Sermon: Easter Sunday RCL C – “What’s Next?”

The podcast is available here.

My first job out of college was as a statistical analyst for a marketing firm.  That might seem odd for a fella who struggled with math all the way through school, but you see, as a statistical analyst, I didn’t have to come up with the number, I just needed to know how to manipulate the number and pull the wanted data out of it.  So, statistics and numbers are always ‘fun’ to me and what I found fascinating about the marketing industry itself is that world wide, advertisers spent $584 billion in 2017 trying to sell us stuff.  In the US alone, advertisers spent $197.5 billion in 2017, which means they spent $606 on every man, woman and child.  Honestly, I’d rather have a check.  The big question is: what is the purpose?  One who teaches companies about advertising answers the question for us: “As an advertiser, it is your job to create discontentment inside the psyche of your prospects, and make them desire the change that you’re offering.”  In other words, the first goal of most advertising is to make you unhappy with who you are and what you have, and the second goal of advertising is to make you go out and buy more stuff so that you will be happy… at least until the next and greatest model or version comes out. 

In a cemetery in England there’s a grave marker with the inscription: SHE DIED FOR WANT OF THINGS.  Alongside that marker is another which reads: HE DIED TRYING TO GIVE THEM TO HER.

I would like to tell you that I’m not susceptible to these marketing ploys, but I’m afraid my Apple Watch would zap me for lying on Easter Sunday.  No, I’m not anti-stuff.  I like stuff.  However, it seems the way advertisers work—making us discontent with what we have and who we are so that we’ll look for something new—plays itself out in other areas of our lives, all of which leads us to an attitude of “What’s next?”  What are we going to do now?  Who are we going to see now?  We can find ourselves in such a constant anticipation of what is going to happen next, that we can no longer experience joy of the present moment.  

The same is true in our life and worship of God.  It’s not that we object to the worship, but there is always the “What’s next” hanging over it.  How many of you have plans for after the service?  Most.  Ok, how many of you are saying to yourselves, “If this guy goes on for too long, we’re going to miss our reservation!… we’re not going to get a parking place… or whatever.”  It’s not that we object to worshiping God, but it is the “what next” that prohibits us from truly experiencing the joy that comes from fellowship and from taking part in this grand celebration, that his happening, right here, right now.  But the issue of the “what next” goes even deeper than that.

This week, we’ve been walking with Jesus.  He made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  What’s next?  He washed our feet.  What’s next?  He was arrested.  What’s next?  He was crucified, died, and was buried.  What’s next?  He rose from the dead.  What’s next?  Through his sacrifice, we have been redeemed, restored to God.  OK… What’s next?  The greatest news the world has ever received: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  “What’s next?”

The truth is, there will always be something next until this world is no more, but this great news of the Gospel message isn’t like something that the advertisers are trying to sell to us.  This Good News is not something we become discontent with and go looking for the next version or newer and flashier models.  This Good News of Jesus Christ is something that we spend a life time living into and growing in.  But, if you spend a life chasing the “what next”… then you will always be sad and discontent, never stopping long enough to experience the joy of being the sons and daughters of God.

I like to tell you about my friends, those saints I always quote to you: Thomas à Kempis, Josemaría Escrivá… I suppose I shouldn’t put Stephen King in that group, but I do have other friends that keep me company that I don’t share with you, because, well… a priest isn’t supposed to read them.  For example, one of my other friends, and he is a very good friend, is a foul-mouthed atheist.  His name is Henry Miller.  His books were banned in the US, which made me want to read them even more.  I believe he was very much a genius, and although he claims to be an atheist, he understood more about God than most of us who run around in fancy robes.  He writes: “‘Weep and you weep alone’—what a lie that is!  Weep and you will find a million crocodiles to weep with you.  The world is forever weeping.  The world is drenched in tears.  Laughter, that’s another thing.  Laughter is momentary—it passes.  But joy, joy is a kind of ecstatic bleeding, a disgraceful sort of super contentment which overflows from every pore of your being.  You can’t make people joyous yourself.  Joy has to be generated in oneself: it is or it isn’t.  Joy is founded on something too profound to be understood and communicated.”  And he sums it all up so beautifully, “To be joyous is to be a madman in a world of sad ghosts.”

The world is forever weeping, because it is is in constant pursuit of “what next.”  It cannot be joyful, because the promised happiness the world offers is never realized, and if it is, it is only momentary—it passes.  However, there is a joy that comes from knowing and being known by God that far exceeds anything we could ever ask for or imagine.  It is that profound joy that comes only from the Good News of Jesus Christ, which should make us all such joyful madmen and madwomen, that no matter “what next” comes our way and no matter how many sad ghosts surround us, we can stand in unwavering faith, knowing that Our God is standing with us.

Everything that Jesus said, everything that Jesus did—including conquering death itself—was for you.  It was so that you might be with him eternally, and it was so that you might have life and have life abundantly, not in the “what next”, but in the right now.  In this very moment.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Allow yourself the opportunity to experience the profound joy of the Lord. 

Let us pray: God, our Father, may we love You in all things and above all things. May we reach the joy which You have prepared for us in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against Your Will, and all that is good comes from Your Hand. Place in our hearts a desire to please You and fill our minds with thoughts of Your Love, so that we may grow in Your Wisdom and enjoy Your Peace.  Jesus in your Name.  Amen.

Sermon: Good Friday

The podcast is available here.

“Christ’s thorn-crowned head lies low on his sacred breast and no longer are there any signs of life in him.  His eyes see nothing—and yet nothing is secret or hidden from him.  His ears hear nothing—and yet he knows all things even before they come to pass.  He, who endows all flowers with sweet scents, smells nothing, and he, who gives life and supplies food to all the living, has lost his taste.  He, who opened the mouths of the dumb, is now unable to move his lips, and he, who taught his followers, cannot utter a single word.  The tongue that spoke only the truth is now silenced, and the face once brighter than the sun is now without color.

“His cheeks, fair as those of a turtledove, have lost their radiance, and his hands, that stretched out the heavens above, are pierced by hard and sharp nails.  His knees, so accustomed to being bent in prayer, are now naked and limp, and his legs, those marble columns that used to support his body’s weight, are now unsteady and powerless.  His feet, so often weary from going about preaching are now iron-bound to the wood of the cross.”  (On the Passion of Christ: According to the Four Evangelists by Thomas à Kempis, p.143-4)

My friend Thomas à Kempis wrote that.

Last week, Palm Sunday, I shared with you a passage from a Stephen King book and in the process, confessed that I read and reread his books.  There’s also Dean Koontz and several others of a similar genre.  Cousin Janie will tell you that when I get to pick the movie, it is going to be about zombies, giant raging spiders, aliens, and the likes.  What I don’t like in my books and movies is real life.  Someone being eaten by a zombie is fine.  Someone being hurt by another person, whether emotionally or physically… not so much.  Books, films where the dog dies… never.  (And I still haven’t forgiven J. K. Rowling for killing off Harry Potter’s owl, Hedwig.)  What’s the difference between a zombie killing off someone compared to another person doing the same?  For me, what even seems like real life pains and hurts in a movie or a book, begins to hurt my soul, because although the movie or book may be fiction, it could actually happen.  I know it’s not real when Godzilla goes crashing through Los Angeles.  

So, when I am confronted with the reality of Jesus’ death… I hurt, because I cannot avoid it and then I become angry at those who did this to my King.  And then I become more angry when I realize that I am as equally to blame as they.  With Simon Peter, I want to cry out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Yet, Jesus responds as he did to Peter, “Do not be afraid.”  It is for this reason that I came, so that you and all who call on my name may be saved and have life eternal.  I die that you may live.

We may recoil at the site of the corpse of Jesus our King, but in seeing it, we are seeing our salvation; and in faith, we know that his death is only temporary… but, we have not yet reached that part of the story.  Today, we are here and there he lies.  As Brother Thomas writes, “Such is my beloved, O Daughters of Jerusalem, such is my friend, and it is to this deplorable condition that death has brought him.  If I were to die a thousand times for him, it would still not be adequate compensation for his love.”

Let us pray: O sweet Jesus, Redeemer of our souls, who can grant us to die with you on the Cross, and when it it time for us to leave our bodies to share in the happiness of that hour?  We ask from the depths of our hearts to allow us, in these frail bodies of ours, to live so as to direct all our actions and desires in accordance with your good pleasure, and that after we prove ourselves through many a temptations, we may complete the course our our lives in the state of grace and arrive at the reward of eternal grace.  Amen.

Sermon: Wednesday in Holy Week

The podcast is available here.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem the people cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna is a Hebrew expression which means “save”, so the people were calling Jesus, Savior, thinking he was a warrior king that would release them from the bondage of the Romans. But Jesus, when he road into town, wasn’t riding a war chariot or a tank or an F-15. Jesus was riding a donkey, which was not only a fulfillment of prophecy, but a sign of peace.

The people forgot that earlier Jesus had taught them by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. The pure in heart. Peacemakers. Persecuted.”

Not only this, but the people forgot the words spoken of the Christ by the prophet Isaiah, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

Love. Mercy. Meekness. Righteous. Purity. Blessed. Peacemaker. Wonderful. Counselor.

What part of this would make them think that Jesus was a revolutionary, intent on overthrowing the government? What part of this said anything like that? Yet, when Jesus did not fulfill the peoples desires, their hearts turned against Him. Among them was one of the twelve, Judas son of Simon Iscariot, who would later regret his actions, but because of his great disappointment, betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

If he is not going to be our warrior king, then what good is he? He can’t even save himself, so how could he possibly expect to save us? What kind of king is this? To heck with mercy and peacemakers! What good is all this talk of loving your enemy, when your enemy has got a sword in your back?

When Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem the people forgot what Jesus was truly about. They forgot that his kingdom was not of this world. They forgot that not only would he eventually give them true freedom from those who oppressed them, but that he would also give them freedom from death itself.

When Jesus stood before Pilate and the crowds, the people forgot the teachings, miracles, the raising of Lazarus, and all the rest. So they cried out, “Crucify Him.”

I won’t try and answer these questions for you, but what expectations have you placed upon Jesus? He has given you eternal life, do you expect more? And, if He does not meet your expectations, will you abandon Him? If He doesn’t give you what you desire, will you betray Him? I don’t for a second believe that any of you would, but I think we should recognize that there is probably a little bit of Judas in all. So, we must remember to never look to Jesus simply for the “gifts” he gives. Instead, we look to him, we love him for who he is – God – and for what he has already done – saved. My friend Thomas à Kempis writes, “A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver.” Our relationship with Jesus is not about what he does. It is about His love for us and our love for Him. Everything else is truly irrelevant.

Sermon: Palm Sunday RCL C

The podcast is available here.

The Judge, a character in The Stand by Stephen King, talks about his life and gives his thoughts on encountering God: “I like to creep through my daily round, to water my garden… to read my books, to write my notes for my own book… I like to do all those things and then have a glass of wine at bedtime and fall asleep with an untroubled mind. Yes. None of us want to see portents and demons, no matter how much we like our ghost stories and the spooky films. None of us want to really see a Star in the East or pillar of fire by night. We want peace and rationality and routine. If we have to see god… it’s bound to remind us that there’s a devil for every god—and our devil may be closer than we like to think.”

I think the Judge is onto something there. A Star in the East, pillar of fire, virgin birth, water into wine, sight to the blind, crucifixion, empty tomb… life is much simpler without all these things. We live and we die and whatever we choose to do between those two events is of our own making. But if these things do exist, then we are obligated to try and make some sense of the events that will unfold over the next week in the life of our Savior. In order to make some sense of them, we can’t just be passive observers. We must enter into the story and walk with Jesus.

My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “We can’t let Holy Week be just a kind of commemoration. It means contemplating the mystery of Jesus Christ as something which continues to work in our souls.” (Christ is Passing By, #96) Therefore, today, I invite you to join in this most sacred time of the Christian year and walk with Jesus as he enters the Holy City of Jerusalem, institutes the Holy Eucharist, lays down his life, and rises to Glory.

Let us pray: Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sermon: Lent 5 RCL C – “Worship”

The podcast is available here.

I’ve shared with you in the past that many a redneck’s last words were, “Here, hold my beer.” It’s true, and I think most of us have attended parties where someone was at the point of doing something equally as stupid. Well, in today’s Gospel reading, alcohol was not involved, but that didn’t stop Mary from getting way out of control.

We aren’t sure how long prior to today’s episode that Lazarus was raised from the dead, but between the raising of Lazarus and today’s events, we are told that the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council, had come together and decided to find a reason to put Jesus to death. They were afraid that since he was gaining such popularity, especially following the raising of Lazarus, that the Romans would come and persecute them all. It is here that we have that prophetic passage from Caiaphas, the Chief Priest: “It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Because of this, Jesus was no longer able to go around in public. However many days later, we come to today’s episode. A party or gathering at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ house. As before, Martha busied herself making and serving supper, and Mary took her place near Jesus. Following the meal, “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Now, there is a litany of purity laws, customs, manners, and everything else that tell us what Mary did was a big ‘no no.’ Women don’t touch men, especially a rabbi. Women don’t let down their hair or run around with it uncovered, even in their own home. And oh, by the way, where did a woman come up with a year’s wages to buy such an expensive gift? Even today, what Mary did, wouldn’t go over real well at most parties (although I’m sure there are a few fellas who wouldn’t mind giving it a go). In the reading, Judas was the only one who protested, but it is reasonable to believe that, at the time, everyone else probably agreed with him. Woman, what are you doing? A whole litany of charges we could bring against Mary. It was definitely a “Here, hold my beer” moment.

I sat down this week to write this sermon, and that is exactly the sermon I was going to write, but as I read, what I discovered was that most of the early church Fathers and Mothers, and the commentators that I respect today, they could care less about that. If they mention the litany of charges against Mary at all, it is only in passing. Why? Because they can’t get past how much Mary must have loved Jesus, adored Jesus, how she gave everything she possibly could to Jesus. They can’t stop talking about her humility in anointing the Lord’s feet with perfume and wiping them with her hair. They speak about how Mary glorified God and she truly worshipped Jesus, and how the fragrance of that worship filled the house. I have to wonder if I have ever worshipped in such a manner, that the fragrance of my praise was noticeable to others.

I think this is where we can go wrong in our life with God. I’m even beginning to think it is one of the ways that I have not led you correctly. This God business is a very serious business. It is truly a matter of life and death, so I’m always pushing myself and others to pray more, learn more, read more… dig in and go to work that you may enter into a deeper relationship with God, but here’s the thing: our relationship with God is supposed to be more about loving God as Mary did. Adoring God as Mary did. Filling the air with the fragrance of our worship as Mary did. If all we do is read, study, and work harder attempting to be holy as he is holy, then we miss out. We miss out on purely and simply enjoying our God. Of sitting at his feet and just being with him for the sheer pleasure of it all.

I want to say, “God, help me to more fully understand grace. Teach me about the mystery of the Eucharist. Show me how I might serve you and your Church more fully.” There is nothing wrong with desiring these things, but every now and then, I think when I come to Jesus with these request, he says to me, “Hey, John, come here, I want to show you something.” And I’m think it is going to be the unveiling of some great revelation, but instead, when he has my full attention, he points and says, “Isn’t that a beautiful flower.” “Yes,” I say a bit taken aback. And then Jesus says the most remarkable thing. “How about we just sit and enjoy it together. After all, I made it for you.” That is worship. That is praise. Simply being with God and taking joy in his presence.

In The Joyful Christian, C.S. Lewis wrote: “To praise God fully we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God, drowned in, dissolved by that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression…. The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

Today, I’m not imploring you to study Holy Scripture more, to go to confession, to pray more earnestly, to give to the church in support of ministry… I’m not asking you to do any of these things. In fact, today, I’m not asking you to do anything. Instead, I’m giving you an opportunity and it is this: enjoy God. Love God. Like a child tells a parent or a man or woman tells their spouse, tell God of your love for Him. Let down your hair and worship the Lord your God. Enjoy the flowers. And let the fragrance of your love for the Savior fill the air in joyful praise and worship.

Let us pray (this is Canticle 13 from morning prayer, A Song of Praise or Song of the Three Young Men / Benedictus es, Domine)

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; *
you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
Glory to you in the splendor of your temple; *
on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
Glory to you, beholding the depths; *
in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.
Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Sermon: Tikhon

The podcast is available here.

This past Sunday, I shared with the congregation that Fr. Matthew of St. Nino’s Russian Orthodox Church presented our church with an icon of St. Edward the Martyr and King of England in thanks for us allowing them to meet here on the last Friday of the month; and it just so happens that this coming Sunday is the feast day of one of the most significant Russian Saints to have been active in the Russian Orthodox Church in America: St. Tikhon the Patriarch of Moscow, and Enlightener of North America. In light of our relationship with St. Nino’s, it seems only right that we should know more about them.

Tikhon was born Vasily Ivanovich Belavin on January 19, 1865 in far northwest Russia.  He was the son of a priest and grew up as a well loved child, which carried on into his seminary years where he was known by the nickname of ‘bishop’ and ‘patriarch.’  I doubt his classmates knew how prophetic those names actually were, but on November 5, 1917, Tikhon became the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, which included the church in the United States.  Regardless of the high position he held, he was seen as very humble, simple and modest.  Perhaps it was these traits that assisted him in navigating the times, for this was also the time of the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Communist and Soviet Union.

Speaking of these days, Archpriest Vladimir Vorobiev said, “There are firm grounds for speaking about the universal significance of Patriarch Tikhon’s heroic labor. The twentieth century is one of the most difficult epochs in human history, when materialism, atheism, and communism spread all over the entire globe, like a plague; when revolutions and antichristian persecutions started happening everywhere. Science claimed that Christ was a legend, a myth, that He never existed. And during this very time a giant of the Christian faith arises! A true Christian, who manifests Christian sanctity on the Patriarchal throne! A flame of confessing faith stood on a candle stand seen by the whole world, and glorified our Heavenly Father.

“Patriarch Tikhon is the image of an Orthodox saint, who stood alone against the hurricane of bloody evil: revolution, civil war, mass violence, executions, and murders. They threatened to kill him also, and sent assassins on several occasions. He did not run away from death.” (Source)

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 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.”

Today we give thanks for the witness of Tikhon, who in the midst of the chaos, when tens of thousands of believer were being executed, stood as a symbol of that bright burning Light of Christ and through his witness and faith, gave others the strength they needed in order to stand firm.

Sermon: The Annunciation

The podcast is available here.

The Annunciation was actually this past Monday, but it is such a significant event that we would be remiss in not celebrating it, even if it does fall so close to Holy Week; however, unless you believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, it doesn’t have that much meaning.  And if you don’t, then I’ll never be able to convince you otherwise, but if you do…

The angel Gabriel told Mary two things were going to take place in order for her to conceive.  First, the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and second, the Most High God would overshadow her.  That is, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the power of God descending, she would conceive and the child would be the Son of the Most High.  Mary’s response to all this was her fiat: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to Your word.”  God would have found another way had she refused, but none of this would have taken place unless Mary had first said, Yes.

For me, it happened in just such a manner.  I may find myself struggling to understand much of Holy Scripture, but believing in the virgin birth comes as naturally to me as breathing.  For us, it may seem impossible, but as Jesus says, “With God all things are possible.”  

What happened with Mary is what always happens when God decides to act in a person’s life.  We say, yes, to him, his power overshadows, his Holy Spirit makes its home within, and we become a new creation, with the Son of the Most High God being born within us.  What was impossible for us is possible for God.  That is, we become heirs and co-heirs of the Kingdom of God with Jesus. 

Saint Ambrose once preached: “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit after conceiving a son; Mary was filled before. ‘You are blessed,’ said Elizabeth to Mary, ‘because you have believed.’”  Speaking to his congregation, Ambrose said, “You too are blessed because you have heard and believed. The soul of every believer conceives and brings forth the Word of God and recognizes His works. Let Mary’s soul be in each of you to glorify the Lord. Let her spirit be in each one of you to rejoice in the Lord. Christ has only one Mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ by faith. Every soul free from contamination of sin and safe in its purity can receive the Word of God.”

Blessed are those who hear the word of God and cherish it in their heart.  When God comes calling, always say, Yes.  And allow Him to accomplish what you never dreamed or imagined.

Sermon: Lent 3 RCL C – “Repent”

The podcast is available here.

Following the service, a young man who was soon to be ordained a priest found himself alone in the sacristy with the Bishop.  Unsure of what to say, he thought to compliment the Bishop: “Your Grace, that was a great sermon, at times I couldn’t tell when you were talking about God and when you were talking about bishops.”

The Bishop responded, “Young man, in your situation, you would do well to blur the distinction.”

I suppose we all sometimes begin to think we’re just a tad bit better than we think we are.  As we’ve discussed before, we compare ourselves to others.  Everything from our station in society to our work or the car we drive, is a possible point of comparison, so when we look at someone else’s life or things, if we are not careful, we can find ourselves either coveting or judging ourselves better than the other.  In Scripture, Jesus also demonstrates how we compare ourselves with regard to our spiritual lives.  You’ll recall the religious leader who went into the Temple to pray and first began by thinking very well of himself before God, then turned, and looking behind him saw a tax collector and said to God, “I’m sure glad I’m not a pathetic loser like him.”  Today’s Gospel is making a similar point. 

Pilgrims from Galilee had been traveling to the Holy City of Jerusalem.  Pilate, being the nutcase that he is, believed them ready to start a rebellion, so he sent out his guards and had them butchered.  Jesus response, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”  Put another way, “Because they were killed in such a way, do you think they were worse sinners than you?  Do you think you are better than them?”  Jesus answers his own question: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”  In other words, unless you repent, disaster will fall upon you as well, whether in this life or the next.  Same is true of those eighteen that the tower fell on.  Were they far greater sinners than the residents of Jerusalem?  Were they more deserving of such a death?  No, but disaster awaits all those that do not repent.

At the time, and even today, we can mistakenly believe that those who suffer from disaster are deserving, but as Jesus says, The Lord, “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  But, in the context of our reading, the blessings and or disasters of this life, are not a sign or promise of the next, that is why all, the righteous and the unrighteous are called to repent.  You know the verse well, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but as an aside, whenever you hear or quote that verse, remember that you are only quoting a portion of the sentence.  The whole sentence is this, “There is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”  We are now justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  All have sinned, but through grace and faith in Jesus, we are redeemed.  You can’t say the one “A” word, but you can say “Amen!”  Even in Lent there is Good News.

Having been with you all long enough, I don’t see any of you acting like the Pharisee in the Temple, that is, looking at your neighbor in the pew and thinking, “I’m glad I’m not like that loser.”  If anything, I believe we look at one another and wish we could be as righteous as our neighbor in the pew.  The truth is, we all struggle with sin and we are all working to overcome it.  We don’t gather in church because we’re the holiest of holies.  We gather in this place because we are sinners in need of grace that comes only from a loving God.  I’ve shared this with you before, but it is worth hearing many times.  It is from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey: “The Church is not the society of those labelled virtuous. It is the mixed community of sinners called to be saints. When I say in the Creed, ‘I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,’ I am saying that I believe that there is a divine society, and the risen Christ is the glory in the midst of it, and the Holy Spirit is at work within it. Wherever its members respond to the reality about themselves and their calling, the marks of saintliness do indeed begin to appear.”

When we gather, if we will humbly respond to the reality about ourselves, that is our sinfulness, and if we will confess those sins, then the signs of God’s glory and the Risen Christ will begin to appear in our midst.

Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit.  Straighten our crookedness. Fill our emptiness.  Dull the edge of our pride.  Sharpen the edge of our humility.  Light the fires of our love.  Quench the flames of our desires.  Let us see ourselves as you see us That we may see You.  Amen.

Cyril of Jerusalem

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If you believe that the Pater Nostre (aka: the Our Father) is rightly placed at the end of the Eucharistic prayer and if you believe that the correct way to receive the bread during the Eucharist is with the right hand supported by the left hand, both opened, then you can look up to Heaven and say, “Thank you, St. Cyril of Jerusalem.”  He is also the one we can thank for giving us many of the liturgies from Palm Sunday through Easter, and the forms he wrote had great influence over the liturgies in our current Book of Common Prayer.

He was born and lived in Jerusalem during the forth century and later became Bishop of that great city, although at the time, the city had fallen into quite a disreputable state.  Even so, many still went on pilgrimage to the holy sites and as a way to organize the events, Cyril developed the liturgies around Holy Week.  He also provided multiple catechisms for the instruction of those being baptized into the faith, which at the time and to the present day are quite popular, as he had quite the zeal for the sacraments.  For example, with regard to baptism, he wrote:

“This is in truth a serious matter, brethren, and you must approach it with good heed.  Each one of you is about to be presented to God before tens of thousands of the Angelic Hosts:  the Holy Ghost is about to seal your souls:  ye are to be enrolled in the army of the Great King.  Therefore make you ready, and equip yourselves, by putting on I mean, not bright apparel, but piety of soul with a good conscience.  Regard not the Laver as simple water, but rather regard the spiritual grace that is given with the water.  For just as the offerings brought to the heathen altars, though simple in their nature, become defiled by the invocation of the idols, so contrariwise the simple water having received the invocation of the Holy Ghost, and of Christ, and of the Father, acquires a new power of holiness.” (source)

It was this zeal that made his teaching so popular, leading even the faithful to attend and hear.

At his election to Bishop of Jerusalem, a bright cross appeared in the sky of Jerusalem that was seen by all and taken as a sign of God’s approval of the election.  In 1882 he was named a Doctor of the Church, along with others such as Gregory the Great, Augustine of Hippo, and Teresa of Ávila.

Jesus said to his disciples, “‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”  Cyril also opened the minds of many to the meaning of the scriptures and their significance to the teachings of the church.  In a similar fashion, we are called to continue this practice by providing instruction to the youth of our community and to those who are new to the faith, that they too might grow into a deeper knowledge of the Lord.