Sermon: St. Matthew

The podcast is available here.


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The Calling of Saint Matthew / Caravaggo (1599-1600)

Bassanio is in love, but he does not have the money to woo Portia, so he goes to his good buddy Antonio and asks for a loan.  Antonio is a shipping merchant, but all his money is currently tied up, so he asks for a loan from Shylock, who only demands that the money be paid back in three months.  If is Antonio is late, it won’t cost him much… only a pound of his flesh.  Antonio is confident in his ability to repay, so he agrees.  Then comes a storm at sea and two of his three ship are lost.  Three months are up and Shylock is demanding payment.  Antonio doesn’t have the money, so Shylock demands his pound of flesh.  Portia arrives on the scene and pleads for mercy for Antonio.  She says to Shylock: 

“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.” 

That is from Act IV, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice, and I’m always reminded of it when I read those words of Jesus: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Our patron Saint, Matthew, who we celebrate today, was likely despised by everyone.  He was a tax collector.  The Jews hated him because he worked for the Romans and collected from them.  The Romans hated him because he was a Jew and collected from them.  When he was growing up, I can’t imagine that he said to himself, “Ya know, when I grow up, I want a job where everyone hates me,” but circumstances led him to it.  Yet, those same circumstances placed him in the exact place he needed to be in order to have an encounter with Jesus and Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”

That evening, Matthew and other tax collectors and sinners sat at the table for a meal with Jesus.  When the religious leaders saw this, they wanted to know why Jesus spent time with them instead of condemning them.  Why he didn’t force them into the religious system that would bind them to the law and the sacrifices, and Jesus responded, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Jesus said, “I have this radical idea: why don’t we just forgive them?  Why don’t we just love them, because they are in the image of the Father?”  Ultimately, the religious leaders gave their answer to this radical idea: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”  

As we consider ourselves, we can come to believe that the religious leaders are correct.  Our circumstances can be similar to Matthew’s, where we intentionally or unintentionally find ourselves in a life apart from God, and when we consider God, we can believe that there really is no chance for us, so we condemn ourselves.  Instead of, “Crucify Him!” It is “Crucify me!”  I deserve to give up my pound of flesh.  I am deserving of my punishment.  But like Matthew, it is there that Jesus finds us and calls to us, “Follow me.”  When you hear his call, don’t hang your head thinking you are forever lost.  Instead, go.  Sit at the table with Matthew, the other tax collectors, and the sinners—sit at the table with them and with Jesus and “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Understand that the Lord desires to show you mercy.

Sermon: 125th Anniversary of St. Matthew’s

The podcast is available here.


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I feel certain that most of you know this history better than I: on September 16, 1893, 125 years ago today, a strip of land 225 miles long and 97 miles wide, 8,144,683 acres, broken up into 42,000 parcels came up for grabs, and it all began with a land run.  First one to plant his flag could claim the land, that is, if someone wasn’t already there before you.  Hence, the big argument over boomers (those who waited for the sound of the canon indicating the beginning of the run) and the sooners (who got there just little bit early), although, it didn’t always work out for the sooners: one sooner bribed a soldier to hide him in a hole until it was legal to be there.  Paid the soldier $25.  At noon on the day of the run, when it was legal to be there, that particular sooner popped out of his hole to make his claim, only to find four other men had already claimed the land for themselves.  Seeing as how I’ve no way of knowing which of you alls families were boomers or sooners… I’m going to avoid dwelling on that topic!

On the day of the run, it is estimated that over 100,000 individuals were primed and ready to cross into the territory and make their claim—there was definitely not enough land to go around.  Most made the run on horseback and wagon, but others came on foot, the train, and—I was surprised to learn— on bicycle (I figured these had to be the Episcopalians of the bunch, always the progressives!).

I came across the account of Seth Humphrey who, with his brother, made that mad dash on bicycle, not for the land, but for the show of it all.

“At last the eventful morning broke, a day exactly like all the rest, hot and dry, a south wind rising with the sun dead ahead, and a hard proposition for bicyclists… A quarter to twelve. The line stiffened and became more quiet with the tension of waiting. Out in front a hundred yards and twice as far apart were soldiers, resting easily on their rifles, contemplating the line… Five minutes. Three minutes. The soldiers now stood with rifles pointing upward, waiting for the first sound of firing to come along their line from the east. A cannon at its eastern end was to give the first signal; this the rifles were to take up41944132_10217601392571488_6943320770110029824_n and carryon as fast as sound could travel the length of the Cherokee Strip…. the rifles snapped and the line broke with a huge, crackling roar. That one thundering moment of horseflesh by the mile quivering in its first leap forward was a gift of the gods, and its like will never come again. The next instant we were in a crash of vehicles whizzing past us like a calamity…

That night, after some of the dust had settled, Seth and his brother heard gunshots and men shouting.  The following morning, they had a hearty breakfast and it was then that they encountered another fella who had made the run, made a claim, but was apparently unsuccessful in keeping it.  Seth wrote, for the unsuccessful fella “the delicate question [of his claim] had been settled by the gay horsemen in the pitch darkness of the night before. By the time they were through with him he felt assured that he must have arrived about a week late.”  With “considerable heat,” the fella said to Seth and his brother, “I wouldn’t live here next to such neighbors, anyway.” (Source)

Question: if it was that bad and that rough—on the exact same day that this fella was getting the heck out of Dodge—why would a bishop in the Episcopal Church stand in the back of a wagon and hold a religious service on a tract of land that had previously been considered a worthless desert amongst a group of individuals who may or may not be suitable neighbors?  Part of the answer lies with our Gospel reading this morning.

“Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’”

As St. Peter teaches us, God desires that none should perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9), but in order for them to have life eternal they must be able to confess with Peter what he declared to Jesus, “You are the Messiah.”  You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  St. Paul taught in his letter to the Hebrews: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Whoever declares Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ has eternal life.  But then Paul asked a series of question: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”  Bishop Brooke and the clergy from all the other denominations came in as a part of that great land rush to this dusty land with questionable neighbors so that the Gospel could be proclaimed and the Great Commission could be fulfilled: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  And the work of those men and women continues through us, 125 years later.  We are a part of their legacy and a testament to the good seed they planted.

So, the question comes to us: in 125 years (that will be the year 2,143), if the Good Lord has not returned, will the church in this place say the same about us?  Will they look back and say that we also planted good seed?  Did we take what has been given to us and care for it?  Were we good stewards of our founders legacy?  For me, if I were there in the year 2,143, I would look back on you and say, “Well done good and faithful servants.  Well done.”  Why would I say that?

Remember that fella that was headed back north after the land run?  He said, “I wouldn’t live here next to such neighbors, anyway.”  From my perspective, he couldn’t have been more wrong.  You are in fact, some of the finest people I have ever been among, and in big ways and small, you show forth the light of Christ.  You are all Bishop Brookes proclaiming the Gospel through your words and deeds and you are planting good seed, just as he did.  

We are here today because of what took place on this very spot 125 years ago.  I pray that, in another 125 years, they will also be gathered on this very spot remembering the good work that you have done and the good work that you will accomplish in the years to come.

Let us pray: We praise You heavenly Father for the great privilege which is ours this day to humbly come before You, and lovingly praise and thank You as we reflect on the history of our parish which was established 125 years ago.

By Your grace, Lord, this parish has been established and been a place of community, fellowship, worship and preaching. Many people have come and gone from us over the years, and we are thankful for what each one has contributed to our church. We are thankful to the support we have received from our Diocese as well as our community that have allowed us to do the work of furthering God’s Kingdom here in Enid and beyond. We continue to pray for Your gracious Spirit to work through us as we support ministries in our local area as well as those beyond our boundaries.  

May we be faithful in heeding the Holy Spirit in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus and being Your light in Enid and the world. Amen

Sermon: Proper 19 RCL B – “Ephphatha!”

The podcast is available here.


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An elderly gentleman had serious hearing problems for a number of years. Finally, he relented, and went to see a hearing specialist.

After examining the old man, the doctor was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids. The tests showed that the hearing aids allowed the elderly man to hear perfectly. The doctor told the man to return in a month for a quick check up.

One month later, the elderly gentleman was back at the doctor’s office. The doctor said, “Your hearing is perfect! Your family must be really pleased you can hear so well.”

The old man replied, “Ha! I haven’t even told my family yet.”

The doctor was confused.

The old man continued. “I just sit and listen to their conversations. I’ve changed my will three times!”

Our Gospel reading begins with a clue for our understanding: “Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre.”  Jesus set out and went away into the region of the dogs… of the Gentiles.  This is a passage we’ve discussed before, so briefly: the relationship between Jews and Gentiles was horrible at best.  The Jews looked down upon the Gentiles and considered them unclean, so for the Syrophoenician woman to come and speak to Jesus, a Jew, was simply unheard of.  Jesus’ seeming referral to the woman as a dog is so far out of his nature, that we understand something else is taking place, and theologian N.T. Wright describes it as “banter.”  Jesus played the roll of a “clean” Jew who comes into contact with an “unclean” Gentile, but this does not stop him from responding to the woman’s needs by healing her daughter of the demon.

The later Church will use this event as an indicator of Jesus’ mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God to all.  As He said in the Great Commission, “go and make disciples of all nations.”  Even so, this event reminds us of the primacy of the Jews at that time, for it is from them and the Covenant that God made with them, that the Messiah would come.  Perhaps the greatest point we can gain from this event is that it is not the outward appearance of the person—“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)—but the willingness to accept Jesus as the Son of God, so that he may then enter into our lives and bring healing.

From Tyre, Jesus then goes to Sidon, “in the region of the Decapolis,” also a Gentile area.  While there, like in Tyre, he is trying to lay low and not draw too much attention to himself, but he is known and the people soon begin coming to him for healing.

A group brings a man who is a deaf mute and ask Jesus to heal him.  He takes the man away from the crowd and does what they ask.  “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  Not only is the man able to hear, but he is also able to speak clearly.

I read an article written by a young woman, Cristina, who was born deaf and who was six years old when she received a cochlear implant.  After a month, she was able to turn them on for the first time.  She says, “I ran down the hall, screaming. I expected that I would be able to hear instantaneously. That proved not to be the case.  You see, if you never heard before, any unfamiliar sensation feels like pain. I stood at the end of the hallway, half-aghast, half-sobbing since all I felt was pain, and I didn’t hear anything.”  Later that day she heard her first sound, she thought it was a motorcycle revving.  

It took her two years of daily speech therapy to be able to hear and understand a full sentence.  It took another few years before she was confident enough to speak in public.  She said that the first thing she was able to order at a restaurant with her voice alone was a soft-serve ice-cream from Wendy’s.  She says, “I was around 9 and that, to this day, was the best ice cream cone that I’ve ever had.”  In the end, it took ten years of speech therapy for her to be able to hear and speak as you and I would understand it. (Source)

That is the technological way that we say, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  What Jesus accomplished in an instant, in Cristina’s case, took ten years.  Both miracles: a miracle of faith and a miracle of science.  Yet, the event in Sidon is not only about a miracle of hearing and speaking.

Just a short time prior to the events in our Gospel, Jesus had told a parable while still among the Jews.  It was the parable of the farmer who goes out and scatters seed, some falling on the path, other in rocky places, still other among the thorns, and lastly, some on good soil.  Later, he explains the parable to his disciples: “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.  Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.  Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.  Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Soon after saying this, Jesus had a confrontation with the religious leaders, turning to the people he said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand!”  And when the disciples failed to comprehend, he asked them, “Then do you also fail to understand?”  Do you also fail to hear me?

Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God.  He tells them what it is like and how they may enter.  He performs miracles, not just for the miracles sake, but so that when they hear his words they will know and believe that he is speaking the truth to them, and how do they respond?  “Huh?”  “This guy is crazy!”  “What’s he talking about?”  I’m surprised he didn’t shake them so hard that they chipped a tooth, but because he is Jesus and not me, he performed a miracle instead: “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  Jesus opened the ears and loosed the tongue of the deaf mute.  In the same way, he seeks to open the ears of our hearts, which is a miracle that not even a cochlear implant can accomplish.   The ears of our hearts must be opened so that when he speaks, we might hear him clearly and understand what he is saying, and that we might be able to speak clearly and give him praise, recognizing him as the Son of God, so that we might sing with the Psalmist those words we read this morning:

Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

But it doesn’t end there, because what flows from the opening of the ears of our hearts to God, is the opening of the ears of our hearts to one another. 

Most have fallen in love at least once.  Do you remember it?  That person who you could stay up all night talking with and how you hated to be separated from them for even a minute?  But then, if you remained with them for a period of time that sort of wore away, and if it was a relationship that led to marriage, you may just find yourself sort of grunting at each other instead of actually speaking.  Or what about a relationship with a friend or someone else that had been strong for many years, but soured due to various hurts, disappointments, bitterness, or miscommunications?  In these circumstances, we can become deaf mutes in our relationships.  We no longer hear one another, we no longer speak to one another.  In such situations, we need a miracle that is equal, if not greater, than the one that occurred with the deaf mute in Sidon.  We need Jesus to enter into our lives and speak those words, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened,” to our hearts that we might hear and speak clearly to one another again.  

Perhaps this story is really no different than the story of the Syrophoenician woman who accepted Jesus as the Son of God and allowed Him to enter in and bring healing.

“Ephphatha.”  Be opened to God.  Be opened to one another.  Allow the Lord to enter in and bring healing, not only to your lives, but to your soul and your relationships as well.

Let us pray: Lord, You invite all who are burdened to come to you. Allow Your healing Hand to heal us. Touch our souls with Your compassion for others; touch our hearts with Your courage and infinite Love for all; touch our minds with Your Wisdom, and may our mouths always proclaim Your praise. Teach us to reach out to You in all our needs, and help us to lead others to You by our example.  Most loving Heart of Jesus, touch gently our lives which you have created, now and forever.  Amen.

Sermon: Paul Jones

The podcast is available here.


pauljones-290On January 20, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as the 34th President of the United States.  He was a military man.  A five-star General during World War II, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, and Military Governor of Germany following the fall of the Nazis.  Even with such a military background, just three months into his presidency, he gave a speech against increased military spending.  The speech became known as the Chance for Peace speech or Cross of Iron speech.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.  This world in arms is not spending money alone.  It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”  After providing several examples of what could be purchased with all the funds for the American people in the form of schools, hospitals, homes, he continues, “This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

By the end of his presidency, we were deeply mired in the Cold War and even Eisenhower had to give into the necessity of funding wars and rumors of wars.  As we all know, that type of spending continues today.  We have a warplane that cost $150 million… each.  

I believe there are times that we are required to engage an enemy (Just War Theory is a bit too complicated for such a short period of time) and I am not begrudging our soldiers anything, but with $700 billion dollars being spent on the military just in 2018, you do have to wonder what else we might be able to accomplish if we could spend these dollars elsewhere.

Why this talk of military?  Today we celebrate Paul Jones who was the Bishop of Utah from 1914 to 1918, and who in 1917, at the height of World War I, had the nerve to to stand against it as a pacifist.  In a pamphlet he wrote, “As a Christian Bishop, charged with the responsibility of leadership, I would be deserving only of contempt did I remain silent in the present crisis, when the Christian standards of judgment are apparently being entirely ignored. The day will come when, like slavery, which was once held in good repute, war will be looked upon as thoroughly un-Christian.”  I think if you posted that on Facebook today, you would get the same response that Paul Jones received then.  His pacifist stance on war eventually led the House of Bishops to call for his resignation: “The underlying contention of the Bishop of Utah seems to be that war is unchristian.  With this general statement the Commission cannot agree.”  Bishop Jones complied and resigned, but did not give up, going onto assist in the formation of what is now known as the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.

I do not believe President Eisenhower would have agreed with Bishop Jones’ pacifist stance, but their distaste for war would have probably been equal, and I don’t believe that there are many who would disagree with that.

What can our part be in a world with so many wars, both big and small, on battlefields with soldiers and on battlefields of politics and social concerns?  Calvin and Hobbes, probably the most brilliant comic strip ever written outside of Peanuts.  Hobbes is the stuffed tiger who comes to life when no one is looking and Calvin is a young boy and the tiger’s keeper – if tigers can be kept, that is.  One day, Hobbes asks Calvin, “How come we play war and not peace.”  Calvin’s answer, “Too few role models.”  Our part in this world is to be a role model, a disciple of Jesus.  As St. Peter taught us in our reading: we are to be those to desire good days, who control their tongues—not speaking evil, who seek good and peace and pursue it, and who desire to do righteousness.  Those actions may not be pleasing to many, just as Paul Jones’ actions were not pleasing to many, but they will be pleasing to God who will reward you.  As Paul teaches in Ephesians, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do.” (Ephesians 6:7-8)

Sermon: The Ordination of Janie Koch

The podcast can be found here.


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A Bishop visited a parish to administer the sacrament of Confirmation. The Pastor, a young progressive, approved a liturgical dance during the Mass and the Bishop was not advised. During the dance a young lady in flowing robes floated across the sanctuary and in the middle of the dance she presented the Bishop with a rose. As she continued her dance the Bishop leaned over to the Pastor and whispered: “You know of course that if she asks for your head – she will get it.”

Bishop Donald Parsons was my Ascetical Theology professor at Nashotah House.  Over the course of the two semesters that I studied under him, I learned a great deal, but there were two very important points that I have never forgotten.  The first I always share with congregations and St. Matthew’s knows it well: if you want to get along with God, don’t sit in his chair.  The second point is one that is useful to the newly ordained, fail to take heed to it and you’ll find the bishop offering up your head (just ask any of the ordained present).  The second is: bishop’s don’t like surprises.  If you can manage those two things: not sitting in God’s chair and not surprising the Bishop, you’ll probably have a long career as a priest, but there is quite a difference between having a long career as a priest and a ‘fruitful’ calling as a priest.  The career gives you all the perks of any job you might have and plenty of coffee.  The other, the fruitful calling, makes disciples of Jesus, it heals the broken, shines the Light of the Gospel into the darkest corners, it does battle with the devil, it brings the Good News.  But contrary to popular teaching, it is not accomplished by preaching to stadiums of people or by gimmicks or by following the latest “how to” scheme.  So, how does the fruitful calling accomplish this good work of God?  It may not be true for everyone, but for me, I go to another Bishop for the answer: Archbishop of Canterbury, Micheal Ramsey.  In a series of lectures that he presented to a group of young ordinands, he said:

Amidst the vast scene of the world’s problems and tragedies, you may feel that your ministry seems so small, so insignificant, so concerned with the trivial… But consider: the glory of Christianity is its claim that small things really matter, and the small company, the very few, the one man, the one woman, the one child are of infinite worth to God.  Let that be your inspiration… for the infinite worth of the one is the key to the Christian understanding of the many.

You accomplish the work of God, by recognizing the infinite worth of the one.  Yet, our business and our desire to grow, improve the statistics, the ever nagging ASA—Average Sunday Attendance—we can lose site of the one.  Fortunately, the priest has a reminder… it occurs during the celebration of the Mass.

In the fifth chapter of book four of The Imitation of Christ, my friend Thomas à Kempis writes about the priest and the Mass.  He speaks specifically about holding and administering the elements of the bread and wine: “Had you the purity of an angel and the sanctity of St. John the Baptist, you would not be worthy to receive or administer this Sacrament. It is not because of any human meriting that a [priest] consecrates and administers the Sacrament of Christ, and receives the Bread of Angels for their food. Great is the Mystery and great the dignity of priests to whom is given that which has not been granted the angels.”  In the Mass, Jesus becomes present to us and the priests are the ones who hold Him and administer Him.  When we administer the bread and the wine, we do so with the greatest reverence, recognizing the very Body and Blood of our Savior, and it is in this act, that we have our reminder of the one.  For as a priest, we are called upon to handle each individual soul, all of God’s people, in the exact same manner that we handle Christ, for they too are His most precious Body and they are each of infinite worth.  They have his blood running through their veins.  Janie, when you are made a priest, it is not just for Sunday morning, but for every minute of your life, recognizing the Lord’s real presence in everyone you encounter.  Are you ready?

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to that young Timothy who was just beginning his ministry.  In greeting him, Paul said, “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, and without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.  Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Are you, Janie, ready?  I believe you are, for I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Janie and your mother Vereda and your father Terry, and I am persuaded this same faith is in you also.  Therefore, remind yourself always of the gifts of God which will be given to you through the laying on of Bishop Ed’s hands, and live into that spirit of power and love and sound mind, which comes from God alone.

One of my favorite stories from the Desert Fathers (you’ve probably heard it before): Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”  Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Janie, become all flame.  Touch one soul at a time and in the process, you will “set aflame all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you bear in your heart.”  (St. Josemariá Escrivá, The Way, #1)

On the night before he was ordained a priest, Michael Ramsey wrestled with what was coming for him, then he wrote down a few words that reveal a great self-giving to God.  I’ll close with them as a prayer and ask Janie to consider these words as her own, but not only her, because as a Christian people, as the Royal Priesthood of Christ, they apply to us all.

Let us pray: 
‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ How I do need to look away from self to God; I can only find satisfaction in him.
My heart to love Him, my will to do his will;
My mind to glorify Him, my tongue to speak to Him and of Him;
My eyes to see him in all things;
My hands to bring whatever they touch to Him;
My all only to be a real ‘all’, because it is joined to Him.
And this will be utter joy – no man can take it away.
Self, self-consciousness, self-will, the self-center cut away,
So that the center which holds all my parts is God.
Amen.

Sermon: Moses the Ethiopian

The podcast can be found here.


StMosestheBlackI wouldn’t even consider doing it today, but back in his prime, if someone told me that I was going to have to step into the boxing ring with Mike Tyson, I would have submitted my obituary to the newspaper and made all the necessary prearrangements with the funeral home.  I would not have survived unless I could have somehow outrun him.  I remember going to some friends house who had done a pay-for-view of one of Tyson’s fights.  I don’t know how many seconds it lasted, but it was over before I even got in from the kitchen.  He was a beast when it came to boxing and apparently not such a great person out of the ring, having spent three years in jail for rape.  A seemingly massive brutal angry man.

John Saraceno interviewed Tyson for the USAToday Newspaper in 2005.  Saraceno writes, “Almost 39, he is anything but at peace. Confused and humiliated after a decadent lifestyle left him with broken relationships, shattered finances, and a reputation in ruin, the fighter cannot hide his insecurities, stacked as high as his legendary knockouts….

“’I’ll never be happy,’ he says. ‘I believe I’ll die alone. I would want it that way. I’ve been a loner all my life with my secrets and my pain. I’m really lost, but I’m trying to find myself. I’m really a sad, pathetic case.’” (Source)

If you understand that ruthless, but dejected temperament, then you could also very easily be describing Moses the Black or Mose the Ethiopian, one of the Desert Fathers who lived during the 4th century in the the deserts of northern Egypt.

Moses began his life as a slave, became a murder, an outlaw, and the leader of a vicious gang of some seventy other outlaws, however, after many years, he began to have a change of heart.  

It is reported that he would look up at the sun and say, “O Sun!! if you are God, let me know it.” Then he would say, “And you O God whom I do not know, let me know you.” On one occasion, he had a response.  A voice said to him, “The monks of Wadi El-Natroun [of northern Egypt] know the real God. Go to them and they will tell you.”   

He went, but because the monks knew of him and his reputation, they were at first terrified, but soon allowed him access to the teachings of the church.  He became one of them, along with several of his former gang, but his battle with his demons continued and were equal to the battles he had fought in real life.  In the end, he had seventy-five followers who, like him, bravely did battle against the devil.

One day it was reported to him that some of the same outlaws that he had run with were coming and that he would surely be killed.  His followers urged him to flee with them, but he responded, “For many years now, I have awaited the time when the words which my Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, should be fulfilled: ‘All who take up the sword, shall perish by the sword.’” (Matthew 26:52)  He died that day, a brutal sinner, redeemed by a loving God.

The good thief that had been crucified along with Jesus said to the other, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Moses the Ethiopian would have agreed fully with this statement, even so, he found true hope in what was said next between Jesus and that good thief.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The Kingdom of God was open to Moses the Black and remains so to all, even the hardest and most brutal, who will bend the knee to the King of Kings and seek to follow Him.

Sermon: Proper 16 RCL A – “Given”

The podcast can be found here.


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Many years ago, a major American company had trouble keeping employees working in their assembly plant in Panama. The laborers lived in a generally agrarian, barter economy, but the company paid them in cash. After a week’s work, the average employee would have more cash than he’d ever seen—so many of the workers were quitting—completely satisfied with what they had already made.  

What was the solution? Company executives gave all their employees a Sears catalog. No one quit then, because they all wanted the previously unimagined things they saw inside that book.

I am not criticizing anyone, because if I did, I would have to criticize myself (Heaven forbid!) but, when you get your paycheck, do you first think about what you can get… or what you can give?  We all have necessities: food, shelter, clothing, etc., but when – and many cases “if” – there is anything left over, do you pull out the Sears catalog?

This same mindset can also apply to how we live our lives.  Goals, dreams, plans are all good and we should all set them.  It helps us to achieve more in becoming who we were created to be, but we can become so consumed with achieving our goals, our dreams, our plans, that we lose sight of our other obligations, which are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  In the context of giving, these commandments say that we will give ourselves to our God through our worship and we shall give of ourselves to our neighbor through service.  This is not anything new to you, but as I said, we can become so consumed with our own lives, that we lose sight of the other.  Fortunately, almost every time we gather, we are given a reminder of what it is to worship and to give of ourselves. It occurs when we come forward to receive communion, and specifically when we receive the bread.

The presence of Jesus on the altar is not symbolic.  We discussed a few weeks ago that he is truly present to us in the bread and the wine, but much of what takes place during the Mass is symbolic.  For example: you may not see it from where you are sitting, but prior to beginning the Eucharistic Prayer, the acolyte or Eucharistic Minister pores water over the priest’s hands.  The priest says a short prayer: “I wash my hands with the innocent, O Lord, that I might process about your altar.”  Why do we do this?  Everybody responds, “Because your hands are dirty!”  Possibly, but there is also a symbolic meaning to it as well.

In the plans for the construction of the Tent of Meeting that we read about in the Book of Exodus, Moses is told, “Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it.  Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die.” The priest symbolically washes their hands in remembrance of the worship that took place in the Temple.

The same type of symbolism is found throughout the Mass, from the water being added to the wine, to the vestments, down to the number of steps leading up to the altar and the number of sides on a traditional baptismal font.  And in the way that you receive the bread during communion.

For the most part, people receive the bread by coming forward, kneeling if they are able, and extending their hands – the right hand over the left – and the priest places the bread in their hands.  There are also some who receive by opening their mouth and the priest places the bread on their tongue.  But there are others – and keep in mind, this is symbolism, God is not going to smite you for doing it – but there are others who reach up and take the bread.  What is the difference?  What is the symbolism of the act?

Each Christmas, we read that wonderful passage from Isaiah: 

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Later, in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of his coming death: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”

A son was given for us.  No one takes Jesus’ life, but he gives it freely.  The symbolism is that he is given and we receive.  Yet, not only is the symbolism reminding us of other events, but it is also pointing us to how we are to respond.  To understand this… go back to the night before he was crucified.  Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, then he said to them: “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”  The bread, the Son of God, is given to you, therefore, you are to give yourself to God and to others.  You become Peter’s “royal priesthood,” and you are the one that is placing the bread of life in the hands of others, you are the one giving.

You are “given” to God that you might worship and to the world so that you might serve.  Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

In 1941, the Franciscan monk, Maximilian Kolbe was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz.  Over short period of time, three prisoners escaped the camp.  In an attempt to deter others, the commander ordered that ten prisoners be sent to a basement cell where they would be starved to death.  One of these was a Polish man, Franciszek Gajownicek.  When he was selected, he cried out, “My wife!  My children!”  Immediately, Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and said, “I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”  He was allowed and died two weeks later.  Franciszek was present on October 10, 1982 when Pope John Paul II canonized St. Maximilian Kolbe.  Kolbe is widely reported to have said, “Let us remember that love lives through sacrifice and is nourished by giving.  Without sacrifice, there is no love.”

I do not know that any of us will be called on to literally lay down our lives for another, but I do know that every day, each of us are called to sacrifice ourselves in small ways and sometimes great, for the good of others.  We are called to worship and to love one another as Jesus loves us.  We are called to worship and to give ourselves to God and to others just as Jesus worshiped and gives himself to us.

At the end of the service, we say the post-communion prayer.  Everyone knows, say this prayer, get the blessing, sing a hymn, go home, but I hope you also hear the words you are saying, because they are not an ending, but a beginning… 

Eternal God, heavenly Father,
you have graciously accepted us as living members
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ,
and you have fed us with spiritual food 
in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.

We are thanking our Father for instructing us, forgiving us, accepting us, and nourishing us with the Savior’s body and blood, but then…

Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;
through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Send us now….  The end of the Mass is the beginning of our calling.  We are giving ourselves that we might worship the Lord and serve Him, who gave Himself for us.  

My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá writes: “Apostolic zeal is a divine craziness I want you to have. Its symptoms are: hunger to know the Master; constant concern for souls; perseverance that nothing can shake.”  I pray that we all become divinely crazy in our zeal to love God and to love our neighbor through our worship and in the giving of ourselves to others.

Let us pray:
Dearest Lord, 
teach us to be generous;
teach us to serve You as You deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for reward
save that of knowing we are doing Your will.
Amen.

Sermon: Proper 15 RCL A – “Broken”

The podcast can be found here.


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A man observed a woman in the grocery store with a toddler-aged girl in her shopping cart. As they passed the cookie section, the little girl asked for cookies, and her mother told her no. The little girl immediately began to whine and fuss, and the mother whispered: “Now Monica, we just have half of the aisles left to go through — don’t be upset. It won’t be long.”

Soon, they came to the sweets aisle, and the little girl began to shout for chocolate. When told she couldn’t have any, she began to cry.

The mother murmured: “There, there, Monica, don’t cry — only two more aisles to go and then we’ll be checking out.”

When they got to the checkout stand, the little girl immediately began to clamor for lollipops and burst into a terrible tantrum upon discovering there’d be none purchased. The mother patiently said: “Monica, we’ll be through this checkout stand in 5 minutes, and then you can go home and have a nice nap.”

The man was very impressed with the woman’s handling of the situations and followed them out to the car park and stopped her to compliment her, “I couldn’t help noticing how patient you were with little Monica.”

The mother sighed and replied: “Oh, no. My little girl’s name is Tammy… I’m Monica.”

I am willing to wager that if I ask each of you how you are doing, almost all of you will respond with, ‘fine’, ‘good’, or the equivalent.  We must maintain the illusion that we are in control, have it together, and that our lives are beautiful.  Social media is great at helping us to perpetuate this illusion.  I’m happy to post a picture of my beautiful meal at the sushi bar, but for every one beautiful meal I’ve eaten there could probably be 50 pictures of me eating a can of sardines from the can while standing at the kitchen sink.  The same is true with life.  I’ll tell you all about the fun things I do, but I’m not likely to confess that I spent Thursday night binge watching “Friends” until 2:00 in the morning.  And, when it comes to my life with God, I would like for you to believe that I’m dang near a Saint, but the truth is, I’m stumbling along with everyone else.  On the outside, everything is calm.  On the inside, things can be a bit frazzled and all I want to do is go home and take a nap.  Even so, I must maintain the image.  Never showing the cracks.

Not only do I want to perpetuate this image of control in my life, but I also want to maintain the illusion of control in my own mind.    I’m important.  Just ask me!  I’m making things happen.  Brother got game.

“It matters not how strait the gate, 
How charged with punishments the scroll. 
I am the master of my fate: 
I am the captain of my soul.” (Source)

And everybody shouts, “Hoorah!”  And we continue to shout ‘Hoorah,’ until things begin to fall apart and the center does not hold.  It is then that we are baffled, at a loss as to how it could have happened.  We had everything under control and then… smoke.  We look for someone or something to blame.  We look for answers outside of ourselves, but the source of the fall is most often within.

These past few weeks, we have been reading the ‘bread of life’ / ‘bread of Heaven’ passage from John’s Gospel.  We looked at how we must place our lives on the paten with Jesus, but that in doing so, we are not simply relying on a memory of Jesus or only the words in the Bible.  Instead when we place our lives on the paten, we are joining with the real presence of Christ.  It is there, on the paten that we are united with Him and become one with Him as He and the Father are one, but we are not yet done.  You see, now that we have been united with Him, something terrible and awesome must occur.  We now must be broken with Him.  We must take our lives, all that we want to control, and allow it to be broken with Christ upon the altar of the Cross.  We, like Christ, in surrendering our lives into the hands of the Father, must, also like Christ, allow our lives, our will, our control, to be broken.  And there the conflict arises, because that part of us that desires to so tightly control our lives, refuses to submit to the Father.  Why do we refuse?  Because we wrongly believe that all will be lost.  That the Lord will take what we give him and what we receive back will be unrecognizable and useless, but nothing could be further from the truth.

It is one of those things many of you have probably seen and heard about, but it perfectly illustrates this point: kintsugi.  Kintsugi is a Japanese word meaning the ‘golden journey,’ and it is an art form of repairing broken pots.

You have one of granma’s heirloom dishes.  Perhaps it is not of great monetary value, but it is precious to you.  You’ve moved all over the country and each time you’ve carefully packed up this one particular dish, always anxious to determine if it made the latest journey.  All is well, but then one day, the cat jumps on the counter knocking if off.  You cry over the pieces, but eventually throw them away.  However, in Japan, an heirloom wouldn’t necessarily be thrown out, instead it would be made new.

kintsugi-768x562An artist takes the pieces of your broken dish and glues them back together with a special lacquer, which is then covered with gold.  The cracks are visible, but they’ve been transformed into these paths of gold, traversing the dish.  Now, not only has granma’s dish been restored to you, but it is now far more valuable and beautiful, a true work of art.

In the same way, when we allow our lives to be broken upon the altar of the cross, God takes the pieces and restores them, bonding our lives to His, making us far more valuable and beautiful than we could have ever imagined or accomplished on our own.  We are remade into a work of art in His image.  Sounds nice and easy, but as a Christian, it is one of the most difficult things we will do.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis was first published in 1945.  I won’t give it away, but the main character finds himself in a place called the Grey Town.  From there he is taken on a bus with several others until they have an encounter with the Spirits who try and convince these individuals to come with them up the Mountain.  It is all an analogy.  Very simply put, Grey Town is hell, the space around it is purgatory, and the Mountain is heaven.  The Spirits are trying to convince those on the bus to take the journey up the mountain to heaven, but one by one, they make their excuses.  They want to maintain control, dictate the rules.  They refuse to submit.  One traveller is asked:

“Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?”

“Well, that is a plan. I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances … I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness-and scope for the talents that God has given me-and an atmosphere of free inquiry-in short, all that one means by civilization and-er-the spiritual life.”

“No,” said the [Spirit]. “I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.”

“Will you come with me to the mountains?” is another way of asking, will you be broken upon the altar of the Cross?  Will you submit your life to God?

St. Paul writes, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (1 Cor 11:23-24)

Will you go up the mountain with him?  Will you give up control?  Will you submit to the Lord?   Will you be broken with Jesus that you might be made new?  

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”  (Matthew 6:33)

Let us pray: Loving Father, faith in Your Word is the way to wisdom. Help us to think about Your Divine Plan that we may grow in the truth. Open our eyes to Your deeds, our ears to the sound of Your call, so that all our actions may help us share in the life of Jesus. Give us the grace to live the example of the love of Jesus, which we celebrate in the Eucharist and see in the Gospel. Form in us the likeness of Your Son and deepen His Life within ours.  Amen.

Sermon: Blessed Virgin Mary

The podcast can be found here.


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Whether accurate or not, I have a certain visual understanding of humankind’s historical relationship with God: it looks like an hourglass, but it doesn’t function in quite the same way.  

In the beginning, in the Garden, the relationship with God was as perfect as it could be, but following the fall, that relationship became more and more narrow as the Israelites moved further and further away from God, eventually reaching a true crisis point.  That relationship did not begin to grow again until after the coming of Jesus, when the Gospel began to go out into the world and the crisis was overcome.  As St. Paul teaches us in his letter to the Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

This was truly the work of God and could not be accomplished otherwise, but there was a human element as well.  You know the story: an angel of the Lord said to Mary, “‘And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus’…. Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’”  These words of Mary began again the great work of God in the world.  What did her ‘Yes” accomplish?

In the year 431 a.d., the Roman Emperor Theodosius II called a church council in Ephesus.  This is the third of seven early major church councils, the first being the Council of Nicaea where the Nicene Creed was drafted.   Presiding over the Council in Ephesus was St. Cyril of Alexander and one of the decisions made at the Council was the calling of the Virgin Mary the Theotokos, meaning “Mother of God” or “God Bearer.”  It was on the topic of the Virgin Mary that St. Cyril preached, and there he answered that question of what Mary’s ‘Yes’ accomplished.

Mary, Mother of God, we salute you. Precious vessel, worthy of the whole world’s reverence, you are an ever-shining light, the crown of virginity, the symbol of orthodoxy, an indestructible temple, the place that held him whom no place can contain, mother and virgin. Because of you the holy gospels could say: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

We salute you, for in your holy womb was confined him who is beyond all limitation. Because of you the holy Trinity is glorified and adored; the cross is called precious and is venerated throughout the world; the heavens exult; the angels and archangels make merry; demons are put to flight; the devil, that tempter, is thrust down from heaven; the fallen race of man is taken up on high; all creatures possessed by the madness of idolatry have attained knowledge of the truth; believers receive holy baptism; the oil of gladness is poured out; the Church is established throughout the world; pagans are brought to repentance.

What more is there to say? Because of you the light of the only-begotten Son of God has shone upon those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Today we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary, remembering the part she played in God’s work of salvation by saying ‘Yes’ to the Lord’s call on her life, and recognizing how we too, in saying ‘Yes’ to God’s call on our lives, can impact God’s continued work of salvation in the world through the spreading of the Gospel message.