Sermon: Proper 27 RCL B – “All In”

The podcast is available here.


At the vestry meeting, the congregation’s wealthiest member decided to share a portion of his faith story.

“I’m a millionaire,” he said, “and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I can still remember the turning point in my faith, like it was yesterday: I had just earned my first dollar and I went to a youth meeting that night. The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew that I only had a dollar bill and had to either give it all to God’s work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give everything that I had to God. I believe that God blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today.”

When he finished and sat down, the chair of the stewardship committee leaned over and said: “Wonderful story! I dare you to do it again!”

So, when there is absolutely nothing on the stupid box, you can always tune in to ESPN 8 (or the equivalent) and watch the World Series of Poker.  Now, I have confessed in the past that, given the opportunity, I will put a few dollars on a pony and I have played poker before, but that was only for pennies.  I think the most I’ve lost recently while gambling was a couple of dollars to Joan while playing “Ships” for nickels; however, these folks on the World Series of Poker are in it for big money, and there is always that moment when someone, with a large stack of chips in front of them says, “All in,” and then proceeds to shove all their chips into the pot.  In that little story, the chair of the stewardship committee dared the rich man to do just that, to go “all in.”  

When God calls to each of us and says, “Follow me,” he is asking us to do the same.  To go “all in” in our relationship with him.  There is, however, one significant difference between going all in while playing poker and going all in with God: with God, it is not a gamble.  There may be trials and suffering along the way, but in the end, the victory belongs to the Lord.  In thinking through Holy Scripture, we see one incident after another where individuals don’t ask God to meet them half way, but where they, through faith, go all in.

When God commanded it, Abraham took his only son Isaac up on the mountain and was prepared to sacrifice him.  He was prepared to give God all he had, but as the knife was poised to plunge, the Lord called out to Abraham to stop.  In return for his obedience, the Lord made the covenant with Abraham.

Moses went up on the mountain to see the burning bush, took off his shoes and stepped onto the Holy Ground.  He hesitated out of fear in doing what God called him to, but he eventually obeyed and brought the Israelites into freedom.

Saul, the King of Israel, doubted David’s ability to conquer the giant Goliath.  David, after all, was just a scrawny kid.  But David said to Saul, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”  David placed all his faith in the Lord and the Lord delivered the Israelites from their enemies when David defeated that giant.

The widow of Zarephath, that we read about today, trusted the words of the prophet Elijah and made for him something to eat, and while the rest of the country starved due to the famine, she had more than enough to eat.

The Lord came to the young girl and made His request, and the young girl said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  And Christ Jesus was born into the world.

The Son of God prayed in the garden on the night before he was crucified, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  And through his obedience, salvation came to us all.

Jesus “sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury.  Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.  Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”  What did she receive in return?  Did she go home and find a pot of gold sitting in the middle of the living room?  Did she marry some wealthy man that cared for her until the day she died?  Did she die in some rundown alley, uncared for by anyone?  Unlike the stories of Abraham, Moses, Mary, the widow of Zarephath, this story is open ended, it does not say, therefore, the story is not only about the widow and her two copper coins, but it can also be about us and our two copper coins.  

She placed everything she had in the treasury and in a very real sense, she buried herself in God’s treasury, because in giving God everything, she gave God her life.  What she received in return is irrelevant, because her giving wasn’t about winning something for herself or getting something in return.  Her giving was about obedience and about faith.  Faith in knowing, regardless of the outcome, God’s perfect will would be accomplished.

This is truly a sign of discipleship.  Consider Jesus’ words to his disciples: “If any want to become my followers [that is, become my disciples] let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  Those who take their two copper coins, all that they have, and place it in God’s treasury, will find their life in God and become his disciple.

For many, they see this as the equivalent to the gamble of going all in on the World Series of Poker, but with God, it is not a gamble and with God, the outcome is irrelevant.  With God, it is obedience and faith, it is discipleship and that discipleship is rewarded with the perfect will and love of God.

You all know that I’m not a fan of Martin Luther, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer quoted him in The Cost of Discipleship, so I figure the passage is sound.  Luther is writing from the perspective of Christ, much like how Thomas à Kempis writes in The Imitation of Christ:

“Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend—it must transcend all comprehension.  Plunge into the deep waters beyond your comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do.  Bewilderment is the true comprehension.  Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge.  My comprehension transcends yours…. Behold, that is the way of the cross.  You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man.  Wherefore it is not you, no man, no living creature, but I myself, who instruct you by my Word and Spirit in the way you should go.  Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all you choose or contrive or desire—that is the road you must take.  To that I call you and in that you must be my disciple.” (The Cost of Discipleship, 93)

Obedience, faith, discipleship: these things have uncertain outcomes, are difficult to understand, and can be truly scary,  but “Plunge into the deep waters beyond your comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend…”  Plunge into the deep waters and go all in with God.  Plunge into the deep waters and place your two copper coins in the treasury of God’s love and follow him as a disciple.

Let us pray: We offer You, Lord, our thoughts: to be fixed on You; our words: to have You for their theme; our actions: to reflect our love for You; our sufferings: to be endured for Your greater glory.  We want to do what You ask of us: in the way You ask, for as long as You ask, because You ask it.  Amen.

Sermon: Willibrord of Utrecht

The podcast is available here.


In the first Vatican Council held from 1869-1870 (and you thought our meetings were long) the dogma of Papal infallibility was established.  The doctrine being that the Pope, in the context of ex cathedra teachings (that is, speaking with the highest authority) is without error.  There have been only two such teaching: one is the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the other is the bodily Assumption of Mary, much like Jesus at his Ascension; both of which are very high Marian theology.  However, regardless of the proclamation, there are many who have disagreed with the idea of Papal infallibility – your’s truly – along with a good many others, including some Catholics who broke with Rome and are now known as the Old Catholic Church (found chiefly in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria and Czechia) and who are, in fact, in Communion with the Church of England.  The Patron Saint of the Old Catholic Church is our Saint for today: Willibrord of Utrecht. 

He was born in 668 and placed in the monastery in Ripon in northern Yorkshire at a very early age.  When he was thirty, he was ordained a priest and the following year received permission to go on a mission in Utrecht, what is now in central Netherlands.  He quickly made friends with the Christian duke and receiving papal permission went about the work of a missionary with great success.  Six years after arriving, he was ordained the archbishop and would later be joined by Saint Boniface, also from England, who would later take over the work in the region.  Both Willibrord and Boniface and so many of the other saints we study were originally Saints of the Roman Catholic Church and so we also recognize them; however, I very much appreciate what John Julian wrote at the close of his article on Willibrord: “most of the Christianizing of the pagan tribes across Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire was due to the work of missionaries like Willibrord and Boniface, virtually all of whom came from the Church in Britain.”  So the RCs can claim them, but they’re really ours.

Jesus said to the seventy that he sent out before him: “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”  Willibrord, Boniface, and all the others continued in this great work established by Christ and we are called to do the same.  How?

At our convention this past weekend, Bishop Van Kovering said that Episcopalians are very fond of quoting those words that some claim St. Francis spoke, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.”  That is a very comfortable place for Episcopalians because we can declare that we are preaching the Gospel by being “nice” people, but as the Bishop pointed out, you must also tell them why you do the things you do.  We can’t use Francis’ words as an out.  As Jesus said to the seventy, do the works that I’ve been doing, but then, “Say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.”  Say to them…. as Jesus, the disciples, the seventy, Willibrord and all the other Saints, say to those you encounter in your missionary work, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.”  And preach the Gospel with both your works and your words.  

Sermon: James of Jerusalem

The podcast is available… yeah.  No.  Still no voice.


The early patriarchs of the Israelites: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jacob we know had twelve sons, one of which was Joseph, his favorite. Scripture says, Jacob “loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.”  Because of his favoritism toward Joseph, the other eleven brothers became jealous of him, and it got even worse when Joseph was seventeen and began having dreams: “‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed.  There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.’  His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.”  He had another similar dream regarding the sun, moon, and stars.  Because of the jealousy that built up around these events, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and told their father that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

As we read through Scripture, we see a number of instances of siblings not getting along, the first of which was Cain and Abel, but there was also Jacob and Esau, and even the parable of the prodigal son has its share.  Where we don’t expect to find it is with Jesus and his brothers—whether they were brothers or cousins or some other relations is a lesson for another day—but early on, in the synoptic Gospels and John, we are given a clear picture that there was tension.

Mark’s Gospel: Jesus has begun his public ministry and “When [Jesus’] relations heard about it, they set out to seize him for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”  In John’s Gospel we are told very plainly, “His brothers did not believe in him.”  They thought he was crazy, and this was true for James who we celebrate today.  However, following the resurrection, James became a devout follower and was in fact elected by the twelve Apostles (including James the brother of John) to be head of the Church in Jerusalem.

Surprisingly, it is very common for family and friends who are not believers to question your sanity or become angry when you begin to follow the will of God, but for the believer, it should not be a surprise, for Jesus says to us, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  

The reasons why such a thing can happen are numerous: jealousy, as in the case of Joseph; pride, as in the case of Jesus’ family (they thought he was crazy and making them look bad); or anger, because you’re no longer following the crowd.  But I think the greatest reason is fear.  Fear because they are now more personally confronted with their own lives.  Your life and obedience to God has become a testimony to them and convicts them of the sin in their own lives, leaving them with a choice of being obedient or not.

James’ initial reaction to his brother Jesus was one of anger; however, Jesus life, Jesus’ obedience to the will of the Father convicted James and brought about a conversion.  In the face of anger, fear, jealousy because of your faith, stand tall and do not be afraid.  God can even use the negative reactions of others to bring about His will in their lives.

Sermon: Proper 24 RCL B – “Greatness”

No podcast this week… Preacher done lost his voice!


A graduate of Harvard with his MBA was enjoying a vacation with his family in a small coastal Mexican village. As he walked the piers, a fisherman docked.  He had caught several large yellowfin tuna.  The MBA complimented the man on the fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.”

The MBA asked why he didn’t stay at it longer and catch even more so that he could sell some, but the fishermen responded that he had enough to meet the needs of his family. The MBA didn’t quite get this attitude, so asked the fisherman what he did with the rest of his day.

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my friends.  I have a full and busy life.”

The Harvard MBA was flummoxed. “Look,” he said. “I can help you.”


“It starts with a bigger boat and more hours, but over time, you will have quite a business.” Over the next several minutes, the MBA outlines to the fisherman how he can go from a few fish a day, to a fleet of fishing trawlers all along the Mexican coast, shipping his catch all over the world. He concluded by saying, “We’re talking millions.”

“How long would this all take?”

“Fifteen… twenty years.”

“Then what?”

“Well there’s the best part, isn’t it. Then you’ll be able to relax. Sleep late, play with the children, take siestas, stroll in the village at night….”

It is clearly not true in all cultures, but in our western culture, there are many signs that point to a person’s success or—in the terms of our Gospel reading—greatness, which include items that we generally associate with it: the fancy car, big house, nice clothes. All signs that we have “made it” or at least signs that we are prepared to go into some serious debt trying to create the illusion that we are great. We work hard to be great, to increase our status in the eyes of others.

The marketing world, those who create all the slick ads, are keenly aware of desire for this elevated status, so they play to it and give us catch slogans like: “Just do it.” “Your only limit is you.” “Don’t call it a dream, call it a plan.” “Go hard or go home.” Well, I found my slogan a few weeks ago and it has been kicking me in the tail ever since: “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” That’s a bit too long to print on a T-shirt, but it is stuck in my head. It sounds like something Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar might say, and it they had, it would be pushing us along the same lines of success as the world would have us pursue. However, it was said by Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI), so I’m guessing “Screamin’” Joe Ratzinger—as we referred to him in seminary—had something else in mind.

It should be noted that those who know a great deal more about translating German tell us that Benedict never said this, maybe something close. But, given the simplicity with which he has led his life, it seems that this was his intention. “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” So if this isn’t a motivational ad to try and persuade you to go out and buy Rolex, what is he getting at?

Believe it or not, in our reading of the Gospel of Mark, we are nearing the end. Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus’ arrival will be what we consider the triumphant entry, what we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Jesus has already predicted his death three times, but James and John’s question to him in today’s reading demonstrates to us that neither they nor anyone else understands what is about to take place. They are thinking perhaps it will be a rough go for awhile as they battle against the Romans and kick them out, but afterwards: Glory. Greatness . . . and they want a good seat.

What they have failed to understand is that Jesus’ glory, his greatness, is not going to arrive with a military and political victory, but with a cross. What did Isaiah say?

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

And a few verses later:

Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong…


Because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.

The glory, the greatness of Christ arrived when he was lifted up on the cross. James and John wanted to be the ones who were at Jesus’ left and right when he was raised up in his glory, but Jesus said, “To sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And to whom was that “honor” of being on either side of Jesus prepared? “It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified [Jesus].  The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.” Jesus’ greatness was not a marble throne or a shimmering crown or servants serving His every whim. His greatness was a splintered tree and a crown of sharp thorns and soldiers feeding Him vinegar and waiting for Him to die. This was greatness, and neither James nor John ever expected this. The cross, the place where he drew all of humankind to himself by taking on their sin, that they… that we, might have eternal life through him. The idea that we might receive worldly greatness because of this act is appalling to many. Teresa of Avila wrote:

“Why must we want so many blessings and delights and so much endless glory all at the cost of the good Jesus? Shall we not at least weep with the daughters of Jerusalem since we do not … help Him carry His cross? How can we enjoy along with pleasures and pastimes what he won for us at the cost of so much blood? It’s impossible! And do we think that … we can imitate Him in the contempt He suffered so that we might reign forever? Such a road leads nowhere; it’s the wrong, wrong road; we will never arrive by it.”

James and John wanted to sit on the left and right of Jesus, but they wanted to be sitting on finely cushioned chairs with servants and pages running their errands, yet the throne of Jesus was the cross, so to be at his left and right they had to join him there, crucified with him. Suffering with him there. Dying with him there, so that they might rise with him.

“The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” There comes a point when we need to change our vocabulary. We can often be like James and John wanting to be with Jesus and wanting greatness. But “serving” and “greatness” are not the same thing. In order to be with Jesus here in this life, we must be willing to serve, to set aside ourselves, our desires. We must know that we must look at the suffering and hold the broken.

In the next life, in the eternal Kingdom, we will receive our reward, but in this life, we were not made for cushioned chairs and servants, we were made to be servants and slaves, each day, at the right and left hand of Jesus, crucified with him. Not seeking our own glory and greatness, but seeking his and his alone.

We succeed in this greatness by bringing all that we do under his Lordship. No matter how great or small the person, menial or great the task; we serve them, we perform it as though we were serving Jesus, as though it were for Him, because it is for him. St. Paul says to the Colossians, “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.”

“The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” You were made to serve the Lord.

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

Sermon: St. Teresa of Avila

The podcast is available here.

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“You are the light of the world.”  Ever hear those words and think to yourself, “I sure hope the world can see off a 25 watt bulb, because that’s about all I’ve got.”

That is probably true for all of us at different times, while there are other seasons when we shine like the sun itself.  Either way, it is about the light and the Light of the World, which is Jesus.  He is our source.  

St. Teresa of Avila who received many visions, in the XXIX chapter of her Autobiography describes what this light is and how she received it in herself.  It was Bernini who captured the moment in the statue, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa which is located in the church, Santa Maria Della Vittoria in Rome.  Teresa tells us that she rarely saw angels in bodily form, but on this occasion she did.  Of the angel, she writes:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

The fire, the light, was love.  The great love of God towards her and her love towards God.  It is this same light that is within us—sometimes bright, sometimes dim—that allows us to be the light of the world that we are called to and even when it is only small, it accomplishes the work of the Lord.

A gentleman was walking one day in the east end of the city of Glasgow. The streets were so narrow, and the houses so high, that little direct sunshine ever reached the houses on one side. The gentleman noticed a ragged, barefooted boy trying, with a small piece of mirror, to catch the sun’s rays and direct them to a certain spot on one of the houses oppo­site. He became interested in the boy’s earnest efforts. “What are you trying to do, son?” he asked. “Do you see that window up there?” the boy replied. “Well, my little brother had an accident two years ago, and is always lying on his back in that room, and it is on the wrong side to get the sunshine, so I always try to catch the light in this little glass and shine it into his room.”  

Sometimes 25 watts of light or just a small mirrors worth gathered from a greater source is about all the light we can muster—even with the love of God burning so brightly in our souls—so on such days, gather what you have and shine.  It may only be seen by one small person in a dark room, but to that person, it is life.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Sermon: Proper 23 RCL B – “The Burdens We Choose”

The podcast is available here.

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A very drunk patron at a bar is trying to impress everyone with his fighting ability. “I am trained in every hand-to-hand combat there is,” he says. To further prove his point, he walks up to Boudreaux, who happened to be in the bar, and whops him behind the neck! “Karate chop from China,” he says. Poor Boudreaux gets up off the floor and sits back in his seat, saying nothing. The big man hits him again. “Judo from Japan.” L’il ol’ Boudreaux once again picks himself up off the floor and continues sipping his beer. The man grabs him putting Boudreaux in a state of suspended animation. “That’s a nerve pinch from Korea.” After a few minutes, Boudreaux is able to move again. Instead of getting back on his bar stool he walks out. Ten minutes later he walks in with a large board in his hands and hits the drunk square in the head with the board, laying him flat out on the floor. Looking down at his tormenter, Boudreaux says, “Two-by-four from Home Depot.”

There are any number of things that “hit” us, but we still manage to get up from them.  You lose a job: can be a blow, but you get up and find another one.  A relationship falls apart: never pleasant, but we do move on.  The death of someone dear: possibly devastating, but over time, we work through the grief and love them without their physical presence.  No matter how hard the hit, as the saying goes, you’ve managed to survive 100% of the worst days you’ve ever experienced.  In most cases, it is not the two-by-four to the back of the head that beats us.  Instead, it is the day-to-day struggle of carrying around hurts, burdens in our souls that beat us down and we find it difficult to see past them.

Consider our Book of Common Prayer.  Pick one up and hold it in one hand.  How much does it weigh?  Pound?  Not much.  Yet, the absolute weight of the book does not really matter.  What matters is how long you hold it.  Hold that book for a few minutes and you won’t even notice it.  Hold it for an hour and you are going to have a pretty good ache in your arm and shoulder.  Hold it for a day and your arm will be numb and the pain elsewhere will be severe.

It is the exact same weight that it was when you picked it up, but the longer you hold it, the heavier it becomes. The same applies to the mental, emotional, and spiritual burdens that we carry.  If we hold them long enough, we will not be able to carry on. The weight of them is intolerable to us.  Not only do they infect our souls, but we know that they can foster physical problems as well.  Eventually, these burdens can also lead to a crisis of faith, effecting our relationship with Jesus.  Consider our Gospel reading from today.

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  After asking why he called him “good” (an entirely different sermon), Jesus responded, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”  The young man is pleased with himself, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”  But not so fast, “‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”  Jesus then says to the disciples that it is difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Why?  Because someone who can purchase what they need and lives in comfort and safety is far less likely to feel the hunger for God.  “If I want something, I don’t have to rely on a God I cannot see or speak to.  Instead, I go and get or take what I want.”  Satisfied without God, what use is God to them? Why bother with the relationship with Him.  So, for this rich young man: yes, he had kept all the commandments, it sounds as though he worked hard to be  a “good little boy.” He’d done the right things while maintaining those possessions that kept him comfortable.

Hebrews tells us that the Word of God (Jesus) is sharper than any two-edged sword and judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Nothing is hidden and all is laid bare.  For this man in our Gospel, his approaching Jesus was genuine.  His heart was sincere.  His intention was open, but that two-edged sword, Jesus saw through it all.  Jesus said to him, “Yes, you are good.  Your wealth, while it is a good thing, is actually your burden.  It blocks you from a true relationship.  Therefore, cast your burdens aside and follow me.”  

Remember from a few weeks ago, Jesus said, “If your hand or your foot or your eye causes you to stumble, remove it.”  The same principle applies here.  If something brings a division between you and God, it should be removed, cast aside.  Not because these things are necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but because they are detrimental to the relationship.  Our burdens, like the rich young man’s wealth, have the same effect.  They rob us of our faith and joy and passion, they beat us down and leave us feeling unworthy.  Unsatisfied.  Like the young man, Jesus offers all, but we go away grieving because of the burdens we carry.  

So, let me ask you this: what happened?  This episode just ends without resolution.  Jesus normally does something miraculous: heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, feeds the hungry, but in this case, that young man went away grieving.  What do you suppose happened to him?

Well, this is one of those cases that I’m going to tell you what I “think” instead of what I “know” (which I think we can all agree is quite significant!). I think this young man did exactly what Jesus told him to do.  I think he walked home, looked around at his possessions, looked at his relationships, reflected on all those people in his neighborhood that he didn’t know or those he saw who were in need, and wondered why he grieved over what was actually weighing him down.  Why do I think this?  Our Gospel gave one small clue.

After Jesus had reaffirmed the commandments, the young man said to Jesus, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Then Mark, the author of the Gospel, records Jesus’ feelings towards the young man, saying, “Jesus, looking at him… Jesus, looking at the young man, loved him.”  Why do I think the young man followed every word Jesus said?  Because you cannot experience the love of God and not be changed.

Consider Jesus and the cross. He was buried under the sins of the world. Buried under shame of the cross. Buried under the judgment of others. Buried under the expectations of others. Buried under the cross.  Buried in the tomb.  Yet, when the came to look for him on that first Easter morning, the angel of the Lord said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”  Why are you looking for him here? Why are you looking for him buried?  He is risen.  He overcame all that buried him, that burdened him.  And everybody says, “Yes! But that’s Jesus.  That’s God.  Of course he can overcome these things.  But I’m not Jesus.  I’m not God!”  No.  But therein lies the Good News.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  It is through Christ that we can overcome those things that bury us, that burden us, but… and here comes the hard part… we must choose, because Jesus gives us a choice.  Just like the rich young man: you can choose to remain as you are, weighed down by the burdens you carry in your soul, or you can experience this life changing love of Christ and choose to cast your burdens aside and be raised to new life through him.

The rich young man went home, looked around him, and chose Jesus.  When you return home… what will you choose?

Let us pray: O Blessed Virgin Mary, in the depths of your heart you pondered the life of the Son you brought into the world. Give us your vision of Jesus and ask the Father to open our hearts, that we may always see His presence in our lives, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, bring us into the joy and peace of the kingdom, where Jesus is Lord forever and ever.  Amen

Sermon: Philip the Deacon

The podcast is available here.


Today we celebrate Philip, but in the New Testament, which one is he?  There was Philip who was the brother Herod, so I’m pretty sure we can cross him off the list, but then there was also Philip the Apostle.  From the tenth chapter of Matthew, “Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits…” and Philip is one of the twelve that are named.  However, in the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, we learn that the disciples are becoming overwhelmed by the amount of work required of them, so they call seven others to work alongside them in the capacity of what we would now call a deacon.  The most famous is Stephen, because he is the first martyr of the Church, but included in the list of the seven is another, Philip, and it is this Philip that we celebrate today.  How do we know which one he is?

Before Paul (a.k.a. Saul) was converted while traveling the road to Damascus he acted as one of the great persecutors of the early church, which lead to the dispersal of many Christians.  Acts 8 describes it: “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.”

“All except the apostles…” meaning that the Apostle Philip remained in Jerusalem, but just a few verses on we read, “Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.  Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.”  Most scholars agree that this was Philip the deacon, who after the dispersal became a very effective evangelist in Samaria.  Apparently he did so well that the disciples in Jerusalem had to see it for themselves: “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.”

The most familiar story we have of Philip is the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch, also occurring in chapter 8 of the Book of Acts that we heard today.  It takes a good bit of work to sort this story out, but the eunuch was probably not as we understand a eunuch to be, but was most likely the Chancellor (think right hand person to the Queen) and guardian of the treasury.  In addition, he was a God-fearer.  That is, he was one who believed in the God of the Jews, and had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple.  It is on the return trip that an angel of the Lord brings Philip to him, who goes onto open the scriptures up, proclaiming the Good News, and baptizing him.  Following this, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.”  St. Irenaeus writes that upon returning to Ethiopia, the eunuch founded the Ethiopian Church.  As for Philip, he doesn’t return to the story in Acts until chapter twenty-one, about twenty-four years later.

Paul and Luke have been on a missionary journey.  Luke writes, “The next day we left [Ptolemais] and came to Caesarea; and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him.  He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.”  From there, St. Jerome tells us that Philip went on to become a bishop in the area and is believed to have died peacefully years later.

Philip found a place to call home.  He had a wife and children.  He did the work, quietly and steadily.  He was faithful to what he had been called to at a young age.  For every one of the great Saints we study, there are 1,000s more, who quietly, steadily, and faithfully go about the work of the Kingdom.  We can look to these great ones for inspiration and we can look at these other “great” ones, like Philip, for understanding how to live it out in our daily lives.

Sermon: Proper 21 RCL B – “Switch the Tracks”

The podcast is available here.


At the height of a political corruption trial, the prosecuting attorney attacked a witness. “Isn’t it true,” he bellowed, “that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?” The witness stared out the window, as though he hadn’t heard the question. “Isn’t it true that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?” the lawyer repeated. The witness still did not respond. Finally, the judge leaned over and said, “Sir, please answer the question.” “Oh,” the startled witness said to the judge, “I thought he was talking to you.”

You ever notice that when people start criticizing someone, we always assume that they are talking to someone else or, when we realize they are talking to us, we turn into Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver: “You talking to me!”

The same is true when hearing the words of Jesus.  Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  We think, “Whew!  Thank goodness he was talking to Peter and not me.”  When he says, “Woe to you, blind guides,” we are happy in knowing that he says that to the religious leaders, but not to us.  When he says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all…”… well, we probably know that he is speaking to us, but what does he really mean by “last” and “servant of all.” (hmm)?  But today, there really is no way of escaping Jesus’ words, because he speaks very plainly, and I might add, in a very Stephen King-ish manner: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off… And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out.”

I suppose there have been a few—mentally deranged—individuals who have taken this saying of Jesus literally and set out to follow it to the letter, however, to do so is to miss the point.  Yes, if you have sin in your life, cut it out, remove it, but the foot, the hand, the eye are not sinful in and of themselves.  They are in fact good, as they were created by God.  So if we are not to take this literally, then what is Jesus speaking to us about?

Back in 1967, the philosopher Philippa Foot came up with the moral problem that has become known as the “trolley dilemma.”  It is a fairly simple scenario: you are standing next to a trolley line and in front of you is the switching lever that if pulled will divert the trolley from the main line onto a secondary line.  There is only one problem.  On the mainline are five workers who do not hear the trolley approaching and even if they did they would not have time to escape.  They will all five be killed unless you switch the train onto the secondary line, which brings about a second issue: there is one other worker on that line who is also unaware of the oncoming train and will not have time to respond.  So the dilemma: you can let the train remain on the mainline and five individuals will die or you can switch the track and only one individual will die.  What do you do?  Ok.  Let’s complicate it a bit more: the one individual on the sidetrack is not a worker.  It is your child.  What do you do?  And everybody says, “Sorry, five guys I don’t know, but your toast.”  That is the trolley dilemma.  So how does this apply to what Jesus is talking about? 

Well, as you are already aware, Jesus is all about upping the ante.  If Jesus were proposing the trolley dilemma to us, the mainline of the trolley system would be the same, but your place would be different.  If Jesus were making the rules, you would be the one on the secondary line, but… and here’s the fun part… you would also still be in charge of the switch.  Let the trolley stay on the mainline and five people die.  Switch it… and you die.  And you know what our minds immediately go to: not quantifying, but qualifying.  Not, five live, one dies, but what if those five on the mainline are say, participating in a gay pride parade?  What if they’re Muslim?  Atheist?  Hmm.  Switch the tracks or not?

It hasn’t been too long before that Jesus said to his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Just prior to our Gospel today was the reading we had last week: Jesus told the disciples that he was to be killed, yet a short while after hearing this, the disciples argued over who was the greatest.  In the beginning of our reading today, the disciples are upset because someone else is casting out demons in Jesus’ name, they are doing the work of God.  Finally, Jesus has had enough.  He says, “Look!  You are setting up obstacles to people coming to faith.  You’re trying to set up a club where someone gets elected president and then you all get to choose whose in and whose not.  That’s what the religious leaders are already doing!  You are to be different.  I am calling on you to… switch the tracks.”  And, yes, he is talking to us.  And unlike so many leaders today, Jesus is not asking us to do something that he is not prepared to do himself.  “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”  And he is not doing this for the righteous alone.  “For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”  Through his death on the cross, Jesus “switched the tracks” so that he could become “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  Jesus did not quantify or qualify.  He did it for the whole world, regardless of whatever preconditions we might place on someone.  He placed no stumbling blocks before the little ones, so that all might come to the saving knowledge of God.

Jesus said to the disciples and he says to us, “This isn’t a club.  I want you fully committed, prepared to ‘switch the tracks.’”  And he asks, “What is a foot, or a hand or an eye, compared to the Kingdom?”  Foot, hand, eye: good!  But sometimes, even that which is good can be a hindrance to some and needs to be sacrificed.  Sometimes those things that are good and which we hold most dear, need to be cut out—sacrificed—so that the work of the Kingdom can be accomplished through us.  What does that look like?  I think it is different for everyone, but you’ll know it when it comes.

I know of someone who debated long and hard over going to seminary.  Finally, a day arrived that they were determined to make a decision, so they travelled out to a friends house, climbed up a mountain, and took a seat.  After awhile they said to God, “Look at how beautiful this place is.  I’ve never been anywhere as beautiful as this.”  And God the Father said to them, “I’ll show you things more beautiful than this.”  After more time passed, they said to God, “But I have friends here.  I’ve never really had that many friends, and You know it.  I don’t want to leave my friends.”  And God the Son said, “In order to do the Father’s will, I had to leave my friends as well.”  I’ve probably shared that with you before, but after those words, I was out of arguments.  I switched the tracks.  Trust me, that doesn’t make me a saint and, looking back on it, it wasn’t a sacrifice, but the point is, we must be prepared to offer up the hand, foot, eye… our very lives, so that God’s will can be accomplished through us.

Our friend St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote, “Lord, if it is your will, turn my poor flesh into a Crucifix.”  Switch the tracks.  Make yourself a living sacrifice to God and serve Him and His will without reserve.

Let us pray: Gracious Father, you gift us with all the good gifts that make us who you created us to be. Help us to know and find your will and to trust that you will help us to understand the path you call us to journey in life. Where there is doubt give us courage. Give us hearts open to your quiet voice so we can hear your call. Help us to know your faithfulness and help us to be faithful to that which you call us.  Amen. 

Sermon: Lancelot Andrewes

The podcast is available here.



Vouchsafe, o Lord, to remember
according to the multitude of thy mercies 
mine unworthiness, 
the inveterate sinner,
thine unworthy and unprofitable servant: 
condescend, o Lord, to mine infirmities,
and cast me not away from thy presence, 
neither loathe my filthiness; 
but after thy graciousness
and thine unspeakable love towards mankind,* 
remove mine iniquities: 
do not by reason of me and of my sins
refrain thy readiness to hear
and thy grace from
my service and prayer: 
do not so, o Lord, but account me worthy, 
o sovran Lord, which lovest mankind, 
without condemnation, with clean heart and contrite soul, 
with face unashamed and hallowed lips, 
to make bold to call upon Thee 
the holy God and Father which art in heaven 
and to say… Our Father, which art in heaven…

I wonder how many pray before they pray?  Those words leading up to the opening verse of the Lord’s Prayer come from the Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes.  It was a work that was never intended to be published, but was instead for his own private use.

Andrewes was born in the year 1555 and after studying at Cambridge, became a professor there.  He would also be the court preacher under Queen Elizabeth I and James VI.  He was by far Elizabeth’s favorite preacher as he provided the intellectual stimulus that she so desired.  And, for the record, I try and keep my Sunday sermons between 1,400 and 1,500 words – Andrewes averaged about 7,000!  As Queen Elizabeth couldn’t tolerate a sermon over an hour long, I’m guessing he talked fast!  Andrewes would later go on to become the Bishop of Chichester, Ely and Winchester under King James.  In his spare time, he was one of the few Divines appointed to the creation of the King James Bible and would essentially become the chief editor of the entire work.  Was he busy?  Most certainly, but that did not stop him from spending on average – five hours a day in prayer and devotion.  

Bishop.  Academic.  Translator.  But he placed his life of prayer above all else.  Of prayer he wrote, “‘Let our prayer go up to Him that His grace may come down to us,’ so to lighten us in our ways and works that we may in the end come to dwell with Him, in the light ‘whereof there is no even-tide.’”

With our busy schedules, it seems that the first thing to be eliminated from our lives is prayer, time with God where we can lay it all before Him, and that’s a bit crazy if you think on it.  Jesus says to us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Even though Jesus says to lay down our own yokes – burdens – we turn and say to him, “No, that’s OK.  I’ve got it,” even though we are staggering under the weight of it all.  Andrewes says, “prayer goeth up, pity cometh down,” but for that to happen we must commit ourselves to prayer.

The Psalmist wrote:

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.

It is in Jesus that we will find the living water that quenches our thirst and it is in prayer that we will encounter Him.