Sermon: Proper 19 RCL A – “Beloved”

The complete service can be found here.



The only time I’ve really ever thought about suing someone was because they were being a complete and total jerk. I just think if you’re going to act like that, you should be treated like that. However, there are some who are very creative in their search for suing and the easy dollar.

You’ve probably heard of the energy drink “Red Bull.” Their original ad campaign was pretty clever, “Red Bull gives you wings.” Well, some smart fella discovered that Red Bull actually does not give you wings, literally or figuratively, so he sued. Red Bull settled out of court for $640,000.

Or take the judge who lived in the Washington D.C. area. He took his pants to the dry cleaners, but when he came to pick them up, they weren’t there. Turns out that the dry cleaners has multiple locations and the pants had been delivered to the wrong one. The pants were found and presented to the judge; however, he claims the pants were not his and stating that dry cleaners promoted “satisfaction guaranteed,” he sued them for damages. What did he decide that his pants and time were worth? $67 million. Given the fact that this man was a judge in D.C. should have told us something about his character, but he is also one that I would sue for “being a jerk.”

I don’t really know what it is about some folks who feel the need to sue every time someone sneezes in their direction, but it seems there is no end to it. I would say that there are some cases that are truly legitimate, but others not so much. These are surely for the easy money, but I also think these are oftentimes about being right or a “legal” vindictiveness.

In our Gospel reading last week, Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

When someone sins against us, there can be times in our need to be right or simply out of vindictiveness, that we want to or even will skip those first two steps and go directly to “telling the church” or just expelling them all together. In these cases, telling the church isn’t really about an attempt at reconciliation or to bring someone back into the fold. No. It’s about gossip and it’s about getting people on our side. A judging in the court of public opinion. Get enough people to side with you and regardless if you’re right or wrong, you win. Again, it never was about reconciliation, it was vindictive. Getting even with them for what you perceived they did to you. Jesus provides us a roadmap on how to seek and hopefully find reconciliation, but this passage from last week was not the end of Jesus’ teachings on reconciliation, because this week, he dials it up.

Immediately after saying these things, Peter asked, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Peter is wanting to do the math and Jesus response is a formula that goes beyond our understanding. “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” That can also be translated, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.” The number of times we are to forgive is inexhaustible. Seriously? Now, not only can’t we be vindictive, but we have to forgive them, time and time again. This is all that turn the other cheek business and it is so annoying. It is much more fun to get even. Isn’t it? We can plot, scheme, imagine…. “Oh, if they do this, then I’ll do that. If they say this, then I’ll say that. I’ll stick it to ‘em good.” Isn’t that far more entertaining than just forgiving them? Anger. Vindictiveness. These things are exhausting. In addition, you are allowing someone else’s sin, something they did against you, to cause you to sin through your own anger.

Yes, it is OK to go to someone and say, “You hurt me by doing such-and-such.” That’s being an adult. That’s building relationship. And, forgiving someone does not mean staying in an abusive situation. There are a few folks that I have forgiven and I want absolutely nothing to do with them. I’m not going to walk back into something where I know I’m just going to get smacked around again and neither should you. But in our lives, there are many minor hurts that we hang onto and that fester into severe wounds, when we should have simply forgiven. So, how do we go from vengefulness to forgiveness?

Henri Nouwen, one of those beautiful spiritual thinkers and writers, addresses this in an article he wrote for Weavings, a spiritual journal and he further developed in the book, Life of the Beloved. The title comes from the words of the Father to Jesus, when Jesus came up out of the water at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Beloved is also how John and Paul began to refer to the believers. Nouwen writes that the statement, “You are my Beloved,” “reveals the most intimate truth about all human beings.” What is that truth? That just as Jesus was the Beloved, so are we. If that is not true, if you do not believe that you are also the Beloved, then ask yourself why else Jesus would have died on the cross.

When it is revealed to us and we accept the fact that we are the Beloved of God, then we understand that there is no barrier that will separate us from the love of the one who calls us. It consumes and then it transforms, not into something alien or foreign, but the Father’s love begins the process of transforming us into his image. Yet, the gift of being the Beloved is not something that we hold solely for ourselves. It must be shared.

In speaking to another, Nouwen says, “The greatest gift my friendship can give to you is the gift of your Belovedness. I can give that gift only insofar as I have claimed it for myself. Isn’t that what friendship is all about: giving to each other the gift of our Belovedness.” What does that look like as it pertains to forgiveness? In the article from Weavings, Nouwen writes, “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” Forgiveness is the name of love, the great work practiced among the Beloved.

There was a king who had suffered much from his rebellious subjects. But one day they surrendered their arms, threw themselves at his feet, and begged for mercy. He pardoned them all. One of his friends said to him, “Did you not say that every rebel should die?”…. “Yes,” replied the king, “but I see no rebels here.”

How do we go from vengefulness to forgiveness? How do we go from wanting to seek the deaths of the rebels? By recognizing the Beloved in the other. By recognizing that we all rebelled against God, yet he does not desire our death. “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die.”

Instead of beginning by taking someone to court, judging them before others, or calculating the number of times you’ve forgiven—whether it be seven times, seventy-seven times, or seventy times seven times—instead of doing these things, see them as the Beloved, just as you are seen by God as the Beloved, and forgive them, just as you have been forgiven.

Let us pray:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me 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 I 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 17 RCL A – “Silk Thread”

The complete YouTube service is here.


Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

Chief of police Thibodeaux gets a call from one of his deputies on the police band radio:

Deputy: “Chief, we have a case dat we need you to be aware of.”
Thibodeaux: “Mais, what you got deputy?”

Deputy: “Dere has been a shooting at you friend’s house. Boudreaux is in bad shape. Da ambulance just left wit him on da way to da emergency room.”

Chief Thibodeaux: “Oh no, mon ami!! What happened deputy? How did Boudreaux him he get shot?”

Deputy: “His wife chief. Marie shot Boudreaux.”

Chief: “What?!? What in da world is going on? Why for did she shoot him deputy?”

Deputy: “She say he came in from da crawfish pond and walked all over da floor she had just mopped. She say she told him if he ever done it again, she’d shoot him… so she did.”

Chief Thib: “I can’t believe dat me!!! Dat women done gone off da deep end of da bayou!!! I can’t wait to talk to dat crazy lady! Did you arrest her yet deputy?”

Deputy: “No sir, not yet, Chief”

Thibodeaux: “Well son, you got a job to do!! Get on wit it. Get in dere and arrest her right now!”

Deputy: “No chief. Can’t arrest her just yet.”

Thib: “And why not deputy?!?”

Deputy: “Da floor is still wet, Chief.”
Some folks are fast learners like that deputy, where as the rest of us are like ol’ Boudreaux: eventually we end up getting shot. One of my friends use to tell me that the devil is stupid, he’s only got so many tricks. Only problem: we keep falling for them time and time again.

I believe I shared a portion of this during a Wednesday night study, but I also said I was going to preach it sometime, so if you know the story, bear with me. Also, if spiders give you the willies, you may want to plug your ears up for a few minutes.

During my studies at Nashotah House seminary, I would go for some two week summer intensive programs. During those weeks I would stay in the rooms above the classrooms. At night, except for the weekends, there was a good bit of reading and studying that took place, so not much happened. One evening I was out walking along the cloister. It was very warm and the bats were having fun, then I noticed a very large moth caught in a spiders web. I looked a little closer and saw that it was actually caught by only one strand of the spider’s silky web, but it could not get free. The spider was tucked away in a corner just watching, but then, after the moth settled down a bit, the spider came creeping out. The moth was four to five times larger than the spider, but the spider was undaunted. She had played this game before.

I thought the spider would rush the moth and try and wrap it up, but instead, it came very close to the moth and reached out with one leg and—I mean this—gently touch the moth. The moth lost it’s mind and started flapping around again, but was still unable to get loose. Once it tired and settled again, the spider reached out and touched the moth again. Same reaction. This took place several times: touch, lose it, touch, lose it, but then there was a touch and the moth didn’t lose it. The moth remained still, so after a moment, the spider reached out with a second leg and touched the moth. That sent the moth off again, but the spider was patient.

I don’t know how long this went on, I was actually horrified and fascinated. Horrified that I was going to stand there and watch this spider kill the moth and fascinated by the entire process. A short time later it ended. The moth eventually became accustomed to being touched by the spider and so after much patient work, the spider was able to completely crawl up on the moth without the moth reacting at all. At that point, the spider did what spiders do and the moth that was caught by only a single strand of silk was dead.

Just a few minutes ago, Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” And now, Jesus rebukes the one on whom he will build his church: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

As I considered this passage, I kept coming back to the idea of the stumbling block. We know that Peter was acting as a stumbling block before Jesus. Trying to draw him away, tempt him into not fulfilling his purpose. That tells us that we too can be stumbling blocks to other people. Have a friend that’s an alcoholic and you invite them over for a drink, you’ve become a stumbling block. No someone that struggles with gossip and you drop them a tasty morsel: stumbling block.

Just as we can be stumbling blocks to others, they can do the same to us. Then there are the stumbling blocks we didn’t see coming. Someone says or does something to you. Under most circumstances you would just let it go, but on this occasion, anger, this rage bubbles out of you. I believe that most folks who follow the Way of Jesus, strive daily to avoid these types of stumbling blocks, but there is another stumbling block that is far more insidious. These are the ones that we are aware of. It is the one that we keep falling over time and time again. We don’t think much of them, because… well, they resemble a single strand of silk. And when we see it, something of a spiritual amnesia comes over us, or even worse, a desire on our parts to keep it, naively believing that we can control it. We’re slow learners. Like ol’ Boudreaux, we’ve walked over that wet kitchen floor many times, we’ve stumbled over that same obstacle time and time again. And even though we’ve been warned, time and time again, we just can’t remember that this single strand of silk is going to kill us, so we end up getting shot. We get trapped by a single silky thread, and instead of cutting it, removing it from our lives, we allow it to remain. As with the moth, the devil, seeing our predicament patiently waits for us to tire of the struggle, then at a more opportune time, he shows up and gently reaches out and touches us. At first, we resist, but he waits. He whispers, “Surely you will not die.” And he touches us again. We eventually become accustomed to being touched, touched by the devil, sin, and even death, and it is at that point, we are lost. We knew the stumbling block was there. We know it will cause us to fall. And yet, we are surprised when we find ourselves sprawled out on our faces, banged up and bleeding.

My friend, St. Josemaría Escrivá, writes, “How clear the way! How easily seen the obstacles! What good weapons to overcome them!…” We know where God would have us go and we are aware of the stumbling blocks along that way that will bring us down. God has also given us the necessary tools to overcome those obstacles, “Nevertheless,” Escrivá continues, “what side-tracking and what stumbling! Isn’t it true? That fine thread — that chain: that chain of wrought iron — of which you and I are conscious and which you don’t want to break, that is what draws you from your way and makes you stumble and even fall.”

We believe it is a single silky thread that binds us, but we have deceived ourselves. It is in fact a sturdy chain that binds us to death. Escrivá concludes, “Why do you hesitate? — Cut it… and advance!” How do you cut it? Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” You cut the silky thread that chains you to death, by taking up your cross and following Jesus, by allowing him to break the chains that bind you, just as he broke the chains of death that attempted to hold him. Easy? No. Painful? Possibly. Impossible? Jesus said, “All things are possible for one who believes.”

For the record: I put the moth out of its misery and after a bit of chasing around, I killed that dang spider. Yeah, I know. It was only doing what spiders do, but it made me mad. It was only a moth, but I should have cut that single thread of silk and set it free (there’s a sermon in that also on how we are to help one another). I should have set it free, just as, through Jesus, we can be set free from the chains that bind us. “Why do you hesitate?”

Let us pray:
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: Proper 15 RCL A – “Lord…”

The sermon podcast is available here.

The entire service is available on YouTube.


Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Monasteries…

The story is told of a monastery in Portugal, perched high on a 3,000 foot cliff and accessible only by a terrifying ride in a swaying basket. The basket is pulled with a single rope by several strong men, perspiring under the strain of the fully loaded basket. One American tourist who visited the site got nervous halfway up the cliff when he noticed that the rope was old and frayed. Hoping to relieve his fear he asked, “How often do you change the rope?” The monk in charge replied, “Whenever it breaks.”

Another story tells of two monks, Brother Matthew and Brother James, who encountered each other while out for a walk. They look at each other and without saying a word, go in separate directions. Later that day, Brother Matthew goes to the Abbot of the monastery and complains. Seems he didn’t appreciate all the gossip that Brother James had shared.

Monasteries are interesting places and I’m speaking from my brief experience of them. Most of you probably know that this past week I spent some time in a monastery in the eastern part of the state. I was scheduled for eight days, but only lasted six. For me, in an experience like that, you reach a point where you realize there is nothing more to be gained, so you can continue for the sake of continuing, or you can call it a day and sleep in your own bed. I chose the latter, because, as I noted in one of the blog posts I put up, I’m spoiled.

For the full days that I was there, I would get up at 4:00 a.m. and be in chapel before 5:00 a.m., and for the next three hours, we would pray. Most of the praying consisted of reading the Psalms, which I truly love, but this was also about the only part of the service I was able to follow, because it was all in Latin. (The English was there, right alongside the Latin, but there were no cues as to where you were if you got lost.) For me, if I was at the wrong place to start with or I got lost along the way, the rest of the service was a wash. And it would seem that not even the brothers were able to get it right all the time, because for every mistake they made, they had to do penance: step forward, kneel on both knees, and bow for every mistake. If I had been up there with them, I would have gotten on my knees at the beginning of the service and not bothered standing back up again. The entire process was amazing to watch and even more so to listen to. The upside was that if you got that time of prayer wrong, there were going to be six more services (two to three more hours) during the day where you could try and get it right. In six days, there was only one service that I made it all the way through without losing where we were. Perhaps, if you know what you are doing, it would be easier, but it was exhausting work, and all I really wanted to do was pray.

That’s not to say that prayer isn’t work, but when I’m so focused on how to pray, I don’t actually end up praying. So, between services, when it wasn’t a meal time, I would either take a nap, read, or go sit in the darkened chapel and pray as I knew how. It was then that I could draw near to God and my prayer was not work, but joy. I believe this is true for many.

I know a fella who began his deepest prayers by first seeking the Blessed Virgin Mary. He would look for her along an old country road and they would go for walks together. She would then lead him to Jesus. But one day, when he found her along the way, she was not wanting to walk… she wanted to dance. She took both his hands in hers and like children, they danced in great skipping circles. They smiled, then they began to laugh. Jesus joined them. Mary was on his right and the fella was on his left. All three holding hands in a circle. They danced, but after awhile, Mary left the two alone and the fella and Jesus sat in the long green grass. When he looked in Jesus’ eyes, the fella confessed his sins and spoke the things of his heart.

This past week, I also had the opportunity to sit with Jesus in the green pasture during the cool of the day, and the words of David came to my mind:

“Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

That encounter came about, not because of the hours of prayer that I spent praying with the monks, or because I spoke in Latin (which I didn’t), or because I’m all that holy (which I’m not.) That encounter came about because Mary led me to my Savior who seemed to have nothing else to do but sit and talk with me.

Do not think that I am criticizing the prayers of the monks or the way they go about it. I’m not. They are quite remarkable in the practice of their faith, but not all are called to that kind of life. But I’m also in agreement with St. Teresa of Avila: “Much more is accomplished by a single word of the Our Father said, now and then, from our heart, than by the whole prayer repeated many times in haste and without attention.” Our prayer is heard, not because of its length, language, or number of times repeated. Our prayer is heard—no matter how it expressed—when it is spoken from the heart.

There is a great deal taking place in our Gospel reading and much that needs ‘unpacking’ with the incident involving the Canaanite woman, but it is also demonstrates this this topic of prayer.

“A Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’”

Regardless, of how it may have appeared to the people then or us today, this woman was praying. “Have mercy on me, Lord… Lord, help me.” For the sake of the crowd, mimicking their prejudices, Jesus at first refused her, knowing all along that he would answer her, but why did he answer? She was of the wrong creed, not even Jewish. She was a woman speaking to a man. She was not in a synagogue, but out on the street, making a scene out of it all. She did not use fancy words, but spoke her need simply and concisely. All this against her, yet the Lord heard her cry and answered her. Why? Because her prayer was from the heart. “Have mercy on me, Lord… Lord, help me.” She cried out to the Lord and he heard her.

Christogram with the Jesus Prayer in Romanian: Doamne Iisuse Hristoase, Fiul lui Dumnezeu, miluieşte-mă pe mine păcătosul (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”) Source

I would not change one thing about the way the brothers at the monastery pray and I would not change one thing about how we pray when we come here to worship. I love our traditions, rituals, prayers… all of it. As I’ve said to you before, I am never nearer to God than when I am able to stand up there behind the altar and pray the Mass. It is an incredible feeling. I was jealous of Fr. Jim last week, because he was in my church doing what I so love to do, but… in the prayers of our heart, we can set aside all the prayer books, vestments, liturgical prayers, and simply say, “Have mercy on me, Lord… Lord, help me.” And we can know that our prayers are heard, not necessarily answered according to our will, but during those times, Jesus sits with us in the green grass during the cool of the day and listens… he hears the cries of our hearts.

I knew it before I took my trip this past week, but it was a good reminder: you don’t have to be a monk or run off to a monastery in oder to pray, to be heard by God. You only need open your heart to him. Again, St. Teresa of Avila: “We need no wings to go in search of Him, but have only to look upon Him present within us.” Regardless of location, language, form, whatever, speak to God from your heart and you will be praying and he… he will hear.

Let us Pray (St. Teresa of Avila):
Let nothing disturb you, 
Let nothing frighten you, 
All things are passing away: 
God never changes. 
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing; 
God alone suffices.
Amen.

Sermon: Proper 13 RCL A – “Hope”

The sermon podcast is available here.

The YouTube service is available here.


Photo by Sergio Arze on Unsplash

A passenger on an ocean liner was enduring a rough Atlantic crossing. As he leaned over the rail, his face a shade of green, a steward came along and tried to encourage him: “Don’t be discouraged, sir! No one’s ever died of seasickness yet!” The nauseous passenger looked up at the steward with horror and said, “Don’t say that! It’s only the hope of dying that’s kept me alive this long!”

Hope. In The Forresters, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote,
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

Clearly, Tennyson never heard of 2020. But then, hope is complicated, because we hope for so many different things: death in the midst of being seasick, a new job, better world, sushi for lunch, relationships, peace, cure for cancer… the list is inexhaustible, and it is not a bad thing. Hope is what drives us for something better. It brings joy, stimulates the imagination, props us up even on the dark days. It is not a bad thing, but it can also be unreasonable. (For example, I’ve mostly gotten over the hope having a date with Scarlett Johansson, but… one never knows.) Do we always get what we hope for? According to Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones:

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need.”

Unfortunately, that’s not always true either. There are those times when we don’t get what we want, what we hope for and we don’t get what we need. But even then, we do not stop hoping and we never should. John Paul II said, “I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” There can always be hope, for there is only one place where all hope dies. Dante tells us about it in Inferno: the inscription over the gates of hell:

“Through me you enter the city of woe,
Through me you pass into eternal pain,
Through me you join the godforsaken tribe.
Justice moved my exalted Creator:

By the divine power was I erected,
And by supreme wisdom and primal love.
Before I was made nothing had been made
But things eternal, and I too am such.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!”

Hell is the end of hope and I pray that it is something that none of us ever experiences (although some of you should consider confession), but until we enter the final destination—heaven—we will hope. So then, we hope, but where is our hope placed?

The people had discovered where Jesus had gone off to and followed him out into that deserted place. They stayed late. Listening. Being healed. Simply wanting to be near him. The day was coming to a close, so the disciples told Jesus to tell the crowd that it was supper time and they needed go find something to eat. Jesus said, You feed them. The responded, We don’t have enough and we can’t afford more. Jesus response, Just feed them. There’ll be enough. Turns out, there was more than enough. This took place in chapter fourteen of Matthew’s Gospel. It will take place again in chapter fifteen, yet, in John’s Gospel, Jesus is reported to have said to the crowds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Where was the hope of the people placed? In Jesus or in supper? According to John, it was supper.

Early this week I read a blog post by Niel Knoblauch. His blog is called the Barefoot Ascent. Niel grew up and lived in South Africa, but he and his wife now live in the United Kingdom. Niel’s most recent blog entry is called “The Weight of Hope”, and after reading it, I knew I wanted to share it with you, so I wrote to him and asked for permission. He was kind enough to agree.

Like all of us, Niel has hopes, but there was one particular thing that he had been hoping and faithfully praying for. He knows that God is good, so he had faith that God would answer his prayer. Yet, even after praying for this one thing—for almost a decade—he had still not received it, which led him to be disappointed in God. Yes, disappointed in God, but then it hit him. He was convicted and writes, “I have placed the weight of my hope on what I wanted instead of placing it on Him… I’ve placed my trust in what I wanted and placed the question mark on God’s love and goodness, rather than placing my trust in God and the question mark (the discretion of whether this is what is good for me right now) on what I wanted.” His hope was on the thing and the sign of God’s goodness was whether or not God fulfilled that hope.

The multitudes who had been following Jesus around: perhaps, at first, they followed him for who he is, but that later changed to what he could do for them. In his blog post, Niel asked, “Has God’s goodness been on trial in your heart?” For the multitude, the answer was, Yes. I hope he will feed us supper again. I hope he will heal me. I hope that he will be the leader who gives us freedom… because, if he does these things, then he will really prove to us that he loves us. They placed the weight of their hope on what they wanted instead of placing the weight their hope on Him.

Hope is complicated, so we as a Christian people must remind ourselves of where our hope should be directed, because hope is not only an expression of our desires and our wants, Hope is also a person. St. Paul begins his first letter to Timothy by saying, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:1-2a) “…by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” Jesus is hope incarnate, hope made man.

Yes. We have hopes and dreams, but our true hope, above all else, is Christ Jesus. My friend Thomas à Kempis writes, “The wise lover [of God] regards not so much the gift of Him Who loves as the love of Him Who gives. He regards the affection of the Giver rather than the value of the gift, and sets his Beloved above all gifts. The noble lover does not rest in the gift but [the Lord who is] above every gift.” (The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter 6) The Giver, our Hope, Jesus is the one that we seek. The fact that he feeds us, clothes us, gives us those good things we desire… I would say those things are secondary, but the truth is, they aren’t even on the list. The weight of our hope is what lies behind Jesus’ words, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Seek God and then consider the Lillies of the field.

Niel writes that seeking God’s kingdom first, “is part of what it means to surrender the control of our lives to God; to die to ourselves, so that we may live in Him and He may live in us; to really and truly follow Jesus. And it starts with putting the weight of our hope – of all our hopes and dreams – on Him. It starts with trusting Him with the most precious treasures hidden in the deepest places of our soul. It’s vulnerable and it’s messy. You see, only the One who made you, only the One who knows the depths of who you are better than you do yourself, are worthy and able to carry the weight of your most cherished hopes.”

So, consider Niel’s question: “Has God’s goodness been on trial in your heart?” Are you hoping in things that will pass away or are you hoping in the one who is Hope? Turn your love, affections and desires to God, offer them to him, then allow Him to give, to respond to your hopes and dreams according to His eternal purposes.

Let us pray:
You, O Lord our God, are above all things.
You alone are most high, most powerful, sufficient and satisfying.
You alone most sweet, consoling, beautiful and loving.
You alone are most noble, glorious and above all things.
In You is every perfection.
Therefore, whatever You give us besides Yourself is too small and insufficient when we do not see and fully enjoy You alone. For our hearts cannot rest or be fully content until, rising above all gifts and every created thing, we rest in You. Amen.
(adapted from The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter 21)

Sermon: Proper 11 RCL A – “The Will of God”

The sermon podcast is available here.

The Sunday Service is available here.


Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

It was Sunday morning and Harry pulled out of his driveway in his 2-seater convertible, with the roof closed because of the pouring rain, and headed for church.  As he turned onto the main road he saw ahead of him three people at the bus stop, huddled under a single umbrella.  One was Mrs. Fletcher who still insisted on getting to church by herself, despite her arthritis.  There was Dr. Jones, the local General Practitioner. Harry virtually owed him his life after the Doctor had diagnosed a rare disease.  And the third person was Judith. Harry saw Judith for the first time six months before when she had joined the church and had a crush on her ever sense. Only problem, he never plucked up the courage to ask her out. He knew he had to do something, but maybe had less than three seconds to decide what.  There was only one spare seat.  Who should he offer a ride?  Three seconds were enough. What did he do?  He pulled to a halt, jumped out, passed the keys to Dr. Jones, helped Mrs. Fletcher into the passenger seat then waved them good-bye as he huddled close to Judith under the umbrella. Some decisions are easier than others. For the more difficult ones, we can seek what we call “the will of God.”

Before I jump off on this topic and just as a warning: I often joke about reading St. Paul’s writings. They can be very confusing at times. This sermon, in the words of many a rednecks—“Hold my beer.” Let’s see if I can avoid that confusion.

Recently, I’ve been wrestling with the meaning of “the will of God,” and I’ve concluded that it ultimately has to do with the sovereignty of God. So let’s begin there.

The sovereignty of God states that the Lord is in control of all things: omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent: all knowing, all powerful, and all present. Because a butterfly flapped its wings in Tibet, two weeks later a tornado occurs in Kansas. The sovereignty of God states that not only did God cause the butterfly to flap its wings, but God knew, before the creation of the world, that it would, and cause all prior and subsequent events, and he was there when Toto landed in Oz. All of it and everything in between. Perhaps it is a bit more complicated than that, but you get the point. God’s sovereignty places everything in his hands and under his dominion.

It is within this sovereignty of God that the will of God is executed. The will of God is the action or expression of the sovereignty of God. Sovereign is who God is and his will is what God does, which all leads back to the question I’ve been wrestling with: we often say that we want to know the will of God for my life, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the will of God isn’t “personalized” in such a manner. Which means, we can’t really say things like, “The will of God for my life is to be a priest, a barber, to get married, to live here, etc.” Instead there is only “The Will” of God—capital “T”, capital “W”, and we are participants in that Will. So, if that’s true—and maybe all this is heresy—then what is it? If there is only The Will of God, then what is that Will?

The Lord states through the prophet Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone… so turn and live.” (Ezekiel 18:32) St. Paul restates this in his first letter to Timothy: God our Savior “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) The Will of God—not for my life, but The Will of God—period—is for us to have eternal life in Him, and we know that he has provided the Way to that eternal life through the death and resurrection of his One and Only Son, Jesus. That is God’s Will: eternal life in Him. So the question then becomes, if we are participants, then how do we rightly participate in that Will?

My friend, St. Josemaría Escrivá writes: “You and I belong to Christ’s family, for ‘he himself has chosen us before the foundation of the world, to be saints, to be blameless in his sight, for love of him, having predestined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his Will’…’this is the Will of God: your sanctification’. Let us not forget, then, that we are in our Master’s sheepfold in order to achieve that goal.” (Friends of God, no.2)

We rightly participate in The Will of God through our faith in Jesus Christ and the process of participation is our sanctification. Our goal, which flows from our faith in Jesus, is to become saints. Yes, we are called to be saints, we’ve talked about this before, understanding that, in this life, our halo might not always look so great. Nelson Mandela said it of himself, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

Sanctification, becoming a saint, is a process, a process that we never tire of striving for. God’s Will is that we come to faith in His Son and that we strive for sanctification. But… couldn’t he have made this process of sanctification a tad easier?

In the context of the parable today about the wheat and weeds: why didn’t the master order the weeds pulled up? And in Jesus explanation of that parable: why didn’t God simply remove the evil once it appeared? Was it that he couldn’t? Not at all. He is sovereign even over the evil one, for regardless of whether the weeds grow amongst the wheat, the Garden is still his. In His sovereignty, God could have removed evil, but instead, he allowed it to remain. Why?

Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away [to take away the evil] from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this: ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said. The old man said to him, ‘Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’ So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’

Yes. God could have removed the evil, but those who seek sanctification, need it. We don’t become physically strong by sitting in the Lay-Z-Boy and eating bonbons. We become physically strong by exercising, exerting ourselves, and we become strong in our faith by fighting against the evil. It contributes to perseverance in faith, it can serve as correction for when we are disobedient, it causes us to turn to God in seeking care and protection and forgiveness, it is a part of free will, because just as we are free to choose the righteous, we are also free to choose the evil, and it also serves God’s purposes even when we fail, for it keeps us humble. Paul writes, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9a) The evil is in no way celebrated, but it is a tool in the process of our sanctification. It is what makes us stronger as we fight against it. And in the end, holiness returns to all creation: “Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

The fella standing under the umbrella with Judith, watching the Doctor drive Mrs. Fletcher to church: the sovereignty of God puts everything in its proper place, he aligns the world according to his purposes. We exercise our free will through our choices and actions. If we do so rightly, by resisting the evil and working towards our sanctification, then at the end of the age, we, the righteous, the sanctified will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of Our Father.

Let us pray:
Most holy Trinity,
Godhead indivisible,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Our first beginning and our last end,
You have made us
In accord with your own image and likeness.
Grant that all the thoughts of our minds,
All the words of our tongues,
All the affections of our hearts,
And all the actions of our being
May always be conformed to your holy Will.
Thus, after we have seen here below in appearances
And in a dark manner by means of faith,
We may come at last to contemplate you face-to-face
In the perfect possession of you
Forever in heaven.
Amen.

Sermon: Proper 10 RCL A – “Make Your Bed”

The podcast is available here.

The YouTube service is available here.


Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin is getting dressed for school. The first frame of the comic is him pulling on his tighty-whiteys. Next, in nothing but said tighty-whiteys, he standing in front of the mirror flexing his muscles and has a look of total confidence on his face. Charging out the door, he’s ready for the day. It is not the best day: he sits in gum, gets into trouble, gets beat up, doesn’t know the answer, misses the bus and gets caught in the rain. The last frame is him sitting on the bed with his trusty tiger, Hobbes. Remember those tighty-whiteys? Calvin says to Hobbes, “You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.”

That can sum up a good many days for all of us. We’re all ready for the day, but then it is one thing after another. One fail or fall after another.

In the parable today, the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us about the four seeds and then later, he actually explains this parable. The seeds are scattered: some fall on the path, others the rocky ground, more amongst the vines, and the rest in good soil. For me, I understand this parable not only to be talking about an overview of a persons life in general, but I also understand it to speak about daily life, because, like Calvin, I can roll out of the bed with every intention of having a holy and righteous day only to have that plan blown apart almost immediately by any number of things.

You know those games that are mazes? And on the sides are two knobs that you turn, attempting to guide a marble through maze, the only catch being that there are holes all along the path. The makers of the game are very generous in that they even draw the path that you have to follow. I hope Jesus doesn’t smack me for this, but that is pretty much how I understand the parable today. We can start off the day ready to take on the world, but almost immediately there are pitfalls. The devil trying to rob us, the pressures of life dragging us down, and the world trying to entangle us. Occasionally we make it through the day mostly unscathed, but there were more than a few close calls along the way.

The days we make it to the end are tremendous, but is there a remedy to the not so tremendous days? As a matter of fact there is: death. Other than that, we’re going to experience them. So, what’s a person to do?

Admiral William H. McRaven: the things that he has accomplished are quite remarkable, but I doubt most of us would know of him if it weren’t for a commencement speech he gave at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.  Many of you have probably watched it on Facebook or Youtube or something, but…

He’s at the podium in his white United States Navy officer’s uniform with so many medals down the front that it is surprising the weight of them doesn’t rip a hole in his jacket. He is a very confident man and speaker, but also quite humble, so when it came to giving advice to a graduating class, he didn’t start off with any high flying ideas, instead, he started with the very basics.

“Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack — that’s Navy talk for bed.

“It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that we were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

For the record, I am not a bed maker. Gave it up one year for Lent and never looked back, but I get his point: we are to begin each day rightly. Doing those things that are required of us and those things that will make us stronger. When it comes to our life with God, this includes things such as prayer, study of scripture, attention to our duties of state (family, job, self, etc.). These are the “making your bed” items of our Christian life; and they are required in order for us to accomplish God’s will during the day; always keeping in mind that fulfilling these requirements is no guarantee that you won’t fall down one of the holes in the maze, but their fulfillment does build a foundation for our lives, so that when we do fall, we don’t just keep going.

As Admiral McRaven said, “If by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.” You may have fallen down a hole along the way, but because you started your day off with the basics, you have something to fall back on. You may have to begin again, but you have the basics in place. When Calvin was sitting on the edge of his bed after that bad day, he said, “You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.” Well, thankfully there are talking tigers, because Hobbes replied, “Well, you’ve done all you can do.” It may have been a train wreck of a day, but if you start off by making your bed, by tending and nurturing the foundation of your faith, then tomorrow you’re given the opportunity to begin again. In addition—and this is not easy to accept at the time—but even though we may have had a train wreck of a day, if we began that day in faith, then we will have fulfilled God’s will. As the prophet Isaiah said:

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

But why do we do this? Why are we willing, in faith, to try again? Answer: because although some of the seed fell on the road, the rocks, and in the thicket… much of it fell in the good soil. We don’t lose everyday. There are days, despite the holes in the maze, that we produce good fruit. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” We press on that we might win the prize for ourselves and we press on that we might be witnesses to those around us, that through our perseverance and hope they, might further understand God’s calling in their own lives.

Admiral McRaven said, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” (Source) If you want to survive the maze with its pitfall, if you want to attain the prize of heaven—regardless of the number of setbacks along the way, if you want to change the world… make your bed. Each and every day, as Paul also teaches us, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God…” that is—make your bed—put on your faith, secured in righteousness and the promise of salvation, and informed and nourished by the very Word of God. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

Be strong in the Lord and begin each day by putting on those things that will see you through the good and evil alike.

From St. Augustine’s Prayer Book… Let us pray:
Lord, for tomorrow and its needs,
I do not pray;
Keep me, my God, from stain of sin
Just for today.

Let me both diligently work,
And duly pray.
Let me be kind in word and deed,
Just for today.

Let me be slow to do my will,
Prompt to obey;
Help me to sacrifice myself
Just for today.

And if today my tide of life
Should ebb away,
Give me thy Sacraments divine,
Sweet Lord today.

So for tomorrow and its needs
I do not pray,
But keep me, guide me, love me, Lord,
Just for today.

Amen.


Sermon: Proper 9 RCL A – “Heavy”

The sermon podcast is available here.

The YouTube service is available here.



Did you know that whaling is illegal in Oklahoma? Or that people who make ugly faces at dogs may be fined / jailed. And if you’re ever at a funeral in Oklahoma City, don’t tip over the casket, because that’s illegal. Every state has some crazy laws.

In Louisiana, “Biting someone with your natural teeth is ‘simple assault,’ while biting someone with your false teeth is ‘aggravated assault.’”

And in Alabama: “It is illegal to impersonate a person of the clergy.”

Most of us are familiar with the laws that govern us, at least the more obvious ones: speeding, stealing, etc. Even the people that break them are aware of the fact that they are doing something illegal. When we consider The Law of the Old Testament we are referring to 613 laws that were established by God to govern the people. In our Gospel reading, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” it was these laws that he was referring to as a “burden.” Who could keep them? No sooner had you made atonement for the ones you had committed when you discover that you had already broken another.

There is a story about a student at Cambridge University in England who entered the classroom on exam day and asked the proctor to bring him cakes and ale. The proctor refused, expressing astonishment at the young student’s audacity. At this point the student read from the four-hundred-year-old Laws of Cambridge, which were written in Latin and still somewhat in effect. The passage read by the student said, “Gentlemen sitting for examinations may request and require Cakes and Ale.” The proctor was forced to comply. Pepsi and hamburgers were judged the modern equivalent, so the necessary accommodations were made for the student. After all, the law was on his side. Three weeks later the student was summoned to the office of Academic Affairs to face disciplinary action and was assessed a fine of five pounds (about $7.50, the cost of the meal). He was not fined for demanding cakes and ale, but for blatantly disregarding another obscure Cambridge law: he had failed to wear a sword to the examination.

The Mosaic Law was the same way. No one could keep up with the burden of all the obscurities. Addressing this burden, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

There is a legend concerning Jesus which tells of his carpenter years. The legend claims that Jesus was one of the master yoke-makers and folks came from miles around for a yoke, hand carved and crafted by him.

When customers ordered the yokes they brought the oxen with them and Jesus would take precise measurements. After a week or so the owner would return with the oxen and Jesus would carefully place the newly made yoke over the shoulders of the oxen, then he would “fine tune” the yokes, removing rough spots, smoothing out edges that would eventually rub sores, making the yokes a perfect match for that pair of oxen.

When Jesus says, “my yoke is easy”, a more accurate translation of the Greek would be “well-fitting”. My yoke is well-fitting. Jesus is not saying that there will be nothing for us to carry, because we also know that Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” The burden – that is the cross – must be carried, but through Jesus it is one that can be borne by us.

So, we are no longer burdened by the Law as given by Moses. We have exchanged that for the yoke of Christ which is well fitting and light. If this is true – which it is – then why do so many of us still carry around such heavy burdens? Such heavy loads? If you dare look in the mirror, you’ll see the answer. So often, the yoke over our shoulders is not the one that has been tailored made by Christ, instead it is the one you’ve made for ourselves. And so often, we carry these self imposed burdens because of our inability to receive the unconditional love of God.

You all know the story of the Prodigal Son. He received his inheritance before his father’s death and went off and squandered it. Ended up broke and starving. So he says, I will return to my father and be a servant, because at least his servants are treated well. Scripture says he returned, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him.” When his father saw him, what did his father do? He yelled at him and said, “Step one foot on this property and you’re a dead man!” No. Scripture says that the father “was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Yet we hear that passage and we can’t imagine that it is speaking about us. Sure, it is true for everyone else, but not me. We can’t sort it out in our minds and our hearts that Jesus would allow me to exchange the burden of my self-made yoke for the love of God.

We are no longer under the continuous demands of the Law, but we place these huge burdens on our on shoulders before allowing ourselves to receive God’s love. “I can accept God’s love if I do this,” but once we have done “that”, then we say, “God would love me if only I could be forgiven of this”. But it doesn’t stop there, because once we finally forgive ourselves we say, “I will be accepted by God when… if… after… etc… etc… etc.

Think back on the story of Lazarus, the one that Jesus raised from the dead and the brother of Mary and Martha. Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus and tells those gathered there to roll away the stone, but Martha objects, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been there four days.” Jesus says to us, “Live! Throw down your burdens and accept my love” and we say, “Lord, I can’t. I’ve been dead in sin for so long that I stink.” We don’t believe that we are ones who are worthy to receive the life, the love that he is offering.

Thomas Merton asked the question of himself, “Who am I?” Then he wrote the answer, “I am one loved by Christ.” We must divorce ourselves from our self imposed burdens. We must throw them off and learn to say with Merton, “I am one loved by Christ.” Say that with me, “I am one loved by Christ.” Now, believe it. Yes, we were dead, there was a stench, but we have been raised with Christ because of God’s great love for us. We are given new life and “the old order of things has passed away.”

There is the burden of your own cross that you must bear, but it is well-fitted for you. Unlike the Law, it is not a burden that is carried out of command or compunction, but is one that is given and carried out of love, and there is the difference. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” St. John Chrysostom, preaching on this passage, says: “Not this or that person, but all that are in anxiety, in sorrows, in sins. Come, not that I may call you to account, but that I may do away with your sins; come, not because I want your honor, but because I want your salvation. “And I,” says he, “will give you rest.” Set down your self imposed burdens and allow yourself to receive the love of God and find rest in him.

Let us pray: Almighty God, our Eternal Father, from the fullness of our souls we adore You. We are deeply grateful that You made us in Your image and likeness, and that You ever hold us in Your loving embrace. Direct us to love You with our hearts, with our souls, and with our minds. Direct us to love all Your children as we love ourselves. O, loving Father, our souls long to be united to You, and to rest in You forever. Have the Holy Spirit touch us so that we may love You as He does, and as Your Beloved Son Jesus does. Amen.

Sermon: Proper 8 RCL A – “More Water”

The Sunday service is available here.


Photo by Yasuo Takeuchi on Unsplash

Some of you know that I had an issue with kidney stones a few years back.  This is not something I recommend to anyone.  They say the pain is equivalent to a woman giving birth.  Ladies: I am sorry.  We are not worth it.  When everything was back in order, I had several follow up visits with the doctor.  I asked the Doc a number of questions: it still hurts a bit, what should I do?  Answer: drink more water.  How can I prevent them from reoccurring?  Answer: drink more water.  Is there anything else I should be doing?  Answer: drink more water.  I asked: do things like coffee count?  He looked at me blankly, sort of cocked his head to the side and said: drink more water.  At this point, I was beginning to catch on.  Drink more water.  So I do, but what kind?  Do I go with regular old tap water or something a bit more… expensive?  

Apparently when it comes to drinking more water, it’s not just those of us who’ve had kidney stones that think about that one.  The bottle water industry, of course, wants us to think they’ve got a superior product to what comes out of the tap.  Why?  Money!  By 2022 it is estimated that worldwide sales of bottled water will exceed $320 billion.  Not surprising, because a bottle of water is about 300 times more expensive than a glass front the tap.  And how does that industry dupe us into spending that kind of money on something we can more or less get for free?  Answer: fear.  And that fear has two major thrusts.  The first is the obvious: fear that the water coming out of the faucet is dangerous.  There are some instances when those fears are founded, but in most cases, the water in the bottle is no better than the water out of the tap, but the second of those fears is the one that is more interesting and far more subtle, but it is apparently a major driving factor.  

Stephanie Cole, performed a research project on the topic.  Addressing this second fear, she writes, “There is also a deeper subconscious force at work here, one that caters to our desire for immortality.” (Source) Put another way, we spend umpteen billion dollars on bottled water, because we’re afraid of death.  One of the other researchers in the study, Sarah Wolfe, states: “Our results demonstrate that corporate [ad] campaigns appeal to people who measure their personal value by their physical appearance, fitness levels, material and financial wealth, class, and status.”

Do you remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man?  It is in Luke’s Gospel.  Lazarus was a poor beggar who laid at the gates fo the city.  Each day, the rich man passed him by, ignoring Lazarus’ needs.  Eventually, they both die and the tables are turned.  Lazarus is in eternal glory and the rich man is in hell.  Seeing this, the rich man calls out to Father Abraham: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”  Father Abraham replied: “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”

(Now, before you think I’m slapping you around this morning, if you look in my refrigerator, you will find sparkling water in glass bottles, so I’m not judging here!)

Essentially, Father Abraham said to the rich man, you drank bottled water your entire life.  You were concerned more about… what did our researcher say… You were concerned with “physical appearance, fitness levels, material and financial wealth, class, and status.”  You were concerned with these things and you never gave Lazarus a second glance.  In our Gospel reading today, Jesus said, “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”  To the rich man, Father Abraham said, “You want a drop of cool water… a drop… to bring you even a moments relief to your current agony.  Yet all Lazarus was ever really looking for from you was a glass of cool water.  Had you given him one, you would be with us now.”

Our Gospel reading today is the end of the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples before sending them out into the world to do the work of teaching and healing, the work he had been doing.  So, where I do believe that Jesus, when talking about this cup of cool water, is speaking about caring for the physical needs of others, I think the larger context is providing a cup of cool water for the soul, for Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Yes, the disciples when going out were to care for the needs of others, but more importantly, they were to give cups of this eternal life giving water that flowed from them to any of the little ones who asked.  As we too are the disciples of Jesus, that is also our duty.  We must also be the vessels who carry this eternal life giving water into the world, so that we are able to give cups of cool water… so that we are able to share Jesus.  We may not think we are qualified for such work, but the Lord knows differently.

There was once a water carrier in India whose job it was to bring water from the river to his master’s house. Day after day, he would take two pots on a long pole down to the river, fill them up, and bring them back to his master’s house.  One day, he fell, and one of the pots was cracked.

The water carrier continued to use both pots, but by the time he arrived at the house from the river, the cracked pot had leaked out half the water.

As this is just a story, pots can talk and have emotions, and the cracked pot eventually became so ashamed of its inability to properly carry water, that it said to the water bearer, “I ask that you simply break me on a rock and throw me on the rubbish pile.”

The water carrier understood the distress of the pot, so he said, “Today, I’m going to make the trip like I always do, but I won’t fill you up.  I just want you to look around and tell me what you see.  Will you do that?

“Yes,” said the pot, “but when this day is done you are to do as I ask.”

The water carrier only smiled and they made the journey to the river and back.  When they returned, the water carrier asked the pot what it had seen.

“I saw the trees, birds, grass and flowers along the path, but I saw nothing to warrant my continued use.  None of those things had anything to do with me.”

“Ahhh,” said the water carrier, “but it does.  You see, two weeks after I had fallen I noticed that I was leaving a trail of water behind me. That day I took some wildflower seeds and I spread them along that side of the path. You have watered those seeds, which have become flowers, which I pick every day now when I am coming back. Now I do not only grace my master’s table with water, but with beautiful flowers as well.”

None of us may think we are qualified to be the vessels of living water, the ones who are called upon to give cups of cool water to those are thirsty, but the Lord is able to use even a bunch of cracked pots like us.  

We are the disciples of Jesus, the ones who are today called upon bring life giving water to the world, a world that is in just as much agony as the rich man in hell.  The only difference between the story of the rich man and Lazarus and us today, is that it was too late for the rich man.  There was a barrier that could no longer be crossed, but for us today… nothing.  Many need to drink more water… life giving water and we choose, we can freely give it to everyone we encounter. 

At the beginning of this conversation with the disciples, the Lord said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  We are those laborers and we cannot ignore the thirsty.  When he calls, when he asks who will go—who will bear the eternal life giving water into a thirsty world—as his disciples, we respond, “Here am I. Send me!”

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, Lord of the harvest, call many members of our community to be generous workers for Your people and to gather in Your harvest.  Send them to share the Good News of Jesus with all the people on earth, that we may be one body and one people. Father, we ask this prayer through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Sermon: Proper 7 RCL A – “Alligators in the Tub”


Photo by Jackson Jost on Unsplash

The comedienne Gracie Allen once received a small, live alligator as a gag. Not knowing what to do with it, she placed it in the bathtub and then left for an appointment. When she returned home, she found this note from her housekeeper: “Dear Miss Allen: Sorry, but I have quit. I don’t work in houses where there is an alligator. I’d a told you this when I took on, but I never thought it would come up.”

I can actually appreciate that one, not that I’ve ever found an alligator in a bathtub, but these days have presented a great many things that I had never anticipated showing up in my job description. For example: did you know that when it comes to cables that run to microphones and headsets that there is the TS, the TRS, and the TRRS? Well, neither did I, which is why I invested an additional $30 on cables in trying to get the sound better. I had originally purchased the TRS when in fact I needed the TRRS—and for the record, they are not compatible. And don’t get me started on live streaming software. They keep saying “insert stream key” and I keep thinking, unless you decide to tell me where to insert the stream key, I’ma find you and use my imagination. Know what I mean. My goodness. Does that make we want to resign like Gracie Allen’s housekeeper? Not at all, because no matter the job, whether at home or in the world, there will always be those odd, unexpected, and sometimes irritable aspects of our job description and life in general. You roll with it. And these days, if you don’t roll with it, you’ll find yourself pulling out more hair than you’re losing, because the unexpected is the only thing we can expect (thankfully the murder hornet issue seems to have died off.)

We do, however, attempt to plan for the unexpected. If you try to map out every scenario and everything that could go wrong, then the only thing you’ll ever do is plan and not accomplish anything, but if you lay down some broad strokes and are charitable in defining them, you’ll at least have a starting place. That’s not only true for life in general, but also for our life with Christ and one another. St. Paul brought up baptism this morning, so let’s consider it in this context.

In the Rite of Baptism, the candidates (or their Godparents) are asked, “Do you desire to be baptized?” The response, “I do.” What does that “I do,” mean? Six questions are asked which define it: Will you renounce Satan, the evil powers of this world, your sinful nature… do you accept Jesus as your Savior, put your trust in Him and promise to follow and obey him as Lord. And the candidates respond to each of those questions, “I do.” Each one of those questions is a reaffirmation of the desire to be baptized. In saying, “I do,” you are taking on the responsibility, the “job,” of being a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. How you will accomplish the work of a disciple is given next in the Baptismal Covenant, a part of which is the Apostle’s Creed, stating what you believe, followed by the job description: continuing in the apostles’ teachings, the Eucharist, and the prayers; persevering in righteousness; proclaiming the Gospel with your life; serving others; and striving to raise up all people. This job description is laid down in very broad strokes, because it is meant to gather the entire life work of the disciple of Jesus. If we define them narrowly, we can show up to church on Sunday morning and call it good. If we define them charitably… “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And that is what Jesus was saying in our Gospel reading this morning.

Our reading today was from Chapter ten in Matthew’s Gospel. In Chapter four we have the Temptation in the Wilderness, then Jesus calls his disciples, followed by much teaching: salt and light, lust, love of enemies, giving to the needy, The Lord’s Prayer, and more. There have also been healings and miracles: the leper, the centurion’s servant, calming the storm, the woman with demons; and then that great line: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Jesus then gives the twelve disciples the authority to do the things that he has been doing. They too are to teach, heal, perform miracles, just as he has.

He has given them the job title: disciple. He has given them the job description: heal, teach. They have all they need to accomplish the work, so—in chapter ten, verse five—Jesus sends them out, with a few last minute instructions: go only to the lost sheep of Israel, accept no pay, take nothing extra, only one cloak, one pair of sandals, proclaim and heal in whatever village you arrive at. If they listen good, if not… thumb your nose at them and move on. They have the job title, job description and the knowledge on how to go about doing it. But remember he tells them, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” In other words, expect the unexpected. Don’t be surprised if they think you’re the devil, they thought the same of me. Don’t be surprised if some die along the way, that also is expected (and by the way, don’t worry about it if you do, your Father in Heaven knows and loves you.) Don’t be caught off guard if your mother, father, brother, sister, friends and neighbors think you’ve slid off the cracker and want to do you harm. You should expect all these things to happen. You should expect to find alligators in the bathtub. These things are just a part of the job, but if you are faithful, “I will acknowledge you before my Father in heaven.”

All this Jesus summed up in that final statement we read this morning: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Those who find a life apart from God—apart from the life of a disciple—will have the life they choose, but in the end they will lose it all. Those who are joined with God, becoming a true disciple, will lose—that is—freely and sacrificially give up the life they choose, so that they might have the life they were created for and fulfill the will of God.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, writes, “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good… Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’”

Those twelve took the job of disciples, knowing full well that it wasn’t going to be an easy road, but they gave themselves entirely in order to fulfill the will of God, because “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” You and I, we were baptized for the exact same reason as they were called, with the exact same job description. We are also called to give ourselves entirely to the fulfillment of God’s will, living testimonies to the “greater love,” remembering to expect the unexpected (like alligators in the tub!) and remembering that there will be difficulties along the way, but also knowing that Our Father in Heaven knows every hair on our heads and he loves and cares for us, therefore, as Jesus said in three different ways in this reading, “have no fear… do not fear… do not be afraid.” With boldness and without fear, fulfill the work of one who has been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Perform the work of the disciple. As the Lord declared to the Psalmist (50:14-15):

“Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
    fulfill your vows to the Most High,
and call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Who, before ascending into heaven, promised to send the Holy Spirit to finish Your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples, graciously grant the same Holy Spirit to us, that Your Spirit may perfect in our souls the work of Your grace and love. Mark us, dear Lord, with the sign of Your true disciples and breathe in us all things necessary for the fulfillment of your will and our our salvation. Amen.