Sermon: Proper 10 RCL B – “Politics”

The podcast can be found here.


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You have probably picked up by now that I don’t talk politics during the sermon time.  I know a good many priests who can’t go a Sunday without commenting on a soap box political topic, but I’ve always been a firm believer that the pulpit is the place for the word of God, for hearing and understanding the things of Jesus, and that the preacher should not simply be another political pundit.  I recently read a blog post titled, “If Your Church Doesn’t Preach the Gospel.”  The author stated, “Honestly, I sometimes wonder if preachers, and often hearers too, relish ‘newsworthy’ sermons because it gives us a way to avoid the scandal of the Gospel. Which is a real bummer, since the Gospel gives us a way to respond that has nothing and everything to do with what is on the front page.”  (Source) That said, let’s talk some politics… but probably not the ones you are thinking about. 

On September 19, 1486, Arthur was born, the first son of King Henry VII.  As first born son, he was heir apparent to the throne of England.  In order to strengthen his position as King, it was important Henry VII to have his son married off to the right person, so the arrangements for his wedding were underway before he was three years old, and he was officially engaged to Catharine of Aragorn when he was eleven.  Catharine was the daughter of Queen Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, and the marriage would create a strong alliance against the French.  Two years later, a month or so shy of Author’s fourteenth birthday, he and Catherine married.  Six months later, Arthur was dead of an unknown sickness.  However, King Henry VII still wanted the alliance with Spain and as luck would have it, he had a second son, Henry.  Only problem: Leviticus 20:21 – “If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity; he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”  Solution: Catharine declared she was still a virgin, so the marriage to Arthur was never consummated.  In addition, the Pope gave special dispensation allowing the wedding to go forward.  Happy wedding, happy couple… for awhile, but then, there were two more problems: no male children, which means no heir to the throne, and a little tart named Anne Boleyn.  Solution: since Catharine had been unable to produce a male heir (certainly no fault of his own!), Henry declared that Catharine must have consummated her wedding with Arthur to the fulfillment of Leviticus 20:21 – “…they shall be childless.”  It was this same issue, some 1,500 years earlier, that cost John the Baptist his head.

Herod the Great, the Herod that was alive at the time of Jesus’ birth, was nuttier than a fruitcake and paranoid.  So much so that he had his only two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, executed.  At the time, Aristobulus had a daughter, Herodias.  Since Herod the Great felt obligated to care for this girl, she was now an orphan and a minor, he had her married off to her uncle, Philip.

For awhile, all was good.  Philip was next in line to the throne and he and Herodias were happy, even having a child together, Salome.  However, it was discovered that Philip had knowledge of a plot to poison Herod the Great and did nothing about it, so when Herod survived and discovered Philip’s deceit, he punished him, by removing him from the line of succession.  As for Herodias, the Jewish Historian Josephus writes: “Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorce herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod Antipas.”  Herodias had ambitions and being married to a has-been was not in her plans.  She divorced Philip and married Herod Antipas, one of the other sons of Herod the Great.  Herod the Great would die and Herod Antipas, a.k.a. King Herod (the one reigning at the time of Jesus’ ministry) ascended the throne.

Like Henry VIII who married Catharine, the former wife of his brother Arthur, Herod Antipas has done the same thing, marrying the wife of his brother Philip, therefore Herod Antipas is guilty of the same sin: “If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.”

With that background we fill in some of the blanks from our Gospel: Herod Antipas, now King Herod, “sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’”  Herodias had a grudge against John, he had called her out on her sins, and so she wanted him punished, put to death, and the opportunity arose. 

Herod had a big shindig and Salome—Herodias’ daughter from her marriage to Philip—came in and danced the original “dirty dancing.”  She pleased Herod greatly, so he offered Salome anything.  She went and asked momma what to ask for and momma said ask for the head of John the Baptist.  Even though Herod liked John, he had him beheaded, because of all the guest.  He could not lose face.  The guards went immediately, beheaded John, and brought his head to Salome on a platter, who then gave it to her mother.

In the cases of Henry VIII and Herod Antipas, no one wanted them as an enemy, so everyone gave into their desires and overlooked their sins, but there were some who spoke against them, and in the case of King Herod, it was John the Baptist.  John was the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.  We can say that John was beheaded because he pointed at a king and called him a sinner, but the real reason John was beheaded was because He pointed at God and said, “This is the Way.”  

As I said, I don’t like politics mixed with my Sunday morning, but this is truly God’s politics, and whether I like it or not, you and I—every Sunday—are involved in the same type of political activism.  Theologian Jean-Jacques von Allmen writes, “Christianity is a basically political action: it reminds the state of the limited and provisional character of its power, and when the state claims for itself an absolute trust and obedience, Christianity protests against this pretension to claim a kingdom, a power and a glory which belong of right to God alone.  That is why, in gathering together for Christian worship, men compromise themselves politically.” (Source)

By simply gathering on a Sunday morning, we are like John the Baptist, for our actions are crying out in the wilderness, declaring, “Your ways are not God’s ways.  This is the path we must follow.  This is the narrow gate that all must enter who are to be redeemed by God.”  Not only are we declaring to the world that there is truth and another way, but we are also stirring the proverbial pot in a universal way.

Take our prayers, just during the Sunday Liturgy: there are the collects, prayers of the people, confession, the Eucharistic prayer, the Lord’s prayer, our time of worship is a time of prayer.  But, do we know what we are doing?  When we call on the name of Jesus, do we understand what power we are tapping into?  When we make that one simple statement, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”: do we comprehend the magnitude of what we are asking?

Poet and essayist Annie Dillard wrote, “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions.  Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?  The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.  It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.  For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.” (Source)

When we gather to worship, to be with God, it is so much more than simply going through the rituals of the prayer book and reciting nice little prayers.  It is about transforming ourselves and the world we live in, not through our own strength, our own intellect, our own politics, but through the power,  and the politics of God.  And we don’t seek to change ourselves and the world around us according to what we desire, but according to what God desires.

That is what I love so much about the Church.  The Church is not a country club or an audience at a Dr. Phil show.  We are not here to be entertained and we are not solely here for good works and social outreach—the Rotary, Kiwanis, Moose and other civic organizations do a remarkable job in that department—but Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is the  only place where the radical transformation of peoples lives and the world we live in can take place.  It is a place where John the Baptist still cries out, where Jesus still heals, and where God’s redeeming work is accomplished.

No.  I don’t like the politics of this world.  They are human centered, often selfish, and never fulfilled.  But the politics of God… Yeah.  I’m in.  In God’s politics we are all politicians, cast from the same mold as John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness and pointing to Jesus.  Where do our politics unfold?  In the least likely of places.  On our knees. 

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, look upon our community of faith which is the Church of your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to witness to his love by loving all our fellow creatures without exception. Under the leadership of our Bishop keep us faithful to Christ’s mission of calling all men and women to your service so that there may be “one fold and one shepherd.” We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Sermon: Benedict of Nursia

The podcast can be found here.


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When I think of CEOs – Chief Executive Officers – of major corporations, I often think men and women who have only a single focus, which all boils down to dollars, and perhaps, that is why they are in the positions they hold, because it only takes one or two bad quarters and the CEO is looking for another job that may or may not come with an office on the top floor.  My guess is that many are singularly focused, but I suspect, the really successful ones have found a balance in their lives.

Currently, Coca-Cola Enterprises is a company with worth about $89 billion.  Who knew that a little red can was worth so much, but they are involved in far more than fizzy sodas.  From 1986-1991, Brian Dyson was the CEO.  Although not worth as much then as it is today, it was still a powerhouse.  In 1996, Brian was invited to Georgia Tech to deliver the commencement address.  Perhaps they were expecting him to speak on that singular drive for the golden ring, but what they got was a lesson in leading a balanced life.  Brian said:

Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends, and spirit – and you are keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends, and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.

Benedict of Nursia wrote his rule, what we now know as the Rule of St. Benedict, in the 6th century.  Towards the end of the prologue, Benedict writes:

Brothers and sisters, we have asked the Lord 
who is to dwell in His tent, 
and we have heard His commands 
to anyone who would dwell there; 
it remains for us to fulfill those duties.
Therefore we must prepare our hearts and our bodies 
to do battle under the holy obedience of His commands; 
and let us ask God 
that He be pleased to give us the help of His grace 
for anything which our nature finds hardly possible. 
And if we want to escape the pains of hell 
and attain life everlasting, 
then, while there is still time, 
while we are still in the body 
and are able to fulfill all these things 
by the light of this life, 
we must hasten to do now 
what will profit us for eternity.
And so we are going to establish 
a school for the service of the Lord. 

The religious who lived within the walls of the school or monastery were to work toward a life of balance between: prayer, work, study, and renewal or rest.  Whether aware of it or not, this is the type of life that Brian Davis was trying to describe to that graduating class—a life of balance.

I suspect the rubber ball that Brian describes is different for each of us.  For some it may be work, but for others it may be a leisure or rest (why do I doubt that any of us can claim it to be prayer… hmmm.)  But by focusing so much on the one, we can and often times will, lose the others.

Why did Jesus say, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions”?  Answer: because those things we possess often possess us, and like the demons that possessed the sick, the possessions drive us further from God and the other opportunities of our lives.  Therefore, if there is an aspect of your life that is possessing you, that is the “rubber ball,” then work to bring it into balance with the rest of your life, controlling it instead of allowing it to control you.

Sermon: Proper 9 RCL B – “Joe’s Boy”

The podcast can be found here.


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In the early 1800’s the Central American country of Poyais became an exceptional place for the British wealthy to invest their money.  The indigenous people were friendly and hard-working, there was a well established harbor for trade, and the capital city of St. Joseph was uniquely English, sporting all the fineries of society, including an opera house.  And it was the Cazique, a princely title, of Poyais that travelled the ocean to England looking for investors, which he found in droves.  They invested in banks, land, corporations, mineral rights, and even titles.

To show off this great land of opportunity, the Cazique hired a boat, and sold tickets to some of those early investors for them to be the first to arrive.  When they did, they found themselves on the Mosquito Coast of what is now Nicaragua.  There was no harbor.  There was no capital city.  There was no friendly labor.  And there was no Cazique of Poyais.  Why?  Because there was no Poyais.  It was a country that had been made-up by a very hardworking and apparently, convincing con-artist.   

Following his scamming tour through the elite of British society, Gregor MacGregor had amassed a substantial fortune: £200,000, the equivalent of £3.6 billion today.  He died some twenty-five years later in Venezuela, a very happy and wealthy fraud.

The fraudster has accomplished some remarkable tricks.  One sold the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal… twice!  Another sold the Brooklyn Bridge… twice!  There’s Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi (another fraudster) scheme and Enron, both managing to steal millions from investors.  Then there are the other frauds.  Milli Vanilli: a pop duo who sold millions of records and even won a grammy.  Turns out they never sang a note and were lip-synching it all.  Add in the cheaters, plagiarist, false credentials, and you really do wonder who you can trust.  Although I do feel that Mrs. Masinga Mbeki is legitimate and really does need someone to help her move $5 million out of an unnamed country.

Fraudsters have been around since the beginning, some of whom have even claimed to be the Son of God.  Take that Jesus fella.  Everyone knows he’s just Joe’s boy.  Disappears for a couple of years and comes back here claiming that he’s the Messiah.  Even got himself a few “followers” to assist with the con.  We’re not going to fall for that one.

Today in our Gospel, Jesus returned to his hometown and it doesn’t seem to go as planned.  He is now being rejected by his hometown, just as he had earlier been rejected by the religious leaders: the people said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”  Jesus was not surprised by this reaction: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  I would like to think that our reaction would have been different, but I suspect that it would have been quite similar.

We all know ____.  He/she is a relatively good person.  Leads a fine life.  Comes to church, etc., but let’s say that _____ disappears for a couple of years, then returns with a small ragtag group of followers, all of who claim that _____ is the Messiah.  They tell us that _____ is in trouble with the religious leaders in Oklahoma City for preaching the Kingdom of God, but Oh!, did we mention, just yesterday he/she raised a little girl from the dead.  And, before I forget, you should also know that his/her mom was a virgin, and that he/she was conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and is in fact the Son of God.  Riiight.  I may have been born at night, but not last night.  And like the folks in Jesus’ hometown who took offense at him, we take offense at _____.  Who does he think he is?  He’s just Joe’s boy.  He’s a fraud.

The religious leaders rejected him.  His hometown rejected him.  Some commentators state that his family rejected him.  Many others rejected him as well.  But the disciples… the disciples believed.  What was the difference?

A Chinese boy who wanted to learn about jade went to study with a talented old teacher. This gentle man put a piece of the precious stone into his hand and told him to hold it tight. Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun and almost everything under it. After an hour he took back the stone and sent the boy home. The procedure was repeated for several weeks. The boy became frustrated. When would he be told about the jade? He was too polite, however, to question the wisdom of his venerable teacher. Then one day, several months later, when the old man put a stone into the boy’s hands, the boy cried out, “That’s not jade!”

Many believed that Jesus was a fraud, but those who had spent time with him, listening, watching, learning, these understood that he was no fraud.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus revealed himself to them through word and deed and they received him: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”

You can only know Jesus is Lord through the work of the Spirit.  Paul writes, “No one can say Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”  But we can cooperate in this work with the Spirit by drawing near to Jesus and entering into that deeper relationship with him.  By entering into friendship with Jesus.  “You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”  He has called us friends and we must respond.

My friend Thomas à Kempis writes, “You cannot live well without a friend, and if Jesus be not your friend above all else, you will be very sad and desolate. Thus, you are acting foolishly if you trust or rejoice in any other. Choose the opposition of the whole world rather than offend Jesus. Of all those who are dear to you, let Him be your special love. Let all things be loved for the sake of Jesus, but Jesus for His own sake.  Jesus Christ must be loved alone with a special love for He alone, of all friends, is good and faithful.”

By responding to Jesus’ friendship, his drawing near to us – remembering: “We love because he first loved us.” – we come to know him as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Pope Francis made this appeal to all during his sermon at the Easter Vigil in 2013: “Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.”

From the beginning, there have been those who reject Jesus for any number of reasons and they condemn themselves by doing so.  There have also been those who keep him at arms length, never allowing him full entrance into their souls, only seeing him as a “nice idea” or a “morally good person;” however, Jesus gives these a warning: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”  Therefore, do the will of the Father: repent, believe—enter in and know Jesus as the Son of the Living God.

Let us pray: Father in Heaven, when the Spirit came down upon Jesus at His Baptism in the Jordan, You revealed Him as Your own Beloved Son. Keep us, Your children, born of water and the Spirit, faithful to our calling. May we, who share in Your Life as Your children through Baptism, follow in Christ’s path of service to people. Let us become one in His Sacrifice and hear His Word with faith. May we live as Your children, following the example of Jesus.  In His name we pray.  Amen.

Sermon: July 4th

The podcast can be found here.


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St. Paul tells us that Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob all, “confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.”  They looked around at where they lived and all that they had and knew that something was missing.  Perhaps they wouldn’t have been able to put their finger on it, perhaps it was just a feeling of unease, but there was a yearning within for their true home.

C.S. Lewis was one who also wrote of this feeling: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death…”  (Mere Christianity)

Today, we celebrated the 242nd birthday of our country.  Even so, I suspect that even if you believe everything is right, you still look around with the same feelings that Lewis expressed.  Therefore, instead of ranting against or pouring on accolades for our current home, I would like for us to pray for this country as we await our admittance into that Heavenly one.  For as a Christian people, we know, regardless of outward appearances, Our God reigns.  Would you please join me in turning to page 838 of the Book of Common Prayer. 

Almighty God, giver of all good things: We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land.  They restore us, though we often destroy them.

Heal us.

We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They make us rich, though we often exploit them.

Forgive us.

We thank you for the men and women who have made this country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall short of them.

Inspire us.

We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we have often hidden from its light.

Enlighten us.

We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless again and again.

Renew us.

Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun. Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice, and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will glorify your holy Name. Amen.

That we might act as our Savior’s disciples in the fulfillment of this great work, I offer you the words of St. Francis that they may serve as a guide:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace:
where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 

O divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Sermon: Proper 8 RCL B – “Living Dead Lives”

The podcast can be found here.


 

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Austin enjoyed the time he spent with his grandfather, a tough old cowboy everyone knew as “Curly.” The hardened rancher showed his grandson how to ride, shoot, and mend fences. Along the way, Curly even shared little pieces of advice with Austin.

One day, Austin asked his grandfather what he needed to do to live a long life like the one he’d seen his grandpa live. “Oh, that’s simple,” replied Curly. “Just sprinkle a little bit o gunpowder on yer oatmeal every morning, son.”

Austin did that, faithfully, for 93 long years.

When Austin died, he left behind 9 children, 28 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren…and a fifteen-foot hole in the wall of the crematorium.

We are all familiar with page 355 of the Book of Common Prayer.  It is where most Prayer Books automatically fall open to—the Holy Eucharist, Rite Two.  Preceding this is Holy Baptism and the other five sacraments follow.

First, after Holy Eucharist, is Confirmation, then Marriage, which—interestingly enough—is followed closely by Reconciliation, confession.  Then we have Ministry to the Sick (Unction) and burial of the dead, which is not a sacrament.  I don’t have a problem with those last two, per se, but I do have a problem with what is missing, something I believe demonstrates a clear lack of faith.  Perhaps it is just me, but don’t you think we should have at least one page on “Raising the Dead”?

The rubrics, those instructions in the small italics, could simply say: “The celebrant stands and directing his/her voice to the deceased, says in a commanding voice, ‘Wake up!’”  It could even be in all capitol letters, like the Great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic prayers, that way God would know we were serious when we said it.  The committee in charge of the Prayer Book would likely even include a footnote at the bottom of the page that read: “If successful, please contact the national church at 1-800-so and so along with all media outlets.”  As crazy as that may sound to some, I really do think we need it; however, we’ll probably never get it because the funeral home business will cry foul.

Wake up.  That is essentially what “Talitha cum” means.  Some might see it as an incantation that you would find in one of Harry Potter’s books of magical spells, but—as Mark translated the Aramaic for us—talitha cum are only the words that a parent would say to a sleeping child.  “Little girl.  It is time to wake up.”

We can limit our understanding of this event and see it only as one of the extraordinary miracles of Jesus.  A miracle that demonstrates Jesus’ authority over life and death, confirming his promises of eternal life: If he can raise the dead, then he can give us new and eternal life after we have died, through the resurrection.  However, when Jesus spoke those words to that little girl some 2,000 years ago, he wasn’t saying them so that she would only live in the resurrection.  He was saying them so that she would live then.  At that very moment.  Therefore, the talitha cum that Jesus spoke to the little girl is not an isolated event and those words are intended for us as well.

Consider what St. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (5:17)  Notice, Paul does not say that everyone will become new.  Even in the Greek it is “has become new.”  When we “wake up” in Christ, we become new.  We are given new life so that we might live… now.  What is so sad about this is that we can live very dead new lives.

I’m not encouraging you to go out and live some hedonistic self-absorbed life.  Not anything close to it, but let me ask you this: Baskin Robbins – 31 Flavors.  You’ve got all these flavors of ice cream and you, you order the exact same flavor every time (confession: I do the same thing).  I’m a vanilla ice cream kinda guy.  Why?  Because I branched out one time.  Tried Rocky Road.  Disgusting.  Threw most of it away.  The next time, I played it safe and went back to vanilla.  Played it safe the next time as well.  And the next time.  And the next… 

We as a Christian people often think of the “world” as a bad place.  I’ve probably even preached sermons that pointed in that direction, but the truth is, what God creates is not evil and meant to be enjoyed.  To give life.  The wedding at Cana.  It was a party.  Jesus went to it.  When they ran out of booze, he made more!  And it wasn’t ripple!  It was the best.

The Israelites were leaving Egypt and the Lord said, “The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.”  Do you think the Lord brought them into such a bountiful land and then made them sit and stare at it or do you think he meant for them to enjoy it?  To truly live in it and experience what it had to offer?

Anthony Bourdain, he died a few weeks back.  He travelled the world, shared his thoughts, and he had a passion for food.  For him, food can tell you a great deal about people and culture.  The Washington Post ran an article and quoted Pat Younge, former head of the Travel Channel.  Speaking of Bourdain, he said, “Part of what made him so great was that he wanted you to understand more than the obvious. If he went to Paris, he didn’t just walk along the Seine; he went to parts of the city that many visitors didn’t go to because he thought they were key to understanding it. The same was true in Hanoi or Shanghai or anywhere else. He thought you had to find all these areas and really get under their skin.”

He wanted to live.  To taste it all and like an anthropologist, he studied the people through its food.  Bourdain put it this way in his book, Kitchen Confidential, “Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald’s? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head?  I know what I want.  I want it all.  I want to try everything once.  I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, Señor Tamale Stand Owner, Sushi-chef-san, Monsieur Bucket-head.  What’s that feathered game bird, hanging on the porch, getting riper by the day, the body nearly ready to drop off?  I want some.”  He summarizes that by saying, “If you’re willing to risk some slight lower GI distress” over the things you do eat, why not try the “good stuff.”

And everyone thinks: “Fr. John must have been hungry when he wrote this one.  He keeps talking about food.”  Perhaps (I’m always hungry), but this isn’t just about food.  It is about living.  Remember, we are given new life so that we might live… now.

So the discussion on food can become a discussion on people: Do we really want to have hermetically sealed lives, traveling through this world only engaging the people we know, or do we want to live without fear, smiling at the stranger, speaking to the person next to us in line, crossing a societal barrier and engaging the “other.”  

Ice cream can become love: I know these people love me, but I’ve tried to love someone else and it went horribly wrong.  I’m just going to stick with the ones I know or will you live and give love another chance.

God has brought me into the land of milk and honey, but I’m going to stick with hard bread and water.  Why?

Again, I’m not encouraging you to a life of anything goes, but we can taste, without becoming gluttonous.  We can look, without becoming covetous or lustful.  We can feel, without becoming greedy.  We can live, experience life, engage in God’s glorious creation, have joy and happiness without coming to a place of sin.

Put a little gunpowder on your oatmeal.  Try the lightly grilled fish head.  Look the stranger in the eye.  Smile.  Love.  Have an encounter with God’s creation outside of the hermetically sealed.  All of these things are expressions of his great love for us.

Talitha cum.  Jesus calls for us to wake up into a new life.  A new life where we might love him.  Yes.  A new life where we might love our neighbors.  Yes.  A new life where we will change the world.  Yes.  A resounding “Yes” to all this.  But Jesus also called you into a new life so that you might live.  Yeah, you may get the occasional lower GI discomfort, but that’s also just a part of living… and it will pass.

Let us pray: Father, we thank you for coming to give us abundant life. Help us to walk in obedience to your will and your commandments so that we may enjoy your blessings and creation to the fullest, and help us to live in such a way that our joy is visible to the world around us, that we might be living testaments to your great love. In Christ Our Lord we pray.  Amen.

Sermon: St. Josemaría Escrivá

The podcast can be found here.


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Many of you will be starting the book, 40 Years with a Saint, about the life of St. Josemaría Escrivá, so instead of trying to summarize that particular work, I thought I would share with you a passage from Josemaría’s collection of writings, Friends of God.  As we mostly consider various Saints during this time on Wednesdays, it seemed appropriate to choose a passage on how we are to live as we seek holiness in our own lives.  This is from the chapter, “In the Footsteps of Christ.”

“How crystal clear Christ’s teaching is. As usual, let us turn to the New Testament, this time to St Matthew, chapter eleven: ‘Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.’ Don’t you see? We have to learn from him, from Jesus who is our only model. If you want to go forward without stumbling or wandering off the path, then all you have to do is walk the road he walked, placing your feet in his footprints and entering into his humble and patient Heart, there to drink from the wellsprings of his commandments and of his love. In a word, you must identify yourself with Jesus Christ and try to become really and truly another Christ among your fellow men.

“To make sure there is no mistake here, let us read another quotation from St Matthew. In chapter sixteen, Our Lord makes his doctrine even clearer: ‘If anyone wishes to come my way, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.’ God’s way is one of renunciation, of mortification and of self-surrender, but it is not one of sadness or faint-heartedness.

“Reflect on the example that Christ gave us, from the crib in Bethlehem to his throne on Calvary. Think of his self-denial and of all he went through: hunger, thirst, weariness, heat, tiredness, ill-treatment, misunderstandings, tears… But at the same time think of his joy in being able to save the whole of mankind. And now I would like you to engrave deeply in your mind and upon your heart — so that you can meditate on it often and draw your own practical conclusions — the summary St Paul made to the Ephesians when he invited them to follow resolutely in Our Lord’s footsteps: ‘Be imitators of God, as very dear children, and walk in love, as Christ has loved us and delivered himself up for us, a sacrifice breathing out fragrance as he offered it to God.’

“Jesus gave himself up for us in a holocaust of love. What about you, who are a disciple of Christ? You, a favoured son of God; you, who have been ransomed at the price of the Cross; you too should be ready to deny yourself. So, no matter what situation we may find ourselves in, neither you nor I can ever allow ourselves to behave in a way that is selfish, materialistic, comfort-loving, dissipated or — forgive me if I speak too candidly — just plain stupid!”  (Friends of God, #128-129a)

How do you attain holiness and become a Saint?  Be joyful, become a holocaust of love, and don’t be stupid.

From the book, The Forge: “Persevere along your way no matter what happens; persevere, cheerfully and optimistically, because the Lord is bent on sweeping aside all obstacles—Hear me well: I am quite certain that if you struggle, you will be a saint!” (#355)

You may need to cast your nets on the other side of the boat, but persevere and become what God created you to be.  A saint.

Sermon: Proper 7 RCL B – “Storms”

The podcast can be found here.


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At church camp for children one of the counselors was leading a discussion on the purpose God has for all of his creation.

They began to find good reasons for the clouds and trees and rocks and rivers and animals and just about everything else in nature.

Finally, one of the children asked, “If God has a good purpose for everything, then why did He create poison ivy?” This made the discussion leader gulp and, as he struggled with the question, one of the other children piped up, “The reason God made poison ivy is that He wanted us to know that there are certain things we should keep our dang hands off of!”

We could have some remarkably good arguments here this morning if I started talking about how God, “In the beginning…,” created.  However, instead of delving into that quagmire, I just want to look at one particular element of creation: water.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God [read that: while the Spirit of God] swept over the face of the waters.”

There are many stories in Scripture regarding water, and in most of them there are consistent themes.  The water is an uncrossable barrier without the help of God.  The water swallows up the land in the time of Moses killing every living thing except those saved by the ark and the water allowed the Israelites to cross, but swallowed up the Egyptians.  The water is home to the greatest and most terrifying creatures: the behemoth and the leviathan.  It all comes down to the water being chaos, hell, and death.  The water is evil.  David writes in the Psalms: 

Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.

To go into the water was to go into the chaos, the evil, and death.  The Israelites believed this and were therefore people of the land.  Let others go off in their boats, we’ll tend the pastures.  Yet, there were a few fishermen and, as we know, many of the disciples were.  So when Jesus told them to put out on the water to go to the other side, they would not have hesitated, but they would have known not to take the waters for granted, especially the waters of the Sea of Galilee that they were crossing.

The Sea of Galilee is 700 feet below sea level and 200 feet deep. It is 12 miles long, and 8 miles wide at the widest point. Surrounded by mountains and desert brings in the cold and warm air.  We’re in Oklahoma.  You know what that means: storms.  Because the Sea of Galilee is so small and contained, extremely violent storms can come up very quickly, turning the waters into a roiling cauldron.  This is what occurred in our Gospel reading today.  “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.”  

The storm was so violent that even though the disciples were seasoned fishermen, they were terrified and believed they were going to die.  Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat, but “they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’”  Teacher, hell has come against.  Chaos is everywhere.  Death is near.

I think I’ve shared this with you: when I was in college, I worked dog kennel.  We boarded up to 200 dogs every weekend.  The workday started early – 5:30 a.m.  In the four years I worked there, I was only late once, but there was one other occasion when I almost didn’t make it at all.  Cold winter morning and me and my Datusn B-210 were tooling along nicely.  For the record, your cellphone puts out more light than the headlights on this car, but I managed fine until that morning.  The first thing I saw was a small glowing red dot in the middle of the road, about eye level.  It turned out to be the reflector in the middle of a flatbed trailer that was straddling the road.  When I saw it for what it was, I still had plenty of time to stop.  What I didn’t know was that there had been just enough of an ice storm that night to put a nice shine on the road.  I have few memories that actually scare me when I recall them.  That one does.  I can almost feel that flatbed hitting me right about here.  I did manage to stop before the big crunch, but… Teacher, hell has come against us.  Chaos is everywhere.  Death is near.

My friend in Montana has four wonderful daughters.  The oldest, in her mid-twenties, the twins in their early twenties, and Molly who came along a bit later and said, “Surprise!”  Well, on Wednesday afternoon about 4:45 p.m. I was sitting right up there, waiting in vain for one of you lot to come in for confession.  So that my time waiting on you won’t be wasted, I generally do some reading in preparation for the Sunday sermon.  I kid you not, I was reading a commentary by N.T. Wright and had truly just read the sentence that begins, “The forces of evil are roused, angry and threatening…” when the phone rings, it was my friend from Montana.  I’m happy to hear from him, but like the storms rising without warning on the Sea of Galilee… he called to tell me that his oldest daughter had been found dead that morning.  Hell.  Chaos.  Death.

He called me, his friend.  His priest.  He needed to know why.  Why would this happen?  He needed an answer from “the Big Book.”  I didn’t have one.  If you were to ask him, he probably would tell you that Jesus was sleeping in the stern of the boat, while the rest of us are facing the chaos.  He… heck, I wanted to cry out, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’”  Teacher, hell has come against us.  Chaos is everywhere.  Death is… not near… death is hear.  Don’t you care?

I didn’t have an answer for my friend and I don’t have an answer for you.  I don’t know why the storms come up like they do, so suddenly and so violently, but I’ll tell you what I do know.  First, there is hell, chaos, and death and these things are indiscriminate in who they effect.  Movie: The Help.  Deals with race and civil rights in 1963 Jackson, Mississippi. (If you haven’t seen it, rent it.)  At one point in the story, a tornado comes tearing through Jackson.  The main character, Aibileen tells us, “Eighteen people were killed in Jackson that night. Ten white and eight black. God don’t pay no mind to color once he decide to set a tornado loose.”  The first thing I know: there are storms in this world, there is evil, and it will come against anyone it chooses.

The second thing I know: there is evil, but then, there’s Jesus. (You should say, Amen.)  When the evil comes, we look for Jesus and find him asleep.  We wake him and cry out, “Don’t you care that we are dying?”  When he’s awake, Jesus says, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”  I always hear that and think I’m being reprimanded.  “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”  But I’ve come to believe that they are words spoken with deep compassion and understanding.  “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”  Why do I think that?

The incident in the boat: the storm, the evil, the fear, Jesus sleeping and rising, calming the storm… not only is this showing Jesus command over the natural world, but this is also a foreshadowing incident of what is happening and what is to come.  Jesus has been preaching, teaching, healing.  The people love him, but the religious leaders… remember from just a few weeks ago after Jesus rebuked the Pharisees?  “The Pharisees went out right away and began to plot with the Herodians against Jesus, trying to find a way to destroy him.” Jesus is doing the work of God, but the storm, the evil is rising against him.  Later, he is crucified, and instead of sleeping in a boat, he’s sleeping in the earth, in the grave.  On the boat, when in great fear the disciples wake Jesus, Scripture says, “[Jesus] woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’”  Three days after Jesus was crucified, the disciples were again afraid, hiding in the upper room, and Jesus came to them and said, “Peace be with you!”  “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Jesus speaks those words  — “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”—with compassion and understanding because he also knows the evil.  He has entered into the chaos.  He has experienced our greatest fear: death.  And he speaks those words to remind us that even though we also experience these things—evil, chaos, fear, death—he has conquered them once and for all.  He speaks to these thing as he did the sea and says, “Keep your dang hands off.  These are my mothers and brothers and sisters, for they are the ones who do the will of God.”

I don’t know why the storms rise.  I don’t know why the evil comes, but I do know that Jesus does not leave us to face it alone.  I know that he has gone before us and that where the chaos and evil speak death, Jesus speaks life.

The light of God surrounds us.
The love of God enfolds us.
The power of God protects us.
The presence of God watches over us.
Wherever we are, God is,
And where God is, all is well.

Amen.

Sermon: St. Alban

The podcast can be found here.


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“No Trespassing” signs: “No Trespassing: if you weren’t invited, you aren’t welcome.”  “No Trespassing: This is not Disneyland, Tourist are not welcome.”  “No Trespassing: Owner is armed at all times.”  “Is there life after death? Trespass here and find out.”

I read those kind of signs and I’m reminded of the joke about the man who complained to God, because a certain church did not think he was their type and would not let him come in.  God responded: “Don’t worry about it son; I’ve been trying to get into that church for years and haven’t made it yet.”  Yet, to welcome is part of our calling.  As the Lord said to Moses, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Alban, who we celebrate today, was one who understood this.  

Most of what believe about his life is legend.  There are few actual facts other than he lived in Britain and was martyred on June 22 in the year 302 a.d., but it wasn’t until the mid-sixth century that we find someone writing—only a paragraph—about him, which shed some light on why he was martyred.

A Christian priest, later named Amphíbalus (a Latin term meaning chasuble or cloak) was fleeing the pagans in the country north of present day London.  Coming to a house, he knocked and begged entry.  The owner of the house, Alban, who was not a Christian, welcomed him in and hid him for a time.  While there, the priest proclaimed to Alban the Good News and Alban believed, asking to be baptized, but they were betrayed.  A servant of Alban’s reported to the pagans who were searching for the priest and led them to the house.  And it is here that Alban’s hospitality extended to his very life.  He insisted that he and the priest exchange cloaks, clothes so that the priest could escape.  They did, and Alban later turned himself over to pagans.  The Venerable Bede records the trial:  

“Then,” said the judge, “of what family or descent are you?” “What does it concern you,” answered Alban, “of what family I am? But if you desire to hear the truth of my religion, be it known unto you, that I am now a Christian, and employ my time in the practice of Christian duties.” “I ask your name?” said the judge, “which tell me immediately.” “I am called Alban by my parents,” he replied, “and ever worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things.” Then the judge, in a rage, said, “If you will enjoy the happiness of eternal life, do not delay to offer sacrifice to the great gods.” To which Alban answered, “Those sacrifices, which you offer to devils, can neither avail the offerers any thing, nor obtain for them the effect of their petitions; on the contrary, whosoever offers sacrifices to these idols, shall receive the eternal pains of hell for his reward.” 

The judge was not pleased with Alban’s response.  Alban was taken, scourged, and beheaded, making him the first recognized Christian martyr in Britain.  That night, legend has it that a cross appeared in the sky and the angels sang:

“Alban, a man of rare renown,
Has won the martyr’s glorious crown.”

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”  Alban, although a Christian for perhaps only a few hours, understood these words.  Through the words of the priest, he received the Good News, and no longer feared what the pagans would do to him.  He who knows that death has been conquered is not concerned with his own death, but only the will of God and the fulfillment of God’s command to love, not just the one you know, but the stranger as well.

The term “radical hospitality” gets batted around on occasion.  If we wish to practice it, then we can look to Alban to see how it is done properly.

Sermon: Proper 6 RCL B – “The Word”

The podcast can be found here.


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If you are a fan of science-fiction or fantasy novels, you may be familiar with the author Robert Paul “Tad” Williams.  If you are not a fan of science-fiction or fantasy novels, then know that he is an international best selling author.  He has written a few series and one of them, Otherland, is a four book series.  All four of these books were dedicated to his father; however, his father, like some of you is apparently not a fan of science-fiction.

The inscription in book one (1996): “This Book is dedicated to my father Joseph Hill Evans with love. Actually Dad doesn’t read fiction, so if someone doesn’t tell him about this, he’ll never know.”

Book two (1998): “This Book is dedicated to my father Joseph Hill Evans with love. As I said before, Dad doesn’t read fiction. He still hasn’t noticed that this thing is dedicated to him. This is Volume Two – let’s see how many more until he catches on.”

Book three (1999): “This is still dedicated to you-know-who, even if he doesn’t.  Maybe we can keep this a secret all the way to the final volume.”

Book four (2001): “My father still hasn’t actually cracked any of the books – so, no, he still hasn’t noticed. I think I’m just going to have to tell him. Maybe I should break it to him gently. Everyone here who hasn’t had a book dedicated to them, take three steps forward. Whoops, Dad, hang on there for a second…”

From 1996 to 2001—five years—Dad did not crack one of his son’s books to see the dedication.  My recommendation, if someone you know publishes a book, take a few minutes and at least flip through it.  You never know.  Now, and don’t let this sting too much, but as astonishing as that story is, what is even more astonishing is that I know Christians who haven’t seen the inside of a Bible in the last five years—if not longer.  So today, and I don’t know if this is technically a sermon or not, I want to encourage you to do more with your Bible than just dust if off when you think I might be stopping by.

So, how do we begin?  My friend Thomas à Kempis writes, “Our curiosity often impedes our reading of the Scriptures, when we wish to understand and mull over what we ought simply to read and pass by.  If you would profit from it, therefore, read with humility, simplicity, and faith, and never seek a reputation for being learned.”

That is truth.  There are many mysteries contained within the words of Holy Scriptures and many of those mysteries are without answers.  Take for example, within the book of Daniel, there is a passage known as the Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks.  It speaks of sixty-two weeks here, desolation, a week of a covenant, a half week following where sacrifices cease, and so on.  It is fascinating.  People drown in this, seeking to know what it means and how to apply it to today, going as far as to predict the day of Jesus’ second coming.  As Brother Thomas pointed out, their curiosity at delving the mystery impedes them from seeing what God has revealed; therefore, we should read and know these passages, and then feel confident in moving on, knowing that God will reveal the meaning behind such passages when he chooses.  But there is a difference between something that is a mystery to us all that should be read with simplicity and faith, and a mystery or passage that can be understood with a bit of study.  And don’t say, “Oh, study!  That’s what we hired you for Fr. John.”  Nope.  That’s not how it works.  As we read today, even the disciples had to study and have tutoring lessons: Jesus only taught in “parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”

Just using the first parable, I want to show you what a bit of study can do and further the understanding of Holy Scripture and of God—and trust me, I didn’t know all this before I sat down and started studying this week.

The parable: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

On the surface, this is a parable about the Kingdom of God and how much of the work is done in secret, in the soul of the one who would believe.  We don’t see this work—the germination of the seed, the putting down of roots, etc.—just as we don’t see the work of the Holy Spirit and how it begins within a person’s soul until, like the plant breaking the surface of the ground, the person’s faith becomes obvious and begins to grow.  As the plant matures, as the soul matures in faith, both produce good fruit.  When the harvest is ready, the farmer brings that fruit into his storehouse, just as God brings us into his eternal kingdom.  A careful reading shows us these things, but through our study, we can learn so much more.  

Consider this: at the end of the parable, Jesus said that the farmer “goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”  Simple enough, that’s what a farmer does and we understand that’s what God will do, but through study, we discover that this is actually a quote coming from the book of the Prophet Joel.  What is the book of Joel about?  Briefly, a plague of locust had swarmed through the land and destroyed everything, which led to a great famine.  Joel says to the people, it is because of your sin, your turning from God, that has brought this plague upon you.  He uses it as a opportunity to tell the people how God will punish those who turn from him.  Then, towards the end of the book is the verse that Jesus quoted partially: 

“Put in the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
for the wine press is full.
The vats overflow,
for their wickedness is great.” (Joel 3:13)

Joel is saying, the Kingdom of God is at hand and your judgment is near.  And further, a student of the Scripture would then be reminded of other passages in Joel, in particular, the great message of hope and of the Messiah: 

“Then afterward
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.  The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.  Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:28-32a)

And then, the student of Holy Scripture, will also remember… St. Peter quoted that passage on the Day of Pentecost! (cf. Acts 2:21)  On the day that God poured out his Holy Spirit upon us all.

On the surface, you have this innocuous parable about a farmer planting seeds, but as you dig and study, you discover the entire Gospel message: the people have turned away from God, but the Kingdom of God is at hand and judgment is near, the Messiah is with us, God is giving himself and pouring out His Holy Spirit.  

That is only one example of where study can lead you with just this one short parable (don’t get me started on how the resurrection is also revealed in this passage or we’ll be here all day!)

Because we have such easy access to Holy Scripture (87% of Americans have a Bible in their homes and on average, these homes have three or more copies/source), we can sometimes take if for granted, but it is not like this everywhere.  In the mid-1980s  a large shipment of bibles entered Romania from the West, and the dictator’s lieutenants confiscated them, shredded them, and turned them into pulp. Then they had the pulp reconstituted into toilet paper and sold to the West.  That was thirty or so years ago, but there are plenty of stories like it still today.

In our church, we process the Book of the Gospels, we hold it high, the book can be censed, it is brought out into the midst of the congregation so that you can see it, it is sealed with the Cross of Christ, the text itself is kissed.  We do these things, not for tradition or for ritual.  We do these things because this is God’s Word to us.  It is His love letter to His people and just as you do or may have read and reread a love letter from a sweetheart until its falling apart because you’ve folded and unfolded it so many times,  so I encourage you to do the same with Holy Scripture and discover what God has to speak to you today.  

Let us pray: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.