actually gets to the very heart of the Gospel itself: every Sunday we share a meal together at the altar rail, many of Jesus' miracles had to do with sharing abundant meals with those who were hungry, and many of the most important parts of Jesus' ministry happened while he was at table with his friends. Sharing a meal with someone is a sign of friendship and hospitality.
Our gospel lesson this morning reminds us that we follow a Messiah who loves the laughter of children. We follow someone who knows that the most important things in life are most easily understood by the smallest among us and that we don’t need to have 5 doctorates to know the purpose of life on this earth. We don’t need to have a pile of degrees to possess a lifetime of wisdom.
But Jesus calls us to be wise. To dig deeply to ask good questions about why we’re here and what we’re called to do and to be.
And by breathing the Holy Spirit upon those first Disciples, Jesus brought forth a New Creation, an embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth which we call the Church. It is not perfect just like none of us is perfect, but it is the place where God transforms humanity.
Today, I stand before you as the newest rector of St. James and I am so excited about the journey that we are embarking on together.
I am exceptionally honored and proud to be among you as your rector and you should be proud of this church too! My wife, Shyla and I, are so excited to get to know each and every one of you, to learn your stories and hear about the unique ways that the Holy Spirit has been moving in each of your lives. Our son Ori is a precocious little one and he has been practicing saying the word La Grange “Wo Gwange”--he calls the rectory the “Wo Gwange House” he knows we’re headed here and I can’t think of a more wonderful community to rear him than right here among you all running through the same fields I did as a kid.
This beautiful church, full of beautiful people is an outpost of the Kingdom of God and we are the keepers of the gospel story. During our time together, we will not hide our light under a bushel, we will let everyone know about the love that God has for each and every person who calls this place home. We will continue to do the good work we have been doing for the people of Fayette County at the 2nd Chance Emporium and the A.M.E.N. food pantry, we will continue to benefit local charities by serving up the best BBQ in town, we will continue to grow and support the good work begun at St. James school, and we will listen for God’s call as we seek to start new initiatives that reflect the welcoming character of this place.
My prayer for us St. James, is that during our time of ministry together, we will hear the children calling to us in the marketplaces, and when they play the flute for us, we will dance, and when they are weeping, we will mourn with them. My prayer for us is that we be known far and wide as a church with character, with heart, and with gentle love.
During this era in the life of St. James, we will dare to do amazing things together. We will grow outwardly as we reach out to the surrounding community and give them a sense of the deep history, traditions, and vitality of this place. We will grow inwardly, we will dig deeply and listen intently for the places in our lives God is calling each one of us to grow spiritually, that individually we might become transformed evermore into the likeness of Christ. We will sing out praises to God with joyful voices and exceptional music.
We will also make mistakes along the way and we must be willing to walk alongside one another forgive one another and be willing to grow with one another.
Here in this beautiful place, may we come together and share our stories of faith with one another being vulnerable and open to the possibility of transformation. May we, here in this place, share abundant joy, may we grow in wisdom and love, and may we find rest for our weary souls.
And then, may we with Jesus, depart from this place and offer to help shoulder people’s heavy burdens. May we follow Jesus’ example of being humble and gentle. May we give the road-weary travellers all around us rest for their souls and water from a well that will take away all thirst.
May we welcome the stranger into our midst that they might leave as friends.
Fr. Eric +