Furrow #429


429: You have to learn to disagree charitably with others–whenever the need arises–without becoming unpleasant.  “Furrow” – St. Josemaria Escriva

Upon reading this, I immediately remembered The Rt. Rev. Jake Owensby’s piece on the topic:

The philosophers who inspired the Founding Fathers foresaw the threat that the majority could act in tyrannical ways.  Accordingly, our political forebears inscribed in our founding documents safeguards against the tyranny of the majority.

In addition to majority rule, democracy requires a loyal, gracious, and constructive minority.  Those of us in a minority are called to make a positive contribution to the solutions to the problems of the day in keeping with the will of the majority without sacrificing our integrity and our commitment to the truth.

Being a loyal, constructive minority is a difficult balancing act.  Politicians of the left and the right have served as poor models for this over the past decade or so.  Most of their energies have been devoted to devising strategies to gain majority status.  In other words, they exert their energies toward gaining power instead of finding ways to wield that power in service to the common good.

In the midst of it all, there is a severe lack of charity toward one another.  We do not simply disagree with one another, but find it necessary to attack in the harshest of terms.  Instead of simply disagreeing, we must put the foul-mouthed-idiotic-fascist-git in their proper place, which is without question somewhere beneath Dante’s ninth level of hell.  We forget that the person we have so denigrated was also – like us – created in the image of God.  We may disagree, but in the process we should demonstrate a little grace, charity, and if nothing else – class.

Furrow #115

esc115: Sometimes I think that a few enemies of God and his Church live off the fear of many good people, and I am filled with shame.  “Furrow” – St. Josemaria Escriva.

A few take Christ out of Merry Christmas.  A few take words out of context.  A few make laws for the many.  A few sow hate.  A few beat their plastic swords against their garbage can lid shields and we think that great armies have massed against us.  They are nothing.  They are clanging cymbals and noisy gongs.  Stand your ground.  There is nothing to fear.  “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”

Rabbi Barbara Block Visits St. Luke’s

St. Luke’s was pleased to welcome Rabbi Barbara Block of Congregation Beth Aaron to speak at our second Engaging Our World forum.  The topics were wide-ranging and insightful.  Below are a few pictures from Rabbi Block’s visit.

Rabbi Block

Rabbi Block and Fr John

Sermon: Proper 28 RCL C – "The Sky is Falling"

Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and, `The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Our Lady of Martyrs Catholic Church has one of those signs out front where you can change the message each week.  Cumberland Presbyterian Church, directly across the street from their Catholic brothers and sisters, also has a similar sign.  Apparently this is true – the two signs got into a bit of a fight.  Week one: the Catholic sign said, “All dogs go to heaven.”  The following week the Presbyterian sign said, “Only humans go to heaven.  Read the Bible.”  The Catholics retorted the following week with, “God loves all his creatures, dogs included” and the Presbys fired back with, “Dogs do not have souls, this is not open for debate.”  Apparently the Catholics thought it was for they responded.  “Catholic dogs go to heaven.  Presbyterian dogs can talk to their pastor.”  Finding offense with this the Presbys shot back, “Converting to Catholicism does not magically grant your dog a soul.”  Thinking this not true, the Catholics  responded, “Free dog souls with conversion.”  The Presbyterians tried to change the subject, “Dogs are animals.  There aren’t any rocks in heaven either.”  And it would seem that the Catholics just like to argue.  Their final response, “All rocks go to heaven.”

I’m not sure about rocks, but all dogs go to heaven and even some cats.  But, that bit of bantering demonstrates that we have not solved all the mysteries of our Christian faith.  From whether dogs go to heaven, to the real presence in the Eucharist, to the very structure of the church; all of these things are constantly discussed.  Today’s Gospel brings up another such issue: The second coming of Christ, the end of days.

Folks have been waiting for the end of the world for a long time.. and no one has ever predicted it correctly, but that hasn’t stopped them from trying and it has stopped others from even trying to profit off of it.  Sure, there are all those books written on it, one particular item has caught my eye.  In big bold letters its advertisement begins, BE PREPARED FOR THE END TIMES!  It goes on to read, “Our Deluxe Survival Kit includes enough long-lasting, freeze-dried food to supply a family of four for three months, fifty gallons of pasteurized water, a completely stocked medical case, and a .357 magnum revolver in case your neighbors attempt to take advantage of your Christian foresight. — Tribulations Outfitters, Inc., Lawing, Utah.”  My goodness, hopefully nobody will accidentally shoot the Lord with their brand new .357 Magnum when he returns.

All that sounds a bit crazy, but as a Christian people, we do believe that Christ will return and when he does he will set all things right.  The old shall pass away and the Lord will create all things new.  So, is the time really near?  In our Gospel, Jesus gave us some very clear signs to watch for, so instead of speculating, let’s break these down a bit and see if we can come to a conclusion for ourselves.

First, Jesus speaks of the temple in Jerusalem where He and the all the other Jews came to worship.  It was a magnificent structure with some of the stones of the walls weighing up to 360 tons.  Jesus said that it will be destroyed.  Today, all that remains is the western wall, known as the Wailing Wall.  In the year 70 AD the Romans came in, wiped out Jerusalem, and completely destroyed the temple.  Ok, so “check” on the first sign.

What are the other signs?  False prophets will come in Jesus’ name declaring “I am he.  I am the Messiah.  I will save you.”  My goodness can you believe they are already lining up possible presidential candidates, all of which will solve all the world problems, not to mention that they will wash your windows too?  What about all the preachers promising happiness, health, and wealth?  Watch TV and you will be bombarded with advertisements that will tell you all about how you can take this drug or that one and live forever (provided you don’t succumb to one of the side effects such as death).. I don’t know that the one drug that will make your eyelashes grow longer will make you live longer, but at least during your lifetime you won’t be put to shame for having short eyelashes.  So “check” also on false prophets.

What about the wars?  Afghanistan, Pakistan, Peru, Sudan.  Presently there are over 40 active conflicts in the world with 12 of them being classified as “high intensity conflicts” because there are more than 1,000 causalities per year.  Those 12 have cause more than 3.5 million deaths.  Wars?  Check.

There will be great earthquakes.  Check.  Famines.  Plagues.  Check.  Check.  Dreadful portents and great signs in the heavens?  Well, toss in a good dose of global warming, increased sun spots, not to mention the occasional UFO and by golly we are batting a 1000!

As far as being arrested in Jesus name all I can say is don’t go preaching the gospel in too many foreign nations or you will find yourself in jail facing death.  When we look at all that we have a complete fulfillment of the signs, so today we can say with 100% confidence, “The end is near!”  Hope you are ready folks, because Jesus is coming back tomorrow!  

Or is he?  Hasn’t it been like this all along?  Haven’t there been wars, plagues, earthquakes, all of it?  Of course there have and this is just on a grand scale.  How many folks can claim for their own lives, “the end is near.”

Think of the head of a household.  Loses their job.  Can’t find work.  Bills adding up.  Bank threatening to foreclose.  Is the end near for them?  What about the person who has just been given X number of days to live.  Isn’t the end near for them?  Or the person driving down the street listening to Kenny G on the radio, not knowing that at the next intersection some drunken jerk will plow through the red light doing 70 miles an hour and is going to hit them broadside.  Is the end near for them?  Have I depressed you yet today?

No, I’m not making light of the end of days.  They will come and they will be dreadful.   As we say every week, “Christ has died.  Christ has risen.  Christ will come again.”  And scripture tells us, “In those days – when he comes again – men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.”  People read this and it’s no wonder that they run through the streets with their hair on fire screaming, “The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!”  And in the process they miss the promise from God.  They miss the message of hope for those who love the Lord their God.  Following that litany of disasters in our gospel we read, “But not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  Not a hair of your head will perish.

Jesus says, “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”  Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  St. Peter says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

When we consider the end of days, the second coming of Jesus, we are not to be focused on when it will occur; our focus, our daily concern should be – Am I prepared for it?  If it comes today, will I be ready?  If it comes in ten years, will I be ready?  Am I bringing my children and grandchildren up in the knowledge and love of the Lord so that they too, will be prepared?  Jesus says, “I will come like a thief in the night.”  Our concern is, on that night will he find us prepared?

There is a wonderful George Iles quote, “Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.”  Jesus says, When it seems the world is going to heck in a hand basket, when the darkness prevails, and the end of days are upon you, do not fear.  I am with you always and will take your hand and guide you through.

Sermon: St. Simon & St. Jude

James Lloyd Breck was known as the Apostle to the Wilderness.  In the very early days of the church he traveled to foreign countries like Wisconsin and California.  In 1842 with two classmates, and under the direction of Bishop Jackson Kemper, he founded Nashotah House and was truly one of the great missionaries.

Many years later, on a gray autumn day in October of 1897, the missionary council of the Episcopal Church gathered at Nashotah House to lay to rest the remains of James Lloyd Breck.  In attendance were the students of the House, clergy, and several Bishops including, Bishop Daniel Sylvester Tuttle – The first missionary Bishop of Montana.  It was Bishop Tuttle that spoke the words at the graveside following Communion in St. Mary’s Chapel.  Bishop Tuttle said:

There was a Grecian race in which the runners were charged to care not for themselves, nor indeed for each other, but for the torch they bore.  As one and another, wearied and overcome fell by the way, he held aloft his torch, handing it to a comrade who seized it quickly and sped on.  So with the torch borne by the Christian man.  It has a triple flame, God’s truth, Christ’s love, men’s good.  We are to hold it up and pass it on.  One or another of us is soon to fall in the hard-trodden, dusty path.  But never mind us, it is dust to dust, though it may be sacred dust that falls, and God will take care of it.  Do not mind us; seize the torch, we pray you, and push on to the blessed goal.

Now, at this point you might be thinking to yourself, I thought we were celebrating the feast of Saints Simon and Jude not James Lloyd Breck the Apostle to the Wilderness, and you would be correct.  However, this statement of Bp. Tuttle’s seems to speak perfectly to these two obscure apostles: Simon we know as the Zealot, but we’re not quite sure why, and Jude who was surnamed Thaddeus.  After that, it’s all legend and speculation.  Honestly, we have no idea who these two were and it would not surprise me if that doesn’t please them immensely.

Simon and Jude were men who recognized that their lives were not their own.  They belonged entirely to God and the work of his Church.  They knew that it was not about them.  As Tuttle said, it was about the torch, the gospel message of Jesus Christ, and the blessed goal.

We should all be of this mindset, because it is not about us either – those made of that sacred dust – instead it is about the torch with its triple flame: God’s truth, Christ’s love, and men’s good.  We must learn to set aside our own agendas, desires and plans and to take up this torch that has been passed on from all the Simons and Judes, Marys and Theresas, and Brecks and Tuttles.  If we do so, then one day they will look back to us and say that we also seized the torch, held it high, and pushed on to the blessed goal.

St. Jude concludes his epistle by declaring: To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy– to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Throughout our very busy lives, let us always remember our first love and calling: to carry the torch and let the light of Christ illumine our every step and the world around us.

Sermon: St. James of Jerusalem

St. James by El Greco

St. James, he is called James the son of Zebedee, or James the brother of John, or James the Greater, or Boanerges, which means Son of Thunder, a nickname he and his brother earned after Jesus preached in a village which failed to hear his words at which point James and John turned and asked Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”  Personally, I like that kind of spirit in my apostles; however, just like them my way of thinking is not always pleasing to the Lord.

As with many of the early saints, there are some rather interesting stories of James.  One of my favorite miracles attributed to him tells how he brought back to life a boy who had been unjustly hanged, and had been dead for five weeks. The boy’s father was notified of the miracle while he sat at supper. The father pronounced the story nonsense and said his son was no more alive than the roasted bird on the table. Legend has it that at that moment the cooked bird promptly sat up, sprouted feathers, and flew away.  I’m tempted to try that the next time I’m at a Kentucky Fried Chicken!

The legends are fun, but it is Holy Scripture where we find the most accurate picture.  Scripture says,  “Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’  At once they left their nets and followed him.  Going on from there, Jesus saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

Immediately they left the boat.  Immediately.  I hear that and I have to wonder how I might respond.  Would I respond “immediately?”  If someone called to me and said, “Follow me,” I would probably reply, “Who are you?  Why?”  I would probably need to see a few more credentials, but after establishing it to be the Lord, would I continue to hesitate?

Remember the story of the prophet Samuel when he was called as a boy.  Samuel had been serving Eli.  One night after they had gone to bed Samuel here’s a voice calling to him.  Being a dutiful servant he runs to Eli saying, “Here I am.  Here I am, you called,” but Eli said that it wasn’t him and to go back to bed.  This happened two more times, but on the third time Eli realized that it was the Lord calling to the boy, so Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”  And this is what Samuel did and it was then that the Lord spoke to him clearly of his plans and the purpose he should fulfill.

For all of us, if the Lord calls to us by name or says, “Follow me,” we may all be a bit hesitant at first.  We may want to be certain of who it is calling first.  But like Samuel and James, once we determine that it is the Lord, we too must respond immediately.

James started as a fishermen, but when Jesus stepped into his life and called him, James became a fisher of men.  He heard the truth in the message of Christ and he immediately gave up everything, including – in the end – his very life for the sake of that call.

Sermon: St. Luke

St. Luke, by El Greco

It was last week during our Adult Sunday School program that we were discussing Patron Saints.  It was noted that the naming of churches, St. Andrew’s, St. Theresa’s,  St. Luke’s, etc., were originally based on the relics of the particular saint which were entombed in the altar of a particular church.  Later, there would be numerous guidelines established, but many times churches were given the saint’s name which corresponded with the date they were consecrated.  For example if a church was consecrated on November 30th, it would often be given the name “St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church”, because that is the feast day of St. Andrew.  What I found curious about the naming of our church, St. Luke’s, is that our church has nothing to do with relics in the altar or the feast day of St. Luke, which is Friday.  However, the reason we are called St. Luke’s is noted in our history.

From February 14, 1886: The first morning and evening services were held in the new building at 1st Ave. South and South 29th Street. The initial subscription for building the mission was $1,200. A generous gift of several hundred dollars was received from members of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church of Rochester, New York. In appreciation, the Episcopalians of Billings named their new church in honor of this eastern parish.

We are named in honor of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Rochester, New York, which for the record still exists, but has been named The Episcopal Church of St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene, after two Episcopal Churches there were combined.  Yesterday, after learning all this, I wrote to the rector of the church in Rochester and told him “Thank You” for their original support, that we were doing well, and blessings to them and their work.  He in turn had no idea either, but was delighted all the same to learn of it.

History can be fun.  I can track my own personal history through Montana, Texas, Louisiana, with a brief stint in Wisconsin.  My family history can be followed through the deep south and Texas, but further back you will encounter a few Irish, some English, a bit of French and even Cherokee.  Before that, I’m not real sure except for one little piece and that one little piece is the same for all of us – no, I’m not going to track our history through Adam and Eve.  This history has nothing to do with nationalities or skin tones.  Instead, it has to do with who we all were as members of the human race.  Quoting Isaiah, Jesus outlines part of our common history: 

“’The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In our common history, we all were once the captive, the blind, and the oppressed, but through Christ we are the rich.  We have been released.  Given sight.  Freedom.  Paul states it clearly in his letter to the Galatians, “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Through Christ we have been freed from our “history” – those things that in the past that separated us from God – and given new life in Him.

The history of our church, our families, the nations are all very interesting, but our true and eternal history cannot be discovered in history books or genealogies.  To know your true and eternal history, you must look to God and his actions in the world and your life. By doing so, not only will you discover your history, but you will also know your true and eternal future.

Sermon: Proper 22 RCL C – "Head or Heart?"

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

A man named Johnny was walking along a steep cliff one day when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he grabbed a branch, which temporarily stopped his fall. He looked down and to his horror saw that the canyon fell straight down for more than a thousand feet. He couldn’t hang onto the branch forever, and there was no way for him to climb up the steep wall of the cliff.

So Johnny began yelling for help, hoping that someone passing by would hear him and lower a rope or something. “HELP! HELP! Is anyone up there? HELP!”  He yelled for a long time, but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice.  “Johnny, Johnny. Can you hear me?”  “Yes, yes! I can hear you. I’m down here!”  “I can see you, Johnny. Are you all right?”  “Yes, but who are you, and where are you?”  “I am the Lord, Johnny. I’m everywhere.”  “The Lord? You mean, GOD?”  “That’s Me.”  “God, please help me! I promise if, you’ll get me down from here, I’ll stop sinning. I’ll be a really good person. I’ll serve You for the rest of my life.”  “Easy on the promises, Johnny. Let’s get you off from there, then we can talk.”  “Now, here’s what I want you to do. Listen carefully.”  “I’ll do anything, Lord. Just tell me what to do.”  “Okay. Let go of the branch.”  “What?”  “I said, let go of the branch.  Just trust Me. Let go.”  There was a long silence, Finally Johnny yelled, “HELP! HELP! IS ANYONE ELSE UP THERE?”

It would seem that Johnny was lacking a key ingredient with his new found relationship with God: faith.  As Christians we speak of faith all the time.  When things are going wrong folks always say, “just have a little faith.”  It has got to be in the top ten sermon topics for priest.  You can’t even read the bible without running into discussions on it.  The words of Paul, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  In other words, everyone who has faith in Jesus will be saved.

In our Gospel, Jesus speaks of faith, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” 

So if everyone is talking about it, then what is it?  What is faith?

Paul says, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”  That’s nice.  Everybody understand faith now?  Maybe we should break it down a bit more.

Faith is believing in what we cannot see, but it comes in two different varieties, C. S. Lewis broke it down for us as “head faith” and “heart faith” and it is best broken down in an example:  Head faith, Lewis says, is when he goes in for a surgery.  He can trust the anesthesiologist because he understands through the intellect the workings of the body they’ll put the mask over his face, start pumping in the gas that will put him to sleep, and after he is asleep – and only then – will the surgeon begin the operation and the cutting.  Because he is deeply asleep he knows that he will experience no pain.  The intellect is sound, right up to the point when they lay him on the table and actually put the mask on him.  It is then that his emotions, his “heart faith,” takes over.  Fear kicks in and his heart says, “Oh my goodness what if this doesn’t work?”  “What if I’m not asleep when they start slicing into me?”  “What if I can feel everything, but can’t tell them?”  The head was good, but the heart took over and left him a nervous wreck.

The same is true in our Christian walk.  When all is well with us our faith is strong, but when we find ourselves hanging off a cliff with a thousand foot drop below and only an invisible voice in our heads saying, “Trust me,”  then our emotions ramp up and our heart begins to doubt.  We begin to doubt.  “Is God really out there,” we whisper to ourselves.

There is a dramatic difference between the head and the heart when it comes to believing in what we cannot see.  Deciding which one will rule our souls – head or heart – will also make a dramatic difference in our Christian walk.  We came across this passage last week in our Wednesday night study of the Ragamuffin Gospel: “If a random sample of one thousand American Christians were taken today, the majority would define faith as belief in the existence of God.  In earlier times it did not take faith to believe that God existed – almost everybody took that for granted.  Rather, faith had to do with one’s relationship with God – whether one trusted in God.  The difference between faith as ‘belief in something that may or may not exist’ and faith as ‘trusting in God’ is enormous.  The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart.  The first can leave us unchanged, the second intrinsically brings change.”

If head faith is greater than heart faith, then how do we go from one to the other?  How do we go from remaining the same, to being transformed in Christ?  It is a matter of rephrasing that simple question.  Instead of asking, “Do you believe in God?” ask, “Do you trust in God?”

“HELP! HELP! IS ANYONE ELSE UP THERE?”  No, there’s not.  Trust in Him.  The Psalmist says to the Lord: “The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.”  And what does the Lord promise?  Do this for me… Turn to page 779 of your Book of Common Prayer.  What does the Lord promise?  Let’s say together Psalm 121:

I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
    from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the LORD, *
    the maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved *
    and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
 Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
    shall neither slumber nor sleep;
 The LORD himself watches over you; *
    the LORD is your shade at your right hand,
 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
    nor the moon by night.
 The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; *
    it is he who shall keep you safe.
 The LORD shall watch over your going out and
                              your coming in, *
    from this time forth for evermore.

Have faith in your head.  Stop simply believing and start trusting, for the Lord himself watches over you.

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