Sermon: The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

“Visitation” with donor portrait, from Altarpiece of the Virgin (St Vaast Altarpiece) by Jacques Daret, c. 1435

I came across a brief study of the word preposterous.  Pre is something we are familiar with, which means “before.”  The Latin word posterous is a bit more tricky, but if you think of what you fall on when you slip on the ice, posterior (aka the derrière), then you know that posterous has something to do with the backside.  More accurately, it means “coming after” or “that which comes after.”  Therefore, preposterous means: that which comes before comes afterward… backward.  We take it to mean absurd or silly.

Donald K. McKim, the former Dean of Memphis Theological Seminary, used the word preposterous in a perspective on Christianity.  He wrote, “Now Christianity is a preposterous faith because it asks us actually to live backward.  Or, to put it another way, Christianity asks us to put some things before other things when more naturally, we’d choose to live the other way around.  The faith calls us as followers of Jesus Christ to a new lifestyle, a new way of living.  It asks us to hold new attitudes.  In short, Christianity asks us to live in a way the world may judge to be absurd.  Yet all the time, we are really only being truly preposterous.”  Christianity asks us “to live backward” lives that, by the world’s standards, are absurd, silly, and foolish.

How preposterous is Christianity?  Just in our Gospel account today, we are asked to believe that Elizabeth, a woman who was barren and “getting on in years,” was to bear a son; we are asked to believe that a virgin, Mary, conceived a child of the Holy Spirit, and we are asked to believe that this child is the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah.  Nothing preposterous there.  We are also called to believe some preposterous ideas and are also called to live preposterous lives.  St. John writes in his First Epistle: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.”  Yet, as preposterous as all this sounds to some, we believe.  We seek to live according to the call that the Father has placed on our lives.  For we know that he takes the weak, the broken, the blind, and even the crucified, and renews it, redeems it for his purposes.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… Consider your call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, and not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.”

When we consider a barren older woman giving birth to the greatest prophet ever born, a virgin conceiving a child by the Holy Spirit, a child born in a stable being the Son of God—when we consider all these weak, low, despised, preposterous individuals and the work God performed through them, then I ask you, why would you ever think God couldn’t do the same through you?

The French novelist, Colette, said, “You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.”  If our faith and our actions appear preposterous, if they appear foolish, so be it.  You be faithful in your work.  You be enthusiastically preposterous and reveal the Risen Christ to the world.

Sermon: Easter 7 RCL A – “Burn the Ships”

It is a bold move, but to go “all in” in poker is to put all your chips in the pot, betting everything on one hand of cards. Well, Boudreaux, Thibodeaux, Gustav, and a few others were playing their weekly game when Gustav gets a great hand dealt to him. The only thing that could beat him was a royal flush. Seeing it, he shoves all his chips into the center of the table and says, “I’m all in, and that includes every cent I have, my house, my boat, and my truck.”

Well, Thibodeaux had never been dealt one in his life, but he had that royal flush, and when he laid it out, ol’ Gustav stood up, grabbed his chest, and keeled over dead.

Thibodeaux looks at the other players and says, “Now, who is going to tell the wife?”

They draw straws. Boudreaux, who is always a loser, picks the short one. They tell him to be discreet, be gentle, and don’t make a bad situation any worse than it is.

“Gentlemen,” Bou says, “Discreet is my middle name. Leave it to me.”

Boudreaux finds Gustav’s wife and tells her. “Gustav done lost all yo money, house, boat, and pick’em up truck in the poker game, and now he’s afraid to come home.”


Boudreaux says, “I’ll tell him,” and walks away.

When I play poker—which isn’t all that often—I should go all in the first hand because I will end up losing it all anyhow.

The phrase “all in” has made it into popular culture and expresses the idea of putting in your best effort. Although, I think that softens it up a bit because you’re still likely holding onto something. I recently read a story on a friend’s blog that truly expresses what it means to go all in, but they use a different phrase to express it: burn the ships.

I don’t listen to much contemporary Christian music. Actually, I’ve gotten to where I don’t listen to much music unless I’m cooking or cleaning—I don’t know why. There is a band from Australia formed by two brothers, Joel and Luke Smallbone. The band: For King and Country.

Luke spoke about the troubles his wife, Courtney, experienced during her pregnancy with their second child. Specifically, she suffered from some debilitating morning sickness. After enduring it for many weeks, she went to the doctor and was prescribed some medication.

I don’t know what went wrong, but Luke said that while on tour, he received a phone call from Courtney. She said, “I need you to come home. I can’t stop taking these pills.” In the end, she was hospitalized in a mental hospital. 

After much treatment, she began to do better, but a day came when she told her husband, “Luke, I’ve got to symbolize something. I’ve got to flush these pills down the toilet. I’m done. I’m done with the guilt and the shame. I’ve got to move into a new way. A new life.” Watching his wife flush those pills and make that new start reminded Luke of an event that has since taken on a certain mythology about the Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés. 

The actual events are a bit different, but the story that Luke was thinking tells how Cortés and 600 men landed on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Cortés wanted to pursue and conquer Montezuma, but his men were not up for the battle, so Cortés gave the order: “Burn the ships.” Cut off every option except moving forward. Burn the ships.

Speaking of Courtney, Luke says, “When she was flushing those pills, the analogy of burning the ships came to me: the story of the sailors not wanting to explore the new world, wanting the comforts of their boats. Their leader calls them out and says, ‘We’ve got to burn the ships. This is a new world.’” From that, Luke wrote the song, Burn the Ships:

Burn the ships, cut the ties
Send a flare into the night
Say a prayer, turn the tide
Dry your tears and wave goodbye

Step into a new day
We can rise up from the dust and walk away
We can dance upon our heartache, yeah
So light a match, leave the past, burn the ships
And don’t you look back

From our Gospel reading today: “Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” And a little further on, He said, “I glorified you [Father] on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” By finishing the work. 

To finish His work, Jesus would go to Jerusalem, be put on trial, suffer inhumane treatment, and finally be crucified. He knew it was coming and even told the disciples about it. (cf. Matthew 16:21) Jesus knew all that was to come, yet Jesus burned the ships. The only One He could rely on was His Father. “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” And then He gave up that spirit, but the Father did not abandon Him. 

In our lives, we may never be put in such a place as Jesus, but for each of us, there are likely ships we need to burn. For Courtney, Luke’s wife, it was the pills that, although she took as prescribed, she became addicted to. It may be some other addiction for others that needs to be “flushed” like she flushed those pills. 

The ships can come in all forms, including certain people in our lives. No… I am not suggesting that you burn people, but the links to those who tend to lead us astray should be severed. Perhaps that one is called burning bridges. The poet, Rudy Francisco, wrote, “Some say, don’t burn your bridges. I say, if necessary, let the kerosene kiss it on the lips and watch it turn to ash. There’s always more than one way to cross the water.”

The hope is that we will find the courage to take this life of ours that has been given to us by God and live it entirely for Him. So that, like Jesus, we can say, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” The trouble is that it can be a terrifying step. In our minds, it goes too far. If I give my life and my spirit to God, then what is left for me?

Imagine: a young boy’s mother sends him to town to buy bread and fish, giving him her last coin. He does as asked, but on the way home, as he walks in the wilderness, he encounters a large crowd on a hillside. They’ve been listening to a preacher, but now it is time to eat, and no one has any food. The preacher comes to the boy and asks that he give him all he has so that he can feed this crowd of thousands. “But I only have a couple of fish and five small loaves of bread,” the boy says. “It will be enough,” the man answers. So, not because he believed there was enough to go around, but because he believed the man’s words, the boy burned the ships and gave the man the fish and the bread, all that he had. In the end, everyone had more than enough to eat, and when it was over, the preacher returned to the boy and said, “You gave me all you had, and I now return it to you.” But instead of handing the boy back his two fish and five loaves of bread, the preacher gives him twelve baskets filled and overflowing with fish and bread. 

The same is true in our life with God. We give Him everything, and in doing so, we will find our cup running over. Understand, I’m not talking about financial gain or temporal rewards—although that is a possibility—but I am talking about rewards that are lasting and eternal: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) Go all in with God.  Burn the bridges that need to be burned, burn the ships to the past and those things that you shouldn’t be holding onto, and then watch the cup overflow in God’s eternal blessings to you.

Let us pray:
Father in Heaven,
ever-living source of all that is good,
keep us faithful in serving You.
Help us to drink of Christ’s Truth,
and fill our hearts with His Love
so that we may serve You in faith
and love and reach eternal life.
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist
You give us the joy of sharing Your Life.
Keep us in Your presence.
Let us never be separated from You
and help us to do Your Will.

Sermon: Easter 6 RCL A – “Holy Spirit”

During an Episcopal worship service, a man began to be moved by the Spirit.

Out loud, he said, “Amen!” People around him were a little disturbed.

Then louder, he said, “Hallelujah!” A few more people were becoming disturbed.

Louder still, he shouted, “Praise Jesus!”

An usher moved quickly down the aisle. He bent over and whispered to the man, “Sir! Control yourself!”

The man exclaimed, “I can’t help it. I got religion!!!”

To which the usher responded, “Well, you didn’t get it here!”

I shared with the last Confirmation class, and I believe that I’ve shared it here, that while in seminary, I wrote a paper on the work De Trinitate by Richard of St. Victor. De Trinitate—On the Trinity—is Richard’s understanding of the Holy Trinity and the necessity of the three Persons of the Trinity, and how their relationship is based in love. I pulled out that paper this week, and one of the sentences I wrote is this: “Even though the Supreme Being ‘is the source of all existence,’ the Supreme Being and the condignus are of equal essence, as seen in the above discussion on the procession of the condignus from the Supreme Being and in the Quicunque; therefore the condilectus must proceed from both the Supreme Being and the condignus.” I said to myself, “Self, that right there will preach.” Maybe not, but it got me thinking about the condilectus, that is, the Holy Spirit—the Advocate that Jesus spoke of in our Gospel reading. What is important to note is that much of what we’ve been hearing these weeks since Easter Sunday has been pointing to this giving of the Spirit because this coming Thursday is the Ascension—Jesus leaving us—but before we go forward, let’s go back and look at the bigger picture.

On Good Friday, the Lord was crucified. On Easter Sunday, He rose from the dead. On the following two Sundays, we had the accounts of witnesses to the Resurrection. First, Jesus appeared to many of the disciples in a locked room. As you may recall, Thomas wasn’t there, and he doubted the others, so Jesus appeared again, and Thomas believed, giving us that first creedal statement, “My Lord and my God.”

The following Sunday, we heard about the appearance of Jesus to Cleopas and one other while they were on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Him until late in the day in the breaking of bread, but after He was made known to them, those two returned to the fellowship of the apostles and proclaimed the Lord’s resurrection.

The following two Sundays took us to a time before the crucifixion. These teachings were placed as a reminder of who the resurrected Lord truly is. In the first, Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.” In that, we understand that in Jesus, there is rest and safety. And then, last Sunday, Diane shared with us the message of Jesus going to prepare a place for us and how He is The Way. Speaking of that Gospel, Diane said, “Jesus is keenly aware of the limited time that he has remaining; and because of his great love for these very dear followers, his friends, he desperately wants to leave them with both comfort and instruction for his way to the Father, the true way, the way that leads to life.” 

All this tells us that Jesus died and rose again, there were many witnesses to these events, and He is the way to eternal life with God, yet, in one of the last verses of the Gospel reading from last week, Jesus says something alarming, “I am going to the Father.” Jesus is the way to eternal life, but he is leaving. The questions then rush out, ‘If He is leaving, how will we know the way that leads to Him? How will we know the Truth? How will we have this Life He has promised?’ All these, but then today, Jesus reassures us, “I will not leave you orphaned.” I will send another who will guide you into all truth. The condilectus. The Advocate. The Holy Spirit. A Spirit that will not just be available to a select few but to all. The Spirit guides us to the Father, that leads us into all truth; through this same Spirit, we receive life. So, who is this Holy Spirit?

When you think of Jesus, I’m sure some image of what he looks like comes to mind. Even when you think of the Father, even though He is without time or space, our human minds imagine what He might look like. Yet, with the Spirit—this gift from God—there is no physical focus other than the dove, which is for lack of any other means of identifying him. The best way to understand it is by understanding the Hebrew word rouah, which we spoke of recently—the wind, spirit, or the breath of God. Just as you cannot see the wind, you can only witness its effects; the same is true with the Holy Spirit of God. You cannot see it, but you can see its effect as it works in the world and individuals.

In our reading today, Jesus says He will send this Spirit, the Advocate. Advocate is a translation of the Greek word paraklētos. It can also be translated as counselor, helper, intercessor, or comforter, which helps us further understand the role of the Holy Spirit—one who comes alongside us to help us. But it is also important to note that Jesus says he will send “another Advocate.” Who is the first? St. John tells us in his first epistle, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1) Jesus is telling us that He is sending not just a spirit, but His Spirit to be with us. 

Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-15)

Moses spoke to the Israelites and said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b) God said, I will not leave you alone or abandon you. Jesus said, I am with you through it all until the last day. And this is made possible through the giving of God’s own Spirit to us. 

Jesus will ascend into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father, but he does not leave us orphaned. Instead, we are adopted—made one with Jesus and one with the Father. And we are given this Spirit so that—as we say in our Eucharistic Prayer D—so “that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, he sent the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe, to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.” We are drawn into full communion with the Triune God as daughters and sons and are commissioned to continue God’s work of love in the world.

Somebody needs to get some religion and say, “Amen!”

One last piece. St. John records a message for each of the seven churches at the beginning of the Book of Revelation. Each church is given a different message, but one part of the message is the same for all. It comes at or near the end of the message: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” That is not only a word for the church, but it is a word for us individually. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says.” We are given the Spirit of God so that we may know the way to God, so that we may know the truth of God, so that we might have life through God, and so that we might complete God’s work in the world, but in order to have these things, we must shut up and listen.

Take time to be quiet, to be at rest, to seek the presence of God, and then listen and hear what the Spirit is saying to you. I make no promises that you will like what you hear, but it will be God’s message to you.

Let us pray:
Breathe into me, Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Move in me, Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Attract my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy.
Protect me, Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy.

Sermon: Easter 4 RCL A – “Fences”

A young preacher was talking to the children about sheep. He said that sheep weren’t very clever and needed lots of guidance and that a shepherd’s job was to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals and keep them from wandering off and doing foolish things that would get them hurt or killed.

He pointed to the children in the room and said they were sheep and needed lots of guidance.

Then the minister put his hands out to the side, palms up in a dramatic gesture, and with raised eyebrows said to the children, ‘‘If you are the sheep, then who is the shepherd?’’

He was pretty obviously indicating himself.

A silence of a few seconds followed.

Then Little Johnny said, “Jesus, Jesus is the shepherd.’’

The young minister, obviously caught by surprise, said to Johnny, ‘‘Well, then, who am I?’’

Little Johnny frowned thoughtfully and then said with a shrug, ‘‘I guess you must be a sheepdog.’’

I have been called many things in my career, some of which were good, but I have never been called a sheepdog. However, within the Church, the Bishops have always been viewed as shepherds. In Jeremiah 3:15, the Lord states, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” So, as an extension of the Bishop’s ministry, I suppose the priests could be considered sheepdogs, but we all fall into that category when it comes to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

Today, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, said to us, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

At night, the shepherd would lead the flock into a fenced area and lay at the gate. Anyone who came in must climb the fence or go over the shepherd. As for the sheep, any that tried to leave by the gate would wake the shepherd. Earlier this week, as I thought on this passage, I got to thinking about the fence, and—long story short—thinking about fences led me to the poet Robert Frost.

Christianity did not come easily for Frost, and whether or not he was is still up for debate for many; however, a few days before his death, he wrote to a friend and said, “Salvation, we will never have from anyone but God.” For me, that pretty much ends the argument.

Where do the fences come in? Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, was first published in 1914. Did Frost have a Christian theme in mind when he wrote it? Probably not, but it certainly lends itself to one. It even contains a line that most of you know.

The poem tells the story of two neighbors that come together each spring to mend the rock wall that is the boundary between their properties. The narrator tells us that the heaving of the frost in the ground during the winter or passing hunters who need access or even elves could cause the rocks to fall, making breaks in the wall that need to be mended. However, the narrator doesn’t really see the point of the wall, so he keeps asking his neighbor why they go through this exercise every spring, to which the neighbor replies, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The idea is that if everyone knows the boundaries, then there can be no disputes. It makes sense.

Good fences make good neighbors, but uncertain as to what caused each break, the narrator comments, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.” Regardless of the neighbor’s opinion on the goodness of the wall, something or someone doesn’t want it there because it keeps falling. And this is where I ran with my interpretation of the poem.

The enemy of God’s people would rather the walls not be there. Jesus tells us, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit… The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” The enemy of God’s people would rather there not be a wall so that he can steal us away, so we allow Jesus and His holy host of angels to guard our souls, and under their protection, our souls remain quite safe.

The Psalmist tells us,
“[The Lord] will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday….
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.”

The Lord is the Good Shepherd and will guard our souls, so the fence serves as protection from those outside of ourselves, but perhaps more importantly, a fence keeps us in because we tend to wander off and get into trouble.

A little further in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12) That speaks of the goodness of God in seeking us out when we are lost and in trouble. Still, it also speaks of a sheep that didn’t know what was good for it and went astray. Good fences help keep us from wandering off, so how do we build and maintain a fence around our souls? The author of Proverbs provides us with some good advice.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.”

It is amazing how often our words can get us into trouble or how entertaining gossip can bring about problems. Erma Bombeck said, “Some say our national pastime is baseball. Not me. It’s gossip.” Guard your speech and what you listen to, and you’ll guard your soul. Consider the things you allow yourself to look at or linger over, whether it be something that leads to feelings of inappropriate desire or coveting and jealousy. Custodia occulorum, or custody of the eyes—“means holding ourselves accountable for what we choose to look at.” (Source) In guarding our eyes, we are guarding our hearts. Finally, consider where you are going. Is what you are doing following in the footsteps of Christ, or have you seen something off to the side that causes you to deviate from that path? Guard your steps, and you will be guarding your heart.

“Good fences make good neighbors.” And guarding our tongues, eyes, and steps will go a long way in building a fence around our souls to keep us from becoming sheep that go astray. And, if you occasionally need a sheepdog to nip your heels, I’ll see what I can do.

I’m unsure if this is a proper prayer, but it comes from my new friend, Thomas Merton—Let us pray: Good Shepherd, You have a wild and crazy sheep in love with thorns and brambles. But please don’t get tired of looking for us. We know You won’t. For You have found us. All we have to do is stay found. Jesus, in Your Name, we pray. Amen.

Sermon: Easter 3 RCL A – “Road of Prayer”

Road to Emmaus
by Fritz von Uhde

A lady was out hitting all the local garage sales when she came across an old needlepoint picture that read, “Prayer Changes Lives.” She bought it, took it home, and began to look for just the right place to hang the new picture. Finally, she decided it went well in the dining room over the table.

She admired her garage sale discovery with great pride and could hardly wait to show it to her husband. That evening when her husband arrived home from work, she showed him the picture, but he did not indicate his likes or dislikes of the new picture.

The next day as the lady was cleaning the house, she discovered that the new picture was gone. While cleaning the house, she found the picture behind a bookcase. She thought, “That’s strange,” and re-hung the picture in its original location. The next day, to her dismay, she discovers the picture gone again and again finds it behind the bookcase.

When the husband arrives home, she confronts her husband and asks him if he is displeased with the art of the needlepoint, to which he responds, “No, not at all; it is a great work of art.”

She continues, “Is it the place? Do you not like the place it is hung?” He says, “No, not at all. It is in a great location.”

She concludes that it must be the message, and she asks him if it’s the message that he doesn’t like. He says, “No, not at all; the message is great.”

Finally, she says, “Then what’s the problem?” He says, “I just don’t like change.”

Have you ever been on a prayer walk? It is the practice of going to a particular place, be it a school campus, neighborhood, or even a mall, and as you walk, pray for those concerns you see and the people you encounter or who live there. It helps you get out of your head and your own concerns and see the needs of others. Maybe try it the next time you go to the grocery store—each person you pass, say a prayer for them. You’ll never know how God answers your prayer, but you do know that God heard your prayer and that your prayers affected change.

I also know others who will pray as they walk. The rhythm of the walking, like breathing, brings about a more meditative state, allowing them to focus more clearly on their prayers—just don’t get so wrapped up in your prayers that you forget to look both ways before crossing the street!

Today in our Gospel, we are told of the two disciples walking the road to Emmaus. Although not a prayer walk, their walk does tell us much about prayer and even the liturgy of the Church.

The distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus is seven miles, so even if they were walking slowly, it would have taken them no more than three hours. Along the way, they talk about everything that has happened—hopes, dreams, fears, disappointments. We are told that when Jesus first encountered them, they were “looking sad.”

Hopes, dreams, fears, disappointments, and maybe even looking sad—does that sound like you when you settle in for your prayers?

As these two disciples talked, Jesus came alongside them even though they did not recognize Him. He began to speak to them in such a way that their hearts began to burn within them. He opened up to them the nature of God’s plan and explained the “Why?” behind so many of their questions. He lifted the heavy burdens they had been carrying. When it appeared that He was going to leave them, they asked Him to stay. They invited Him in, and He remained with them.

In our prayers, when the Lord begins to speak to us, making things more clear and calming our souls, we also invite Him to stay so that we may be near Him.

“But wait,” you say. “Jesus disappeared right after breaking bread with the disciples.”

Yes, He did, and He didn’t. Jesus walked the earth two thousand years ago, yet he was limited to one geographical location just as we are limited to one. Jesus could have remained with the two disciples, but He made it possible to be with all God’s people anywhere and at any time.

“When [Jesus] 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.” Jesus vanished from their sight, but He remained with them in the bread, just as He is truly present to us, {Hold up priest host} in the bread.

Those two disciples lived out a prayer. They had all this “stuff” going on inside them; they spoke to one another about it, then they spoke to God about it. In the process, they encountered the Risen Lord, who revealed understanding and Himself, and they were changed. Afterward, they immediately turned from the direction they were going—the direction of disappointment and fear and separation—and returned to the others who had remained in Jerusalem. They returned to the Body of believers.

Sound familiar? From the Baptismal Covenant: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” “I will with God’s help.” (BCP 304)

The road to Emmaus is a map for understanding prayer and, therefore, also represents the liturgy of the Church—we come together, we walk together, and we bring our concerns and hopes, joys, and disappointments with us. As Jesus opened up the Word of God to the two on the road, through our readings and preaching, we also open up the Word of God. It all leads to an encounter with the Risen Lord in the breaking of bread, the Holy Eucharist, where Christ Jesus is truly made present to us and to all who come seeking. This prayer and this encounter then changes us so that Christ may be revealed in us and that we might do the work of God and His Church.

Mother Teresa said, “I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.”

This morning’s Psalm (116) summed up this Road to Emmaus, this road of prayer. Verses 1- 3:

“I love the Lord because he has heard the voice of my supplication,
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.
The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me;
I came to grief and sorrow.
Then I called upon the Name of the Lord:
‘O Lord, I pray you, save my life.’”

He answered his own question by saying,

“I will lift up the cup of salvation…
I will fulfill my vows…
O Lord, I am your servant…
I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving…
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord.”

A quote you’ve probably heard is from a pamphlet on reform written by Leo Tolstoy, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

“A lady was out hitting all the local garage sales when she came across an old needlepoint picture that read, ‘Prayer Changes Lives.’” That is true, but perhaps a more accurate statement would be, “Prayer Changes You.”

We are still in the Easter Season, and that change that occurs in you through prayer is the work of the Resurrection. Don’t be afraid of the changes that come when you walk the road of prayer.

A prayer from that great Dominican theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas—Let us pray: “Grant us, O Lord our God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen.”

Sermon: Easter 2 RCL A – “Frustration”

Doubting Thomas
by Wilhelm Marstrand

Boudreaux had been hearing about chainsaws for years, and how easy they were to use, so he finally decided to get one for himself. When he got to the hardware store, the clerk assured him these new saws could cut down five big oak trees in an hour. That was enough for Bou, so he purchased one and headed to the woods for some stovewood. Twenty-four hours later, he returned to the store. He was mad and frustrated. “It took me all day to cut down one tree,” he said. “I’d a done better with my axe.” 

Puzzled, the store owner stepped outside with the saw, gave the cord a swift pull, and fired up the steel-toothed beast. Its deafening roar sent Boudreaux stumbling backward. 

With his fingers in his ears, Boudreaux shouted, “What’s that noise?”

I told you a while back that when it comes to movies, I’m a bit like a kid—not only in the kind of movies I like but in the number of times I can watch the same one repeatedly. I find that I’ll do this when I want to relax. I know the movie, the story, and probably even most of the lines, so I can enjoy it without having to really think about it. One of those I watched last week, with all that was going on during Holy Week, was the Hunger Games series. 

There is a simple scene, but it reminded me of something. Katniss is using a flashlight as a cat toy. Move the light around, and the cat will chase it but never be able to catch it. You’ve probably all seen the same idea with those laser beam cat toys. A cat will climb the wall trying to get at the fast-moving red dot. The Queen—the eight-pound feline monarch that rules my house—has had her time with that red dot, but at some point, like Katniss in the movie, I began to wonder if it was actually any fun for the animal. Sure, it is entertaining for us, but how frustrating is it to chase after something and never be able or allowed to catch it? After a session with The Queen, I noticed she would wander the house for a good hour, meowing and unable to settle down. I realized that watching her scramble around chasing it was fun for me, but I didn’t think it was fun for her, so I put it on the shelf.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines frustration as “the feeling of being annoyed or less confident because you cannot achieve what you want, or something that makes you feel like this.” And we’ve all known this feeling. In one way or another, we’ve all chased the red dot and exhausted ourselves in our attempt to catch it, yet every time, it eludes us. From jobs to relationships to any number of goals, no matter the attempts or effort applied, they seem unattainable. This frustration then leads to anger, anxiety, shame, and even guilt. Not only is this true with life in general, but it is also true in our life with God.

Prayers that seem to be unanswered. Circumstances that can’t be resolved. Unrelenting illness. We seem unable to follow the commands in our lives, failing, and sinning time and time again, chasing the red dot of our faith, yet unable to ever catch it. Unable to get it right or know that God even hears us. If you’ve ever felt that way, you are not alone. Consider these words of King David in Psalm 13:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,

lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

Why have you not heard me? Have you forgotten me? I am sick. I am tired. There are those things and people that have come against me. Am I just supposed to give up and die? So much has gone wrong. Frustration. Anger. Anxiety. Shame. Guilt. And all those feelings of frustration lead us to say, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 

When we become frustrated with our lives, our lives with God, and even frustrated with God, we can doubt. Does God have a plan for my life? Does God care about me? Does God see that I’m hurting? Well, I’ve got some news for God, unless I see hard proof, then… I just don’t know. 

David was frustrated. He cried out, “How long, O Lord?” But at the end of Psalm 13, it is as though David took a deep breath and set aside his frustrations and doubt, for he concluded,

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

No longer is he speaking doubt and hurt. His words have become those of assurance, confidence, and determination. His words have become those of faith.

From what I read, Bear Bryant was one of the best college football coaches and had the track record to back it up. John McKay, another great coach, tells the following: “We were out shooting ducks, and finally, after about three hours, here comes one lonely duck. The Bear fires. And that duck is still flying today. But Bear watched the duck flap away, looked at me, and said, ‘John, you are witnessing a genuine miracle. There flies a dead duck!’” 

Bear Bryant’s faith in his shooting skills may have been a bit overinflated, but our faith in God can never be. 

I do not have a cure for frustrations; they will come, but see and know that the Lord our God is very near to those He loves, working out His good purposes.

Speaking through the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord says, 

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

First, ask God if what you are attempting to do is His will or if you’re just chasing some random red dot. If you discern that it is God’s will, then trust that He will see it through. “Do not doubt but believe,” and say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

Let us pray: Lord, if what we seek is according to Your will, then let it come to pass and let success attend the outcome. But if not, Dear Lord, let it not come to pass. Do not leave us to our own devices, for You know how unwise we can be. Keep us safe under Your protection with faith in Your word, and in Your own gentle way, guide and rule us as You know best. Amen.

“Jumping from a Plane”

Enid Writer’s Club April Roll Call. Must be 150 words or less. The prompt: “Jumping from a plane.”

The engine coughed, then died. No option. Quickly shouldering on the parachute, I made ready.

God knows how I would miss this plane. She had been good to me through so many dog fights, even having survived the Red Barron, but not today. Nothing more than a faulty engine and a soon-to-be-fired mechanic.

Racing to the rear of the plane and sliding open the door, I gently kissed the fuselage. “I’ll never forget you,” I said and jumped.

When I landed, my disapproving wife was standing there.

“Harold! You’re an embarrassment,” she said, hands on hips.

“That may be,” I responded, whisking my white silk scarf over my shoulder, “but I’ve got three more quarters.”

The kids standing outside the Piggly Wiggly waiting their turn on the kiddie plane groaned as I inserted my coin and waited for those magical words.

“Barron Killer Nine, you are cleared for takeoff….”

149 words

Sermon: Easter Sunday – “Fools”

The Resurrection by Sebastiano Ricci

An atheist professor was teaching a college class and told the students that he would prove there was no God. He said, “God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I’ll give you 15 minutes!”

Ten minutes passed, and he kept taunting God, saying, “Here I am, God, I’m still waiting.” 

He got down to the last couple of minutes when a 320-pound lineman on the football team happened to walk by the door and heard what the professor was saying. The football player walked into the classroom and, at the last minute, hit the professor with a haymaker, sending him flying off the platform.

When the professor woke up, he stood and, still shaken, said, “Where did you come from, and why did you do that?”

The 320-pound lineman replied, “God was busy; He sent me!”

When you begin to talk to people about what Jesus said, most will believe it. The good solid teachings. They make people want to be better individuals. They teach us how to live. All that talk about “Loving your neighbor” gets people’s motor running.

When you talk about some of the things Jesus did, like flipping over the tables in the Temple or picking and eating grain on the Sabbath, folks are pretty much OK with these as well. Even his trial, death, and crucifixion are believed to be historical facts because most believe in a historical Jesus, and crucifixion was how the Romans dealt with criminals and troublemakers. But when you talk about the miracles Jesus performed, folks start to get a little skeptical. 

Giving sight to the blind, healing the lame, feeding the 5000 (that’s a maybe because they can logically figure out how that might have been done. They assume more food was available than was recorded in the Scriptures), walking on water, and casting out demons (this one gets a double negative because you’ve first got to believe in demons.) When you begin to talk about miracles, people start to shake their heads. They say, “Those things just aren’t possible.”

When you bring up Jesus raising the dead, you run into a brick wall. Lazarus, the little girl, and probably others we’re not told about. It’s like St. John wrote at the end of his Gospel, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) Ask around about raising the dead and you will be told, “Not going there.” And the one that is an absolute hard-stop show-stopper is Jesus being raised from the dead on the third day. You talk about that, and for many, you’ve entered the land of make-believe and fairy tales. To believe in the resurrection makes you a fool.

Can I tell you something that you may already know? I am a fool. I believe, and I would like for you to believe and to be a fool, also. The trouble is I cannot prove any of it to you. Even if I could get a 320-pound lineman to come in, hit you with his best haymaker, and say, “God was busy, so he sent me!” You would still say, “I’m no fool.” Although, perhaps, you would not say it to the 320-pound lineman.

The First Sunday after Easter is always the incident concerning doubting Thomas. You remember the one: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25) I know why it’s placed on the first Sunday after Easter but I also think it would be very appropriate for Easter Sunday because there are so many who fall into the same category as Thomas. When it comes to the resurrection, their first name becomes, Doubting. So how do we overcome our doubts?

An incident is recorded in Mark’s Gospel: a man comes to Jesus begging that his son be healed. The man says, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’!—Who do you think you’re talkin’ to with all that “if” business—All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 

“I believe; help my unbelief!” Is a prayer. It is a prayer from one who desires to believe but needs God’s grace in order to believe more fully. You see, believing in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and all they have accomplished, including the resurrection, is not a matter of your reasoning, or your faith, or your understanding. Believing these things is a grace from God. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) By grace, you have been saved. By God’s grace, we are able to believe, so pray with the man, “I believe; give me Your grace, and help my unbelief.” 

Pray for God’s grace and become a fool with me when and so many others. That belief, that faith, comes with some exceptional benefits—not just for when you’re dead and gone but for today. Benefits like peace of body, soul, and mind, joy even in difficult situations, healing—not always the body—but always of the soul and spirit, a love that can be felt and expressed to others, and so much more… and even though you may think me more a fool for saying it, it also comes with eternal life. Life with God and all of God’s children.

Saint Paul says, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19) And again, speaking of the Apostles and therefore speaking of us, he says it plainly, “We are fools for Christ’s sake” (1 Corinthians 4:10a) becoming spectacles “to the world, to angels, and to men.” (1 Corinthians 4:9b) 

Pray that you may become a fool for Christ. Pray that you may receive God’s grace and believe.

Let us pray: 

Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate.
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen.
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing.
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty.
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead,
the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever.


Sermon: Holy Saturday – “The Ancient Homily”

Christ Breaking Down the Gates of Hell
by Imitator of Hieronymus Bosch

An Ancient Holy Saturday Sermon – author is unknown

“What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”

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