Sermon: Proper 28 RCL C – Endure

The podcast is available here.

Photo by Marylou Salon on Unsplash

It seems that kids are getting creative when they don’t know the answer on a test. Examples:

“What did Mahatma Gandhi and Genghis Khan have in common?” — Unusual names.

“Name six animals which live specifically in the Arctic?” — Two polar bears and three… four seals.

“What is the highest frequency noise that a human can register?” — Mariah Carey

“What is a fibula?” — A little lie.

“What is a vibration?” — There are good vibrations and bad vibrations. Good vibrations were discovered in the 1960s.

Finally… “Briefly describe what hard water is.” — Ice.

All this goes to prove that the answer you are expecting may not necessarily be the one you get.

Today, we read, “Some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God.” The temple. It was a magnificent structure. We know, they are still there today, that some of the stones that made up the walls and other structures, weighed up to 160,000 pounds—eighty tons! It was impressive in size and beauty. There are several descriptions of its beauty, one of which comes to us from the historian Josephus, who would have actually seen it. He writes, “The exterior of the building lacked nothing to astonish either the soul or the eyes. For being covered all over with massive plates of gold, as soon as the sun was up, it radiated to a fiery beam of light that it forced those straining to look at its emanations to turn away their eyes, as if from solar rays. To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of the purest white.”

Yet, as those with Jesus are gazing upon this beautiful structure, “Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’”

And so they asked him a question, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’” I’m guessing that the answer they received was not the one they expected: “Beware that you are not led astray… The time is near!… Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… they will arrest you and persecute you.” And, of course, it all came to pass.

The Israelites had been in rebellion against Rome and controlled the Jerusalem for four years and in 70 a.d., the Romans had finally had enough. They laid siege to Jerusalem and on August 30, 70 a.d. broke through the walls and sacked the city. Not only did they destroy the city, but, as Jesus prophesied, set fire to the temple and destroyed it. Josephus records the events: “As the flames shot into the air the Jews sent up a cry that matched the calamity and dashed to the rescue, with no thought now of saving their lives or husbanding their strength; for that which hitherto they had guarded so devotedly was disappearing before their eyes.” (Source) The description of what occurred next is not suitable for a Sunday morning, suffice it to say, those who tried to fight the fire were put to the sword by the Romans soldiers.

The only thing that I think would really compare to this for you and I is the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. We all stopped. We all watched. We were all horrified. And there was nothing to be done about it.

Following what we heard today in our Gospel reading, Jesus continues with his discourse on the horrors to come: “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.” There is talk of signs in the heavens and all sorts of other calamities. What makes this relevant for us today, is that not only do we understand these words of Jesus to be speaking about the destruction in 70 a.d., but we also understand him to be speaking about the end of days, when he shall come again. These events—destruction, end of days, wars, signs, persecution—these events are going to occur again, and just as the Israelites could not prevent them in their day, there is nothing we can do to prevent them from occurring in ours. People say that the world is in a terrible mess, that it can’t get much worse, and I just want to say, “Your kidding, right? Have you read about what is to come?” But here’s the thing: we can get in this mindset, many do, about looking for these signs and we can fall into a place of depression, fear, and dread. Why? This sermon is a perfect example of why. We get so focused on ‘all this’, that we miss the words spoken of our salvation. We hear of insurrections, death, earthquakes, persecutions, but in listening to these words of Jesus, did you hear of your salvation? It was right at the end: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Yes. The teachings about the end are important and we should pay close attention to them. On hearing these words, as our collect for the day said, we should “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,” but not so that we can fall into that place of dread, but so “that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.” So that in the midst of the ugliness, we might endure.

Jack Canfield tells about a young high school student whose father was a horse trainer. Because the family had to follow the horse-racing season, the young boy had to change schools throughout the year. During his senior year he was asked to write a paper about what his dreams for the future were. His paper described his dream of owning a 200-acre horse ranch with stable and tracks, and a 4,000-square-foot home. He even drew a diagram of the property and the design of his house. He turned the paper in…and two days later it came back with an “F” on the front and note to see the teacher. After class, the teacher explained to the boy that his dream was “unrealistic.” The teacher said that if the boy rewrote the paper with a much more realistic dream, he would reconsider the grade. The boy went home and asked his father what to do. “It’s your decision,” said the father. Dad knew this was a very important decision. The boy kept the paper for a week and then returned it to his teacher after class. “Here” the boy said, “you can keep the ‘F’ and I’ll keep my dream.” (Source, p.25-26)

We as a Christian people can become so jaded and discouraged by the world around us. We look at the world and see all its failures and we understand what is to come, we watch others suffer and we experience our own pain and loss, we see the temple standing in all its glory and we visualize the final destruction, we see the “F” on the page and we wonder what is to be done. It is then that Our Father in Heaven tells us, “It’s your decision. I have told you that not a hair of your head will perish eternally, so you can either drown in the ugliness that is or you can hold onto the dream… the promises I have made to you.” What are those promises? Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” As we learned in our study of Romans: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

When the world begins to question you, “Isn’t all this a waste of time? Is there any real sense carrying on?” Give them an answer they don’t expect: “You can keep your failures and your ugliness and I’ll keep my dream. I’m holding to the promises of my God, my Abba, my Father, who is faithful and true. He is making all things new.”

Let us pray:
Father in Heaven,
ever-living source of all that is good,
keep us faithful in serving You.
Help us to drink of Christ’s Truth,
and fill our hearts with His Love
so that we may serve You in faith
and love and reach eternal life.
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist
You give us the joy of sharing Your Life.
Keep us in Your presence.
Let us never be separated from You
and help us to do Your Will.

Sermon: Charles Simeon

The podcast is available here.

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?”

Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.”

Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.”

Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.”

A few hours later…

“One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with Him?’ Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.”

You are all familiar with that passage. The event took place on the night before Jesus was crucified. Peter’s denial.

On the night before the crucifixion, had you been in Peter’s place, what would you have done? It would be very easy for me to stand up here and say, “Peter needed to have more faith. Courage, man!” But it was Socrates who said, “Know thyself,” and I do, at least a bit. The part I know says that I would have stood beside Peter and boldly declared, “I will never deny you” and would also have ended up alongside Peter in torment over my failure.

Yet, for each of our failures, Jesus comes to us and restores us to himself just as he did Peter. From our Gospel, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs.” “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” And again, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” Three times Peter denied him and three times Jesus restored him.

What I find interesting about this event is that in restoring Peter to himself, you would think that Jesus would not have asked Peter, “Do you love me?,” but would have instead said to him, “Peter, I love you.” This seems that it would have been much more soothing to Peter’s soul, but then again, Jesus had already shown Peter how much he loved him. As we pray during Morning Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace.”

Because of his failure, Jesus knew that Peter was doubting his love for him. So, Jesus knew that it wasn’t he who needed to convince Peter of his love by saying, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Jesus had said that as loudly and clearly as he possibly could from the hard wood of the Cross. What Peter needed was to convince Peter – himself – that he loved Jesus. Only then could Peter go out and do as Jesus had commanded him to do and feed his sheep.

The great Anglican priest and one of the co-founders of the Church Missionary Society, Charles Simeon (d. 1836), who we celebrate today wrote, “We shall do well ever to remember, that Christianity is not a mere speculative theory that is to inform the mind; but a great practical lesson, to renew the heart, and to bring us back to the state from whence we are fallen.”

Many times, like Peter, we will stumble and fall and deny Christ by our words and actions. It is through God’s grace and love that our hearts are renewed and we are restored to that state from where we have fallen. Through the Cross, Jesus has proven his love to us, and the greatest barrier to receiving that grace is not God or the world – it’s us. Through the Cross Jesus has said, “I love you.” He then asks each of us, as he did Peter, “Do you love me?”

Sermon: Proper 27 RCL C – Transformed by Love

The podcast is available here.

A young lady was soaking up the sun’s rays on a Florida beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, “Do you believe in God?” She was surprised by the question but she replied, “Why, yes, I do.” Then he asked her: “Do you go to church every Sunday?” Again, her answer was “Yes!”

He then asked: “Do you read your Bible and pray everyday?” Again she said, “Yes!” By now her curiosity was very much aroused. The little lad sighed with relief and said, “Will you hold my quarter while I go in swimming?”

Apparently finding a person honest enough to hold your quarter is a difficult task.

According to a Gallup poll, a number of factors go into how we will perceive a person’s level of honesty, one of which is their profession. Who do we judge as the most honest profession? Nurses. The least honest? Well that one’s not hard—members of congress. Heck, even telemarketers did better than them. Surprisingly (or maybe not so much), clergy came in eighth place, just below funeral directors. (Source) All this talk on honesty to say: this morning, let’s be honest.

As we were saying/singing the Psalm, did you actually pay attention to the words? Listen to this bit again… it begins:

“Hear my plea of innocence, O Lord;
give heed to my cry…”

And then a verse on:

“Weigh my heart, summon me by night,
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.
I give no offense with my mouth as others do;
I have heeded the words of your lips.
My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.”

Honestly… I know that I was lying when I said those words. Honestly, there are more than a few impurities in me, I do offend with my mouth, I don’t always heed the words of the Lord, and honestly, my footsteps take me down some less than holy paths. Yet, when we die, according to what Jesus said to the Sadducees who were quibbling with him this morning, when we die we “are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.” Honestly, how that occurs is a miracle in itself, but I still have to wonder how it happens. In the end, it is a great mystery, but given the nature of God—God is Love—we may have a clue.

Franz Kafka, author of the novella that many have struggled through, The Metamorphosis, died at the age of forty-one from tuberculosis. A story about him began to circulate following his death that is reported to have taken place in the last year of his life.

It tells of Kafka walking through a park when he encounters a young girl who is distressed and crying, she has lost her doll. Kafka agrees to help her look and when they are unable to find it, volunteers to come back the following day and help her look some more. That evening, Kafka went home and wrote a letter. A letter from the doll to the little girl. In it, the doll says to the girl, “Please do not mourn me, I have gone on a trip to see the world. I will write you of my adventures.” Over the course of the next several weeks, Kafka delivers numerous letters to the little girl from her doll, all telling about her adventures. At their last meeting, Kafka presents the girl with a new doll. It looks nothing like her original, but she accepts it with gratitude.

Years later, the girl, now a woman, discovers a letter that she did not know existed, tucked away in the sleeve of the dolls dress. In the closing paragraph of that letter, the doll stated, “My travels have changed me. Everything that you love, you will eventually lose, but in the end, love will return in a different form.”

My impurities, my offensive mouth, my wandering footsteps—my travels… in me, these are the things that I love, but as I continue to travel, not alone, but with He who created me, I begin to… not necessarily lose, but set aside those things that I love, because a true Love has entered in. My travels with Jesus begin to change me. Not to the point that I can in good conscience declare the Psalm, fully vindicated, but I have begun. It is as St. Paul teaches us, “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18) We “are being transformed into his image.” Not there yet, but getting there, so that on the last day, the day of the resurrection of the dead, we will truly be transformed into the children of God. You see, we are all Kafka’s doll, traveling this earth, being changed by Love. Changed by the One who is Love. Therefore, we may not be able to fully declare the words of the Psalmist, but we can declare with Job what we read:

“I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

Now, don’t tune me out here, because you’re going to think that I’m changing the subject on you, but I’m not: this sermon that I’m preaching to you, this is the big pledge sermon. The sermon where I ask you to financially support the church. You should receive your pledge card on Monday. When we think of the pledge drive, we most often think of paying bills and salaries. But I have to be honest with you, paying bills doesn’t do much for me. Does not motivate me. I even occasionally forget to do it, just ask my landlord. And if I were to ask you to give so that we could pay the bills… well, I wouldn’t expect you to be excited or motivated about it either. But the thing is, I’m not asking you to pledge simply so that we can pay bills. I’m asking you to pledge, because as I said a minute ago, we are all Kafka’s doll—not just those of us in this sanctuary, but all, everyone created in God’s image is Kafka’s doll, and we, through the work and ministry of this church, have the capacity to show the world true Love—not just so they can experience the outward expression of love through our works, but more importantly so that they can encounter Love in the person of Jesus Christ.

When I’m honest with myself, I know who I was and and I know who I am today after traveling with Jesus for awhile. I think if you are honest with yourself, you also know the same difference. Not yet perfected, but drawing ever closer with each step. I firmly believe that your pledge does the same for others. As one Kafka doll to another, who has been transformed by Love, I ask that you will prayerfully and faithfully participate in this journey with your pledge to St. Matthew’s.

Let us pray:
O my Divine Saviour,
Transform me into Yourself.
May my hands be the hands of Jesus.
Grant that every faculty of my body
May serve only to glorify You.
Above all,
Transform my soul and all its powers
So that my memory, will, and affection
May be the memory, will, and affections
Of Jesus.
I pray for You
To destroy in me
All that is not of You.
Grant that I may live,
But in You, by You and for You,
So that I may truly say,
With St. Paul,
“I live – now not I –
but Christ lives in me”.

Sermon: Leo the Great

The podcast is available here.

I don’t know that there are many who would have come face-to-face with Attila the Hun, opposed him, and lived to tell the tale, but our saint for today, Leo the Great, was one who did and in the process, convinced him not to sack Rome. However it came about, Leo would later be elected as Bishop of Rome in the year 440 and hold the position until his death on November 10, 461. He received the title “the Great” because of his great work while holding the position.

As I was reading on him, I was struck by a passage from one of his sermons: “There are two loves from which all wishes proceed, and they are as different in quality as they are different in their sources. For the reasonable soul, which cannot exist without love, is the lover either of God or the world… As the world attracts us with its appearance and abundance and variety, it is not easy to turn away from it unless in the beauty of things visible the Creator rather than the creature is loved; for, when He says, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matt. 22:37),’ He wishes us in nothing to loosen ourselves from the bonds of His love.” (Leo the Great, Sermon XC, ch. iii)

“As the world attracts us with its appearance and abundance and variety, it is not easy to turn away from it…” Ever go shopping for a pair of socks and end up walking out of the store with a new suit or a new purse? Ever been in one relationship, only to find that you are suddenly attracted to someone else? Ever sit down, fully intent on saying your prayers, and half an hour later, find yourself cruising the internet? Yes. The world does attract us with its appearance, abundance, and variety, and it really can be difficult to turn away from. As we know, its appearance, abundance, and variety can also draw us away from God. In one instance, we are bathed in the light of the Gospel and in the next… off we go, wandering off into dark recesses.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” How do we lose our saltiness? Jesus said, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” How is it we put our light under a basket? We lose our saltiness and hide our light by allowing the attractions of this world to draw us in, and love them more than we love the One who created them. How do we avoid the trap? To use the language of Leo, don’t allow any attraction of this world, no matter how beautiful, to loosen the bonds of love that you have for the Creator—for God. Always keep Him as the center, the focus of your every action and thought, and in this way, you will remain the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Sermon: Proper 25 RCL C – The Pharisaical Rogue

The podcast is available here.

Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

There was a man in England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across to Europe to go on a vacation. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the motor of his car. He phoned the Rolls-Royce people back in England and asked, “I’m having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?” Well, the Rolls-Royce people flew a mechanic over! The mechanic repaired the car and flew back to England and left the man to continue his vacation. As you can imagine, the fellow was wondering, “How much is this going to cost me?” So when he got back to England, he sent an email and asked how much he owed them. He received a reply from the Rolls-Royce office that read: “Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce.”

We’ve all been subjected to it more than once and many claim that it is a very misunderstood poem, but for today’s purpose…

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood…
(The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost)

I thought of that when it struck me that today’s parable from Jesus could begin, “Two roads diverged at the Temple doors….” I would like to say that I’m like the guy in the back, and there are some days that I may actually pull it off, but I know that there are other days when I am the Pharisee. To try and squeeze myself in either of the individuals is the square peg round hole problem—it’s not going to work, because I am not either/or… depending on the day, I am both, because there is a certain appeal to both.

The appeal of the Pharisee: black and white, right and wrong. The Pharisee does not really have to think about his faith, he only has to practice it. Thou shall have no other gods: check. Thou shall not commit adultery: check. Thou shall not murder:… ummm… check. Those are easy, until somebody comes along and says things like, “‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” That aside, why is there this appeal of the Pharisee and the legalistic approach to our faith?

Brennan Manning answered that one nicely in his book Reckless Confidence: “One of the telltale signs in the contemporary American church that trust in God is on the wane is the meteoric rise of legalistic religion. It will continue to flourish and attract an enormous number of devotees. For legalism is born of fear. It is a religious response to human fear. What makes legalism so attractive is that it meets a basic human need—security…. We create a very solid foundation for our lives, because the God who has been absolutized by us can never surprise us.” (p. 138)

Once the Devil was walking along with one of his cohorts. They saw a man ahead of them pick up something shiny. “What did he find?” asked the cohort. “A piece of the truth,” the Devil replied. “Doesn’t it bother you that he found a piece of the truth?” asked the cohort. “No,” said the Devil, “I will see to it that he makes a religion out of it.” (Source)

The appeal of the Pharisee is that he was given the truth in the form of the Mosaic Law, but instead of using the Law to follow God, the Law became the religion. The Law was what was worshipped and adored and not the Giver of the Law. Yet, it is appealing—give me a law and I can be secure in my legalistic faith as long as I follow that law. Give me a law and I can use that law to know who is in and who is out. Who I have to love and who I can cast away. Give me a law and I’ll use it to put you in your place and demonstrate to you how superior I am to you. Only problem: what happens when I’m the one who broke the law, which brings up the appeal of the second path, the path of the tax collector. We’ll call him the Rogue.

The Rogue stands at the back, dares not look toward Heaven. The Rogue is a rogue and he knows it, so speaking softly to God, he says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The appeal of the Rogue: grace, mercy, forgiveness. Going home justified. The Rogue knows he’s a rogue, even though he tries to be a saint. The Rogue humbles himself before a righteous God and begs to be made clean. And the God who created the Rogue, loves him, and makes him whiter than snow. However, the way of the Rogue is not without its pitfalls.

For starters, and this is something we talked about in Confirmation Class this past week: God may send the Rogue home justified, but the Rogue simply does not believe it. Pitfall: spiritual pride—we hear the words of our absolution, but we believe our sin too great to actually be forgiven. When we believe that, we are saying the Cross—the bloody sacrifice of Jesus—is too small to cover my sins, to justify us before God. The Apostle John teaches us, Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world,” and we add, except for mine. That is one pitfall of the Rogue, hearing that he is justified, but not believing it. Another is actually a combination of the two. Let’s call this one the Pharisaical Rogue.

The Pharisee is one who made a religion out of the Mosaic Law and worshipped it instead of God. The Pharisaical Rogue sits in the pews at church praying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” But at the same time denies others the same mercy and grace that he is requesting for himself. The Pharisaical Rogue has accepted God’s mercy for themselves, but has established his own law that determines who is in and who is out. It is another form of legalism, but it comes with a spiritual arrogance, for it professes to not only know the mind of God, but to also be the gate through which God’s mercy and grace will be allowed to flow. It forgets, “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12) The author of Proverbs writes, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” (Proverbs 3:27)

“Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.”
(William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I)

We are not to withhold mercy, when it is in our power to show it.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood… Two roads diverged at the Temple doors… and I… I take them both.

What are we to do—and I say ‘we’… and I hope this doesn’t sting too much… I say we, because I know I’m not in this boat alone—What are we to do? I believe we should all remember a couple of things. The first is what St. Paul said to the Corinthians: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10) The second is what Paul said in his second letter to Timothy when Paul was in prison in Rome and had gone on trial: “At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” (2 Timothy 4:16-17a) On the last day, we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and we will either be condemned for the evil we have committed and the mercy we did not show or, it will kinda be like the letter the man received from Rolls-Royce: Jesus will stand beside us and say, “There is no record in God’s files that you have ever done anything wrong. You have been shown mercy. You may enter your eternal home… justified.”

Allow God’s grace and mercy to work in you and allow that same grace and mercy work in others. Allow them to be justified as you have been justified.

Let us pray: Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve: to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus, O merciful, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Amen.

Sermon: Proper 24 RCL C – Persevere for Justice

The podcast is available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Teresa of Ávila

The podcast is available here.

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Proper 23 RCL C – Made Clean

The podcast is available here.

Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Proper 22 RCL C – The Mustard Seed

The podcast is available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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