Sermon: Heritage Sunday

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” After I read this and some of the other history of our church, I read the Gospel for today and had myself a little laugh… Then they came to Enid; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”

The interesting thing about a church’s history is that you can really only talk about the buildings and the clergy, the people and who served, the money or the lack there of, and so on. What you can’t really tell in the history of a church is how God moved in the people. How the power of the Holy Spirit transformed lives. How Jesus truly entered this house and began the work of the Kingdom of God in this place. The buildings, the people, and all are only a part of our heritage, because it is these workings of God in our lives and the lives of those around us that are reflects our true heritage, and that really is the most important thing.

Jesus “took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’” Our heritage is about welcoming the child, welcoming Jesus into our midst and loving him and loving one another, for what other sign can we show that God is present than by our love for Him and our love for one another? Does the height of a steeple prove that love? Or the size of our endowment? Or even the number of cars in the parking lot? Do any of these things demonstrate the love of God and the love of one another? Not really. They do demonstrate commitment and courage. They also show a desire to honor God in visible ways. None of this is bad or wrong, but what they can’t show is love, because love is an action of the heart. True love is that which seeks the good of the other without regard for self and that is what it means to welcome the little child, but that is not something that can necessarily be documented. Instead, it is a feeling, almost a presence.

This past week, we had our Saints Book Club. We’ve just finished reading In This House of Brede. A beautiful story about the lives of the nuns living in a convent. The main character, Philippa, had come to the point when the older nuns would decide if she would be allowed to stay and become a fully professed sister. She was afraid they would not allow it, so she went to the sanctuary to pray, asking God to allow her to stay. The scene is set: “The light flickering by the tabernacle was warm, alive, and as if they were still there, she heard what the nuns had sung last night at Benediction: ‘Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.’” Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands. In that place, she could “feel” the prayers from the night before, because as was stated, “If a place has been filled with prayer, though it is empty, something remains; a quiet, a steadiness.” Our sanctuary is the same. You can “feel” the presence of the prayers that have been said there over the last century, but it’s not just that… and it is the reason I’m so happy to be serving in this place, because, I can see the heritage in buildings and the books and the art, but more importantly, I can “feel” that more important heritage—that heritage of God’s work and transforming power—I can feel that you have always performed the work that Christ called on his disciples to perform. That is, in the name of Jesus, the child has always been welcomed here. In the name of Jesus, you have always loved and there really is no greater heritage than this.

This year… your church is 128 years old. May the love you have shown in those years be a source of inspiration to continue in this great work of the kingdom for the years to come, until the great day of the Lord’s return.

Let us pray: We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

St. Matthew’s original building.

Sermon: Proper 19 RCL B – “Build or Burn?”

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Jane Austen is the author of Pride and Prejudice.  Mark Twain was not a fan of Jane Austen and is reported to have said, “Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig Jane Austen up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

The American academic and Shakespearean scholar, Duncan Spaeth, stated, “I know why the sun never sets on the British Empire: God wouldn’t trust an Englishman in the dark.”

Someone once asked Ghandi: “What do you think of Western civilization?”  Ghandi replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

A young Hollywood wannabe was once bragging to the the great actress Miriam Hopkins.  The wannabe said, “You know, my dear, I insured my voice for fifty thousand dollars.” Hopkins responded, “That’s wonderful. And what did you do with the money?”

Bessie Braddock served in the English Parliament for twenty-five years.  Encountering a somewhat intoxicated Winston Churchill, she said to him, “Winston, you’re drunk.”  Not thinking much of Bessie Braddock, Winston replied, “Bessie, you’re ugly, and tomorrow morning I’ll be sober.”

It seems that insulting someone has been around for a as long as there has been language and I’m guessing even the caveman new a thing or two about putting one another down.   Growing up, I would have to say that my ability to insult someone was limited to that witty comeback, “Yo mama!”  I may have improved since then.  Many have and some even make a living at insulting others.  For example, if it weren’t for the insults, the twenty-four hour news stations would run out of something to say within the first five minutes.

At times, the insult is just folks who give each other a hard time, and if they ever cross the line, an apology will follow, but it seems the insult has grown into a way of life.  Not the sign of some quick witted response, but an assault to tear down and destroy.  And when the words are no longer sufficient, threats and violence will ensue.

I remember years ago reading Ray Bradbury’s great dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451.  Seems it was one of those required readings, so I just muscled my way through it without much thought, but I reread it again just a few weeks ago and was amazed.  A bit too close to reality.  Neil Gaiman (sci-fi and horror author) wrote the introduction to the edition I ordered and although I don’t normally read the introductions to books—don’t necessarily want someone telling me what I’m supposed to think about a book I’m about to read—I did read this one, because of who wrote it.  In it, Gaiman wrote, “When I reread it as a teenager, Fahrenheit 451 had become about treasuring books and the dissent inside the covers of books.  It was about how we has humans begin by burning books and end by burning people.”  I had to underline that, because it is so true.  As the story goes, those who would read were first insulted, then persecuted, then… burned.  As I read the story, I came to a line that made me stop reading.  I had to get up and walk around for a bit before continuing: “Those who don’t build must burn.”  We see a lot of burning these days.  The events of twenty years ago that we remembered yesterday provide the perfect example, but in truth, we do the same thing everyday when we decide to burn instead of build. 

We burn others by cruelly insulting them from our hearts.  By speaking or even thinking of how to bring them lower.  By raising our voices in angry confrontation.  By dismantling the works of others for our own perceived benefit, in order to exert and promote our own opinion, or simply for the heck of it; but our ability to do so is not a sign of our strength.  It simply shows our capacity to burn.  Why?  “Those who don’t build must burn.”  Those who don’t want to take the time and find the courage to build and create, those who become jealous and feel threatened by others’ successes, those who are simply too lazy to create, and so on… those are the ones who will burn, because it is much much easier to burn than it is to build.  

Jesus has been going from town to town.  He has been teaching, healing, feeding, and loving.  Jesus has been building up the Kingdom of God.  He asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  In doing so, Jesus is not fishing for compliments.  He is secure in the knowledge of who he is, but he is evaluating the work.  Are the people… are you beginning to understand who I am and what we are building?   It sounds positive.  The disciples answer, some say you are “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  That is good, but Jesus wants to know what those who have been closest to him think.  Are they grasping even more of the truth than the crowds, so he asked them specifically, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”  Yes!  The work is being accomplished and we are building something here, but don’t tell anyone about what you know of me.  Why?  Because there are those who aren’t building anything and if they discover too soon, they will try and burn it all down before the time has come; and Jesus knew who those were that would burn: the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes.  He also knew that they would eventually succeed, so he tells his disciples, you are not to be like them.  You are not to follow their example of burning.  Instead, you are to follow my example, by building: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  You as my disciples are to follow me in building up the kingdom of God, because we’re not building something that moths and rust can destroy or something that thieves can break in and steal.  No.  We are building something eternal.  What did Jesus say, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Destroy this temple, burn it to the ground, and I will build a temple that not even death can destroy.  He did and we are to follow, taking our cross, being crucified with him and being raised to a new and eternal life that not even death can touch.  And we not only build up ourselves, but we are to build up one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:11—“Encourage one another and build one another up.”

Ephesians 4:29—“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up.”

Romans 14:19—“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

1 Corinthians 14:26—“Let all things be done for building up.”

Not only does this apply to those we know and love, but Jesus also makes it clear that this applies to those that hate us: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45)

Am I preaching on this today because I know of a problem within this body of Christ?  Absolutely not.  I see nothing but love and compassion among you, but what I do see is an increased desire within society to insult and to burn.  It is like an infection that is going unchecked and unless we are aware of it and the symptoms, then we become susceptible, and then we become those who burn, no longer building up as Christ has called us to.  As St. Paul teaches, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  

From the poem, Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Come my friends, tis not too late to seek a newer world.”  Let us be the ones that build and in the process, join with Jesus in the great work of making all things new.

Let us pray: Lord, make us instruments of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O, Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Amen.F

Sermon: The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

It is a rather obscure feast day for Episcopalians, but it is on our calendar: The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a fixed day, always occurring on September 8, which is exactly nine months after a feast day occurring on December 8 that is not on our calendar: The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. None of the information we have for either of these feasts comes to us from Holy Scripture, but rather from tradition and other non-biblical text, such as the Protoevangelium of James, also known as the Gospel of James, which is one of the infancy Gospels of Jesus, covering the time of Mary’s conception through Jesus’ birth.

The narrative tells about Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary, who like Abraham and Sarah could not conceive a child, but instead of giving up, they prayed all the more fervently. Because of their faithfulness, an angel of the Lord appeared to Anne and told her, “The Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth, and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.”

Hearing the news, they created a sanctuary in their home for the child so that she might remain pure. Following Mary’s birth, she was given to God. James tells us, “And Joachim brought the child to the priests and they blessed her, saying: ‘O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations’ . . . And he brought her to the chief priests, and they blessed her, saying: ‘O God most high, look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be for ever.’”

Reflecting on these great events, St. Augustine, writing in the fifth century said, “[Mary] is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley. Through her birth the nature inherited from our first parents is changed.” Through her, the Messiah was given, and through him, we receive new birth. If nothing else is as it truly happened, that much is. Through Mary’s fiat, her “Yes” to God, our Salvation entered the world.

Did any or all of what James tells us occur? I don’t know, but… I feel that there is some truth behind it, because there had to of been something special about Mary for God to have chosen her, out of all the women to ever be born, to give birth to his one and only Son.

So today is a birthday celebration. The birth of our Savior’s mother, which reminds us of Jesus’ birth, but also ours. They were both born for a reason and so were we… so were you. It is also a reminder and a demonstration of God’s faithfulness to those whom He calls and to those who turn their lives over to God’s will. Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” and Jesus declared, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” Both gave themselves fully to God. They did not hold back. Our calling as God’s children is to do the same.

Let us pray: O Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, with joy and wonder we seek to make our own your Magnificat, joining you in your hymn of thankfulness and love. Guide and sustain us so that we might always live as true sons and daughters of the Church of your son. Enable us to do our part in helping to establish on earth the civilization of truth and love, as God wills it, for his glory. Amen.

Sermon: Proper 18 RCL B – “Time Alone”

Photo by Nick Kwan on Unsplash

A man made an appointment with the famous psychologist Carl Jung to get help for chronic depression. Jung told him to reduce his fourteen-hour workday to eight, go directly home, and spend the evenings in his study, quiet and all alone. The depressed man went to his study each night, shut the door, read a little Hermann Hesse or Thomas Mann, played a few Chopin études or some Mozart.

After weeks of this, he returned to Jung, complaining that he could see no improvement. On learning how the man had spent his time, Jung said, “But you didn’t understand. I didn’t want you to be with Hesse or Mann or Chopin or Mozart. I wanted you to be completely alone.” The man looked terrified and exclaimed, “I can’t think of any worse company.” Jung replied, “Yet this is the self you inflict on other people fourteen hours a day”

For several weeks, we talked about the Holy Eucharist and Communion.  The benefits, the mystery and also the way in which it binds us together as a community.  When we spoke of the community, I shared with you the statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey: “Individualism therefore has no place in Christianity, and Christianity verily means its extinction. The individual Christian exists only because the body exists already. In the body the self is found, and within the individual experience the body is present.”  However, without further investigation, we could come to believe that we can only practice our faith when gathered together as a community, but with all things, we must seek the proper balance, because there are also times, in practicing our faith, that we must be alone with Jesus.  There are so many fine lessons in our Gospel reading this morning, but that was what I kept thinking on.

First there was the encounter with the Gentile woman, of Syrophoenician origin and the tongue-in-cheek bantering between her and Jesus.  Then, in a different town, the people bring Jesus a deaf/mute and asked Jesus to heal him.  It is here that we read, Jesus “took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”  Jesus healed him.  The man could hear and speak, but in order to do this great work in his life, Jesus brought him to a private place, away from everyone else.

Christianity cannot exist outside of the community of the faithful, but the individual needs private time with Jesus, so that Jesus can do great work within them.  However, like the fella who went to visit Carl Jung, so many of us, when we have time alone, will fill the air with all sorts of noise, because the idea of being alone or even alone with Jesus, is terrifying.  Yet the truth remains: we must have community and we must have this time alone with Jesus.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best in Life Together: “One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”  His conclusion, “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community.  Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.”  His reasoning for time alone with God: “Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God.  You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out.” (p.77f)  Therefore we need community, but we need the alone time as well.

What does this alone with Jesus while at the same time being in community look like?  It is about like this very moment we have now.  We are gathered here as a community, but there is also this reverence, awe, (and when the preacher shuts up) silence.  A time of being together, but also a time to listen to ourselves and to God.  A place of encounter between the Creator and the created.  A time to be alone with Jesus so that he might perform a great work within us.  It sounds easy—sit quietly with Jesus—but it is actually hard work and requires practice.  Why?  Because we don’t know how to stop.  To stop doing, talking, digesting every form of media… we simply do not know how to do what our parents and everyone else tried to get us to do the entire time we were growing up: we do not know how to sit still and be quiet, but… we can learn.  If there were two pieces of advice I would give you on how to sit still and quiet with God, it would be these 1) be intentional and 2) have a pen and paper handy.

First, intentionality.  I have one of those brains that’s always traveling somewhere, but if I’m focused on one particular task, I can stick with it.  However, if I’m going to be focused on a task, I have to schedule that time.  I make an intentional “appointment” to accomplish a certain work.  I think that the same is true with our private time with Jesus.  Yes, we can have those moments throughout the day, but in order for that greater work to be accomplished, we need to intentionally schedule time to meet with God.  That might sound ridiculous to some, “Excuse me God, but tomorrow I have the 9 a.m. hour free.  Would that work for you to meet?”  Sounds silly, but if you don’t schedule that 9 a.m. hour with God, then I guarantee you something else will fill it and it won’t be God.

Second, pen and paper.  Best friends.  I love the post-it note.  I’ve scheduled my appointment to complete a particular task.  I’m focused and in the groove.  Yet, even though I’m focused, some random piece of information pops into my head, “I need to write that message to the Bishop.”  At that point, I have a couple of options: I can stop what I’m doing and write the message or I can go on with what I’m doing, but afraid I’ll forget to do it or… I can pop off a post-it note and jot it down: “Write message to Bp.”  I can confidently stay focused on what I’m doing, knowing I won’t forget the other bit.  The same is true with that scheduled time with God.  All sorts of things are going to come up during it.  If I let a thought or concern persist, then my time with God is a wash, but if I’ll take just a moment to write down that thought, then I know it is safely dealt with for the time and I can get back to God.

Again, this may all sound a bit too pragmatic in our relationship with God and spending time with him, but let me ask you this: how’s your current system working out for you?

Just as we were intentional in coming here today to spend time with God in the family of the faithful, we must also do the same in our private time with Jesus, because we need both: community and time alone with our God.  The two are inseparable.  What is the end result? Henri Nouwen, in Can You Drink this Cup?, described it best: “Community is like a large mosaic. Each little piece seems so insignificant. One piece is bright red, another cold blue or dull green, another warm purple, another sharp yellow, another shining gold. Some look precious, others ordinary. Some look valuable, others worthless. Some look gaudy, others delicate. We can do little with them as individual stones except compare them and judge their beauty and value. When, however, all these little stones are brought together in one big mosaic, portraying the face of Christ, who would ever question the importance of any one of them? If one of them, even the least spectacular one, is missing, the face is incomplete. Together in the one mosaic, each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of God. That’s community, a fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world.”

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, author and inspirer of all things holy, hear our prayers for our Church.  Send forth Your Spirit that we may humbly be guided by your Divine Will.  Touch our hearts with true generosity to raise up a house of God for the inspiration and renewal of all your faithful.  We ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sermon: Propler 16 RCL B – “Bread of Heaven, Part IV”

Two Jewish boys were trying to outdo each other on how far back they could trace their family lineage. The first said, “My family can trace our ancestry back almost two thousand years to the great Rabbi Akiva. So how far back does your family go,” he asked the second.

Without missing a beat, the second boy says, “I don’t know. My father told me that all of our records were lost in the flood.”

Family trees. Family reunions. Family photos. Families that are happy, dysfunctional, dysfunctionally happy, extended, small and so much more. No matter what type of family you have—good, bad, or indifferent—you did not become a member by choice and you’re stuck with the one you’ve got.

The word “family” describes our biological family, but is also good to describe a group of individuals who have a common thread, so it is often used as a way of describing the Church. You are my Church family and the comedian Les Dawson describes you well: “Families are like fudge – mostly sweet, with a few nuts.” And you know who you are.

Not only family, the Church is also described as the Body of Christ, describing our unity and how we need one another. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” And a little further on, “There may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” We do not exist for ourselves, we exist for the Body. Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, was quite emphatic on this: “Individualism therefore has no place in Christianity, and Christianity verily means its extinction. The individual Christian exists only because the body exists already. In the body the self is found, and within the individual experience the body is present.” This unity is the fulfillment of Jesus’ great priestly prayer recorded in John’s Gospel: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

We have this unity, but it is a unity that can exist at different levels, that is why when Paul speaks of the Body of Christ, he speaks of the body of all believers, but also about the Body of Christ as the local church; so we can say that contained within this church of St. Matthew’s, we are the Body of Christ, while still being a part of a greater body. As that body of St. Matthew’s, we gather as any family gathers, but in this family, there is a true dependence on one another, which means this body of St. Matthew’s has all that it needs to be the church in this place, but it cannot be that church without you. We have a dependence on one another, therefore we have a responsibility to one another. As St. Paul teaches, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

However, in order for this body to be real, something more than just nice words, then we must have a common thread running through us all, and we do, Jesus. We have him, not just in our profession of faith, but as we said last week, we have his real presence in his body and blood that we receive in the Eucharist, and it is this Eucharist that provides a real and tangible common thread, binding us together.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” We abide in him and he abides in us, therefore, we abide in one another. St. Francis de Sales preached, “We are all nourished by the same bread, that heavenly bread of the divine Eucharist, the reception which is called communion, and which symbolizes that unity that we should have one with another, without which we could not be called children of God.” This has been the belief of the Church since the very beginning. The Didache is a first century liturgical book and at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, while holding the bread, the priest would say, “As this piece of bread was scattered over the hills and then was brought together and made one, so let your Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom.” God’s Kingdom in heaven and God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Have you ever been to a wedding where, toward the end of the ceremony, the couple lights a unity candle? They’ve got a large candle in the middle and smaller ones on each side. The two smaller ones are burning and the bride and groom each take one the smaller ones and together they light the candle in the center. The interesting bit is what comes next: do they place the smaller candles back in their stands still burning or do they blow them out first. Did they light a flame together, but maintain their own separate flames, or do they extinguish their individual flames and truly only exist as one. (I once heard that the couple left the smaller ones burning, but after moment, the bride leaned over and blew out the grooms. To that, someone said, “During the marriage ceremony two become one — on the honeymoon they discover which one.”) Seriously, in the end, there should only be one flame and the same is true for us as the family and body of Christ, made one through Jesus who gave himself for us all.

Today, as you come forward to receive the body and blood of Christ, remember that we are the family of God, the Body of Christ, and recognize that we truly need one another. Without you, each of you, we are diminished. With you… with you we become a flame that can set the world on fire with the love of God.

Let us pray: Lord God, you have built in heaven and on earth a single Church of truth and love and Holy Spirit; one family and communion, whose temple is the Lamb, One body indivisible, here and beyond: the body of Your dear Son. The unity of holy Church, its might, its Gospel, proceeding from Your unalterable will, is truth and love and Holy Spirit. Its ministries stream from your heart. We pray Lord that we might become this Church in this place: a beacon to the lost, a salve for the wounded, and a family for all. Jesus, in your name. Amen.

Sermon: Saint Mary the Virgin

Photo by Luca Tosoni on Unsplash

I don’t remember telling you about this before… I know of a man who, while praying the Rosary, had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He had been walking along a country road. On one side of the road was a piney forest and on the other was a field and a pond. As he was walking, he had been searching for the Virgin, but unable to find her, then in the distance, he saw her walking toward him down the road. He quickly turned and ran to meet her, but—and this is probably funny—the closer she got, the bigger she got so that when they finally met, she was able to reach down and pick him up and put him in her pocket.

He tried to see through the weave in the fabric of her dress to see the outside world and determine where she was taking him, but was unable to. Not only that, but the further they went, the darker it became until all was dark. Yet as the light had lessened, he had been able to detect something new: a sound. At first, it sounded like the soft beating of a drum, but a short distance on, the sound was unmistakable: it was the beating of a heart. He began to not only hear the heartbeat, but to also feel it in his entire body. Each beat was like a loving embrace. It was then the man realized that Mary had done what she had always done: she had brought him to Jesus. You see, it was not her pocket that she had placed the man into. No. Mary had placed the man in the wound in Jesus’ side so that the man could be near the beating loving heart of the Risen Lord where he had learned even more of the great love of Jesus. He had been allowed to remain there for a short time and then was sent on his way to try and fulfill the Lord’s will.

There is always much confusion surrounding the role of Mary in the Church and in the life of God’s people, but that confusion only arrises when people fail to understand her purpose. Her purpose is to draw people in so that she can lead them or even take them to her Son… so that she can place them near His heart that they might know of His great salvific love for them.

I encourage you all to take her by the hand and to walk with her. When that walk ends, you will find that you have been brought to Jesus.

Eternal Father,
you inspired the Virgin Mary, mother of your son,
to visit Elizabeth and assist her in her need.
Keep us open to the working of your Spirit,
and with Mary may we praise you for ever.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

May the Lord bless us,
protect us from evil
and bring us to everlasting life.

Sermon: Proper 15 RCL B – “Bread of Heaven, Part III”

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

A Rabbi was sitting next to an atheist on an airplane. Every few minutes, one of the Rabbi’s children or grandchildren would inquire about his needs for food, drink, or comfort. The atheist commented, “The respect your children and grandchildren show you is wonderful. Mine don’t show me that respect.” The Rabbi responded, “Think about it. To my children and grandchildren, I am one step closer in a chain of tradition to the time when God spoke to the whole Jewish people on Mount Sinai. To your children, you are one step closer to being an ape.”

When it comes to how we were created, whether you hold to the story of creation or the theory of evolution, it is still going to be a mystery. As the Psalmist states, “I praise [God] because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” and it all is a great mystery. Think about your breathing: maybe I’m just a bit on the weird side, but if I think about my breathing, about having to take a breath, then I find I have to keep thinking about it. It is like the automatic process stops, because I made it a conscious action rather than allowing it to remain a sub-conscious function. Speaking of our brains: our brains are able to process 11 million bits of information per second, of which only 40 to 50 can we be consciously aware. A lot happens in the background that we never give a thought to. Imagine if you had to make a conscious decisions to take every 22,000 breaths that a human averages every single day or the 100,000 times per day the heart beats… “beat, beat, beat, breathe, beat, beat…,” then Scarlett Johansson walks by “(fast) beat, beat, beat, beat, beat…. breathe.” I’m sure scientist can explain parts of it, but behind it all is a great mystery.

Today, we continue with the Bread of Heaven / Life discourse from John’s Gospel and in today’s verses we find some of the most difficult passages of Scripture (and I want to read this part for you again): Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” As we will read next week, this teaching was a show-stopper for many. Jesus goes too far. We’re not cannibals. We’re not vampires. And for the Jews, for meat to be kosher, there can be no blood. Jesus manages to offend everyone and he knows it, because he will ask, “Does this offend you?” I’ve no doubt that it still offends many today, but here is the truth: each Sunday when we partake of the Holy Eucharist, we truly receive the body and blood of Christ.

Over the years and still today, there are many who want to ease this teaching, to make it easier on the stomach, by stating that the bread and the wine are merely symbolic of the body and the blood, but it is our belief that this is an error. Why? Because Jesus did not say, “Take eat, this a symbol / representation of my body” or “Drink this wine (and he certainly didn’t use Welch’s!) Drink this wine and pretend it is my blood.” No. Jesus said, “This is my body… this is my blood.” Why? Because a symbol cannot bring you forgiveness of sins nor can a representation give you life eternal. If it is not the body and the blood, then we are simply participating in a charade. It is true, the consecrated bread and wine maintain their appearance, but through the Holy Spirit (at the epiclesis—when the priest holds his hands over the bread and the wine), they are no longer only bread and wine, but are transformed into the body and the blood.

We’ve discussed this before: Jesus told the disciples, at the institution of the Holy Eucharist on that first Maundy Thursday, to do these things “in remembrance of me.” That word remembrance is translated from the word anamnesis, which means to “make present.” “Take, eat: This is my Bod, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” “Do this for the anamnesis of me… do this and make me present.” Not a representation or a memorial of me, but a making present. A true and real presence.

The big question: how does this happen? How does the bread and the wine become the body and the blood? How were we created? How does the mind work? How can you regulate your breathing or beating of your heart? How can we know the depths of the sea or the heights of the heavens? The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “There’s no shame in admitting what you don’t know. The only shame is pretending you know all the answers.” How does the bread and the wine become the body and the blood? I don’t know. I only know that it does. How do I know that? Grace and faith. I’m going to let my friend Thomas à Kempis help me out here:

“God can do more than man can understand… Many have lost devotion because they wished to search into things beyond them. Faith is required of you, and a sincere life, not a lofty intellect nor a delving into the mysteries of God. If you neither know nor understand things beneath you, how can you comprehend what is above you? Submit yourself to God and humble reason to faith, and the light of understanding will be given you so far as it is good and necessary for you… Be not disturbed, dispute not in your mind, answer not the doubts sent by the devil, but believe the words of God, believe His saints and prophets and the evil enemy will flee from you…. Go forward, then, with sincere and unflinching faith, and with humble reverence approach this Sacrament. Whatever you cannot understand commit to the security of the all-powerful God, Who does not deceive you…. If all the works of God were such that human reason could easily grasp them, they would not be called wonderful or beyond the power of words to tell.” (TAK IOC Bk IV.18)

I don’t know how the bread and wine become the body and the blood, but through grace and faith in God we know that they do. We do not need to know how everything works in order to believe that they are true.

Finally, I know for some of you, I’m preaching to the choir, but I’m not so naïve as to believe that this teaching is contrary to what others of you hold to be true. Therefore, today I only ask that we all truly and faithfully meditate upon the words of Jesus and the teachings of the church and of those that have gone before us, for that act alone signifies that what we do in the Eucharist is far more than simply eating a wafer of bread and having a sip of wine.

Let us pray:
Jesus, our God,
You art infinitely good and perfect.
We love You above all things
and with all our hearts.
We desire to receive You in Holy Communion
that we may love You more and serve Thee better.
Come to us and strengthen us,
so that we may never be separated from You on earth
and that we may live with You eternally in heaven.

Sermon: Clare of Assisi

St. Clare of Assisi: we know very little of her childhood other than she was born to a very wealthy family, however, at the age of eighteen she had the opportunity to hear St. Francis of Assisi preach and left it all.

Sneaking off from her family who would have prevented her, she went to Francis and told him of her desire to follow in the way of his teachings. She exchanged her fine clothes for a dress of rough fabric. She cut her long beautiful hair and replaced it with a veil. At one point, her family tried to pull her back, but in the end, she prevailed and would later be followed into the convent by her sister, Agnes, and her mother when she was widowed.

How did she live? She was barefoot year round, she did not speak unless absolutely necessary, she spent hours a day in prayer, had no source of income, so begged for alms, ate no meat, fasted on bread and water, and slept on the hard floor (she would eventually be ordered by the Bishop and Francis to sleep on a mattress for health reasons.) You would think such a life would be so unappealing that no one would follow in her footsteps, but that is not the case. When she died, “there were forty-seven convents in Spain alone, with many others in Italy, Bohemia, and France. And not long after Clare’s death, four convents of Poor Clares—as they became known—were founded in England.”

She was considered so pure and righteous in faith that bishops, cardinals and Popes came to her for advice, and it was a Pope, Innocent IV, who heard her last confession. Following that confession, he said, “I would to God I had so little need of absolution myself.”

On the day of her death, August 11, 1253, she was heard to say, “Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go without fear, for he who created you has sanctified you, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed are you, O God, for having created me.”

Could such a movement continue? Today, there are 20,000 Poor Clares spread across the world, living cloistered lives, with the purpose of praying. Praying for the needs of the church and the world.

In writing to Agnes, the daughter of the King of Bohemia, but who also became one of the Poor Clares, Clare wrote,

When You have loved [Him], You shall be chaste;
when You have touched [Him], You shall become pure;
when You have accepted [Him], You shall be a virgin.
Whose power is stronger,
Whose generosity is more abundant,
Whose appearance more beautiful,
Whose love more tender,
Whose courtesy more gracious.
In Whose embrace You are already caught up;
Who has adorned Your breast with precious stones
And has placed priceless pearls in Your ears
and has surrounded You with sparkling gems
as though blossoms of springtime
and placed on Your head a golden crown
as a sign [to all] of Your holiness.

There is no doubt that St. Clare of Assisi has received the golden crown from the One she loved above all others—Jesus.

Sermon: Proper 14 RCL B – “Bread of Heaven, Part II”

Sermon: Proper 13 RCL B – “Bread of Heaven, Part I”

Needs vs Wants: it seems basic enough, but just so we’re all on the same page—a need is something that is required in order to survive whereas a want is something we do not need, but desire. A few examples:

  • I want to look like brad Pitt in Fight Club, but I need chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes.
  • I want to read more books, but I need to get through all 147 episodes of The Walking Dead.
  • I want to go to bed at a decent hour, but I need to scroll through social media until 2:00 a.m.

Maybe I’m missing the point. Let’s try a couple more:

  • I want a fancy car, but I need reliable transportation to and from work.
  • I want to be popular, but what I need are strong stable relationships.

You see the difference. And this is where we left off last week in our discussion on the Bread of Life. Our wants (we talked about cravings last week) are not always what we need, because what we need more than anything else and the only thing that will satisfy and fulfill our physical and spiritual hearts is this Bread of Life. If that is true, what purpose does it serve? What does this Bread of Life do for us?

Today in our lesson from 1 Kings, we read about the Prophet Elijah, but it is one of those lessons that drops us down in the middle of a story without much explanation on either end. It began, “Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree.” That’s nice, but why did he go off into the wilderness and why did he say to the Lord, “I’m done, just kill me now?”

At the time, Ahab was king over Israel and his wife was Jezebel. Ahab and Jezebel did evil in the eyes of the Lord by worshiping the gods Baal and Asherah. Unable to tolerate this, Elijah said to King Ahab, “summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” Ahab did and it was on Mount Carmel that we have the episode of the dueling prophets.

Elijah challenged the prophets: he and they would both have the opportunity to sacrifice a bull, but then—and this is where it gets interesting—each was to call down fire from their god/God to consume the sacrifice. So the prophets of Baal did just that. They set up the altar, sacrificed the bull, and started calling out to Baal. Nothing happened. Elijah taunted them, “Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” Still nothing. After awhile, Elijah said, “Step aside, boys.” He set up the Lord’s altar, placed the sacrificed bull upon it, drowned it in water, then called on God, and “the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” The people were amazed and feared the Lord and when Elijah called on them to kill the false prophets, all four hundred and fifty of them, they did. Yet, all this mighty display of power did nothing to turn the hearts of Ahab and Jezebel. She called for the death of Elijah and Elijah ran… now we are at our reading today.

Elijah ran for a day into the wilderness, fell down under a tree, and asked the Lord to kill him. He had done all he knew to do, had demonstrated the power of God, yet the people did not turn, but instead sought his life. He was done and could not go on, yet the Lord was not done with him. The Lord wanted to see him on Mount Horeb, the mountain of the Lord.

Mount Horeb is also known as Mount Sinai, the mountain where Moses encountered God in the burning bush and where he also received the Ten Commandments, but in order to travel for forty days in the wilderness, Elijah needed food for the journey, so twice an angel of the Lord brought him bread and water. When he arrived at Mount Horeb, he went into a cave and rested for the night, but the following day, the Lord called to him: “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then there was a great wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by a fire, but the Lord was not in any of those. Then “came a gentle whisper” and Elijah encountered God.

What purpose does the Bread of Life serve? What does it do for us? Just as the Lord fed the bread to Elijah to sustain and prepare him for the journey, the Lord feeds us with the Bread of Life. It is food for the journey to sustain us in the wilderness while we seek to encounter our God on the mountain. It is what provides us with a supernatural spiritual strength in the face of the enemy that seeks to destroy us. And this Bread is Jesus.

“I am the bread of life…. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

I want to stay home in bed, drawing the sheets up over me because I just can’t go back out into the wilderness of a world that seems to care so little… I want to hide, but what I need is the Bread of Life that will nourish my soul and my body, giving me strength and courage in knowing that my God allows me to truly make Him a part of myself. It’s not just me against the Jezebel’s and forces of evil of the wilderness. It is the power of God working in me.

I want to close my eyes to the injustices I see around me because there is nothing I can do about it, but I need to be an instrument of transformation in my world, my community, my family, my own life, but to do this, I need the Bread of Life to fortify my resolve and provide the daily sustenance I so desperately need.

I want to climb under a broom tree and just have it all go away, but my God needs me to go further than I ever thought I could and to be renewed into the image of His Son, so God gives me himself and makes it possible.

Sir, give us this Bread. Give us this food for the journey. Give us yourself that we may have abundant life in this world and eternal life in the world to come. And God does give us all this and more. When we hold out our hands to receive him in the Eucharist, God speaks to our soul and says, “Take, eat: This is my Bod, which is given for you… given that you may have food for the journey. Given that you may have abundant life. Given that you may have life eternal.”

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, you are the bread of life, the manna which sustains us in the wilderness of our daily lives. Without you, we hunger for righteousness but will forever be found wanting. Sustain us, O Lord, and keep us in your graces through the vessel of your most holy body and blood. Amen.