Sermon: Proper 24 RCL C – Persevere for Justice

The podcast is available here.



The Methodist like to claim him, but John Wesley is one of ours. It was some rabble-rousers that came along later who formed the Methodist Church. Wesley was gifted in many areas, including preaching and teaching, but the one gift that allowed him to have such great influence was his perseverance. A few entries from his diary prove the point:
Sunday, A.M., May 5 / Preached in St. Anne’s. Was asked not to come back anymore.
Sunday, P.M., May 5 – Preached in St. John’s. Deacons said “Get out and stay out.”
Sunday, A.M., May 12 – Preached in St. Jude’s. Can’t go back there, either.
Sunday, A.M., May 19 – Preached in St. Somebody Else’s. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return.
Sunday, P.M., May 19 – Preached on street. Kicked off street.
Sunday, A.M., May 26 – Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service.
Sunday, A.M., June 2 – Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway.
Sunday, P.M., June 2 – Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me.

I want to thank you all for not turning any bulls loose on me. I really can’t run all that fast. Had Wesley quit at the end of May, he never would have known the great success God had in store for him in two days.

Today’s Gospel reading lends itself for one of those sermons on perseverance with examples like that of Wesley and so many others who just didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘quit,’ and it would also be easy to preach a sermon on prayer, how we need to persist in prayer in order to receive those good things, but as we’ve shown in the past, prayer – even persistent prayer – does not always end with God responding as we would like; otherwise, I would have long since won the lottery and be swimming in the Caribbean with you know who. Our Gospel reading would allow for such thoughts, but in telling the parable, Jesus was clear about what the woman was praying for.

First off, we have to remember that this is a parable. It was a few weeks back that we had the parable of the shrewd manager: his master was going to fire him, so in order to make friends, he went out and cut the amounts of what everyone owed his master. His master commended the shrew manager for his actions. It would seem that Jesus was commending the manager for cheating, but then we understood that the story was not a moral teaching, but a parable. It had a very specific point in mind. The same idea applies to our parable from today: we would think that the judge should be representing God, but the judge says of himself, “I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone.” That certainly doesn’t sound like God, but like with the shrewd manager, this is a parable, not some commentary on the nature of God, and the point of this parable is justice. “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’” So the question is: who is the opponent? We hear about them throughout Holy Scripture: from the book of Proverbs:

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.

These and those like them are the opponents of God that the woman is crying out for justice against. She is saying, Lord, can’t you see: there is evil in the world. It is running rampant! It flies in the face of everything you have taught us. Do something about it. Do something about it. Do something about it. And Jesus’ response: if the unjust judge will grant her justice, simply because he does not want to listen to her complaints week after week, then “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” ‘Lord, do something about all the injustice in the world.’ ‘I will do something and I will do it quickly. Just have faith.’ To that, we could respond, ‘Lord, we’re trying to have faith here, but it’s been 2,000 years… I don’t call that ‘quickly.’ So, why won’t you do something against these evildoers? Where are you?’

Bishop Roger Herft, former Anglican bishop of Newcastle in Australia, tells of a Croatian refugee he met in 2001. The man had fled his war-torn country and arrived in Australia some years before. Since then his marriage had fallen apart and he lost custody of his children. In addition, during the conflict in Croatia, twenty-four members of his family, including his 84 year old grandfather and four month old niece, had been killed.

He said to Bishop Herft, “Where is God when it really matters? I’ll tell you where. God has got fed up with us. He has put up a board saying, ‘Gone Fishing’, and has left us to live in this bloody mess.”

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Our own experiences may not be as tragic and harsh, but we know they exist. We would have to be deaf and blind not to see the injustices of the world, anyone of which could lead us to say, ‘God’s gone fishing and left us to live in the mess.’

We see what is around us – as the author of Proverbs said, we see the haughty, the lying tongues, the deceivers, the shedders of innocent blood, the sowers of discord, and so much more – we see all these things and we can lose our faith because we do not believe God will respond, that God will act, and so we do not persevere. We do not persevere, because we see all this and in the midst of all this noise and violence we fail to see what is within us and what is in our midst. And what is that?

Just prior to the words of our Gospel reading, Jesus had said to this same group of people, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold… for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” We see all the noise and violence, and can come to believe that we are futilely crying out for justice to a God who does not hear and does not care, while failing to recognize that what we are asking for is unfolding before our very eyes. Where is God? The kingdom of God is in the midst of you, is within you. God has not gone fishing, it’s just that we are living in the time of the ‘not yet’ and the ‘now.’ The kingdom of God is not yet fully realized, so we must continue to pray for justice, but the kingdom of God is also now, so we must persevere in living into that kingdom and make our God known. Revealing him to others so that they too might be strengthened and have faith.

As a bonus, would you like to know the secret to perseverance? My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá tells us: the secret of perseverance is “Love. Fall in Love, and you will not leave him.” …. St. Jude tells us, “Beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” Our perseverance is not about an act of willpower on our part. Our perseverance is about our relationship with the One who saves. If you truly fall in love with God, then all of heaven and earth can come against you and you will stand firm in your faith, persevering until the end.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, we believe in You as our God and our Saviour. Make us more faithful to Your Gospel and commandments. By sharing in the Eucharist, may we come to live more fully in the life You have given us. Keep Your Love alive within our hearts and souls so that we may become worthy of You. Teach us to value and be thankful for all of Your Gifts. Help us to strive for eternal life. Amen.


Sermon: Teresa of Ávila

The podcast is available here.



Although most of you read the autobiography of Teresa of Ávila and know much of her life for yourselves, I hope you aren’t tired of hearing the stories about her life.  One that I find particularly humorous is about establishment of the religious house in Medina.

All the arrangements had been made, but as they drew near to the town, they learned that an Augustinian monastery that was near by was objecting to the sisters establishing another house.  Reason: the Augustinians believed that Teresa and her little gang of nuns would begin to cut into the alms that the people gave in support of them.  So great were the Augustinians fears that they were prepared to file a lawsuit against Teresa.  Teresa, it would seem, was never daunted.  

The solution: say Mass in the new house before the Augustinians even knew they were in town, for once the Mass was said in a new chapel, it was very difficult to remove anyone.  So, instead of arriving in full day when everyone would see, Teresa and her nuns snuck in at midnight.  Teresa writes: “There we were in the streets, friars and nuns, laden with the sacred vessels and vestments necessary for saying the first Mass and fitting up the chapel: we looked like gypsies who had been robbing churches: if we had run into a night patrol we should have spent the rest of the night in jail.”  (Source, p. 123) How did it work out?  The town of Medina woke up that morning to the ringing of the bells, calling people to Mass, at the new convent… and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Aside from the humor of it all, what strikes me is the significance of saying the Mass.  I could go out and find some building and with the right support, claim it in the name of the church, say Mass and still no one would think twice about demolishing the building as soon as I walked out the doors (or maybe while I was still inside).  To many, nothing special would have occurred within those walls, but for Teresa and the faithful, the Mass was the way of making God truly present.  She writes: “The Lord had given this person such lively faith that, when she heard people say they wished they had lived when Christ walked on this earth, she would smile to herself, for she knew that we have Him as truly with us in the Most Holy Sacrament as people had Him then, and wonder what more they could possibly want.” (Source, p.125)  She expresses there one of the great mysteries of our faith: God chose to humble himself and be born in a manger and God chooses to continue to humble himself and be fully present to us—just as present as he was to the disciples—in the bread and the wine, the body and the blood.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  The same source of the light that shines forth from us is contained within the bread and the wine: Jesus.  When you receive communion, remember, it is not ‘what’ you are receiving, but ‘who’ you are receiving.  And then, in the words of Teresa, ask yourself, “What more could I possibly want?”

Sermon: Proper 23 RCL C – Made Clean

The podcast is available here.


Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

In a small town there was a family in one of the congregational churches with the reputation of being the poorest family in the county. One Sunday, the family just stopped coming to church. After a couple of weeks, the preacher had a theory that the family was so ashamed of the way they dressed that they didn’t want to come out into public.

So the preacher put out the word to his congregation that he needed clothing for the family and got some real nice children’s clothes and some for the mother and the father, too. He took the clothes down to the family and they seemed grateful. They said they would come to church the next Sunday.

But Sunday rolled around and they weren’t there. Sunday afternoon, the preacher went to see them and asked: “Where were you this morning?”

And the man of the house said: “Well, preacher, we got all cleaned up and got on those nice clothes you brought, and we looked so good we decided to go to the Episcopal church.”

The numbers are fun: worldwide, the soap bar industry earned $19.2 billion dollars last year. In the US alone, it is estimated that we go through 11.7 billion bars of soap a year. That’s a lot of lathering up to get clean. The most expensive bar of soap is made in Lebanon and cost $2,800 a bar. It is infused with gold and diamond powder dust. The people who make that bar of soap are very smart, because they know that there are plenty of idiots in the world who will buy it.

Anyhow, when we think of soap, most are only concerned with removing the dirt and unpleasant aromas—to get clean—but when it comes to the Hebrew Scriptures, clean and unclean are something very different.

For example, there are foods that are unclean: most know that bacon is unclean, but did you know that grasshoppers are clean? The lowly shrimp is off limits, but the chicken is fine. There are also things that you can do to become unclean. Touching anything dead will make you unclean. And then there are some things, completely out of your control that can make you unclean, one of which is contracting leprosy (which in this context is a very broad term that defines a variety of skin disorders.) And it was these unclean that Jesus encountered in our Gospel reading today.

As Jesus “entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’”

The Mosaic Law was very clear about what was to take place when a person contracted a certain variety of leprosy, “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45-46) By today’s standards, that sounds harsh, but they didn’t have modern medicine, so a true case of leprosy or other communicable disease (perhaps like the measles) could easily spread to many others, so these persons had to be cut off and removed.

What did it mean for the individual to be cut off? No job, no family or friends (except maybe other lepers), no resources, out in the wilderness outside the city gates, and unprotected, but this wasn’t the worst part. You see, clean and unclean are more accurately translated as pure and impure, and those terms are referring to a person’s relationship to God. And to be impure, with no access to the means of atonement—being made right with God, becoming clean before God—meant that not only are you cut off from the world, but you are also cut off from God. Separated from Him. So, you stand alone, out in the wilderness and cry out, ‘Unclean. Unclean.’ But, you see, I hear those words and they seem more than just a declaration of a person’s current state. Those words also sound like a prayer. A plea to God for washing.

When King David had sinned, when he was impure and cut off from God, he wrote Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
(Psalm 51:1-3)

To me, David is crying out, ‘Unclean. Unclean.’ Yet, even in that state of impurity, David has hope. Hope in God’s love and mercy, for he goes on to say:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
(Psalm 51:1-3, 7)

Lord, I am unclean, but you can wash me. You can make me whiter than snow.

What is the Lord’s response? I refer back to the story of the healing of the leper that I shared with you last week. The leper came up to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me well.” And the Lord responds, “I do choose, be well.”

The Lord’s response: God chose to make us well, chose to make us clean, and he makes it possible through our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. How do we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus?

“All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

We participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus through our baptism. When we enter the waters we are unclean and when we rise we are clean. The old self dies and we are “set free from sin” and raised to an eternal and resurrected life in Christ Jesus. What did our Gospel say: The leper that returned “prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him…. Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Those words, “get up,” have a very specific meaning… resurrected. Jesus said to the man, “Be resurrected! You have been made clean.”

Prior to our baptism, we are like the leper at the feet of Jesus. We are lying in the dust, we are dead in sin, we cry out, ‘Unclean,’ but through our baptism, Jesus says to us, “Get up! I choose to make you whiter than snow. Be resurrected into eternal life with me.”

And what is our response to this gift? Consider the words of the Psalm from today:

Hallelujah!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation….
He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever;
holy and awesome is his Name.

Our response to the Lord is thankfulness, because “he sent redemption to his people.” He sent Jesus… “For God so loved the world…” that we might be with Him.

This morning, I pray, that as we baptize Angelica Rose, you will recall the great work that was begun in you through your own baptism—how you passed over from unclean to clean, impure to pure, death to life—and that in your heart and with your words, you will also return to the Lord and give him thanks.

Let us pray… a few more verses from Psalm 51:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Amen.

Camino: I hated the 230s

Camino physical prep update: it has been awhile since I posted in this category, but the 230s were a beast; however, that statement is in the past tense… “were”! 228.6. Let’s hope the 220s are a bit easier. The goal is 195. I don’t want my excess ‘love’ to weigh more than my pack!

Buen Camino!

Sermon: Proper 22 RCL C – The Mustard Seed

The podcast is available here.



Q: Why was Goliath so surprised when David hit him with a slingshot?
A: The thought had never entered his head before.

Q: If Goliath is resurrected, would you like to tell him that joke?
A: No, he already fell for it once.

The story of David and Goliath is one most of us can tell without having to refer to the text, because it is one of the first we learn in Sunday school, even so, it doesn’t hurt to go back and hear parts of it.

You’ll recall that the Philistines came up against the Israelites to do battle, but instead of all out war, they were both to choose a champion to represent them on the battlefield. The Philistines chose Goliath, a monster of a man. It is believed that he was one of the Nephilim: those we read about in Genesis 6 who were the offspring of the fallen angels and humans (Oh, yes… it’s in Bible!) Yet, among the Israelites, there was not a single soul who could be found to do battle with Goliath, until a skinny little kid showed up: David.

Upon hearing the taunts of Goliath, David declared he could take the giant, but “Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.’” David said, “Just give me a shot.”

There’s a bit more back and forth until Saul finally agrees to allow David to go off and get himself killed. “Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.’ So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.”

There was a bit of back and forth taunting between David and Goliath, and I’m certain a good bit of laughing from those watching, then Goliath “arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out…” … David reached into his bag and took out a mustard seed and hurled it at the giant and killed him.

Another time: “God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark…”… Make yourself an ark made out of a mustard seed.

Moses, when he went down to Egypt land to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” went with a staff in one hand and a mustard seed in the other.

Friends wanted to bring a man who was lame to Jesus, but the house where Jesus was staying was so crowded, they could not reach him, so “they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.” And the bed the man was lying on was made from a mustard seed………. Starting to see a trend here?

“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.’” That actually sounds like something Stephen King might write about: telekinesis—moving objects with your mind. Strike up the soundtrack from the Twilight Zone. But Jesus was not talking about some supposed psychic ability. And he was not talking about your ability to do certain things. The mulberry tree being uprooted and planted in the sea, is not about you or your will. It is about God and His will. It is about God desiring these things to be accomplished. The leper came to Jesus and said, “‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’” Other translations, instead of saying, “If you will,” say, “If you choose.” So, Jesus’ response is, “I do choose.” Faith is believing that if God wills it, chooses it, the mulberry tree will be moved, the giant will fall, the ark will survive the storm, the people will be set free. Faith is believing that if God chooses, He can accomplish the impossible.

When I was living in Montana, before I went off to seminary, there was a fella in our church, Steve, who was about my age. Beautiful wife and two children. Earlier in his life, he had overcome brain cancer, but during the time that I knew him it returned, so we as a church gathered around him and we prayed.

I remember when he sat down and told me how he had to quit driving, because the tumor would cause scenes, like from a movie, in his vision, so he would be seeing the real world and he would be seeing these visions, unable to tell the difference, so he had to stop driving, but we as a church had faith and kept praying.

I remember when he was no longer able to walk, so he progressed to a wheelchair. I remember when he was sitting in that chair and his arms were resting on the armrests and when one of them would slip off, his wife would go to him and put it back up on the armrest, because he was too weak to do it himself. But even then, we had faith. We prayed… oh, how we prayed. And we anointed him time and time again, believing that the Lord will slay the giant. We had the faith of the mustard seed and we knew the Lord would ‘choose’ to heal Steve. And you know what… Steve died.

What went wrong? David, Moses, Noah… they all went to battle with a mustard seed and won. With Steve, did we have less faith than a mustard seed? “Hello, Church. This is God. Sorry, but you were six micrograms of faith short of a mustard seed.” Or, what did we say a minute ago: faith is believing that if God wills it, chooses it, the mulberry tree will be moved. Was it that God just simply chose not to heal Steve? “You, you and you get the golden ticket, and you, ah… sorry. There are only three tickets. Better luck next time.” We really can put such evil thoughts in the mind of God, but perhaps, just perhaps, there’s more going on than we can see.

St. Paul tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But you know, that really isn’t all that comforting, especially when you’re staring into the casket at the one you believed God would heal, but it was J.R.R. Tolkien who wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” Faithless is he who believes that there is a limit to God’s faithfulness. Faithless is he that thinks they don’t have enough faith, but you see, it is not about how great your faith is—it is about how great your God is. Faithless is he that stares into the casket and thinks it is the end, that God has not accomplished the impossible, when he actually has; for “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Faith and the workings of God are a mystery, and that is not a satisfying thought, which leaves room for all sorts of doubts and questions, especially when you are looking for answers, results. But to have the faith of a mustard seed tells me that there is all sorts of room for doubts and questions the size of all creation, but… if you have that one speck of faith in the midst of all those doubts and questions, one sliver of faith in the face of the mystery, then your God who is great and your God who is faithful will move the mulberry tree, slay the giants, part the seas, heal the lepers, and—on the last day—raise the dead to eternal life.

Do not place your faith in your ability to move the mulberry tree. Place your faith in the one who created both you and the tree, and know that the Creator will accomplish His perfect will in you both.

Let us pray: Eternal God, in whom faithfulness is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase our faith in you, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with greater faith submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. Amen.

The Imitation of Christ Project: Bk. 3, Ch. 26


Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

THE EXCELLENCE OF A FREE MIND, GAINED THROUGH PRAYER RATHER THAN BY STUDY 

THE DISCIPLE

IT IS the mark of a perfect man, Lord, never to let his mind relax in attention to heavenly things, and to pass through many cares as though he had none; not as an indolent man does, but having by the certain prerogative of a free mind no disorderly affection for any created being.

Keep me, I beg You, most merciful God, from the cares of this life, lest I be too much entangled in them. Keep me from many necessities of the body, lest I be ensnared by pleasure. Keep me from all darkness of mind, lest I be broken by troubles and overcome. I do not ask deliverance from those things which worldly vanity desires so eagerly, but from those miseries which, by the common curse of humankind, oppress the soul of Your servant in punishment and keep him from entering into the liberty of spirit as often as he would.

My God, Sweetness beyond words, make bitter all the carnal comfort that draws me from love of the eternal and lures me to its evil self by the sight of some delightful good in the present. Let it not overcome me, my God. Let not flesh and blood conquer me. Let not the world and its brief glory deceive me, nor the devil trip me by his craftiness. Give me courage to resist, patience to endure, and constancy to persevere. Give me the soothing unction of Your spirit rather than all the consolations of the world, and in place of carnal love, infuse into me the love of Your name.

Behold, eating, drinking, clothing, and other necessities that sustain the body are burdensome to the fervent soul. Grant me the grace to use such comforts temperately and not to become entangled in too great a desire for them. It is not lawful to cast them aside completely, for nature must be sustained, but Your holy law forbids us to demand superfluous things and things that are simply for pleasure, else the flesh would rebel against the spirit. In these matters, I beg, let Your hand guide and direct me, so that I may not overstep the law in any way.